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How Cheap Am I Really?

{ 98 comments }

How cheap am I?Let’s have a little fun today. That last post about keeping track of your Roth IRA contributions was very important, but a little dry. Today, I’m going tell you about a few stressful money situations I had recently. Well, stressful is a little strong. The amount of money involve is pretty small in all cases so maybe anxious is a better description. Check them out and let me know what you would have done in my place. I’ll put some polls up so you can vote anonymously.

A little background

I’m a pretty frugal person. I don’t like spending money because my income is not steady. My blog income last year was below $30,000. That’s not bad for part time, but not great either. This year is much better, but it is still a fraction of what I made when I was an engineer. I’d rather put all that income into my solo 401(k) than buy anything. Spending on groceries and things we need are fine, but I’m just very hesitant to spend on extra stuff.

When I was working full-time, I was a bit more relaxed about spending because the fat paycheck was coming in every few weeks. Even with good pay, I never spent that much. My family struggled financially when I was young and my parents rarely buy shiny new stuff. Being frugal became a habit and I always looked for sale and avoid high priced items. That’s why I don’t believe in Apple products. A PC (or android phone) works just fine, right?

These days, we are doing pretty well financially. Mrs. RB40 still works and she make good income. My online income is also very good this year and our passive income is picking up steam. We generate more income than we spend every month and we can save over $50,000 per year without too much trouble. Also, our net worth is more than 40x our annual expenses. At this level, I shouldn’t be so cheap, but a 20 year habit is hard to break. Lastly, we’re being extremely conservative now because Mrs. RB40 plans to retire in a few years. Our income will drop after she retires and it’ll be harder to make ends meet without dipping into our retirement funds. (Which is okay with me, as long as we withdraw less than 3% or so.)

Okay, let’s go on to these anxious money situations.

Tipping conundrum

A few weeks ago, I met up with Mrs. RB40 for lunch at the Portland Penny Diner. This is a diner in the fancy Hotel Lucia, downtown. The Portland Penny Diner is a concept by renowned chef Vitaly Paley and shares the same kitchen as the more expensive Imperial restaurant next door. This is a counter service diner. You go up to the counter, order, pay, and the server will bring the food out.

I got a patty melt and Mrs. RB40 ordered fried chicken. The food was good. But the most impressive thing about the meal was the amazing house made hot sauce. It was similar to Sriracha, but had a deeper, more satisfying bite. And it was in an eye dropper bottle. I thought that was pretty neat. Our lunch cost $8 each.

fried chicken

Here is a picture I found on the internet. This fried chicken in the picture was served at the Imperial and cost $19. Mrs. RB40’s diner version was $8 and much smaller. There was less protein, but the smaller serving size was just right for her. She enjoyed it immensely.

Anyway, the problem was I didn’t understand the tipping procedure there. You pay right after you order and I wasn’t sure whether to leave a tip or how much. I used a credit card and it didn’t feel right to tip before I got my food. After lunch, I was thinking about tipping, but I didn’t see a tip jar. I also didn’t have small bills. So I decided to be a cheap bastard and left without tipping.

I’m not familiar with the tipping procedure when the place wants you to pay up front. I always tip if I pay after the meal, as long as the service and food weren’t completely dismal. This paying process is kind of like getting coffee at Starbucks. I don’t tip there and I don’t feel guilty about it. On the other hand, I felt like a cheap bastard for not tipping at a diner.

*update – I forgot to add that I bused our dishes and got our water.

How do you tip in this situation?

How much do you tip at counter service eateries?

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Being devious at the US Post Office

Here is one where I didn’t cheap out. Our son hasn’t played with his Thomas the Train tracks in a while so we thought we’d pass it along to his younger cousin. His cousin is a little younger and he loves Thomas the Tank Engine. Mrs. RB40 packaged it up and sent me to the post office to get them shipped out.

At the post office, the counter lady asked me if these are books. It’d cost about $10 for books instead about $20 for anything else. Books, CDs, and other media qualify for the cheaper media mail service. This box felt like it had books in it. Nothing was rattling and the weight was just about right.

I was tempted to tell the USPS lady – yes, these are books. However, I just told her the box was full of toys. I’d probably have gone for the cheaper rate when I was young and really cheap. The chance of getting caught is extremely low. The Postal Service reserves the right to check the package, but I doubt they check very often. Even if you get caught, they’ll just make you pay the regular price. No penalty for getting caught? That’s not a very effective deterrent.

Anyway, I paid the regular price and didn’t try to pull a fast one. Good for me and the money losing USPS. The U.S. Postal Service posted a net loss of approximately $5.6 billion for fiscal year 2016…

Would you cheat and go for the cheaper rate? The change of getting caught is minuscule and there is no penalty.

Would you go for the cheaper media rate?

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Paying extra to go to the gym

Oh man, my gym is closed until further notice. Last Tuesday, I was working out when the fire alarm went off. I quickly grabbed my stuff and walked home. I didn’t smell any smoke so I thought it was just a fire drill. However, it was a bit more serious. The facade was falling down and they evacuated the building. The whole building is closed until they can put up some scaffolding to protect the pedestrians.

Anyway, I have been going to the gym regularly and I don’t want to mess up my system. There is another branch nearby that I used to go to so that was my second option. At least until I drove up and found that they didn’t have their free garage parking anymore. I had to pay $2 for street parking to work out that day. That sucked! Paying $2 for parking will almost triple my cost of going to the gym. I’m offended by having to pay for street parking just so I can work out.

Luckily, there is another branch across the river. It’s a bit further drive, but they have plenty of parking. Am I being too cheap to balk at paying $2 for parking? Let me turn it over to my frugal hero – George Costanza.

George: A garage. I can’t even pull in there. It’s like going to a prostitute. Why should I pay, when if I apply myself, maybe I could get it for free?

Here is George’s philosophy on parking at YouTube.

falling facade

*Update – My gym is opened again. Yay! They are still working on the facade. Here is a picture I snapped. I like walking to the gym. It’s a nice little warm up and a chance to take the pulse of the neighborhood. Lots of protests around this area near the city hall.

Would you pay for parking to go workout?

