Reader Case Study: Earn More, Spend Less, Or Both?

I'm ready to help with the case study.

I’m ready to help with the case study.

I sort of forgot that sometimes we do Reader Case Studies here on Frugalwoods, but I love them! And fortunately, a loyal reader–we’ll call her Julie for this exercise–hadn’t forgotten. She contacted me last week to ask if I’d be willing to publish her story and I’m delighted to do so.

A bit of background: Reader Case Studies are posts whereby a real person, who is a reader of Frugalwoods, contacts me with a financial dilemma that they’d like Frugalwoods nation to weigh in on. Then Frugalwoods nation (that’d be you), reads through their situation and provides advice, encouragement, insight, and feedback in the comments section. It’s a way for us to support and help one another on our diverse financial journeys. Since many of us don’t discuss money with our friends in a conventional setting, I find that having these conversations here on the internet provides a wonderful resource.

I probably don’t even need to say the following because you all are the kindest, most polite commenters on the internet, but, please note that Frugalwoods is a judgement-free zone where we all endeavor to help one another, not to condemn.

With that, please take a look at Julie’s case!

Julie’s Story

Julie wrote to me:

We are pleased to hear about the pet sitting

We are pleased to hear about the pet sitting

I am a single, 33-year-old woman living in a small town on the Connecticut shoreline north of New Haven. I share an apartment with a roommate and don’t have any pets. I’m currently a full-time MBA student (with a focus on Finance/Project Management) on track to graduate in July 2018. I also have an MS in Organizational Leadership, which got me a lot of debt but no job prospects.

I work 40 hours a week as a temp in a Junior Accountant role along with two side hustles: pet sitting and selling on Ebay (I buy high-end men’s clothing from my local Goodwill–at roughly $0.70 an item–and flip it online for a large markup).

In order to save money, I don’t eat at restaurants or go out for drinks , nor do I go to the movies. All of my entertainment comes from reading, Netflix, or DVDs from the library. My hobbies include history, antiquing, collecting old books, trying to learn how to can/fish/knit and building models (mainly of ships and planes).

Sounds good to me! Especially if there are hounds involved.

Sounds good to me! Especially if there are hounds involved.

Where Julie Wants To Be In 10 years:

  • Finances: debt-free (perhaps with a reasonable mortgage) and on track to retire by 50 if not earlier.
  • Lifestyle: to be happy, healthy, married with 1-3 kids, and living in a home on a decent amount of land. I’d also like to be more involved in my community through coaching youth sports and volunteering at my church.
  • Career: I hope to find a job, preferably in finance or as an analyst, that provides a work/life balance that allows me to have a family.
Julie’s Questions For You:
  1. After my expenses, I have roughly $300-$800 leftover every month (this fluctuates depending on my side hustle income). What should I do with this? Invest or pay down debt faster?
  2. My students loans for my MBA (currently $19K but this will grow) are at 5.84% interest whereas my other student loans are at 6.8%. Since the MBA will cost less (thanks to a scholarship) would it make sense to take the additional money (student loans for living at 5.84%) and pay off the 6.8% loans? And then try to refinance the lesser amount for a lower interest rate?
  3. And finally, career advice! Should I continue temping while earning my MBA or try to find a more full-time position before graduation?
  4. I am also looking for mentors in the field of finance.

Julie’s Financials

Monthly Income:

Net Take Home $1,979.36 From Jr. Accountant temp job
Side Hustle Income $75-$500 Pet sitting and selling on Ebay
TOTAL: $2,054.36-$2,479.36 Fluctuates depending on side hustle income for the month
Monthly Debt Payments:
Car Payment $300.00 $1,980 left 0% interest
Credit Card $200.00 $3,250 left 0% interest
Medical $53.73 $689.53 left 0% interest
Medical $25.00 $2,500 left 0% interest
TOTAL: $578.73
Student Loans:
BA and MS $44,000.00 Deferred until 12/2018. 6.80% interest. Tried to refinance but wasn’t able to through SoFi.
MBA $19,000.00 This will continue to accrue until I graduate. 5.84% interest.
TOTAL: $63,000.00
Emergency Fund $6,918.10  I don’t want to wipe this out in order to pay down debt.
Roth IRA $200.00 This makes me depressed to say the least.

Monthly Expenses:

Rent $515.00
Groceries $100.00 I have a gluten intolerance
Gas $80.00
Car Insurance $78.00
Life Insurance $73.00 I have some medical conditions and am not sure I would qualify again. This is $1M with a 20 year term. I am open to reducing or eliminating.
Utilites $65.00 On average
Cell Phone $43.05 AT&T Go phone (parents live out of the country so I needed something that would allow me to keep in touch with them).
Prescription Medications $37.50
Ebay $26.00 Membership for my side hustle of selling on Ebay
Renters Insurance $25.50 Required
Haircut $15.00 Every two months
Microsoft office $11.00 Needed for school, but I wonder if I could get it cheaper as a download?
Netflix $9.00
TOTAL: $1,078.05

Mrs. Frugalwoods’ Recommendations

Just practicing my interview smile.

Just practicing my interview smile.

My chief recommendation for Julie is to do everything she can to ensure that her MBA pays off after graduation. I think that finding an excellent, well-paying job post-MBA should be priority #1. With that job, she can quickly wipe out all of her debt and start tackling her student loans. To that end, I’d advise Julie to be at the top of her class, to network like crazy, and to take advantage of every opportunity to meet prospective employers in order to line up an awesome gig once she’s finished with school.

Although there are tweaks Julie could make to her monthly expenses, she’s already spending very little (kudos on that frugality!). Her focus at this point should be on her future earnings because extreme frugality micro-optimizations just aren’t going to pay off until her earnings increase. Since her student loans are deferred, and since she’s paying down her other debt, and since she already has a robust emergency fund (woohoo!), I’d remove focus from her current financial situation and instead go all in on setting herself up for her career.

Ok, Frugalwoods nation, what advice would you give to Julie? She and I will both reply to comments, so please feel free to ask her any clarifying questions!


Would you like your own case study to appear here on Frugalwoods? Send me your details via email ( and we’ll talk. 


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219 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    I think this lady is an example to us all of hard work and frugality and I commend her, seriously! One thing that strikes me – and I am not US-based so my financial-specific advice is clearly a bit hit and miss, but at 33 and single, where she will complete her MBA in only 2 years, the goal of having a home /with land, children, work-life balance (so as to volunteer, spend time with family) seems quite a big ask within a reasonable time frame. I imagine growing a flourishing MBA-worthy career takes a bit of time and investment over several years, which would make work-life balance something of a pipe dream for a little while.

    I hope I don’t sound negative or unkind, I genuinely think with this sort of work ethic and focus, Julie would be an asset to any financial organisation, I just am not certain how all of those goals that are evidently important to her (as they are to many of us), can be reached.

    • Jessica says:

      i was thinking the same thing about the work/life balance. IMO that comes after a significant investment of time in both ones skill set and the company you work for.

    • Linda says:

      That was my first thought too! I’m Julie in 25 years: 58, female and single, with an MBA and reasonable career in corporate-type roles and nest egg. My personal experience has been that it’s very hard to find that work-life balance, especially in today’s corporate environments; and in hindsight I wish I could have done a better job of balancing.

      Julie has already decided to make a significant financial investment in her career and I agree with Mr. Fruglewoods advice to really hustle, make the connections to get the job so there’s a payoff to the investment.

