My Journey to Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosis

My diagnosis of RA happened in 2012, the year I turned 40.

My 40 year old birthday was fabulous – a great run with my running pals, complete with doing the 4T:  14 mile run (inclusive of Trail, Tram, Trolly, Train), eagle sighting on the trail part. It was a nice mix of hills and flats, and fun conversation. My running friends got me a snazzy Nike shirt and beautiful flowers, and we mingled for coffee afterwards. Amazing way to start 40.

40th Birthday post run

But my body had other plans.

I began to feel aches and pains and fatigue shortly afterwards. In the mornings, I could barely walk when I got out of bed. I would collapse in the evening from fatigue. My husband would help rationalize it to me “well, you run all the time, and work so many hours… of course you are sore and tired.” And I would agree.

Until odd little things began to happen.

I sprained my left thumb, but don’t remember actually doing anything to it. It just really hurt, and I couldn’t write with my hand. I did some taping and made a splint, took some NSAIDS (advil) and it slowly got better over a few weeks. Then the right side did the same thing. Hmmmm. At the same time, my feet began to bother me. I had just gotten a new pair of running shoes, and thought the padding was defective. I exchanged them for a different pair, but, same thing. So I exchanged them for a different brand. Nope, not the shoes…

I ran the Newport Marathon in June. My feet were killing me, but I ran a PR despite this. I remember the next day staggering down the stairs and thinking, “Hmmm. My joints are killing me, not really my muscles. That’s odd.” In the race packet was some Naproxen. I took a full dose, and it was remarkable. Pain nearly resolved. How odd.  Wouldn’t suspect that with muscle soreness.

PR Newport Marathon, just prior to diagnosis

Over the next few weeks, my knees really started to bother me. I had an appointment with my Primary Care Provider for a regular physical, and brought it up. I think she was a bit skeptical, but I pressed her to test for RA. She acquiesced, and sure enough, 2 weeks later – positive tests, and referral to Rheumatologist.

By the time the bloodwork came back, however, I could barely walk, both my knees had really flared up and the Left knee was super swollen. I could not do stairs, my hands were not functioning very well. Thankfully, I was able to get into the Rheumatologist within 3 days after the referral, and got started on some DMARDS (disease modifying anti-rheumatic drug – Methotrexate) and a cortisone injection for the knee. Both of these things did wonders for my symptoms. At the time, I was training for the Portland Marathon (This was end of August, and the Marathon was early October.)  I went from hoping to qualify for the Boston Marathon  to simply wanting to finish. I suspected it would be my last marathon, and I would likely need to walk much of it. Which was exactly what happened. But I had my lovely running friends to “run me in” for the final 6 miles, which helped me get thru it.

End of my running days

Over the coming months (years) I would continue to mourn the loss of running. It simply was no longer feasible for me. I have since replaced it with walking/hiking/spin bike. But I will always fondly remember the decades that I was a marathoner.

In good times, happiness, and health,
Jen

Healthcare and FIRE with a chronic (expensive) health condition

My biggest FI/FIRE fear is affording the cost of healthcare.

You see, I have Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).

With RA, sometime regular day seems like a hike up the Grand Teton.

My FIRE journey ultimately began approximately 2014.  I was diagnosed with RA 2 years earlier at the age of 40.  RA is an autoimmune condition where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints and other body systems.  As an occupational therapist, I recognized the importance of receiving an early diagnosis, and establishing a cocktail of pharmaceuticals to hopefully stave off the progressive deformity and disability that often accompanies this condition.   Without proper treatment, the average timespan to total disability for someone with moderate to severe RA is 10 years.  Yikes.

Progression of RA in the hands

Even as an occupational therapist specializing in hand therapy, I initially dismissed my gradually progressing symptoms until they became impossible to ignore.  I will describe my diagnosis journey in a future post.

The first year post diagnosis, I worked with my Rheumatologist on finding a treatment regime that worked for me.  This included a cocktail of several different medications, including a biologic medication.  You know, the ones that you see on TV.  Big Pharma Cash Cow.  And cue in $$$$ of life long health care and medication costs.

Well, ok, at least I know what I am dealing with, right?

With the RA diagnosis come extreme fatigue.  Sometimes crippling fatigue.  I suffer from this.  The fatigue is mightily helped with my cocktail of pharmaceuticals, but still ever present.  Add the underlying joint pain, with various joints taking turns competing for my attention.  I knew that I would need to pivot, and explore finding income solutions, as working full time in the healthcare grind for the next 25 years was not realistic for me.  Upon researching low cost of living areas and optimal retirement locales, I stumbled upon Mr. Money Mustache and the Shockingly Simple Math article.  Mind Blown.  That began our journey for us.

It was time to get the financial house in order.  And so our journey to FI began.

As a healthcare provider and someone with a chronic health condition, I believe there is a certain naivete in the FI space when it comes to planning for long term health needs.  I see it every day in my clinical practice – shock and awe at the costshare expense, not to mention personal care costs when someone is incapacitated.   The allure of health-sharing ministries: Quite the savings, plus the illusion of”eat right and exercises, can get generic medications at Costco;  we are all set.”   Well, I am here to tell you.  I also ate right and exercised.  You just never know when life is going to throw you a health curve ball.

I urge you all to hope for the best, but plan for the rainy (healthcare) day too.

In good times, happiness, and health.

Jen

Hiking in the Columbia River Gorge

 

FI Journey updates July 2019

Continuing to make progress

We have made some solid progress over the past year with our FI journey. There was the slight dip in the markets at the end of 2018, which demonstrates as a blip on our FI Journey Chart. But other than that, some solid gains have been made!