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Paid focus group

This last one is about making money. Recently, I had an opportunity to participate in a focus group. It would have taken 2 hours and paid $125. That’s pretty darn good. I accepted, but I really didn’t want to go at all. The problem was the timing. They will hold the discussion group from 8 to 10 pm on a Wednesday at a not so good neighborhood. (Chinatown, of course…)

Luckily, they had to reschedule and I declined to participate. I guess I’m getting old and grouchy. I can’t even remember the last time I stayed out that late. It must have been over 10 years ago. 8 pm is bed time for my kid and I work on my blog after that. It would have been much better if they held the focus group from 6 to 8 pm or something like that.

Anyway, I turned down $125 and I don’t feel too bad about it. That money won’t make a big difference for us in the long term. It’s a nice side hustle, but I’m just not up to it. Blogging is a much better side job. See my guide on How to start blogging and why you should.

How cheap am I really?

So what do you think? Am I a cheap bastard or merely frugal? I constantly think about money and it’s probably not very healthy. At this stage in our journey, I should be a bit more relaxed about money. Being cheap is a hard habit to break, though.

Alright, that’s it for today. Do you have any interesting money conundrums that you’d like to share? Do you worry about the nickels and dimes?

{ 98 comments… add one }
  • The Magic Bean Counter April 20, 2017, 5:22 am

    I also get confused when eating at a place were you pay first. I probably would have left a few bucks on the table, but the set up really does put the servers at a disadvantage.

    I probably would have lied at the post office. I don’t understand charging more for anything other than books, especially if the items weigh the same amount.

    I definitely would not pay $2 for parking. Is the gym close enough to ride your bike to?

    Nice post!

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:13 am

      Thanks for the honesty. You’re right about the set up. If they had a tip jar, then they’d probably get more tips.
      It is still raining so I don’t want to ride my crappy bike to the gym.

  • Jax April 20, 2017, 5:37 am

    Was there a place on the credit card receipt to tip? If there was, I would have tipped a couple of bucks. Not as much as I would at a sit down place, though. I don’t tip at Starbucks because I only get drip coffee and don’t think pouring a drink is worthy of a tip. But I was a barista for many years so if I ever get “craft” drinks, or order a large number of drinks then I definitely tip.

    I hate paying for parking but at the same time I weigh the time/effort it takes to find free parking. If I know free parking is 1-3 blocks away, I walk. If I have to circle for several minutes then it’s probably more cost effective to pay for parking. When I was visiting family earlier this month, I would take walks around Downtown Disney. Parking is free for 2 hours and after that it is $12/hour charge in half hour incitements unless you validate your ticket at a sit down restaurant. After a particularly long walk I thought I was going to go over the 2 hours free. At that point I reasoned I would much rather pay $6 ($8? $10?) for a beer to get my parking validated for another two hours, then hand over $6 for parking. Same amount of money (about) but for some reason spending it on parking is SO MUCH WORSE than on a beer.

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:16 am

      There was a place on the receipt to tip. Seems like there is a space there for every place, though.
      Unfortunately, there are no free parking anymore in Portland. Well, there is a small surface lot at that 2nd gym, but I’d have to wait until someone leave. That’s just too much time.
      Wow, $12/hour is expensive.

  • [email protected] April 20, 2017, 5:40 am

    I’m really afraid that I’ll worry about nickels and dimes when the paychecks stop rolling in this summer. I’ll need some kind of plan for that so I don’t go crazy (or make my family crazy!) Since we are both frugal (and cheap on some occasions) – we probably shouldn’t worry so much about things like $2 parking Joe! Maybe we need a support group 😉
    Here’s an example where we weren’t cheap the other night. We bought a used bike & bike trailer from a guy who started a window washing company. He finally had enough clients to buy a pick-up truck. He kept the bike & trailer in great condition and we found it on Craigslist. When we went to look (and buy) – we didn’t try to hassle him on the price. (We had looked up what they were worth and thought his price was fair). He said he couldn’t believe it. We told him that we were happy to support a young entrepreneur and we chatted a few minutes. He told us the story of his 95 year old landlord (who lived next door) who just sold him the house he & his wife were renting. He shared that he hoped to buy another house within a few years to start renting out too. The $20 extra we might have given him over another buyer was well worth it to us!

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:18 am

      The problem is it’s not just $2. I’d have to pay $2 extra whenever I go to the gym. That’s a deterrent. 🙂
      Nice going with the bike. It’s great that you’re supporting the local entrepreneur.

  • Ms. Frugal Asian Finance April 20, 2017, 5:44 am

    Woo I love this post. Very honest and funny! I wouldn’t say that you’re cheap. I have the tipping conundrum every once in a while too. I always turn to the calculator to feel better about it. At least I have some numbers to back me up.

    Mr. FAF likes going to the gym. I suggested he run around the neighborhood for free, but he declined. Oh well, I guess I have to compromise -_-

    I don’t think you’re cheap. You’re just conscious about spending money. I’d say someone is cheap if they intentionally take advantage of other people in order to spend less.

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:19 am

      I tried exercising without going to the gym, but it doesn’t work for me. This is a whole other post I could write about. You have to go with what works. Even if it’s a bit more expensive. 🙂

  • D.K. Wall April 20, 2017, 5:45 am

    My strongest reaction to your situations was the post office. I believe very strongly that your ethics are what you do when no one is looking. Whether they would know or not, whether I believe in their rules or not, whether they are the government or big business or any other entity – doesn’t matter. My ethical standard is worth more to me than any amount of money. I am the guy who returns money when a cashier gives me too much change.

    As for the gym, I bought my own elliptical and workout at home (when I am not out hiking a trail). Of course, I live in a rural county where the nearest gym is a half hour drive, so I would spend far more than $2 in gas.

    As for tipping, I would just ask. In the U.S., tipping is meant to supplement the server’s compensation because our laws allow them to be paid well under the minimum wage.

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:21 am

      I admire your ethics. Personally, I mess up sometime, but I try to do the right thing. Our place is too small for exercise equipment. Someday…

  • Sandy T April 20, 2017, 5:47 am

    I hate the places where you can tip in advance. I tip based on the service I get, so I leave cash on the table when I leave.