      But I also advise strongly that she spend time really reflecting and thinking about the lifestyle and family she wants–and how to get it. I hate to use a cliche, but the reality is at 33 and hoping for 1-3 kids, the clock is ticking and things don’t always happen as fast as or when you want. My experience is that you can have “anything” you want…you usually just can’t have “everything”. I wish her all the best to reaching her dreams.

      • Caroline says:

        I am so relieved others were struck by this too. I posted and then thought ”what a nasty, judgemental thing to think” but it’s not meant that way at all. I think this Julie is clearly a hard-working and motivated lady who will be a success in her life, no question. It’s just that 33 is getting on a bit in terms of biology and realistic timescales. I hope she proves us wrong and is happily married, with as many children as she wants, living the dream in a few years!

      • Watson says:

        I am an insurance agent. Do NOT get rid of the insurance policy without a replacement if you plan to have a family.

        I agree with many others that the salary is too low for working 40 hrs. Veer toward accounting. More job ops and not everything is a big 4 type position.

        Do the hard work now to drive your pay up. It doesn’t get easier.

        Also, if you want to retire early, do you have a detailed spreadsheet to take you there?

        We are a two income family with low cost of living and our plan is 50 as well, but it is going to be a push, especially with 2 kids.

        Go for the money.

  2. Marnie says:

    If I were Julie, I would find a part-time job now waiting tables or something in order to pay off her debt other than school loans. I would focus first on the two medical bills and get them paid off very, very quickly. This will free up about $80 to start adding to her car payment to get that paid off next. After the medical and the car is paid off, I would take $3250 or whatever is left on the credit card from savings and pay that off. Sure her savings will be dwindled however she can very quickly build that back up without having these payments. She essentially will have $580 extra plus the $300+ she already has leftover to save. I would immediately cancel the life insurance as there is no one to take care of with her income at this time and her emergency fund would cover final expenses. Next, I would either keep that part time job + the junior accountant or start looking for a full time internship-like job in her respective field that will lead to full time employment after school; preferably at a large firm with good health insurance. She can decide later if a large company suits her but large companies tend to have great benefits, both for medical and retirement. Pile up as much money as she can with the $800+ extra she will have to avoid taking out as much future loans as possible. After graduation and employment in her field, she should still live as if she is a student scraping buy until the loans are paid for which could be as much as 3 years or so.

    • RAnn says:

      Why are you paying off interest-free debt?

      • Karianne says:

        Because debt = financial risk regardless of interest rate. But in my experience, beyond the math, there is something magical that happens to your power over your money when you are paying yourself instead of your creditors. 🙂

      • S.G. says:

        Cash flow can be an issue as well. Lower payments results in more flexibility, especially as she is trying to find a new job.

    • Brantlee says:

      Agreed. I would pay off the non student loan debt ASAP. I know she wants to keep the large emergency fund but if she took the fund down to $1,000, she could almost pay off all her debt. Then I would pile up the cash I am paying on the non student loan debt to pay a hefty chunk off when the student loan comes due.

  3. David says:

    *Bump* on Mrs. FW’s recommendation. I would only add that Julie would be wise to be mindful of the financial outlook of whomever she’s planning on making those 1-3 babies with as marrying someone with incompatible financial views – as best as I can figure – will on the milder side cause you continual stress and on the severe side make you unable to realize those financial goals you’ve set for yourself.

  4. Wow Julie – you seem to be doing an excellent job with your frugality. Your monthly expenses are amazingly low – even with some medical concerns. I understand you are a full-time student and that takes up a great deal of your time and energy. Can you share what you make per hour at the temp job? It sounds like you are an incredibly hard worker and your take home (even with the side gigs) is pretty low – but it’s hard to know without knowing how many hours you work. Do you have medical insurance through your job? Maybe I missed something – but that is concerning too.

    • Nora says:

      Totally agree. Look into temping or part time at the Big 4 in Hartford. Not a far job and a big work-life sacrifice but will increase your take home pay exponentially. I’d also advocate swapping the work/college mix so you can increase earnings and decrease overall college spending.

  5. Nora says:

    Totally agree with Caroline. No judgment but would it be worth it to go to a part time MBA and get a full time accounting/finance job? All of the places I’ve worked have paid $5000-8000 per year for my MBA which allowed me to do it after work and paid me full time as well. As a senior analyst in a finance/accounting role, you need to work at least 3-4 to get the work-life balance, especially in the Northeast finance market (I’ve worked in Boston/Hartford). Many of your goals are also familial not financial so what are you investing in that?

    • SK says:

      I highly recommend this option! I work in a Corporate FP&A (financial planning & analysis) job at a large healthcare company. When I was a Financial Analyst, I started my MBA part-time and my company paid $7k/year. I finished in about 2.5 years by taking two classes at a time and still working full time. It was a lot of work to juggle both but I finished my degree with little debt (I purposely chose a school that was a good value), plus I continued to advance in my career while my superiors took note of how hard I worked.

      • Julie says:

        If my current job were to hire me permanently they will pay 100% tuition after 6 months of employment.

        • Julie Lindgren says:

          There is a key for you. Optimize by finding a position, even at another company, that pays more in wages today and provides tuition benefits. This is just if $$ are more important than time. You are doing well as is. In order to make more today it will require stretching out the time line to degree completion.

  6. I believe Julie is doing a fantastic job of sticking to her routine and working on obtaining FI. That seems like a very strict routine and she does not seem to sway much from it, which I am sure, requires a massive dedication of self-discipline. One piece of advice that I have recently used to my advantage, albeit a small savings, is with MS Office. My graduate school currently offers to students a one time download of the MS Office Suite for for $0.00! In my undergrad, I do not remember the exact cost, but I know as a student I was able to obtain a drastic discount from my institution, as well.

    Once again Julie, hats off to you for your discipline.

    • KBT says:

      Both my husband’s university and my large company employer (which had a contract with Microsoft) offered a $10 download of the current MS Office suite. You’ll need to use your .edu email address from school. I think their IT department should be able to help.

    • Ashley says:

      I was also going to say that most colleges/universities offer Microsoft Office for free (as a download) through the library or bookstore. It is usually a year download, which is free to keep downloading as long as you are a student. Great work on your budget! I am seriously impressed that you only spend $100 on food.

      • Julie says:

        I will look into the free/reduced download! Ashley, I am very lucky to have an Aldi near me as well as a deep freezer and a grocery store 1 mile away that does Buy 1 Get 2 Free meat sales. : )

  7. Rachel says:

    I agree- it sounds like a lot of her goals may also take an investment to achieve. I think that focusing on the career so she can pay down debt is good advice in service of her professional goals and financial situation. (There are also other student loan refinancing options out there- student loan freedom is one I just heard about ). I would recommend in service of her long term personal goals setting up a budget line item for achieving them- for example, maybe a online dating membership, or extra funds for going to events where she’ll meet other single 30 somethings. Additionally, researching the real cost of fertility options (freezing eggs now, in vitro later, etc) and adoption/fostering children might help her plan (realistically) for what it might cost to make her future happen. Exploring what that might look like might help inform her financial choices- whether that’s setting up a HSA to help offset the cost of medical help getting pregnant, saving specifically for the cost of an adoption, and/or spending more now (gasp!) to meet the right person to do all this with.

    • Helen says:

      Freezing eggs is a bad investment – statistically the success rate is very low. I don’t have the figures to hand but from what I’ve read it doesn’t seem to actually make conception significantly more likely.