One exciting change that we have implemented this year was beginning a Mega Backdoor Roth account.  After listening to a Choose FI Podcast, I learned what this was, and then found out that I had access to one at work.

What is a Mega Backdoor Roth?….
My organization allow for post-tax contributions to be deposited into a employee’s retirement account of up to 10% of the employee’s gross income.   The employee can then take an “in-service distribution” and immediately roll that money into a Roth IRA.  Where it can then grow tax free for eternity!  The only hitch is that this is a manual, paper process, and I need to have a notarized signature from Mr. HG in order to complete the rollover.  Therefore, I will execute the roll 2-3x/year, and just pay any tax on the gains in the brief time that it has been growing in the account.

We continue to max our contributions in our regular 403B accounts and Roth IRAs as previous.

I previously updated that we have reduced our living expenses by selling our primary residence and have downsized into a 2 bedroom apartment.  The additional monthly savings from this will be invested.  I am also hoping that a part time position will become available at work so that I may downshift to less of a full time grind.  Having reduced living expenses will make this transition easy-peasy, and should also allow us to continue to save the maximum in our tax advantaged accounts.

In good times, happiness, and health,

Jen

 

 

We Sold The Clown House!

We have re-entered the world of apartment renting.

“Why?” you might ask…

Image result for rent vs own

We spent the better part of the past few years weighing the pros and cons of continuing to live in (and maintain, and pay $$$$ for) our 3,000 sf suburban home. Mr. HG has been warming up to the idea of renting temporarily until we become closer to our solid FI goals and possible eventual relocation.

Pros of Continuing to Own:
Lovely house; we built it and choose everything
Nice neighborhood, private backyard
Avoids the pain of moving
Unsure of our long term plans, so inertia

Cons of Continuing to Own:
Waaaaaaay more house than we need
$$$$
Cleaning
Cost of maintenance
Cost of heating/cooling
Potential upcoming recession, in which we would have large amount of $ in illiquid asset (house equity)
We are considering moving to a lower cost of living area, closer to family, so renting now short term makes sense

Spring 2019 – The housing market in Portland Metro area always picks up in the spring, and all signs were pointing that it would again be a seller’s market. Other economic indicators demonstrate that there might be some future recessionary trend (inverted yield curve, trade wars). We figured that now would be a good time to sell, and that if we waited due to inertia, we might have some future difficulty with selling.

We decided to put our house as FSBO (for sale by owner) on Zillow, with courtesy to buyer’s agent. We figured we had nothing to lose by trying, (we are frugal DIY weirdos, after all) and saving the listing agent fee would be worth it.

I am a Zillow and Realtor.com troll, with a fascination about everything real estate. We knew we had that right pricing based on comps in the area. After snapping some photos, we put the home up on Zillow in early May. We stuck a sign in the front yard, and I pushed some posts thru on social media to help get the word out. Luck was in our favor, as the next day another house down the street went on the market. This encouraged some lookers to come see our house too. We had an open house on the first weekend, and a week later received 2 offers. After some back and forth, we went under contract, and with a close date end of June.

Ok, Great. So, now what???
Priority 1: Find a place to rent
Priority 2: Purge rooms of useless stuff to prep to downsize
Priority 3: Secure movers and plan a moving timeline

Rental location priorities:
Pet-friendly for our 2 little dogs
Quiet
Nicely landscaped
Close to Mr. HG’s work, and quick freeway access for me
Walkable to parks and shops
Gym and pool would be nice perks

We toured a handful of places, and decided on one that we thought would be perfect. 2 bedroom, 2 bath 950 sf apartment in a complex with a nice gym and outdoor pool. It is 2 miles to Mr. HG’s work, and very convenient to the highway for mine. The rent is reasonable for the area. The complex is 20 years old, and they are slowly updating all of their units, but we chose an apartment with the old “classic” design. Privacy is afforded from trees screening the balcony and windows, and an added bonus is the rent is cheaper since the unit has not been remodeled. It is  quite nice, and light and bright with southern exposure.

The apartment was available right away, so that we could begin moving some things over. (How in the WORLD do people accomplish this in one weekend?!?!?). I knew that we needed extra time to be able to sell and purge 2 decades of useless stuff that had been reproducing in the cabinets and cupboards, plus lots of furniture and yard equipment. I will outline how we accomplished this in a future post: Purging and Downsizing.

Our house has since closed, and the proceeds (for now) are sitting in a high(er) interest savings account. We have now resided in the apartment for exactly one month and are really enjoying it!

Apartment living pros:
The dogs are settling in nicely
I love the 1 level living (after the stairs to get in – we are on 3rd level)
So quick and easy to clean
Quiet – much quieter than I/we thought it would be
Convenient/walkable
There are miles of trails/bike paths right outside our door
Love the gym and the pool
No yardwork or maintenance – the gift of time
The cost of our rent + utilities is = just the property taxes/insurance/utilities and upkeep of our previous clown house  – cue in JL Collins Why your house is a terrible investment
Huge savings on a monthly basis – we can funnel that extra money into our post tax account.

Apartment living cons: (and I had to dig deep here)
No garage to store the cars
Carrying groceries up the stairs to third floor

All in all, we are thrilled with our new place!  And ready to funnel the cost saving to future freedom from the daily grind.

In good times, happiness, and health.

FI Journey – A series of downshifts

Balance is a wonderful thing.