  • Pennypincher April 20, 2017, 5:57 am

    No, you are not (that) cheap. I love the places you don’t have to tip for (mediocre) service. It wasn’t written on the wall-no tipping necessary? I always ask first. I don’t eat out unless it’s a “sure thing”=I know the food and service are great.
    My neighbor says “Oh no, I won’t do cheap”, but later she reveals her serious money problems-go figure!
    Ridiculous to pay for parking to work out! I wouldn’t do it. Get out and run/walk in milder weather. Only use the fitness club in the winter. It’s like a concert you’d like to see. After you figure in the ticket fees, parking fees, gas to get there, etc. I’d rather buy the album on ITunes!
    Postal rates are bad and getting worse to ship things, I avoid it now.
    I wonder if you would have gotten a tax statement for being paid the $125 for the survey?
    And Joe, you do know the “Latte Factor” @ Starbucks right? It really adds up. Treat yourself to a great coffee maker or two.
    Oh course, you have to enjoy your life from time to time, but any extra windfall, I’d throw into Vanguard.
    Signed-another Cheap-a**.

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:24 am

      I only go to Starbucks when I’m meeting someone. The coffee is way too expensive there.
      I’m with you on paying to park. I hate it.

  • Full Time Finance April 20, 2017, 6:00 am

    For the gym, one has to wonder what the difference is in gas by going to the other branch. 2 dollars pays for less then a gallon of gas. You might burn that driving across town and back depending on what you drive and the distance.

    The one I struggle with is a lot of places where you get take out these days have a place on their receipt for tips. It’s always a struggle as I feel like society says I should tip. But, they just handed me my food from the cook in a bag so did they do anything to deserve a tip?

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:25 am

      Actually, not a huge difference. Less than 2 miles.
      Generally, I don’t tip for take out either. I’m okay with that.

  • Troy April 20, 2017, 6:23 am

    I believe tipping has gotten out of control. It seems that everyone believes they should be tipped no matter how much or little they do. I understand tipping for full service and I base my tip on performance somewhere between 0 to 25% with average service getting 15-20%. Why would a tip be in order when you order at the counter, pick up your own order and bus your own table?

    Heck, I might be cheap.

    Troy

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:27 am

      That’s how I felt… But now that I read some opinions, I’d probably just tip 10%. These service workers really depend on tips to make ends meet.

  • Felipe April 20, 2017, 6:24 am

    I’ve been called cheap in past years. For driving older or smaller cars. But that’s all I could afford at the time and the people who laughed at me then, two of them in particular, later filed bankruptcy. I try not to let what people say affect my way of life. I’ll spend money on what I find important.
    That being said, people are important and service is important and should be rewarded. It’s not often rewarded by their employer. I do tip. I don’t like feeling I should tip counter help at Chipotle. But hotel maids always get $5, maybe $3 if I’m in another country and it’s all I have. They make very little, paid by the room often to get around minimum wage laws. I overtip waiters if the bill is small. I think of it as karma. I almost always have more than they do, and they’re working hard which I admire and want to encourage. I tip contractors if they at all did a good job and I buy them lunch. Partly out of hospitality, out of encouraging them to do good work, and out of respect. They’re usually Hispanic and society seems to be so mean to them lately. Later it means they always return my call when I need them again. One guy won’t call my neighbor back after doing work for him, but my neighbor is cheap, nitpicked and wasn’t nice. That contractor has come back to work for me three times. (It really irritates my neighbor)
    I think it’s come back to me. I’ve tried to spread it around and now as I’m older I’m more well off than I ever imagined.
    I do have to remember that in some countries, tipping is an insult. So you just have to be aware of where you are and local customs.

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:30 am

      That’s a good policy. Hopefully, we’ll get there soon. We usually tip the maids too.

      • Felipe April 20, 2017, 10:09 am

        A great post, by the way. It gets people thinking about their relationship to money, which is important before we leave a stable paycheck. Money’s important, but we can overemphasize its importance. As my grandpa aged he was a horrible tipper but wanted to pay for the meal. So I quietly left more money on the table. Now I find myself doing that when I’m with my mom, or I try to pay the check myself before she can grab it. I don’t want to be like that as I age, but maybe it’s inevitable. Again, thanks for the discussion. A good post.

  • Apathy Ends April 20, 2017, 6:32 am

    I rarely have cash on me so would have been in the same situation as you and done the same thing.

    The car side to go always trips me up, do you tip when all they do is walk the order out? I have no problem tipping for service, but 10 seconds worth of waking? The flip side is if the workers depend on tips I would feel bad not tipping in any situation.

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:30 am

      Right… It’s confusing. 🙂

  • Mike H. April 20, 2017, 6:45 am

    None of those things is too bad. I wouldn’t have lied to the post office either.

    I use the crappy gym at my office because I’m too cheap to get a membership at a nice place…

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:31 am

      I was happy with the company gym too. I don’t work out that hard anyway. 🙂

  • Sam @ Financial Samurai April 20, 2017, 6:48 am

    Joe,

    I think you know the answer. If you have to ask, then you have a deep down, or not so deep down realization that you are cheap more than frugal. So step one is to recognize and accept you are cheap. Step two is to improve if you want!

    With a ~$2M net worth and a working wife and online and passive income, you shouldn’t have to worry about money so much!

    The way I think about tipping is like this: these are hardworking citizens who make close to minimum wage. Any sort of tip is very meaningful to them. You can get a “larger return on meaning” tipping a lower income person than a higher income person. Therefore, tip away.

    I felt SO MUCH GRATITUDE when five out of the ~550 Uber passengers I gave left me a tip. I seriously welled up a little with each tip. Made me proud and happy to serve others.

    Best,

    Sam

    • FinancePatriot April 20, 2017, 7:57 am

      When I vacationed in Mexico, we would often tip. But we tipped a maintenance guy who took a picture of us, on our request. Never in my life did I receive so much gratitude for giving a way just one dollar of our wealth empire. The look of gratitude on his face, obviously not used to receiving tips, was indescribable.

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:33 am

      Yes, I am cheap. Hopefully, I’ll improve a bit at a time. I think we’ll worry about money less when Mrs. RB40 retires and we don’t struggle financially. That is still a question mark.
      Wow, less than 1% tip. Uber frown upon tipping, right? That’s what I read a while back.