      • Julie says:

        I am medically unable to carry children.

        • Alysha says:

          If you plan to adopt, I would definitely recommend you set up a private line item in your budget to save for this. Cost can range drastically depending on whether you go through the foster system or do a private adoption. My partner and I are in the middle of the process and it can be very pricey.

        • Caroline says:

          If adoption or gestational carrier is the way you will be going, then that makes a big difference and I apologise for having instantly assumed you would be carrying pregnancies yourself. You have plenty more time in this case, obviously, and again, all the best for seeing results from your serious efforts!

        • I’m so sorry. We went through infertility ourselves and were incredibly lucky to have children. Friends who adopted had varying costs. Those who adopted from the foster system spent much less or nothing,and those who went private or through an agency spent up to tends of thousands. I know a couple people who went the surro route, and $20K was pretty typical for pay the gestational carrier. Consider too that once they are here, your feelings about working full time may change, or the children could have needs that requires a full-time parent at home. It happened to us.

          I have lupus and I can’t get life insurance. I can’t keep a full-time job with benefits thanks to our childrens’ needs. I dearly wish I had gotten a term life insurance policy when I was younger. If in the future you opt not to have children, you can always drop it, but I would caution against dropping your policy for now.

  8. Maggie says:

    You didn’t say where you are studying for your MBA or if you have citizenship/green card. Finance and analyst positions are abundant if you have good people skills and are flexible about where you want to live. I agree that while in school you want to make the most of your education investment and use the time to get top grades and make great connections.

    To answer your question:what should I do with my extra funds?

    I don’t think you’re ready to invest just yet. You have two options – increase your savings account or pay down debt faster.

    As I read through your expenses I don’t see anything allocated to entertainment. If one of your life goals is to be married you don’t want to spend every night at home – you want to be exploring new settings and meeting new people. Similarly if you’re spending $15 every other month for haircuts please evaluate if the hairstyle you’ve chosen is stylish and up to date. First impressions matter a lot both in dating and in job hunting.

    • Julie says:

      My school is brick and mortar, but I do their online program. I could in theory live anywhere. My hair cut is $30 every two months.

      • Diana says:

        The last time I went to the hair salón was in February, $36 (I live in Costa Rica), and I still get compliments on my hair, so I think Julie’s hair is fine. But do make some room for entertainment. I am sure there are many free concerts, parties, museums or whatever you can imagine. And keep going for those dreams!

    • K says:

      “please evaluate if the hairstyle you’ve chosen is stylish and up to date”?? Wow. Just wow.

      • Maggie says:

        Once you are in a great relationship and in a great job you can explore ways to cut your grooming budget. A Big 4 consulting firm includes customer face time. Clothes, hair, nails are all expected to be impeccable. It’s a dealbreaker in larger companies if you don’t play the part.

        • Julie says:

          Now might be a good time to mention that I am gay and do not wear makeup, do my nails etc. My last jobs were fine with suit and tie. And yes, I have Brooks Brothers, J. Press, Gant and many other high end brand clothing to fit in.

          • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

            For what it’s worth, I also usually don’t wear makeup or do my nails and Mr. FW cuts my hair for me. As Julie and I demonstrate, it’s totally possible to look polished without spending much money or going in for all the extras. I’m all for revamping the definition of what a “successful woman” looks like: I think she looks confident and poised, regardless of her clothes or makeup.

          • Nora says:

            Maggie – it’s important to be presentable and neat but the Big 4 in Boston/Hartford/NY are less intense than some of the other markets. I worked between those markets (in audit not consulting) and as long as you were professional, makeup and nails were not required. It is important during interviews to “look the part” but I worked in recruiting and I was impressed with how not superficial people were. If you have a very alternative look, it might be necessary to tone it down but as long as you have a conservative and professional outfit, which Julie has definitely described, they focus less on brands and looks.

      • Sally says:

        Lol!!!!! I’m in my 30’s, I visit my hair stylist maybe twice a year for $35, don’t ever get my nails done at the salon, and I work in the corporate world earning 6 figures. As long as you look professional, confident, and presentable, there’s absolutely no need to drop the dough just to impress others.

        • I’m on the same boat. 2x a year haircut, never goes and does nails, never wears makeup except for the occasional eyeliner. I always look professional and presentable.

        • S.G. says:

          Yes, but it is different when she is in her 30s looking for her first job in the area. And I don’t know what salary she’s going to be looking for, but there is a paradox where the more you make, the less you have to worry about it.

          I am not disagreeing, as I am in the same boat, but I think it is prudent to seriously consider it. Some fields/jobs/points in your career are more sensitive to personal grooming and styles than others. I knew a guy in my field who had tattoos down both arms and legs, wore cargo shorts and sandals most of the time (even in winter), and had a few other stylistic quirks. But he was known and respected. But that doesn’t mean I would say it didn’t matter if someone coming out of school wanted a similar job to his.

  9. Is first like to congratulate Julie for being so conscious with her finances. She certainly isn’t living beyond her means and she knows where every dollar is going. I must agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods regarding the earn more scenario. At this point, it’s going to be difficult for Julie to squeeze additional monies out of her already bare bones budget. The focus must be on obtaining a good salary upon graduation. This can take some time so starting to put the feelers out now is a good idea. After that, I would suggest focusing on the high interest student loans and work your way down. Any additional money available before that should also be thrown at that debt. It looks like the car will be free and clear soon. Awesome! That frees up money each month for that debt. It looks like you also have a nice emergency fund for the moment. I would definitely not touch that to pay off debt. Overall, great job, Julie! I have little doubt you will be able to reach your goals.

    Mrs. Mad Money Monster

    • Julie says:

      Can not wait for the car to be paid off, I have never had a car loan before. And never will again!

      • Julie Lindgren says:

        That is an admirable, and financially sound outlook. If you’re interested Mr. Money Mustache just recently did a post on transportation choices that is quite well researched.

  10. Jason says:

    Quickest way to more cash flow.

    Pay off the small medical debt (690) with emergency fund. Then work on car asap. That will free up $350 a month. Then work on the other 2. I wont try my best to remove all this misc debt from your life. Then i would attack those student loans.

    You will be broke for a while andeven on the day the debt is gone but from that day forward your financial life will be on a sharp incline up to your goals.

    Good luck.

    Oh keep the temp job but always look for something better.

  11. Helen says:

    Julie is definitely doing well to stay frugal! A couple of suggestions from me: life insurance seems expensive and maybe unnecessarily since you appear not to have any dependents. I would probably cancel that. Can you ditch the car? When you add car expenses up they are really expensive! I would need to know more about the car to determine whether you should sell it and get an older one for cash (which should bring down your insurance costs too) but if you could get around using public transport that would be a huge win!

    Keep plugging away and good luck!

    • Leah says:

      Since she’s so close to paying off the car, I wouldn’t ditch that. Selling a car can still not work out well, and an older car might not be as reliable. Maintenance makes a difference too. I kept my car even tho I was paying a loan on it right out of college when making $20k a year, and I still have that car 11+ years later. I’m not sure the same could be said if I had bought a cheaper car. The long-term trajectory is important too.

      Mostly, I agree with the comment right above: pay off that small med debt with the efund, and then get that car paid off. Frees up $350 a month to tackle other debt (and could take two months to pay back the efund).