FI journey:  Staging a series of downshifts

As Mr. HG and I continue on our FI journey, there are a series of downshifts that we are executing.

Downshift #1:  Mrs. HG:  Moving from middle manager 60 hour/week grind to 40 hour meaningful, direct contributor role  DONE

Downshift #2:  Mrs. HG:  Moving from a full time, 40 hours per week position to a part time, benefitted position (essentially working for health benefits and golden handcuffs-retirement age)  Estimate 2021

Downshift #3:  Mr. HG discontinuing routinely scheduled work and FIRE  Estimate 2022

Downshift #4:  Mrs. HG discontinuing routinely scheduled work and FIRE Estimate 2026

Details behind our decisions

We discovered the concept of FI during a period of time where I was feeling dissatisfied and burned out in my work.   Initially, I became obsessed at pushing for the FI finish line to simply be done with the daily grind.   However, FI was still at least 3-5 years away.   The thought of remaining in my middle manager role at work became untenable.  There were a series of organizational changes that happened with my manager role.  I was no longer excited about what I was doing, and the evening meetings + delegated mundane tasks + email burden had tripled as a result of the restructure.  It was time to make a change.

I began exploring other options.  I was interested in downshifting (demoting) from my middle management role to a direct contributor role in my area of expertise as an occupational therapist.   Yes, this would result in a considerable wage decrease, but it would also result in less hours at the office (40 instead of average of 60!).  I interviewed at several other companies, and received a 2 competitive offers, and 1 below market offer.   However, I really wanted to remain with my current organization, and, as it turned out, a perfect opportunity opened up internally.

There are many reasons I wanted to remain with my current organization:

  • Golden handcuffs
  • Competitive pay
  • Pension
  • Amazing health benefits
  • Generous retirement benefits (provided I can hold out to age 55 – 8.5 more years)
  • Lovely coworkers

And the clincher:  I believe in the mission and the vision of the organization I work for.  I did not love the role that I was in, but I do feel that overall the organization is on the right path for making a difference for many people.

In February of 2018, I completed downshift #1.   I moved from my middle manager role into a direct contributor role as a staff occupational therapist in one of our outpatient hand therapy clinics.  I have now been in my new role for 6 months, and I couldn’t be happier.  I feel like I am making a difference.  I feel appreciated by my patients.  I feel appreciated by my coworkers.  And when I am away from the office, I am able to fully disconnect.  Evenings, weekends, and vacations are back to being my own.    I work a 4×10 schedule with a 3 day weekend.  It is a pleasure to enjoy what I am doing in my daily role.  It has been a while since I have felt this level of contentment and joy with my work.

In good times, happiness, and health.

Our FI Journey

The FI Journey Begins

It was fall of 2015, and I was increasingly dissatisfied with my work.  The day to day grind was bringing me no joy, and I was rarely ever doing any direct patient care (which does bring me joy).    I did not hate my job, but I did not love it either.  I did not see myself continuing to plug away at the same ole same ole for the next 20 years.

I was trolling the internet for low cost of living places to retire.  We currently live in the Portland, OR metro area, and prices keep creeping up.  Family is in the Midwest and Southeast, and we envision ourselves moving back east in the future.  In my internet search, I stumbled into the Mr. Money Mustache (MMM) blog.  There were two articles from that blog which, in all seriousness, made me feel like a veil of financial ignorance had been lifted from my existence:  The From Zero to Hero article, which led me to the Shockingly Simple Math article.  I proceeded to read every article in the MMM blog over the next couple of months, and began to plot our own numbers down on spreadsheets.

Financial independence was totally within reach.  Holy $#&%!

Although I have always eschewed debt, and was doing a pretty good job of contributing to my 403b,  I had allowed myself to fall prey to lifestyle inflation.  I was not fully maximizing that tax advantaged space, nor was Mr. HG, although we were always sure to contribute enough to receive our employer’s matching contributions.  We certainly were not contributing to Roth IRAs or into post-tax investment accounts.   Sure, we had a good emergency fund, no debt except a mortgage, but we were frittering away literally thousands of dollars a month.

We had hit our strides with our careers.  We worked hard.  We “deserved” things.  Only those things weren’t necessarily making us happier.  We just did not realize it at the time.

I am thankful that my father had raised me to be debt adverse.  He has always followed the tenants of FI, and was teacher of those tenants :

  • Avoid debt.
  • Live below your means.  Invest the rest.
  • Never pay a dime in credit card interest.
  • Never be without health insurance.
  • Buy reasonable cars with cash.

We had done a lot of these things right.  I followed all of the principles like a good frugal Jedi.  However, I realized that we could be doing more.  We could achieve FI sooner, which would free up time for us to pursue our passion projects.  And we certainly had made some financial mistakes along the way.

Financial Mistake # 1 – Lifestyle inflation
Who, me?

Seriously, why does one 7# little dog need 8 designer leashes with matching collars, each of which cost approximately $50???

 

 

 

Or – 40 pairs of shoes, some never worn, and 10 skirts with tags still on them (slightly too tight because the owner needs to lose 5# for them to fit correctly).

$100 cable, $150 cell phone bills with new phones every 1-2 years, designer gym memberships when barely attending

Shopping when bored

Paying the grocery store to cart away food, store it a while, and then eventually throw it away

YIKES!  Yes, we were doing all of that!

Financial Mistake #2 – Buying too much house, at the top of the housing bubble

OK, well we couldn’t have predicted the housing bubble, but had we been paying more attention, we may have picked up the indicators.  We might have been able to sit on the sidelines until after the decline.  Oh well, hindsight is 20/20, and I consider it a valuable learning experience.