    • Jeff April 24, 2017, 12:17 pm

      In Portland servers do not make below minimum wage. Many of them actually make a pretty good hourly wage PLUS tips. And no where is there more no-tip shaming than our beloved City of Roses. Joe, I feel your pain.

      One of my big pet peeves for table service is a server who never comes by to fill water, smile, or even say “you’re welcome” or make eye contact when you thank them for bringing you something. Then when they bring the check they are suddenly SO FRIENDLY toward you, as though their earlier crap service will be forgotten when it comes time to tip.

  • Mike Drak April 20, 2017, 7:04 am

    Your not cheap Joe just frugal and being frugal is a hard habit to break. My father was frugal and I remember visiting my parents on more than one occasion and seeing them wear heavier clothes in the house because my father had turned down the heat to save some money. But on the positive side I learned how to save from him and that is why I’m able to enjoy FI today.

  • Al April 20, 2017, 7:25 am

    Been cheap many times. At the counter depending on the place I may or may not leave a tip Mrs.Al is way more generous about tipping.

    Some things like the USPS comes down to lifestyle integrity or honor system. Seen many stands in the road where they use the honor system to pay for agricultural products.

    There is a reason we do not have 40x earnings but we do not needed it either. Although understand the experience and lifestyle at some point you must realize that you are not the same person or that your ability to live in that manner is no longer present. At least that has been my conclusion after a similar experience.

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:35 am

      Mrs. RB40 is even worse than me with tipping. 🙂
      I really like what you say about being in certain point in life. I’m sure we’ll get there someday and not be so cheap all the time.

  • freebird April 20, 2017, 7:42 am

    I think restaurant tipping depends on what’s left on the table when you finish. If you clean your own table then no tip like in most fast food restaurants. But I always leave money alongside dirty dishes.

    If the facilities are the same and they’re only a couple of minutes apart, I’d save the parking rate. But then I would never pay to exercise any more than I would pay for admission to my workplace.

    I don’t participate in focus groups or surveys (paid or not) and I couldn’t imagine cheating the USPS.

    So I would have done what you did on all counts.

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:35 am

      I bused our table. Thanks for that! I forgot to include it in the main post.

  • FinancePatriot April 20, 2017, 7:54 am

    Oh boy, so much to say here. Frugality is in my blood, it’s a part of the fabric of my being. Growing up a poor kid is no fun, and I will always be stuck with those bad memories.

    You should always tell the truth, I am Christian but not very Churchy. Even if I didn’t believe in the 10 commandments, I still think Karma will destroy you in the long run. You did the right thing. if you can’t afford their prices, do something else.

    I will say you are not cheap at all about the working out. in fact, you are quite spendy to have a gym membership. Why can’t you bike to the gym? Paying for parking? Are you kidding me. Also Portland has one of the best public transportation systems in the US. Do you have a pass? Driving in Portland? That has to be one of the most unusual things I have ever read when there are so many other great options.

    I bike commute to work. Even if I didn’t, when I get fired here soon (negotiating severance as I type this), I would never join a gym. My gym is the man gym, my bicycle, my legs, yard work, etc. Even if I wanted to lift weights, I would do push ups at home or buy free weights.

    Now I agree the scenery is much more pleasant at most gyms. However, as married men we don’t even notice those things 🙂

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:38 am

      Usually, I walk to the gym. It’s closed so that’s why I’m driving to another one.
      In my defense, I don’t drive much. Normally, I drop my kid off at school and that’s about it. Biking really sucks with the rain. I’m not a hardcore biker. In fact, I hate biking… I’d rather walk or take the public transportation.
      As for going to the gym, that’s the only way I get consistent exercise. I tried doing it the other way and I just don’t exercise much. Just have to go with something that works.

    • Dood, el Farbe May 1, 2017, 10:58 am

      “Even if I wanted to lift weights, I would do push ups at home or buy free weights.”

      FinancePatriot, I’m confused. If they’re free, why do you have to buy them?

      Sorry, I know that’s just plain corny, but sometimes I can’t help myself! 🙂

  • Dan April 20, 2017, 7:57 am

    I think your cheapness is reasonable. Some people are totally insane when it comes to being cheap. People on the show “extreme cheapskates” are mostly irrational. The money saving tasks that they come up with are penny wise and pound foolish. The amount of opportunity cost in some of these money saving tasks is gigantic.

    My goal is not to just live below my means but to raise my means so that I can live better. Retirement without financial freedom isn’t retirement.

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:39 am

      Right. I value my time more now and I wouldn’t trade time for just a little cash.

  • Sharon April 20, 2017, 8:01 am

    It’s not always about picking the cheapest option….it is about the value. Paying $2 to park to workout is most likely worth it. Having to drive to the further location might result in you not going to workout. Taking care of your body is super important! And if you don’t talk about a super expensive expense….medical costs….yikes!!!
    Love this post though….I don’t tip at counter service places either with no table service…I actually them “non-tipping restaurants” 🙂

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:40 am

      It’s just a couple of miles further so not really a big deal. 🙂

  • Mr Crazy Kicks April 20, 2017, 8:14 am

    At least you weren’t too cheap to miss out on a delicious lunch! I must read your posts at the wrong time of day, now I have fried chicken on my mind….

    I find we tend to walk the line of being too cheap and not. Sometimes we go overboard and don’t go out to eat or spend money on extra activities. Within a few weeks, we’ll usually realize that it’s just not worth it. You still gotta live life to the fullest, that’s what all this money is for 🙂

    That said, I hate paying for parking if I can avoid it 🙂

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:41 am

      We tend to lean toward being cheap too. That’s easy in the winter, but we should loosen up a bit now that the weather is nicer. There will be more fun things to do soon.

  • Helen April 20, 2017, 8:15 am

    Joe,
    Being frugal is good. It’s your $, and is your choice.
    I’m very frugal, too. And have had the same lifestyle during the last 20 years, no matter of my income. I never joined gym, bought a treadmill 12 years ago, and still use it when the weather prevents me from walking outside. I love watching football, but never spent a penny going to the stadium, I’m happy watching the games on the TV at home comfortably.

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:42 am

      I like your input! I’ll write a whole post about the gym thing. It’s just the only way I get consistent exercise.