    • Helen says:

      I don’t know what her commute is like but biking is an option too. I bike through the Chicago winter, only occasionally using public transport – saves me a ton of money and I get plenty of exercise as a bonus. I’m not a particularly sporty person, I often bike in heels, so you don’t have to be hardcore to make it work, just invest in good boots and ski mittens for the truly cold days.

    • stephanie says:

      She has health concerns and admits that she may never be able to get life insurance at reasonable rates again. If she does eventually have kids or private/parent signed student loans then keeping that insurance for the rest of the 20 year term is a great idea.If your parents/family sign a loan for you and you die, they are on the hook. I have children and am no longer insurable due to my health- the small policy my parents bought a million years ago will help cover my final expenses and that is one less thing for my husband to worry about.

      • Lisa says:

        This was exactly what I was going to say. Also if Julie got coverage before her medical condition(s) was diagnosed, she might be able to retain her previous health rating if she renews her plan at the end of the 20 year term.

        $75/month does seem high to me though. Would it be worth it to see about reducing the coverage to $500k to cut that monthly payment in half? Also, if she can save up the money and pay annually instead of paying monthly (not sure which Julie is currently doing based on the stats), there are usually some savings. Are her auto and renters policies with the same company? If not, it would be worth looking into to see if Julie can get them bundled to save some additional money. It might be worth contacting her insurance agent/agency to see if there are any savings she is missing out on.

        • Nora says:

          My agent made us reapply for any change in payout so it would be worth it to check what the requirements were. We spent a few hours going through reapplication for a higher rate. 🙁

  12. Nicole says:

    With the extra money, I would do the “snowball effect.” Start with the car loan, which you owe the least on, and start with extra payments, whatever you can do (if only $50-$100), each month. Once payed off, move all (the monthly payment on the car loan ++ the extra payment $) to the credit card. Continue to pay the amount on the credit card +++ all the extra from the car loan. (the base amount moves so quickly) And so on, perhaps to the student loans, this will eventually decrease your monthly (and debt) expenses. I know the student loans have an interest rate and the other loans are zero interest, however the “feel good” when a loan is paid off and the decrease to your monthly expense happens quicker is a real benefit. My family did this with credit card, car loan and we now only have a mortgage.

    • Leah says:

      That’s how we paid off our student loans. It was so awesome and such a good feeling! We were completely debt free until we bought our car this summer. We have $5k left on the loan, so we’ll be done again very soon.

  13. Tyler says:

    Try Libreoffice instead of MS Office. It is free and has the features that most people need. I plan on writing an article on free software for my website in the near future.

  14. Jean says:

    My son graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics and finance. He began working immediately after college as an analyst at a large insurance company in their investment department. If/when he needs his master’s it will be paid for by the company. I’m not sure it’s really necessary for you to go into debt for that right now. Secondly, my son worked part time for a financial advisor while in college. Devoting his time to work that paid well and was in his chosen field helped him land his full time job after college. As far as your life insurance policy, usually people purchase those bc they have a spouse and children to care for after they’re gone. It seems like an unnecessary expense at this time. Wish you the best!

    • Julie says:

      My BS is in History. Well done to your son, however, I not have the advantage he did.

      • Katherine says:

        My BS is in East Asian Studies. I’m just a bit older than you and have positioned myself into a high-paying 6-figure++ job by self-studying and taking certification classes but mostly just working really, really hard. I started working a “real job” when I was 23 and it took me until 28 to break $40k/yr in VHCOL. I did that by jumping into Sales (not everybody’s bag, I know) and cleared 6-figures for the next 3yrs. I then moved to Sales Ops which does not involve any selling but actually a lot of analytical work and still make above 6 figures. My next jump may be to consulting, which will pay even more, and to that end I have continued to rack-up fairly inexpensive certifications on my free time (PMP, sfdc, etc). I applied to a 2nd tier, expensive MBA school and couldn’t get in I guess because I am too stupid. I now look at it as a blessing as it was far, far too much money for me.

        You are doing a really awesome job on the frugality front, side jobs, and etc…but it doesn’t seem that school has really helped you. I had 0 marketable skills at 23 (except to order in a Chinese restaurant) and now just a little over 1 decade later, I have mad skillz that employers will apparently pay lots of money for. And I did it all by working and taking a few community college classes.

      • Shirley says:

        My BS was in English. I started in Big 4 Consulting right out of undergrad. I don’t think it is necessarily your major, but where you interview and the drive you show that can get you a high paying job.

  15. Kristine says:

    Go Julie!!!! You are on the right track. Sit back and enjoy where you are and keep up with what you are doing. By the time you are finished with MBA your debts should be eliminated or close to it. I agree with Mrs. F. Focus on yourself. Please come back at some point and let us know how you’re doing! God Bless!

  16. RayinPenn says:

    I am sure you appreciate an MBA isn’t necessarily the keys tot he castle – Sadly MBAs are a dime a dozen particularly from second tier schools. (For me my MBA, MS my education helped me live smarter and build the pile). You should be actively looking to get into an entry level program somewhere NOW; I work for a large company ands we are currently recruiting for next summers class. My daughter is graduating with a BS in July 17 as well – she is actually hunting. Securing a position is a field you like, where there is opportunity to grow Should be your focus right now.

    Use your colleges placement office as much as possible, network (talk to other students) . I’ve been with the same firm for 32 years and love what I do. Getting in the door is key… Now get at it.

    Your resume and cover letter should be works of art. Your have an interesting story and some experience be smart and get busy…

    • RAnn says:

      I agree. I’ve heard that one reason that women on average tend to earn less than men with similar levels of education is that women tend to be over-educated. Men get a degree because their goal requires one; women who don’t know what else to do get another degree.

      You want a husband, kids and work-life balance in the next ten years but you are going to spend two of them completing a degree that will cost a lot of money, and time away from a “real” job. You have about ten years to have kids, maybe less. You need a real job now; expecially as you don’t seem to have a particular goal for the MBA.

    • KBT says:

      Remember, we are supposed to stay nice. An MBA with a Project Management specialty will get Julie in the door way faster than an ordinary MBA. (This is my area too.). I would suggest looking for “project coordinator” or other project team jobs to get some experience as you aim for a Project Manager job upon graduation – full-time is better than temp. Those hours can count towards your PMP certification when you have 3 years of experience. I think you’ve demonstrated great planning skills, you just need to prioritize your life goals and realize the timelines for them are different, and some need to start sooner than others, especially where other resources (i.e. Future spouse) are included. I think if you work your priorities in order, you’ll feel more focused and on track – and that’s something that makes a project manager happy. I’d agree with other posters … see what you think, Julie: 1. Meet like minded person. 2. Avoid as much new debt as possible 3. Pay off debt smallest to largest to free cash flow. 4. Build up savings and invest for the future. You have what it will take!

      • Julie says:

        Thank you KBT. I have a non traditional background and an MBA with a dual focus in project management and finance will help advance my career. For now I have a 40/hr week job, which will lead to better things as well.