We built a home in 2007, just prior to the housing bubble bursting.  We also added a bunch of upgrades, which inflated the house cost, and some of which I would skip in the future.  Our builder actually filed for bankruptcy during the building process, which was a bit stressful at the time.  Fast forward 10 years, and the home has finally recovered to the same purchase price value.  We were never underwater, having put a sizeable chunk of money down.  But there were some drawbacks.  Interest rates dipped to a level where we wanted to refinance.  We got a killer interest rate (2.625%) but had to pay PMI for 2 years because our loan to value ratio had decreased to 70% and we did not have the cash to close the gap.  It’s not like we were taking any cash out either, and we were paying closing costs up front!  The PMI was only $57/month, and we were required to pay it for minimum of 24 months.  So a small opportunity cost outweighed by the larger savings from refinancing overall.

Although we love our home, and our neighborhood, and our private, greenspace backyard, it is definitely way more house than we need.  It is a large, 2-story, 4 bedroom home.  We will definitely be downsizing to a smaller place in the future.  The timing and future location of making such a change is uncertain, so we will stay put for now.  We have the stellar interest rate, and much of our payments are going to paying down the principle.  We will bite the bullet on the property tax (and the unfortunate limits on State and Local Taxes under the new tax bill – boo) for a little bit longer.  We do love the home, our commutes are reasonable.

Our Serene Backyard
The path to FI in our backyard
Crunching the Numbers, and Making Changes

I began tracking our spending, and this naturally led to optimizing our expenses.  I will chronical those changes in more detail in another blog post, but in general, we took action on the following:

  • We began to accelerate our savings.
  • We opened Roth accounts and fully funded them.
  • We maxed out our 403B contributions.
  • We stopped paying extra principle to the house and redirected it into post-tax accounts.
  • We developed reasonable budgets.  And stuck to them.
  • We began taking advance for credit card rewards for travel.
  • We developed a FI target and began tracking our progress.
Our FI Target

Once we had a better sense of our monthly expenditures, it became easier to determine what our numbers would be to become FI.  We established a goal, and began plotting it out on paper.  It has been extremely motivating to see the numbers accelerate.  And of course, the 2016-2017 market surge was a boost during this time.

We continue to plod along with our savings.  In addition to our FI number, we employ the following assumptions:

  • Fully paid off house
  • A significant budget for health care expenditures
  • Travel budget (which includes using travel rewards)
  • We both will have small pensions + social security, and we consider those things as “padding” to the retirement budget rather than including it in our FIRE projections

We continue to follow the climate as it relates to healthcare options, and will sit on the sidelines as this situation is volatile.   This issue is the single greatest concern about derailing the FI path.

In good times, happiness, and health.

Jen

Yellowstone and Teton Trip June 2018

Yellowstone Anyone?  Heck yes!

Last year, my dad, who lives in Michigan/my hometown, indicated interest in planning a trip to Yellowstone.  I have always wanted to go there, so I said “let’s do this!”  Reservations for park lodging are best obtained a year ahead of time, and open May 1 for the following year.  Therefore, on May 1, 2017, I spent several hours hitting redial to get thru to Xanterra on the phone to secure our lodging.  Xanterra is the sole operator for lodging within the park.  The trip dates that we had decided upon were week of June 10, 2018.  The timing worked well for my little sister, who attends undergraduate studies at Oakland University (yes, there are 23 years difference in our ages)!  Yellowstone June 2018  – Here we come!

Travel companions
  • Dad (Bruce J)
  • Bruce J’s wife (Kim)
  • Little sister (Julia)
  • Mr. HG
  • Me
Itinerary

Dad, Kim and Julia decided to fly into Portland, spend several days with us first, and then we would pile into the car and drive the distance (12 hours one way) to Yellowstone.   We decided to spend the first 2 days in Jackson, WY exploring Grand Tetons National Park, and then to drive north up into Yellowstone.  Lodging requirements for us:

  • Private, in room bathroom.
  • 2 separate rooms at each location.
  • Lodging in the park in Yellowstone to minimize driving
  • Cost per room ~ $150 per night.  The previous year I had started travel rewards optimization.   I was amassing credit card sign-on bonuses of travel reward points in exchange for meeting minimum spend requirements on the credit cards.  However, credit card rewards were not an option for lodging within Yellowstone National Park, so we were tasked with optimizing our lodging expenses as best we could.

Our plan: 2 nights in Jackson, 2 nights in Old Faithful area, and 2 nights in the Canyon area.  I had completed trip research on Trip Advisor  Yellowstone Forum, which was super helpful with all aspects of our planning.

Using credit card reward points thru the Chase UR travel portal, I secured lodging (2 rooms, 2 nights) in Jackson at The Lodge at Jackson Hole.   I then secured reservations for 2 nights in the Snow Lodge Frontier Cabins at Old Faithful (basic duplex-style cabins with in-room bathroom, $123 per night + tax) and 2 nights in Canyon Lodge (standard style hotel room, $152 per night + tax).  So far, so good; doing well with the trip budget.   In retrospect, it probably would have been a better redemption by transferring UR points to a Chase hotel partner like Marriott. Travel Rewards rookie mistake.  But, as it turns out, The Lodge at Jackson Hole was super nice, and it included free breakfast and Wi-Fi.  We were happy with our choice.

Here is a helpful map providing overview of the parks.  I poured over this map while planning our trip and routes to avoid backtracking.  Yellowstone is huge.