  • Mrs. Picky Pincher April 20, 2017, 8:36 am

    Hee hee hee, thanks for sharing these! They’re not as bad as others I’ve seen. 🙂

    But I don’t agree with the concept of asking for a tip BEFORE you’ve received service. I’ve had that happen a few times and I’ve actually left the restaurant over it. I’m a generous tipper but I’m not going to pay for service I haven’t even gotten yet.

    My worst cheap moments are eating food that prooooobably shouldn’t be eaten because it’s expired. If it passes the dubious “sniff test,” in my belly it goes. And that’s how I get food poisoning more than the average person. I’m working on it. 😉

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:44 am

      Ouch. I have eaten my fair share of moldy fruits, but no food poisoning yet. Thanks goodness.

  • Jim @ Route To Retire April 20, 2017, 8:57 am

    This was a fun post, Joe! I think all of us frugal guys and gals consider these same types of scenarios as the days play out.

    I just played racquetball last week (for the first time in probably 5 years) and went as a guest with a friend of mine to the gym. They charged me $10 for a guest pass! After I got done throwing up at the price, I told my friend that this wasn’t going to be a regular event.

    Good time and I kicked is butt, but I think I’ll take up tennis and play at a tennis court in my neighborhood for free. 🙂

    — Jim

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:44 am

      Wow, $10 for a guest pass? That’s a lot of money.

  • Anonymous April 20, 2017, 9:01 am

    I’ve got to be honest here. If you have 40x your annual expenses, and you’re at a level where you can’t bring yourself to tip on a regular basis for like a $20 meal, then in my opinion you need to re-evaluate your expenses and maybe add to that some extra spending money for these types of restaurant visits and such. Maybe you don’t have 40x your annual expenses because if you budgeted a bit more to your disposable income. Maybe you’re only at 38x (oh the horror!).

    Look I don’t want to take away from what you do here. This is a great blog with a good wealth of information and a wonderful sense of community and you absolutely deserve to monetize and generate income from all your hard work.

    Also, I just want to add I’m an immigrant whose parents have done everything for their family. They achieved the American Dream in the sense that they came here with nothing, raised a family, and have been able to put us all in very good positions in life now. Growing up was rough money-wise. We didn’t have a lot, we didn’t travel at all, we didn’t have the shiny new things, and while I know my father is also a cheap bastard (and to an extent proud of it) even through all that he never stiffed at a restaurant. We didn’t eat out that often and he may not have been able to leave a 20% tip or whatever every single time but he would leave something. He would leave what he was able to afford. My parents were never in a position to retire early. They still work to this day and it’s sort of just ingrained in them. They probably can retire but it’s all they know so they continue. I personally found this community a few years ago and would like to achieve FI myself. I believe I can within the next decade. I do take after my father and have always been rather frugal as well. I agree it’s a hard habit to break. I’ll go out of my way to save $5 on a purchase anytime I can. But at the same time I completely agree with the others that mentioned minimum wage for service industry workers in the US. I have friends that are still restaurant workers (servers, bartenders, etc). They make like $2.15 per hour or something on that order. So they rely on tips to make a living. Like it or not that’s just how it is in this country. We’re not like the majority of world where it’s a salaried occupation and tipping is optional.

    But bottom line, yeah you’re absolutely a cheap bastard. And that’s completely up to you, but I don’t believe it’s the type that should be celebrated. I can get behind hacks like any combination of earning travel/credit card points, using a coupon, getting a rebate, and/or using a cashback site to scoring a great deal. That’s just ingenious frugality.

    And just one last thing to this whole rant. The cheapness came out of necessity. It was because we honestly just couldn’t afford it. At this point in my life I’m grateful to say that I can afford it. I still hold on to those values so I’m definitely cheap or frugal or whatever you want to call it. However, like I said I do that by saving more and cutting down on my own expenses. I don’t do it by skipping out on a tip which (again like it or not, agree with it or not) directly impacts the livelihood of someone else. I consider it part of the cost of the meal. Maybe I’m not up for it and just won’t eat out. Maybe I’ll eat out but I won’t go to a restaurant where I know I’m going to be out $20 and instead opt for somewhere I know I can get a solid meal for $9. And no offense to you but I have not achieved FI, I don’t have 40x my annual expenses, I don’t have a blog that generates a decent income or any other passive streams (yet). I earn a decent salary, invest well, minimize expenses and maximize savings. Full disclosure: I’m single with no children. And I have never worked in the restaurant industry.

    In the end I think I know where you’re coming from and I think you understand what I’m saying. I’ll sum it up to this, don’t be such a cheapskate and break the old habit. That existed because at the time it was hard to afford things, now it’s not. You’re in an amazing place in life and undoubtedly because of your endless dedication and hard work to achieving everything you have. I’m just saying it doesn’t hurt to give a little back. Maybe next time just say: “Keep the change ya filthy animal!”

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:48 am

      Thanks for your honest opinion. I’ll budget 10% for tip at these counter service places and forget about it. That way I don’t have to think about it when it comes up. We rarely go to these counter service places, hence the conundrum. Usually, we go to a sit down restaurant and I just tip 15-20% automatically.
      I’ve worked in the service industry and it’s okay. Some people tip well and some people don’t. It all balance out.
      Just curious. Do you tip at a McDonald and other fast food places?

      • Donna Freedman April 21, 2017, 6:17 pm

        That’s the question I always ask when people are talking about tipping, say, the doughnut-shop guy. He is being paid a salary. Why should I leave money in the tip jar when I can’t do that for McDonald’s or movie-theater personnel (who in my opinion are far more stressed out than the guy behind the counter at Dunkin Donuts)?

        In fact, my partner once TRIED to tip a kid at McDonald’s and the young man looked positively alarmed. “Oh, no, sir, I can’t take this. We don’t allow tipping!”

        Now that I’m seeing tip jars at children’s lemonade stands, I wonder what these kiddie entrepreneurs will think when they hit the working world for real.

        Full disclosure: I’m an “illegitimus frugalis” myself. Proudly frugal, but not cheap. To me the difference is that frugality is just smart money management, whereas cheap behavior is bad for someone. Making soup stock out of veggie and fruit scraps is frugal. Refusing to buy veggies and fruits on the grounds that they’re too expensive is cheap, and potentially harmful to one’s health.