  17. Lisa says:

    While I agree with you that she should try to find the best paying/best fitting job for her when she graduates, her graduation date is still nearly 2 years away and that leaves a lot of time where anything can happen. Since her debt is at zero interest and her student loans are deferred while she is in school my recommendation is that she take her extra income and put it into savings while continuing to make her monthly payments lowering the debt.. Because she’s already got more than 3 – 6 months of expenses saved for an emergency fund she might try to earn a higher interest rate on her savings by putting future savings in a money market savings account or perhaps create a CD ladder to increase her savings rate while maintaining it in a safe place. I’d also recommend that she attempt to put some money in Roth IRA each year.
    My suggestions are made because, while she doesn’t know what will happen over the next 2 years or where her dream job will be, with additional savings and no additional debt she will be able to wipe out remaining debt, pay for relocation (if necessary), and have a chunk to pay for student loan debt or a nest egg started for a down payment on a home after graduation.

  18. Juie says:


    Thank you all for the comments. For clarification I work 40hrs at week at my current temp job $16/hr no medical which is depressing to say the least. I have been there for 3 months, last class I had an A and this class I am on track to do the same.
    My temp agency will not tell me if there is a chance to go perm so I am still applying to full time jobs, but as we near the holidays the positions get fewer and fewer. I have friends at the Big 4 and although I would stand a decent shot at the jobs, my I would have less time to focus on school.
    The work life balance and a family are all ideal goals. We don’t always get what we want, but it is nice to at least have something to work for. Thank you for all the responses!

    • Leah says:

      If the work-life balance is important, it’s good to note that you might accept less money and look for that. How much is left in your 20 year term life insurance? I’d keep that if you plan on having kids/house so that you’ve got some protection there.

      The nice part about paying off some of those little misc debts is that you then have the mental freedom of not worrying about them. It’s awesome that they’re 0% interest. I love the plan above about using your efund just to pay the small medical bill, and then roll that money into tackling your car loan. Doing a debt snowball with the smallest amounts of debt first can be mentally liberating, even if it’s not the “best” financial decision.

      I did some math: if you throw an extra $700ish (to make $1280 a month in debt payments) at those misc debts, you’ll be in done in 6.5 months. Then, you could totally be maxing out your Roth IRA with the money you have left each month AND have more to add to the efund. Once your efund is beefed up over a year’s worth of expenses, you could either work on a house downpayment fund (for your personal goals) or working on paying off those student loans, or both.

      I can’t help you in the job thing; I don’t make any more net take home than you (tho better benefits). I chose a work/life balance for me and pursuing what I love instead of money. Your frugality skills and savings will help you excel even if you chose a job where you make $40-50k a year (I hope business pays more than my teaching career!).

    • Maggie says:

      A Big 4 job opens doors down the road and they may also pay for a portion of your program. Your student loan debt is your biggest long term liability and anything you can do to pay that off sooner rather than later will help you with your other goals.

      With that said during the first few years at least you’d have no work/life balance.

      • Mrs. Fool says:

        I would agree with the above. Your work life balance would suffer in the short term, but open so many doors for you down the line, and many of them do have nice work/life balance programs down the road. Not to mention the doors it opens with other companies having worked for the Big 4 (other Fortune 500 companies love Big 4 candidates). You’d also make considerably more than $16/hr, meaning you could ditch the side hustles to focus more on school in the time you are not working. I would also greatly reduce the life insurance amt. We have that much on my husband, who is our primary income source, but mine is much lower than that even as the primary caregiver. My husband wouldn’t need $1MM to cover childcare in his absence working, if that makes sense.

        Kudos to you for what you’ve done. You have a lot of options ahead of you! I’m a CPA and my hubs is a EE turned Program Manager, which you also mentioned. Lots of good jobs/pay in both of those areas. Keep working at it and it will pay off!!

        • Julie says:

          Mrs. Fool
          I am looking for mentors and would love to be able to speak to both you and your husband if that is something you would be open to. Thank you

        • Nora says:

          Big 4 also offers opportunities outside of the audit life (which I struggled through). Consulting would be hard non-MBA but admin jobs pay well there too.

          Have you look at any of the insurance companies in the Hartford/CT area? It’s a big market down there and they hire a lot of non-traditional majors into their programs. They also pay tuition reimbursements which helps if you’re doing online.

          • Julie says:

            I worked for an insurance company in CT, but in sales with a securities license. I will look into some of the bigger firms, if they have non sales jobs. Thanks for the tip Nora!

          • Nora says:

            I was thinking more of the finance/analyst roles within those companies – definitely outside of sales but would offer benefits/tuition benefits. The support staff is just as valuable but offers more flexibility and pay scale room.

  19. Julie says:

    Can’t ditch the car as most of my dog sitting is not in my town. I am still applying to jobs and fingers crossed have had some interest. As I mentioned the holiday season is not the best time for job hunting. The temp job is $16/hr full time no benefits (not sure if my 1st post went through). My agency will not confirm if there is a chance to go perm and after only working there 3 months I have no ability to make ultimatums (ie hire me of I am out). Also, would like to keep the job until I find something else so I can’t be taking off tons of time to go to recruiting events etc.

    The Big 4 are great, however, after speaking to alumni who work for them, it would be virtually impossible (for me, I know others have done it) to maintain a 4.0 (which I have) and be a rockstar at work. I have access to professional resume/cover letter company, but after working with them I realize it is all hit or miss.

    A career and a family would be great, will I get both, I have no idea. I hope I do.

    • Maggie says:

      Have you considered if following through with the entire degree will be worth it? You already have an MS. Once you have the Big 4 experience the difference between and MBA and an MS is minuscule.

    • Rae says:

      Julie, I also like reading and hanging out with dogs, so you sound like someone who I’d really enjoy knowing in person 🙂 That said, here are a few ideas to consider:

      1.) I didn’t see whether your student loans were Federal or not, but if they are, do consider the option of working for a government or nonprofit and getting loan forgiveness. The forgiveness programs I know of coincidentally require 10 years of work to be eligible.

      2.) Since you already have a degree, have you checked to see whether doing a second Bachelor’s would be less expensive? It might be an option because the credits are less expensive and there are usually more undergrad scholarships. It might be that 2 years of undergrad work might get you the credential that you need to get in the door.

      3. ) Have you considered taking a job at a university? One of the benefits there is often getting free or reduced tuition, and universities often have good benefits.

      4.) While mathematically it may not “make sense” to pay off your 0% debt, it might be a good strategy just as a way to give you more options on a monthly basis. I’m looking at that Roth IRA and thinking about how much Future You would appreciate $100/month going into that.

      Best of luck!

      • Julie says:


        These are great questions! Yes, I checked into a 2nd bachelors and it would actually be more expensive. I get an alumni scholarship right now. My loans are Federal and I am always checking my school’s career site for potential jobs. I agree that having more options is always a great thing and I know Future Me would appreciate the Roth contributions!

    • Phil says:

      You don’t need to be a rockstar at a big 4… It’s like Harvard, you just need to get in! And you don’t need “impeccable nails” either… Value your time – max your hourly rate and don’t do things that are low.

      • Nora says:

        After being in the Big 4, you don’t need to be a rockstar. Don’t take classes during busy season and max out during the summer hours.

    • Kim says:

      I’m in law, so this may be different for your situation, but I would care WAY less about maintaining a 4.0 and way more about getting a Big 4 job now. What’s the goal of getting all this schooling? It’s to get a job, right? Having a job now and getting that experience on your resume (and making those connections) is infinitely more important than graduating with perfect grades. There are so many graduates out there who I’m sure did very well in school but don’t have jobs. Simply getting a 4.0 in your program is not enough. If you can secure a good job now, do it!