Trip Planning

We wanted to minimize eating out for both the cost savings as well as the health benefits.  Bruce J follows a plant-based, very low fat diet, so we were hoping to incorporate much of that into our meals on the road. I planned a menu of make-ahead and freeze meals which would be easy to reheat on a camp cookstove in picnic areas.

Items on our menu plan (all vegan, low to no added oil)

  • 7 vegetable and “cheese” soup
  • Veggie burgers (These were amazing!)
  • Vegan Chili from the Choose FI recipe vault
  • Ethiopian Lentils and naan also from the Choose FI recipe vault
  • Veggie soup
  • Vegan spaghetti sauce (with meatball addition for carnivore Chip)
  • Hummus and crackers/chips
  • Trail mix, granola bars, fruit, yogurt, and an assortment of other snacks
  • Egg kiesh casserole, cereal/milk and oatmeal for breakfasts

I batched-cooked and froze the meals in the weeks leading up to our trip.  I typically batch cook on the weekends, and then freeze leftovers into individual portions for yummy/healthy lunches and dinners during the week.  So our trip meal planning fit right in with my typical routine – only I made double recipes.  I froze the meals we would take in 8 cup containers.  The container contents would transfer perfectly into our camping cookstove pots for reheating.  The containers would slowly thaw in our cooler over the course of the week, and we would just need to replenish the cooler ice each day.  I also tucked in a bunch of frozen water bottles, which we then proceeded to drink as the thawed and then refill to hydrate during our trip.  We brought along a second, smaller cooler which we would fill with whatever provisions we needed during the course of the day.  This minimized repetitive opening of the larger cooler storing our frozen meals.  This plan worked really well, and we ate out a only 3 total meals the entire trip.

Stocking the cooler with prepared-ahead meals

Park entrance fees:  My Dad had purchased the Lifetime National Park’s Pass available for seniors for $10.  This includes entry for the pass holder, and everyone in the vehicle.  So we had our entrance fee all taken care of.  It is an absolutely amazing deal!  The price has gone up to $80 now for a lifetime pass (still not a bad deal).

The Trip
Day 1 – Travel day

Travel from Portland to Jackson, WY.  We departed Portland at 6 am driving thru the beautiful Columbia River Gorge, thru Eastern Oregon, Idaho, and into Wyoming to Jackson.  Eastern Oregon is incredibly beautiful, particularly the Wallowas.  The Wallowas warrant a return trip to fully explore, and I am adding it to the bucket list.  Our hotel, the Lodge at Jackson Hole, was as lovely on site as it was on the website.

The Lodge at Jackson Hole
Julia Bear with the Bear
Day 2 – Jackson, Jenny Lake/GTNP

Before breakfast, Dad and I headed out to explore the sight.  For me, 0ne of life’s greatest delights is to explore a new city before the hustle and bustle of life begins.  It helps that I am naturally wired for early.  My dad is the same way.  We drove around the town of Jackson, and explored the elk preserve there.  It was not high season for the elk in June, but my understanding is that the place is filled with elk during the winter (they are provided supplemental feed, and it is quite controversial).

Elk Preserve at dawn – Jackson, WY
Antler Arch Jackson Hole

My dad is always so much fun to spend time with.  He derives much pleasure from even the most mundane things.  For example, he gets such delight  from picking blackberries when he visits in late summer.  These bastardly weeds grow everywhere, and I am constantly chopping them down from our property line behind the house.  He loves the fact that he can walk outside and pick buckets of blackberries.  For free.  And he outwardly marvels at the delight of it.  (It is pretty cool, although the thorns are a bit of a nuisance).  In any case, he was so excited about the “amazing gourmet breakfast” that was available at the Jackson Hole Lodge.  It’s the simple things, right?

The breakfast room at the Lodge at Jackson Hole

Day 2 also happened to be Kim’s birthday.  One lovely patron overheard us wishing her a happy birthday.  He proceeded to begin a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” and the rest of the breakfast crowd joined in.  It was touching that he would do that, and we got a kick out of it.

Amazing TIP:  I highly recommend the GyPSy Guide(available as app in iTunes)  This narrated tour guide works off of GPS, and was an amazing addition for our trip for only $10 (included Grand Teton and Yellowstone both).  We named our tour guide Phil.  It was a pleasure for me to not feel the need to count miles or have my nose in my travel book.  Phil told us where we should be making our turns. (TIP:  there is limited cell services throught the area, and WiFi is also limited.  Download needed items prior to arrival and plan to be off grid!)

We opened up the GyPSy Guide and we were off.  We had a loose plan to drive clockwise around the loop from Moose  Junction to Signal Mountain, and then thru the Snake River valley to return to Jackson, stopping at locations recommended by our GyPSy Guide narrator, Phil.  The Tetons were amazingly beautiful.  We stopped to snap a bunch of photos, and proceeded to the Jenny Lake area.

Grand Teton National Park
Stunning – Grand Teton range
Bruce with the Moose. Visitor center at Moose Junction.

The Jenny Lake area is stunning.  The Lodging there is undergoing renovations, and I imagine it will be stunning when it reopens.  There is a boat trip across Jenny Lake to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point, or you can hike around the lake to reach these areas.  We elected to do the hike around the lake to the falls and to Inspiration Point, and take the boat ride ($9 one way) for the return trip.  We were able to see a mouse at Mouse Hole, which was cool.   I was not able to get a very good photo, as it was a bit in the distance and I left my zoom lens in the car.  But we had our binoculars.  The hike was gorgeous.  Pictures do not do it justice.