        My motto is “I save where I can so I can spend where I want.” To me, that’s the essence of frugality: Making careful use of available dollars so you can have everything you need and at least some of what you want.

        • retirebyforty April 22, 2017, 8:38 am

          Wow, thanks for the comment. I’ve never tried to tip at McDonald so I never knew they have that policy.

  • David Michael April 20, 2017, 9:17 am

    Great post Joe on a problem in our society today. The problem…tipping for what?
    So, we go to Starbucks, and there is a tipping jar placed at the counter. So…to tip or not? All of a sudden buying coffee turns into an uncomfortable experience. Tipping for doing a job which takes a few minutes? The same with takeout. There is no service other than behind the counter cooking and preparation. I do tip for service received. But it’s gone nuts here in the USA. Hate it when you get a receipt and there is no extra service. For what?

    I work part-time (at age 80), and I do not get tips, nor expect them. Fact is, I enjoy working seasonal jobs as it keeps me involved, always learning, and earning a side hustle (whatever that is…some new words from those financial blogs). And, my salary is not much above minimum wage. Yeah! I used to earn over $100,000 a year. But that was then, this is now.
    So when I see situations that ask for tips when there is no extra service, I do not tip. And, yes, I put all of my extra income into Dividend Paying Stocks.

    My wife and I traveled to Italy a few months ago. It was great because there was no tipping at the restaurants. I’ll go back. As to Starbucks…maybe not. Tipping has gone nutso in the USA.

  • Friendly Russian April 20, 2017, 9:37 am

    I wouldn’t consider you as a cheap person, rational and frugal yes, but cheap.
    I wouldn’t drive to a GYM (and I don’t) I use my bicycle and the time for cycling as a warmup 🙂 But I leave in more sunny and warmer California though.

    Great post by the way. You ain’t cheap, you’re rational 😉

  • K. McGarrett April 20, 2017, 10:12 am

    I tip in restaurants where I am served (buffets as well) about 15% as long as I am satisfied with the service. Also hair salons. I was recently in Cancun on vacation and I started to feel like tips were expected all day long. Someone took my luggage 5 meters to the waiting van, someone opened the door for me. At the airport there was a gauntlet of young men in blue shirts wanting to take my suitcase from the transport van into the airport. I felt like I could be tossing tips hither and yon. And then there’s the amount. Is $1 U.S. too cheap? The next bill is $5 — too much, I think. Of course, cruise ships charge 18% gratuity on drinks in addition to the $14 a day each that is applied to your account.

  • jim April 20, 2017, 10:15 am

    I really don’t like getting the credit card receipts with the spot for a tip when I’m getting counter service. I tip $0 for those.

  • Rich April 20, 2017, 10:23 am

    I think you are cheap. I don’t mind, it’s your choice, but cheap is cheap. You are a semi-retired millionaire. $2 for parking in many cities is incredibly inexpensive. To even think about $2 is a sign of cheapness.

    In most cases, who cares? It’s your choice how you spend. The only annoying part of cheap is when trying to split a meal with friends or tipping less than 12% in a city restaurant. As a former waiter, I can assure you it’s part of their wage. There aren’t many rich waiters.

    So I guess my only reservation with cheap is when it impacts other people in a negative, miserly way. Especially when by any objective measure you are rich.

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:01 pm

      I hate paying for parking and avoid it as much as I can. Usually, I’d walk or take public transportation if I need to pay for parking. I only pay if I really need to… Yes, I’m cheap. Usually I tip 15-20% at a sit down restaurant.

  • Ms. Montana April 20, 2017, 10:36 am

    I’m naturally frugal when it comes to myself, but try to not let it effect others. There is a fine line between controlling your money or having money control you. I try to make sure money doesn’t call the shots in my life. It’s part of the reason we give so much, so frequently. It’s just freeing to be able to give the green stuff away. Shows it whose boss. 🙂

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:02 pm

      That’s an admirable philosophy. Hopefully, we’ll get there someday.

  • Amy @ Life Zemplified April 20, 2017, 10:37 am

    Interesting and fun post! I like to call these types of actions being consciously frugal not cheap. Paying for a gym membership is not cheap but something you consciously decide to spend money on. I can understand not wanting to pay an additional $2 every time you go for just the parking. But yes, all-in-all, with your net worth you shouldn’t worry about these little things so much. 🙂

  • Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life April 20, 2017, 10:48 am

    Gym parking – I wouldn’t pay it but I have a strong aversion to paying for parking so it’d be the principle of the matter. It’s got to really be worth it to me to be in that place for that price like if we were having a very special anniversary dinner. But also it would bug me to pay more to walk less if the point is to go get a workout at the gym, if I were ignoring my strict energy limitations.

    I always worry a little bit, or at least pay attention to, the nickels and dimes because we all know they add up. But the rest of the time, I take a top down approach and worry about the biggest expenses because that has more impact. Still, I’m a little bit cheap and will normally pick the frugal option 80% of the time so that I don’t have to care the other 20%.

  • Laura April 20, 2017, 11:51 am

    For the workout, can you walk or bike to the other downtown location? As for the other gym, if it is inner SE, looks like it’s a PITA to pull out of the parking lot (turning left), but could be wrong.

    And Chinatown late at night…don’t blame ya. I avoided taking a job at a company there knowing there would be many late nights I would be getting out 10pm-midnight (deploy site updates at night).

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:06 pm

      I went to the 24 Hour Fitness on McLoughlin. It was easily accessible. Staying out late just isn’t my thing anymore. I’d rather be home with the family.

  • Financial Coach Brad April 20, 2017, 12:30 pm

    That George Costanza quote is priceless! LOL funny for sure!

    I was in Indy this past March and parking there is INSANE. Our hotel charged us $25/day to park the car and then anytime we went anywhere we had to pay again – often $6-$10 per hour. It REALLY added up… annoyingly so.

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:07 pm

      Hotel parking is ridiculous these days. That’s another reason why I don’t like driving when I travel.

  • Mary Kay April 20, 2017, 1:25 pm

    I saw the story about the failing facade on my news feed. I’m a civil engineer (on the water side) and I was talking to one of my structural colleagues about it. That can be pretty dangerous in an area with a lot of foot traffic.

