This is my professional blog. Looking for mypersonal blog?
This is my professional blog. Looking for mypersonal blog?


"Knowledge is not the personal property of its discoverer, but the common property of all. As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours, and this we should do freely and generously." — Benjamin Franklin
"Hey, for every ten dollars, that's another hour that I have to be in the work place. That's an hour of my life. And my life is a very finite thing. I have only 'x' number of hours left before I'm dead. So how do I want to use these hours of my life? Do I want to use them just spending it on more crap and more stuff, or do I want to start getting a handle on it and using my life more intelligently?"— Joe Dominguez (1938 - 1997)
This blog is my contribution to the worlds of personal finance, financial independence, DIY culture, science and education advocacy, and the open access and open source movements.

In 2011, I graduated from Penn State with degrees in biochemistry and chemical engineering.  Now, I'm working my way toward a PhD in the ridiculously pleasant Bay Area.

My parents taught me a lot growing up in the Northeast, most importantly that money is neither necessary nor sufficient for fun and happiness.  Thriftiness is a valuable trait, and integrating it into your character ethic can be great for your financial and physical well-being and spare the environment from pointless overconsumption.  The keys to a financially sane life are straightforward: a rational and analytical financial outlook, a collection of economically valuable skills and low-cost hobbies, and a commitment to constant optimization.  The American middle class could benefit from a substantial consumerism slim-down and still be nowhere near deprivation.

An INTJ-powered love of optimization and an interest in quantitative personal finance long ago convinced me that it is entirely possible—even desirable—to live on a small fraction of the income from a highly-skilled job.  Combined with with a sound investment strategy, it should be possible to cover expenses with investment earnings many years before traditional retirement.

But... then what?

The Financial Independence Movement

In early 2013, I came across the blog of Mr. Money Mustache, specifically a guest post by fellow finance and lifestyle engineer Jim Collins.  A few dozen articles later, I was hooked.  The ideas they espouse are simple, and they formed a succinct answer to my question:

Then, buy your freedom.  

The graph sums it up:
Last year, I lived on about $18k of my $30k/year graduate stipend and invested the remainder.  I was already doing quite a lot to reduce my expenses, but this simple graph has inspired me to do much, much more.  Fortunately for you and I both, Mr. Money Mustache has already built an archive of hundreds of ways to cut expenses significantly while increasing and maintaining an excellent quality of life.

This year, my pre-tax savings rate will be significantly north of 50%.  When I eventually graduate and start working For Real, I will take every reasonable step to keep my expenses low while my wages triple or quadruple.

The result: buying my own freedom should take a relatively short period of time.

Sound good?  Sound ridiculous or unbelievable or extreme?  Follow along, and let's see what happens.  In addition to discussing key issues in the management of credit, savings, and investing, I'll also be sharing the philosophies, strategies, tools, hobbies, skills, and other resources that I use to keep my expenses as low as possible and maximize my savings rate.

A Note on Advertising

The purpose of this blog is to inspire and inform, not to make me money by selling you stuff you don't need.  I do not utilize advertising or affiliate links.

A Note on The Long-Term Mission and Format

A common complaint in the Financial Independence and Personal Finance communities is that "it's all been done," that most bloggers spend most of their time rehashing the same few simple points over and over again.  I concur.

As I build out the site's content, I will distill multiple blog posts into comprehensive static pages.  Instead of restating, I'll link to other peoples' work on the same topic.  The AHS Wiki is my open notebook as I research, summarize, draft, and refine.  You can contribute to it, too!

A Note on Comments

The comments section is my living room, not a billboard or a battleground, and I'll delete stuff if I don't think it contributes anything to the discussion.  If you want to send me something directly, use the Contact form.

Progress Toward The Goal

Publicly discussing personal finance is taboo.  Money taboos are responsible for the horrible state of financial education in this country, so I'm committed to breaking them regularly.

The best way to get to know someone better is to learn about how they invest their resources.  I've compiled a series of articles on the investments I've made, financial and otherwise:

Education  —  Skills  —  Mutual Funds  —  Lending Club  —  Mosaic

Budget Constraints, 2011-2015

I "won the ovarian lottery," as Warrent Buffett is fond of calling it.  College tuition was covered by faculty discounts and scholarships, and support from my parents allowed me to save and invest most of the money I made from internships and from working as a student instructor and private tutor.  I started investing seriously in 2008 when the stock market was severely discounted, and this money doubled by graduation.  Instead of starting out $27,000 in debt like the average 2011 graduate, I graduated with $50,000 in the bank.

Despite living in the Bay Area, I've saved about 50% of my graduate fellowship income of $32k.  Categories are in green, and are divided into the subcategories below in white:

Item Monthly  Notes
Income $2500 Engineering grad school stipend
Utilities $480 Having apartmentmates cuts this down quite a lot
Rent $415 Split with apartmentmates
Internet $25 Split with apartmentmates
Electricity $20 Split with apartmentmates
Water $0 Covered by rent
Garbage $0 Covered by rent
Renter's Insurance $0 Don't have it
Health Insurance $0 Covered by parents' plan (until 2014), then school
Web Services $20 Internet radio, web hosting, etc
Transport $130 Bicycle commuting helps substantially here
Parking Space $0 Covered by rent
Car Insurance $35 Split with apartmentmates
Car Fuel $10 Split with apartmentmates
Car Maintenance $10 Split with apartmentmates
Bike $10 Minimal work on a new (Oct 2012) road bike
Mass Transit $15 Bus pass covered by student fees (fellowship)
Flights $50 A flight home, once per year
Food $200 Bag lunch and home-cooked dinner is key
Groceries $160 Fresh food is expensive — Costco brings this down
Bars & Restaurants $40 Occasional lunch or drinks with friends
Taxes $300 ~12% overall last year, federal + state + local
Random Consumables $40 Lightbulbs, band-aids, office supplies
Credit Card Cashback -$50 Rewards cards are a fantastic investment
Left Over $1400 This remains for investment (54%)
529 Plan $500 As a graduate student, this is a great option
Roth IRA $450 This is the maximum contribution rate
Consumer Debt $400 Experimenting with LendingClub
Capital Expenditures $50 Kitchen stuff, fermentation supplies, books

Riding my bike to work, sharing car, food, and utility costs with apartmentmates, having a roommate, and preparing virtually all of my own food reduce my expenses considerably.  The library, Craigslist, an informal tool- and book-share agreement with my neighbors, homebrewing, a bread machine, free e-books, and lots of running around outside also save me quite a bit.  All windfalls are immediately invested.

As of 2015-04, I'm ~15% of the way to my goal.

Maybe this blog will document my success and help you to follow my lead.  Maybe this will be a complete disaster, and we'll all have a good laugh when I finally retire in 2054.

Either way, there's a lot to be learned.

And Higher Still,

 — Brandon