Hiking Trail around Jenny Lake
Boat ride across Lake to Hidden Falls
Hidden Falls
Julia – Jenny Lake trail – Inspiration Point
Boat Ride back

We had a picnic lunch at the String Lake picnic area (hungry after our hike!)  Lovely spot for a picnic.  We proceeded to drive towards Signal Mountain, and took the signal mountain drive to the viewpoint to see the Jackson Hole valley.  This is an amazing place to see a birds eye view of why early explorers describe the area as Jackson Hole.

Signal Mountain viewpoint – Jackson “Hole”

After our adventures, we were a bit tired, so returned the hotel to clean up for dinner.  We had planned on dinner out to celebrate Kim’s birthday – and ate at Sidewinders American Grill, which had been featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.  It was conveniently walking distance from our Hotel.  We then ventured into downtown Jackson to wander around the shops.  Had a really great time browsing, and purchased a necklace for our dog-sitter Kayla.  Stumbled into a taxidermy shop and was able to snap some photos of Chip with the Chipmunks – the photo that I thought would prove elusive…  Off to bed after dinner and shopping.

Julia Bear with the Bear
Chip with the Chipmunks
Jenny at Jenny Lake
Day 3 Depart Jackson, explore Jackson Lake, and head into Yellowstone

Another am early exploration with Dad.  I wanted to get a sunrise photo of John Molton barn/Mormon Row with the Tetons in the background.  I think this is probably the most photographed barn in the US.  Dad was limping with a swollen Achilles tendon, but was still wanting to accompany me for the photo session.  The pics were great!  Scenery amazing.   I dropped Dad back at the hotel and stopped to get some gas and wash the bug guts off the windshield.  I also stopped at the local Albertsons to purchase a straight cane and some NSAIDS for Dad’s swollen achilles tendon.  We had some breakie in the breakfast room, packed up the car, and checked out of the hotel.  We planned to explore the Jackson Lake area in GTNP on our way up to the Yellowstone South entrance.  Our destination by late afternoon was to arrive at the Old Faithful basin area to check into our Snow Lodge Frontier Cabin.

Mormon Row John Molton barn
Mormon Row
Signal Mountain Lodge area – Jackson Lake

We stopped both at Signal Mountain Lodge and Jackson Lake Lodge.  You are able to rent all types of water craft at the Signal Mountain area, which would be fun for a future visit.  Jackson Lake Lodge is absolutely stunning, and I can see us staying here in the future.  The deck off the back of the lodge has amazing views and opportunities for wildlife sightings.

Jackson Lake
Signal Lake Lodge boat rentals
View of the Tetons from Jackson Lake Lodge (moose in distance)
Another amazing picnic area

We found a lovely place for lunch (also with great view of the northern end of the Teton range and said Farewell to the grandeur of the Tetons.  We proceeded to enter Yellowstone National Park via south entrance, and spent some time exploring Yellowstone Lake and West Thumb Geyser Basin before making our way up to the Old Faithful geyser basin area.

Welcome to Yellowstone!
West Thumb Geyser Basin
West Thumb Geyser Basin
Kayakers next to geyser – Yellowstone Lake

Upon arrival to Old Faithful area, it was a little confusing to find where to check in for the Snow Lodge Frontier Cabins.  It was late afternoon on a beautiful day, too, and the place was hopping.  We eventually found where we needed to go, checked in to the cabins, and unloaded the car.  We had both sides of one duplex cabin.  The cabins are rustic/basic, and dated.  We knew that prior to booking –  you are truly paying for location, location, location.  I was delighted that there was a coffee pot in the cabin, with lots of packets of regular coffee.  I love me my morning joe!

After unpacking the car and getting settled a little, we proceeded to explore.  We walked over to the Old Faithful Visitor’s center and did a little browsing while waiting for the next Old Faithful eruption.  We did not need to wait long – and Old Faithful, in true form, did not disappoint.  Geyser eruption predications are posted at the visitor centers, and there is also a channel available on walkie talkies.  For future visits, I think I will borrow walkie talkies from a friend.  It would have been helpful and fun to have that available.  Note for next time.  Make us realize how reliant we have become on our cell phones, now with essentially no capability to provide information without cell service.

Old Faithful
Old Faithful Inn from Geyser Basin

We ate dinner in a picnic area near the cabins, and the mozzies were intense.  The next day applied Mosquito repellent, for sure.

Dad, Kim, and Julia retired to their cabin.  Dad was a bit fatigued with his sore achilles tendon, and really needed to ice and elevate his leg.  Mr. HG and I were a bit restless, and decided to do a little more exploration before the sun set.  We wandered over to the Geyser Basin and did the short loop of geysers north of the Old Faithful Geyser.  It was breathtaking to see so many thermal features packed in such as short distance.  I really had no idea.  We snapped some pictures as the sun was setting, but needed to keep moving with the intense mosquitos everywhere.  We stopped in to see the Old Faithful Inn, which is truly a glorious work of art.  I would definitely consider staying at the Inn for a future stay.