    I vote to spend the $2 on parking for the convenience. Your time and health are worth it.

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:08 pm

      Luckily, nobody was hurt. I guess it was good that it was raining that day. The kids weren’t out at that little play area.

  • Michael Arnold April 20, 2017, 1:31 pm

    For the tipping question, I generally don’t tip at a place where they simply bring out my food such as described. By way of example, lately it seems like every time I even eat fast food, they are bringing some part of the order to the table and I doubt anyone thinks you should tip because they brought you out fries or extra sauce. Yes, in your example, they brought you out your whole meal, but its really not that different. I have the same opinion of take out. That said, I realize they are working in a low paid service, but at the same time, the person doing all the work (ie the chef) almost never receives that money so what are you actually rewarding (when I eat out I often over tip in the 20-25% range because I worked that job in my younger days).

    That all said, when I go to the restaurants in my neighborhood which I visit regularly (either dine in or carry out), I will often tip 10% or round up to the nearest $5/10 on my carryout order. I realize this is not an entirely consistent stance, but I do look at it as a reward for continued good service and also to help grease the wheels for future visits.

  • passivecanadianincome April 20, 2017, 1:39 pm

    Its always weird when you eat somewhere and pay first. Like you said it definitely screws the employees. Post office you did the right thing. Karma comes back to us. I would be pissed to pay for parking at my gym. Sorry but not going there again. 30$ for the gym membership and lets say 50$ for parking? Thats crazy. Congrats on the income of your blog. whats your secret?

  • Dividend Wisp April 20, 2017, 6:34 pm

    For up front tipping it really depends on the place and if I had been there before, or will again. If its a one off thing, and I am unsure of the quality/service etc I wouldn’t, but if I know its good etc then I would tip. Even at bars, if all the person is doing is opening a bottle of beer for me, then I am fairly inclined not to tip really till the end of the night, or just a small tip initially.

    Postal service one is basically a risk/reward decision… Not sure if it works the same in Canada or not, also if something happens to your package you might lose out more?

    I’v been curious about those paid study groups as a side-hustle income source, my blog definitely does not pay out much lol

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:44 pm

      The paid study group is a pretty good side hustle if you can get it. The frequency is very low, though. They don’t want you to participate too often. Also, I don’t qualify for most of the studies.

  • Stockbeard April 20, 2017, 6:34 pm

    I think your examples are in line with the questions I ask myself daily. Sometimes I think it’s strange that I’ll take 10 minutes to think about how to not spend $2, while on the same day I won’t have a problem not negotiating my internet bill, because even though it is way too expensive and I would save maybe $15 monthly, I don’t want to have to talk to their customer service.

    I think this is exactly the flexibility of being financially independent: you get to choose your frugality battles. The amount does not matter anymore, it’s the principle: the amount of annoyance you’d get for paying versus not paying. I think when you’re FI it has nothing to do with the “opportunity” cost anymore, it’s, again, more a matter of principle

  • The Grounded Engineer April 20, 2017, 6:38 pm

    I’d say you’re smart with your money and you appear to do what makes sense given the situation.

    I’m curious that as an engineer do you ever splurge on tech items. I saw you’re not an Apple fan. How about home automation devices or other “cool” tech things?

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:45 pm

      I have not splurge on tech items recently. They just aren’t attractive to me anymore.

  • Mustard Seed Money April 20, 2017, 6:59 pm

    I have a gym membership as well that I love going to. My wife stays on top of me to use it all the time and gets mad when I don’t go. She is way more cheap than I am. Most days when I’m at work she’ll choose to walk to the grocery store which is over a mile away and carry back the groceries b/c she doesn’t want to waste money on gas or put mileage on her car. She’s constantly checking our routes if she has to drive anymore to determine which car to put more mileage on. She’s definitely one of a kind 🙂

    • retirebyforty April 20, 2017, 9:46 pm

      Wow, that’s a hike to the grocery store. Carry grocery back is the hard part. You’re a lucky man. 🙂

  • Mr. Tako April 20, 2017, 8:27 pm

    Well, Joe…you just seem frugal to me. And honest. Cheap is a word with negative connotations, I would avoid using it.

    I can only see positive in what you’re doing — Avoiding unnecessary expenses and being honest. Nothing wrong with that!

    Your frugal habits have served you well. I wouldn’t discard them just because you’ve seen some financial success.

  • Amy April 20, 2017, 9:37 pm

    Tipping is foreign in some countries, basically if you ripped off a person’s wage because of the minimum wage thing, probably should go back and tip them.
    I’ve never regretted being generous and have never lost sleep being ethical 🙂 and you can do both while being frugal (while being “cheap” disregards others in service of yourself)

  • FIREin' London April 21, 2017, 12:16 am

    Hi Joe,

    Thanks for sharing, and a great entertaining read! Reading through the above I don’t think you are being cheap at all.
    The tipping one is a tricky one, however in the UK I find it very simple – if you collect yourself, you don’t tip (or they have a tip jar by the till). Only under very exceptional circumstances would I tip here (e.g. if the person bringing me my food offers to get me another drink). In restaurants then for good service about a 10% tip.
    I know the US is a very different beast, so when I used to visit a lot I had to cater to that!

    On the postal side, it wouldn’t have occurred to me not to say exactly what was in it! We don’t get different rates here based on what we are posting only on weight, so a bit easier!
    The Gym?! Well if you enjoy it and get pleasure, then fair enough paying for it. To be honest, I would probably either walk or cycle there or drive and pay the $2 depending on how frequently you were going. If it was every day I would drive further!
    Cheers,
    FiL

  • Steve D Poling April 21, 2017, 6:14 am

    i do not tip up front. use cash (with a big bill) you are carrying to pay and leave as much change from the big bill as is fitting for the level of service provided.

    book rate postage: honesty is your personal virtue. it ought not depend upon not getting caught, not suffering if caught, or not being tempted too badly.

    • retirebyforty April 21, 2017, 9:15 am

      Paying with cash is a good idea. I’m trying to use my credit card to get the bonus sign up points now so that’s why I’m not using cash much.

  • K. McGarrett April 21, 2017, 10:37 am

    I think paying for hotel parking borders on ridiculous (assuming you’re a guest there). It should be part of the deal. No wonder people go to vrbo and air b&b. Don’t get me started on the ‘resort fee’ that some destinations inflict on you in addition to the room charge.