    • Ida says:

      If you stopped dog sitting and sold the car what would that do to your finances (and to your quality of life)? Could you make up for any other car trips with uber/lyft/cab? I originally didn’t think not having a car in my town was an option, but it turns out to be cheaper to take a cab when I can’t catch a bus rather than own a car.

      • Julie says:

        Unfortunately, I am sure I would become more prone to staying home. The dog sitting is not only a source of income, but also a stress reliever. I consider these weeks my vacations for the year.

        • Ida says:

          I suspected that was the case. Another option (which I suggest because it looks like your average income from dog sitting is about the same as your car payment) is to offer dog sitting for cheaper if the owner agrees to drop them off / pick them up. Again, that depends how much you like owning a car – I really hate driving so finding a way not to have one was a plus for me, might be a minus for you.

    • Sally says:

      I’m not sure if you’re looking in a specific field. Here is something that might spark an interest. It’s the corporate audit analyst program at Bank of America. I know you won’t graduate until 2018. We usually start interviewing for candidates a year out (one of our offices is in Hartford, CT). So maybe come fall 2017 you could explore that option if you’re interested. Being in the department for 6+ years, I could vouch for work/life balance.

  20. Thanks for sharing, Julie! I think you are doing some great things and I commend your hard work and effort. To your first question, I would use that extra income every month to pay down your BA & MS student loans at 6.8%. That’s a pretty high interest rate so I’d try to knock that out.

    I love that you are getting your MBA! I have mine as well and found it helpful. I don’t think you need to wait until you have it to start searching for a full-time job. Does the MBA program allow you to switch from full-time to a nights and weekends program? If so, that may be an option if you found a job in the meantime.

    And as Mrs. FW suggested, network like crazy, seek extra help, career advice, and counseling from teachers. Also, if the university has a group that helps placement upon graduation, I’d get in touch with them early and let them know the type of work you are looking for so they can be on the lookout for you.

    Best of luck, Julie!

  21. Diana says:

    Please a picture of baby woods , also as well as frugalhound.

  22. Leah says:

    One last thing to add: the only place I see some room for improvement is in your utility bills, possibly. Look up tips for saving power. Some of them are a bit crazy, but a lot are doable. My roommate and I in grad school were both really into saving money, and I’m into the environment. We had our microwave on a power strip that we turned off when not using the microwave. We did the same with our TV/entertainment unit, and we unplugged chargers when not using them. Definitely saved some money off the bill each month — I think we each saved about $20. That could help with your debt snowball if you’re willing to do the extra legwork.

    • ThreadCookie says:

      I live in an apartment on my own and picked up a bulk pack of LED bulbs. I was pretty shocked when it reduced my electricity bill from about $40 to $25. The bulbs will start paying for themselves after three months as I think the pack of 12 was $40 or so.

      • Julie says:


        I forgot to mention that I have led the charge this month with unplugging things, not running the dry cycle on the dishwasher/not using the dishwasher, and taking shorter showers. Our bill dropped below $60. Unfortunately, my roommate could care less and is making it difficult for us to get to where I know the bill could be. We do have LED lights.

        • Leah says:

          Oh, that is frustrating re: the roommate. Definitely nice to have one who is on the same page with saving money.

          I still think you’re doing great! Keep up the good work. You’ve laid a nice foundation for yourself.

  23. Ms. Montana says:

    I think focusing on getting a great paying job after graduation is spot on! I would use that little bit of surplus to pay down those smaller debts (freeing up more cash flow.) The other advice I would give, which might seem a bit odd because it’s not purely financial. Because you have such a clear picture of your life, when you are dating and considering a spouse, pick well. Find someone who shares your values and this vision for life. When two people come together with a shared goal that they want to work towards, it is so powerful! Find someone who wants the land, kids, frugal living, and Church community. Sharing those values is just a lovely way to do life. Mr. Mt and I have enjoyed 14 wonderful years, and accomplished so much more than we would have alone because we are racing in the same direction. Best of luck to you. You already know where you want to go and honestly that is half the battle!

  24. Tara says:

    Are you open to moving? If the job market for high paying jobs is competitive in your area, I would advocate searching for jobs where the market is less competitive (ie, cities where there are fewer colleges nearby). I got an MLS in NYC, an area with 5 library schools nearby so getting a job was HARD. I ended up switching careers to non profit development and left the NYC area for the Philly area, where I could get similar salary with lower costs. But here in Philly where there are two dental schools and tons of nursing schools, I’ve heard from people in those industries that they have to move away for their first jobs because the competition is too fierce. They can move back once they’re higher on the totem pole and can demand a higher level job. I would recommend scoping out other areas to move to as you get closer to graduation.

    Also, if better internship requirements can lead to jobs, you might need to quit earning a salary temping and take on some additional loans to cover expenses while interning. Better to have the amazing job resume that can get you the high paying job when you graduate so you can pay off the debts. If you’re interested, the HACU National Internship program is a paid internship program in federal government and private sector that is open to people of all racial backgrounds. I recommend it to grad students as a good friend of mine got a good job with the VA after finishing.

  25. I completely agree that studying and networking need to be your top two goals. When I was in school, I was too frugal on the networking side. Unless you go crazy with it, you’d be hard pressed to spend more than ~$2k on networking events/coffee/drinks and it is incredibly easy to make up the ~$2k in a higher salary when you land a great job.

    The only other two things that I can see: 1) Have you looked into other tech for keeping in touch with your parents? $43/month is good but there are other options. Skype and WhatsApp come to mind. 2) For Microsoft Office, have you looked into your school’s discount on buying the program outright? Instead of a monthly fee (which continues forever) you can spend $150 (retail, your school likely has a better deal) to have it on your computer for good. I’m over 3 years running on the same product key. Even at full retail 150/36 = $4/month

  26. Becky says:

    In terms of your student loan question — taking more 5.84% loans now to pay off some of the 6.8% loans faster sounds like a good idea, on the surface. But if the 6.8% loans are Federal and the 5.84% is private, don’t do it. You have so many more protections and repayment options with Federal loans.

    Good luck!

  27. I think focusing on securing a full time “career” job is the best advice ever! I would add one caveat. While searching and choosing your position, I would think long and hard about the benefit packages offered and not just the “salary” of the position. I once had a position that paid me 10% of my salary in my retirement account just for me to show up! In addition I had a 401K match, 4 weeks of vacation and awesome health benefits and while I do have my Masters’ degree, this was not a highest level position. Community colleges, some full time colleges, government positions (local and federal) all offer excellent benefit packages. Looking at base pay and not weighing in on the value of a benefit package is a mistake I see a lot of people make. Benefits matter, especially in this political environment! Good luck to you. Another thought; seek out elements from your prior masters’ in organizational leadership and see how they add value to your current degree. Have those in mind and mesh them when constructing your resume and when you are interviewing.
    And yes I believe you can achieve anything you want (family, career etc). Never give up! Hey, maybe the future father of your children is waiting for you at your new job! 🙂

  28. Brandy says:

    I think Julie is doing all she can right now on the money front while doing her MBA. But I agree, getting a good paying job while keeping her costs low after her degree is the key. It’s good to have long-term goals to help keep life in perspective so if she wants a family and own some land it’s a good thing to keep in the back of her mind about why she’s working so hard and saving. But even if things don’t work out like that – because y’know life happens- I’m hoping she’ll be in a position to comfortably retire by 50 and secure her own future with or without a family.