See the source image

Old Faithful Geyser Basin
Mr. HG on the Boardwalk – watch your footing!
Day 4 Geysers, Geysers, Geysers

Dad and I woke up for an early morning stroll.  He was walking much better after the previous day being compliant with NSAIDS, ice, elevation, and using the cane that I insisted he use (the therapist in me does know what she is talking about, after all).  We saw Old Faithful erupt, and I took him around the short loop of the geyser basin and then in to Old Faithful Inn.  It was a lovely cool morning, and the weather was predicted to be clear but windy.  We went back to the cabins and ate breakfast – cereal, and oatmeal prepared with heating water in the coffee machine, and yogurt.  We then walked the lower geyser basin with the group.  Snapped lots of photos.  We went all the way to the end to Morning Glory geyser, used the restrooms there, and then headed back.  We knew that Grand geyser was predicted to erupt within the next 1.5 hours, so we headed that direction and took a seat on the benches surrounding the geyser.  There were lots of people gathered around, so it was fun swapping stories with the other travelers.  Grand did not disappoint, and we were treated to a concert eruptions of Grand, Turbine, and Vent geysers.

Amazing colors
Yellowstone River surrounded by geysers
The Grotto geyser
Hang on to your hat! – Grand Geyser
Grand eruption

We ate a picnic lunch at the old faithful snow lodge lobby, and then proceeded drive up to the midway geyser basin.  I was itching to see the famed Grand Prismatic geyser.  By this time, the winds had kicked up, and it was still pretty cold out.  There was a lot of steam around the geyser, and pretty scary with the winds whipping on the boardwalk.  There were a lot of people around, and some individuals were not shy at pushing right past you.  It made me a bit uncomfortable.  I had visions of falling into the super hot thermals.  We snapped some photos of the Grand Prismatic and wandered around the boardwalks for a while.   A future trip I would like to take the hike to the overlook to the Grand Prismatic spring (trailhead is about 1 mile south).  It was pretty steamy with the cold air and steam rising from the thermals, had had heard the visibility was diminished, so we elected to defer it this time.  This is a beautiful spot, and a must do when you are in Yellowstone.

Hang on to your hat! – Grand Prismatic
Grand Prismatic

We ate dinner at a picnic area (heated up chili and crackers) and proceeded back to our cabins for the night.

Day 5 Depart Old Faithful and Head to Canyon area

Did a solo walk in the am – was treated to close encounter with a Bison just off the path.  He came around a big shrub as I was walking down the  path.  I watched him for a while, snapped some pictures, and then turned around as he was staying pretty close to the path.  It was a pretty morning, and it was nice to capture some sunrise shots.

Geyser basin in the am
Old Faithful at Sunrise
OF Geyser basin
Bison right by trail on am hike

We had breakfast in the cabin rooms (cereal/oatmeal, coffee, egg casserole) and packed up the car and proceeded to head over to the canyon area.  It had begun raining a bit.  We stopped on additional time at Grand Prismatic, but it was too steamy to really see anything.  Proceeded up to the Canyon area, stopped at the visitor’s center, found our hotel area.  It was mid-day, and too early to check in, so we continued north up towards Roosevelt and Lamar Valley.  On the way north, we were treated to a grizzly sighting right by the side of the road.  He was a juvenile, and was sporting a tracking collar.  We stopped at Tower Falls rest area and browsed the shopping area, and got some coffees.  Enjoyed stretching our legs a little, and viewing the falls.  Proceeded to Lamar Valley.   The rain had thankfully stopped, and it was slightly overcast.  We stopped at a picnic area for some lunch, and continued with our exploration.  Lamar Valley is Glorious.  Stunning.  Vast, and filled with amazing animals.  We sighted tons of bison, pronghorn, deer, pika, marmots, and eagles.  The weather was good for wildlife sighting, and we really enjoyed ourselves.

Bison, Lamar Valley
Juvenile grizzly bear
Lamar Valley
Bison Lamar Valley
Soda Butte

We drove out of the park to Cooke City.  Our tire warning lite was on, and we needed to stop and check pressure, and possibly add some air.  I was considering having us continue to drive and explore Beartooth pass, which I have heard is breathtaking.  As it turns out, officials had just closed the pass due to whiteout snowstorm.  We ran into travelers later that evening and the next day who had been caught up on the pass.  I understand it was a harrowing experience, thankful that we did not get caught up in it.  Cooke City is a super quaint town, and locals there must brave some crazy winter weather.  Hardy folks, for sure.

Cooke City
Pronghorn (relative to giraffe)
Picnic area Lamar Valley
After picnic lunch
Friendly visitor during lunch
Another grizzly

We returned to the canyon area and checked into our hotel rooms.  We had rooms adjacent to one another on the 3rd floor in the Hayden Building.  The hotel made up of variety of separate buildings.  The Hotel is new, just opened 2 years ago.  It is one of the most efficient uses of space that I have seen.  It was very clean and modern, and environmentally friendly with recycling bins in room.  The one thing missing was coffee maker in the rooms.  I can do without a TV and WiFi, but I do miss my morning coffee.  They do sell coffee in the main lobby beginning at 6:30, and we made use of that service.  We checked into our hotel and then ate cold leftovers and snacks for dinner in the room.

Canyon Lodge
Grabbing dinner in the room
Day 6, Our Last Full Day in the Park

We woke up to rain again, but promise of clearing like the day before.    Keeping up with my typical style, I got up early and began to do a little exploring before the rest of the group could shake off the sleepies.  I grabbed my camera and hopped in the car.  It was still slightly dark, and I took it slowly on the roads, knowing that animals are on the move at this time of day.  And they did not disappoint.  I headed south down thru Hayden Valley.  My car at one point was surrounded by bison as they migrated down toward the river.  These beasts are BIG.  I continued down to Fishing Bridge, hopting to spot a bear or two, but they were not out fishing in the rain.  Stopped at Mudd Volcano area (and we stopped there later in the day again).  In the morning, I was the only one at the thermal area.  The area is the stinky-ist, most acidic thermals in the area.  Super cool.  I hopped back in the car and stopped at the hotel lobby to buy coffees to take back to the group.