  • SMM April 21, 2017, 12:35 pm

    You had me at left the restaurant without tipping, LOL. I’ve done this when I got horrible service once. I either gave no tip or a horrible tip. I made sure that my wife had her purse ready jacket on, I wrote a small tip and we headed straight for the exit! In remembering Elaine Bene’s quote you may be “extremely…..careful with money” :-).

  • Grant April 21, 2017, 2:04 pm

    I usually tip a dollar or two in situations like that. If you ordered a couple beers at the bar would you leave a tip?

    I definitely would have paid the extra on the shipment. I am a rule follower almost to a fault.

    I would have worked out at home. You should look into getting yourself a setup and never have to worry about memberships, parking, or other people hogging your equipment. http://lifeprepcouple.com/ultimate-home-gym-buying-guide/

    • retirebyforty April 22, 2017, 8:37 am

      I rarely leave a tip when I order drink at the bar. That’s just too little interaction.
      Your gym is very nice. We don’t have room for a home gym. We live in a small condo.
      I like going to the gym, thought. It gives me the chance to get out a bit. If I have a home gym, I’d never leave the house.

  • Your First Million April 21, 2017, 7:41 pm

    Very thought provoking post! I think there is a big difference from being frugal and being cheap! Frugality is not a bad thing, especially if you are doing something productive with the money you save. That money, over time, can be staggering and make a big difference in someone’s financial future.

  • Christine April 22, 2017, 7:39 am

    Doesn’t financial freedom mean we don’t have to worry about, think about, feel stressed out about the money all the time? I asked myself every time I can’t make decision over a small amount of money.

    • retirebyforty April 22, 2017, 8:40 am

      Honestly, I don’t know. I got here by being frugal and worrying about money. I know I don’t have to worry as much anymore, but habit is hard to break. Also, a lot of poor people don’t worry about these nickles and dimes. They have a lot of leakage and they’ll never achieve financial freedom. Tough question..

      • Christine April 22, 2017, 9:20 am

        Yes, habit is hard to break. We have been saving more than 60% of our income since 2012. One of my coworkers(47 years old) was giving a presentation at work, and suddenly had a speech problem, then died next day in the hospital. He was only a few years older than me. It made me think. I might die tomorrow or live until 100 years old…kids will go to the college and have their own life eventually. Should I spend a little more time/money with them now in case I don’t the chances? But like you said habit hard to break, even our household income are in the top 2-3% . I am still having a hard time to spend more.

  • Dividend Diplomats April 23, 2017, 7:29 am

    Cheap isn’t the right word. If you were cheap, you would have said the packages you were mailing were books. Similarly, in my city, our public transportation (when it is rarely used) has a self ticketing kiosk that is never really checked (terrible system, I know). The rate is $2.50 per ride for adults, but only $1 for college students/55+ riders. Similar to the post office scenario, nothing would stop me from claiming to be a student and I look young. But, my conscious won’t let me select those options.

    The tipping is hard and honestly, it depends on the mood I am in. If the people were friendly, I am more likely to add 10%. But if they are rude and just trying to get me out of there, I throw a zero in the tip line and move on with my day.

    Bert

  • CentSai April 24, 2017, 12:11 pm

    Loved your post, and how interactive it was with the polls. It definitely reassured me that I answered like most people (not sure if that is 100% a good thing though haha).

  • Sparks April 26, 2017, 10:18 pm

    I do not think thats cheap. I just call it frugal living.
    Cheating Courier or not is a matter of Ethics. What you did about declaring toys was good.

  • ChrisCD April 28, 2017, 9:11 am

    If they make it easy, I tip. I don’t always carry cash though so if tipping can’t be done when I pay via CC, they probably won’t get a tip.

    If I am a regular and they have taken the time to know me I will tip well above 20%, but then the bill is typically small.

  • Harry Bush April 29, 2017, 10:18 pm

    My parents used to ask for a cup of ice and pour in their own sodas for us….

    Pretty embarrassing….but cost effective…

  • [email protected] May 3, 2017, 1:38 am

    Regardless of whether I tip anything above 10% often depends on what I’m spending for. Usually, I like pouring coffee on my own if I’m alone, but it feels good when I’m enjoying the company of my loved ones. I’ve always been the one to fend for myself, so I resort to a few basic budgeting tips.

  • Rebecca May 5, 2017, 7:36 pm

    I totally agree with you about the gym and going for what works. I live in New York City and boutique fitness costs roughly $20-$40+ per class. I’m currently on Classpass and also live in a building with a gym. I find that it really takes the commitment of a class to get me to enjoy and look forward to working out even though it costs a pretty penny.

  • Ryan November 1, 2017, 9:59 pm

    I am way late to the party as usual as I am making my way from the start but this post touches my heart as everyone considers me frugal to da max. I used to hate the idea of spending more than $3 for lunch downtown because I used to be able to get a “balanced” meal at McDs for $3 when they had $1 side salads. Plus the accepted credit so score, get 3% cash back! However as frugal as I am on myself I tend to be a general 20% tipper (assumption is that the service people “need” the $1-$2 more than me) however I feel your conundrum at the order at the counter places. I tend to go with no tip. Just a weird oddity of mine.
    I am a huge fan of grabbing free money,zippys let me go to Studio City at the MGM in Las Vegas and Doo all their focus groups and I couldn’t be happier! So I would have definitely done the $125 2 hour group if I could.
    I also abhor paying for parking, if the cost of getting to the other gym is minimal, money and time wise, I go there, no question.
    This next one isn’t part of this post but I remember in one of your recaps how you were not happy spending $200 for your kids party next I am assuming that included the food? Since I met my wife she taught me to not sweat the occasional large expenditure for other people. Before her I would have felt the same way, and I sometimes still have those qualms, but trust me $200 for your kids birthday with 10 of his closest is a steal, especially getting built-in entertainment with laser tag. Think of it this way, that is a drop in the bucket compared to how much you guys are saving in cash AFTER all your retirement savings every year. In other words you aren’t missing the money, but your son and his friends will talk about it for a long time.??. Great to be able to follow your journey and I can’t wait to see how it “ends”!

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