  29. Susan says:

    Julie–you are doing an amazing job and good for you for re-evaluating your first Masters’ and determining what path to take that would be something you like to do that will also land you a job. I noted in the comments that a couple of people said you should drop your insurance and I would not do that as it can be difficult to qualify for if you have pre-existing conditions. If later on you obtain a job that offers life insurance with no restrictions on pre-existing conditions, you could replace it with the company policy. One employer you might consider that might not offer as high a salary at first as the “big four” type firms, but does offer flexible hours and many locations around the US and the world is working for the Federal Government or your state government. Accounting and finance skills are highly marketable and your MS in Organizational Leadership would be a plus. Benefits are excellent and many jobs have a good work life balance so I would encourage you to look into that possibility. I also suggest talking to the folks in your school’s career counseling center as they might have some suggestions as to part-trim positions at firms that would lead to higher pay now than the temp job and might lead to a permanent position after you graduate. Best of luck to you!

  30. Helen says:

    I don’t know how many hours Julie is working at her temp job but it does seem that with her education, obvious discipline and work ethic, and assumed work experience (given that she’s 33), she could find a better paying job. I’d put my energy there first – and don’t forget to negotiate hard, women often learn far too late in their careers that they can ask for a higher salary – speaking from experience as I left $10,000s on the table by not knowing my worth earlier in my career and being typically deferential and non-confrontational. Additionally, while this is only a teeny saving, look into getting software you need trough your school. I work at a university and foing through a specific portal on our website I was able to get a Microsoft office for free and a year’s subscription to the whole Adobe creative suite for $5. I don’t know what the student pricing is but I know they have access to the same programs.

  31. Laurel says:

    I would drop the life insurance since you have no dependents. Pay off the student loans asap. Ramp up the ebay business since it probably pays way better than anything else. And…. sorry to say, I’d drop out of school. The extra degree might not help you in the job market. There are tons of people with MBAs out of work. Also, it requires taking on more debt. More degrees isn’t necessarily better. Can you move to a cheaper area and still have access to all of the cheap high-end clothes that you sell?

  32. Naomi says:

    I’m 34 and just had my second child. We waited fourteen years before having a second one to feel financially secure enough that I could stay home for awhile. Julie doesn’t really mention whether or not she has someone in mind for family building. But if she doesn’t, then I would think that finding a mate should be a top priority. I suspect the biological clock is ticking. People do put having kids off too long and find themselves just too old to conceive, and she’s not there yet, but if there’s no partner prospect in sight she might be on that path. (Good news.. the world is full of kids who need love, attention, mentoring, etc, and they don’t have to be yours for you to build a rewarding relationship with them.)

    Financially, I think she’d do well to start putting money in the Roth, but I also wonder about that credit card balance. Surely the interest on that is going to spike sometime? Makes me nervous…..

  33. Shannon says:

    Julie do you have a special eBay Seller’s Store? I ask because I flip items on eBay too and don’t pay a membership fee. They do charge for their services so I was wondering if that is what you meant (their regular monthly fees) or if you pay on top of those fees.

    • I was thinking the same thing! I have both an ebay store, where I’m often a powerseller (this fluctuates based on how much you make in a 90 day period + some number of sales), and an Etsy store and I’ve never paid a “membership fee” other than having to pay the 10-13% commission per sale. They always have some promotion going on where my listings are free.

      • Julie says:

        I do have a store and should be a power seller as of this month. I was told I could only list 50 items without a store, but I will look into it!

        • That’s true that there might be a limit, but if you are listing 50+ items and only making $75/month, you should focus your efforts and perhaps stick to only selling men’s clothing items/accessories that will garner more money – your effort/time is worth way more per item even though your profit margin per item as a percentage is high. For example, if I don’t think I can sell my vintage items for more than $20, I don’t buy it in the first place… not even if it only cost me a dollar. That way, the free time I do invest into my side hustle is really generating a nice revenue stream.

  34. Everyone is giving wonderful advice! I feel like your spending is already pretty low and you’re doing a great job. For minor easy changes, I know a lot of people mentioned Microsoft for students being free, this is a good option. However Open Office is free for everyone and compatible with any Microsoft office documents! Unless someone is standing over your shoulder at school making sure you are using Microsoft I would highly recommend it.

    Learn to cut your own hair. Sure your expenses aren’t high but my guess is that of you can get away with every other month your style is easy to maintain. Learn to do it yourself! There are tonnes of haircutting tutorials on YouTube for different styles and teaching you all about how to cut your own hair. It’ll save you $15 a month and it’ll save you lots of time! I’ve been cutting my own hair for 10 years. It’s never taken me more than 10min and I get a lot of compliments for my healthy beautiful hair.

    Looks like you have a good emergency fund. No need to add to it, time to start paying down your highest interest debt. Here’s the thing. Let’s say you lose every source or income you have. Yes, emergency fund can help pay for your debt those months, but the less debt you have the less you’ll have to worry about it. In addition, I’d you invest it, getting it out will be much harder and might be risky as you don’t k ow what the market will be like when you need it. The difference between the potential gain from investments and the interest on your loans isn’t big enough to be worth the risk.

  35. Lea says:

    Kudos on the steps you are currently taking to manage your expenses and plan for your future! I am an HR professional and a cancer survivor. Please don’t drop your current life insurance if you believe you might not meet the evidence of insurability (EOI) criteria to buy a replacement policy in the future. Although you have no dependents at the moment, that may change in the years ahead. While you may have access to life insurance through a future employer, that policy might not be portable (or affordable to continue) if you leave that employer. I was fortunate to have purchased a private term life policy a year before I was diagnosed; I would not qualify for it now.

    • Julie says:


      I have seen your situation happen to so many people and I have no idea what my future will hold. The majority of life insurance policies through companies are not portable. I would pay exponentially more or not qualify if I tried to apply again.

  36. K says:

    How do you only spend $100/mth on groceries??

    Anyway, since it sounds like you don’t currently have any dependents, you don’t need life insurance. I understand your concern that you won’t quality again once you do have kids, but I’d cross that bridge when you come to it and in the meantime save a bunch of money. You never know what your or your spouse’s future jobs will offer for life insurance options.

    Do you need Microsoft Office specifically or a word processing, etc. program set in general? OpenOffice is a free, simpler version of the Microsoft programs and is compatible for most things.