Mudd Volcano
Piggy back ride
Bison bubbies
Bison crossing

The group got up and going for our last full day in the park.  We ate cereal and protein bars for breakfast, hopped in the car.  It was raining, but promise of clearing.   We drove down to the south rim and stopped to snap some photos at artist point.  Beautiful location.  We proceeded south to Mudd Volcano, and then backtracked north to do the northern Yellowstone loop clockwise.  It was raining, so did not stop at Norris, electing to come back in the pm once it was more clear.  We stopped at Roaring mountain – the side of a mountain with a variety of thermal areas hissing from the hillside.  Cool.  Continue on to sheepeater cliff area, and hung out here for a bit, chatting with other travelers, and snapping some pics of the critters which call the rocky area home.  We continued north to Mammoth Hot Springs and drove around the hot springs.  We did not get out and hike/explore much here, but Mammoth area is definitely an interesting thermal feature with the amazing terraces.

Roaring Mountain
Sheepeater cliff
Hiya – sheepeater cliff

We continued around the loop enjoying the scenery and stopping every now and then.  Had another lovely picnic lunch at Wraith Falls picnic area.  Continued on to drive out Lamar Valley for about 10 miles.  We were getting weary of being in the car, so headed back to the Canyon area to wander around Canyon Village on foot for a while.  We grabbed some dinner in the hotel room – hummus roll-ups and string cheese, and other snackies.   The weather was perfect, and we decided to head to Norris Basin to explore a little.  Steamboat Geyser – the largest in the US –  had been erupting recently after years of dormancy, and had just erupted the week prior.  Would have been cool to catch it (as it turns out, we just missed it by 1 day!).  We saw some stunning scenery and caught some cool pics.  Norris Basin is a really active, cool thermal area which is constantly changing.  I would love to go back there and explore some more.  We were pressed for time as the sun was setting, and we needed to drive the 15 miles or so back to Canyon.  You definitely don’t want to be navigating the roads after dark.  It would be a recipe to hit an elk.  We were treated to sightings of elk, deer and a coyote catching a snack.

Norris basin at sunset
Norris basin
Norris Basin
Coyote catching a snack
Day 7 Return Trip Home

We woke up to rain, and the forecast for the next week in Yellowstone called for cold rain.  We felt fortunate that our trip was ending and that the week we were there was pretty nice.  We packed up the car, stopped in to the hotel lobby to grab some coffee, and headed out.  We planned to return a different path than we arrived, traveling out the West Yellowstone Gate, past Earthquake Lake, and thru the state of Montana, northern Idaho, and then across eastern and central Washington before dipping back south to the Columbia River Gorge.  The state of Montana and northern Idaho panhandle were beautiful, and I was glad that we went that direction.  We stopped for some brunch in Butte, Montana and headed out back to the homestead.

It was a lovely trip, and I hope to make it back there someday.

In Good Times, Happiness, and Health.

Goodbye Yellowstone

About Us

We are Jen and Chip, Mrs. and Mr. Happiness Gratis (HG).  Mrs. HG is the mastermind behind the blog, and Mr. HG is editor-in-chief, occasional poster, and tech support extraordinaire.  We are a DINK couple in pursuit of financial independence, and pet parents of 2 little dogs. We are middle-aged, full-time, W2 employees working in the healthcare sector for medium sized organizations.

Mrs. HG
Mr. HG
Two little dogs

The inspiration for this blog is meet a variety of objectives:

  • Mindfulness of the simple pleasures in everyday life
  • Creation of a digital photo journal of our fun, frugal adventures
  • Providing a placeholder for future bucket list adventures
  • Allowing an opportunity to share frugal wins with others who are frugal-minded
  • Tracking our journey to Financial Independence (FI)
  • Chronicling our concerns and worries about Health Care for Early Retirees
  • Transitioning to retirement from our 9-5 jobs
  • Consideration of geographical arbitrage upon retirement

Our journey to FI began in late 2015 as I (Mrs. HG) was increasingly dissatisfied with my job.  The middle manager role was stressful, and I was spending too many hours at the office.  Resentful of the never-ending task list, I found myself not able to disconnect from the office.  I began daydreaming of leaving it all behind.  Perusing the internet for lower cost of living areas and best places to retire, I fell into the rabbit hole of Mr. Money Mustache.  The blog post Shockingly Simple Math rocked.my.world.  Suddenly the path to early(ish) retirement seemed crystal clear, and actually well within reach.   I just needed to get buy-in from Mr. HG, and for us to turn the tide on the wave of lifestyle inflation that we had succumbed to in our 30s and 40s.

Armed with fanatical ideas (series of simple small steps to drastically reduce our expenses) and talk of a “5 year plan” I presented my findings to Mr. HG.   He was… ummm… skeptical.  At first, anyway.  I continued to share with him overviews of our financial situation.  I created a Personal Capital account to track our spending and our Net Worth, and showed him our progress every few weeks.  Bar graphs are fun when you are rocking the numbers!  Before long, he was 100% on board.  It was not long before making small changes in our daily spending allowed us to accelerate our savings.  This, coupled with nice market gains in 2016 and especially in 2017, our retirement accounts accelerated like Justify out of the gate at Belmont Stakes.

This blog will chronical our adventures as we continue the journey to FI, and will help inspire us to live life to the fullest along the way.

Thanks for joining us.

In Good Times, Happiness, and Health.

Jen