  37. Allie says:

    Hi Julie & Mrs. FW ~ There are already so many comments and I admit I did not read them all. So if my thoughts are repetitive, I apologize. As you will see, I have a very specific perspective…#:->
    ~ You are already 33 (oh, to be 33 again!) so you must get a move on in your career. A resume is what you should be polishing right now if you are hopeful to amass enough bean-o’s to retire by 50 (oh, to have been able to retire at 50!). I know you know this…I’m just reiterating how compressed your timeline appears to be.
    ~ Does your accounting and EBay work have anything to do with your long term career plans? That would be awesome, if so. Right now your eyes should be on the prize…your career intentions…and nothing should move you from that focus.
    ~ Don’t worry about the 3 kids now! You will never be able to retire at 50, if you intend to educate your kids as well as you appear to have been educated. So, dream about your Prince Charming, but don’t worry about the family you will create with him. That is a “career” in and of itself!! Mrs. FW knows this too…#:->!
    ~ Is your Ebay and accountant temping part of a long term career plan? Just wondering…
    ~ FIND THE CAREER SERVICES office at your school. “Julie,” this is your life line to full time, benefited, climb-the-career ladder employment! You must attend their workshops (resume writing, interviewing, networking, etc.), check their job listings, sign up for interviews for an awesome summer internship/job. Hustle, hustle, hustle! And if you are an international student, learn everything you must know about any “hoops” you might have to go through. Connect with a career services counselor with the flagrant intention of making a connection with someone who can be your advocate and advisor..While you are working so hard to make this MBA happen, you should be expecting something in return from your university (beyond the sheep’s skin). At this moment, that expectation should revolve around the career services office and how they can find you a JOB. I know you have a couple of years to go, but summer time is internship/job/fellowship time! Make the most of those times. And if you are a full time (12 mo a year) student, use career services to find something more resume-boosting than a temp job.
    ~ Did you get your MA from the same university? If not, there is another career services office you can haunt. Make an appointment to talk with one of their specialists/counselors. Get hooked in to their job posting system. Are there alums who graduated from the same MA program with whom you can speak.
    (~ OK…full disclosure, I was Dir of Career Services at a well-known college in CT and an Associate Dir at another well-known one in MA, plus other schools in between, so I know the value of that service. Don’t work so hard to make a buck through your eBay work when perhaps you should shift an hour or two of that time into a big push to get an amazing internship/fellowship/job for the coming summer or a more substantial full time job. It is not too early to be considering your summer plans!)

    • Julie says:

      I got my MS from the same school and I am on a first name basis with the career center : ). I have started networking with the alumni through linkedin and being a small military school they are VERY open to talking to me and providing advice and more contacts. I should amp this up though. : ) Thanks for the encouragement!

  38. Suze Wannabe says:

    I’m picking up an enormous amount of stress from this situation that goes beyond math (risk she imay be feeling). It seems chasing the extra $500/mo is only to continue the viscous trap of debt. Eliminating that debt could possibly allow her to finish school quicker and get to other goals. The good news is that 33 is YOUNG and time is on her side.

    Here’s a tried-an-true plan that has worked for millions, including moi, to hopefully reduce that debt and free up time:

    1. Drop the life insurance asap. You don’t need it unless you have kids in this case
    Boom! $78 back in your pocket

    2. Use all but $1,000 from emergency fund. That’s all you need until you get some of your debt taken care of and it’s TEMPORARY. Once your debt is paid (aside from loans), you build it back up with 6-8 mo of expenses. That leaves $5918.10 free up time and $.

    3. Cut up that credit card!!!! I mean it! Have some “plastic surgery”.

    4. List your debts smallest to largest regardless of interest rate.
    Medical $689.53 pay it off today
    Medical $2500 ditto
    Car (ask for payoff-it may be less) $1980
    You’re left with $748.57

    Pay that towards to credit card
    Remaining cc balance is $2501.40

    5. Now, let’s chip away at that cc: put the payments you were paying toward other debt towards it:
    6. $378.73, $2,122.67
    7. Cash out the Roth and put it toward the cc (you have lots of time to do a Roth etc once you are working). DEBT FIRST, Investing second. $1922.67 (when all this debt is gone, you can finish faster and get on with life, no more Ebay etc).
    8. Consider selling your car and get a student hoopty. Find out what it’s worth on private sale. You can move up in car when you’re no longer a student. It should be no more than 15% of your take home pay.
    9. This bring me to the next point. Your goal is to have a balanced life. Most people I know with an MBA and are managers, non technical and have NO LIFE. Nannies raise their children and they grow old fast. Also, the personality of those in Mgmt I knew were not kind or volunteers. I’m not trying to be unkind, I’m trying to save you from more debt and possibly a life you don’t want.

    • Katherine says:

      #9 is very true! I am a Manager and I am EVIL. I suspect it is because I have NO LIFE. : )

    • Susan says:

      Ummm, I have to disagree with point number 9. As a manager myself I have a life (home today getting things ready for my son to come home on a college break), I enjoy my work, and I have reputation as being extremely kind and I also volunteer in my community. That said, I am careful to take positions that allow me to be myself and to have balance. I agree that there are many companies where #9 is true, but it’s not universal. An MBA is quite a useful degree for many different fields because any work process or product can benefit from someone who knows how to best get the work done and inspire others on the team to excel. Just my two cents and I am so sorry Suze that you have had such a bad experience with managers.

  39. Katelyn Sills says:

    Hi Julie! Other people have given advice on the amounts you owe, so I won’t cover that, but I was wondering if you might be open to a new career? A number of food safety laws have been passed recently and it’s a booming industry. Consultants make over $1000 a day and there is plenty of demand for entry-level people to assist with documentation. You can get certified in HACCP and SQF for much less than an MBA.

  40. Elaine Cubbins says:

    Hello Julie and all. I am newly joined with Frugalwoods. Your post and courage to share are inspiring. I am 66, single professional female, no kids, and have my own humble 5-acre place in the Sonora Desert with a handful of dogs, handful of cats, one burro and one horse (a little context). I am not retired. I drive a 30-year old Toyota, eat vegan at home for good health and to save money. I read, write, Netflix, do yardwork, etc. My passion right now is how to live a frugal flourishing retirement. I hope I am useful to you. Of course being literally twice your age, my view goes backwards, not forward.

    If you can start a retirement account that allows you to make tax deductible contributions, do that now. Two words: compound interest. If your employer provides matching contributions, I suggest you contribute up to the cutoff point to get that free money (e.g., employer matches 2.5% if you contribute 5%). That tax deducible contribution could give you more money in your pocket while allowing for less annual taxes. This is critical to start now. If your employer has no IRA that you can participate in, start your own IRA because it is the tax deductible now and the compound interest over time that are critical to building your wealth. The Roth is good, but you should fund that after the IRA and after debt is paid down. Keep the Roth alive, but only feed it a little. The IRA should get fat. I have more thoughts on this, but I don’t want to belabor the point. If you’re interested, let me know and I can share more. I’ve done a lot of research in this area. I am not a professional, but I am an informed consumer.

    As far as debt repayment, in the next couple years, I suggest ending debt in the snowball method. Pay off the smallest medical debt first in two months if possible. Take that payment, add to what you have available and pay off the car. Then the next one, combine the payments and pay it off, etc. Keep making your IRA contributions while in this process.

    Looking at your expenses, why do you have life insurance? Is the beneficiary in need? I used to pay for life insurance, but then I realized, why? I have a small policy through work that will go to my 25-year old goddaugher and some young cousins, but I pay nothing toward it. If you keep it, okay, but that money would be better spent (IMO) going into the IRA or Roth or emergency fund. Is it term or whole? At the end of 20 years, do you get any payout for it? If not, I would let it go. You are not married with children now, and this may not be the best way of providing for them/you over the longterm. I am assuming your will live to be 90, as we all should even if we have health issues.

    Once all your debts are paid, max out retirement and savings in this order: IRA, emergency savings up to one year’s salary, Roth. Any leftover you could put onto the student loans. Or, you could start a savings account for your future home. Be a financial tortoise. Slow and steady. I think you may already be that.

    I hope you do fun things too, like meet a friend to walk the beach and sit on a log for some hot coffee and watch the waves; or, join with friends/family to have theme potlucks. I’m glad you got your pet-infusion as a pet sitter. I hope I have been helpful, albeit longwinded.

  41. Wow, Julie! It sounds like you already live a pretty frugal lifestyle, so kudos to you!

    1. I would definitely recommend paying down debt faster. I would normally suggest building an emergency savings first, but I see you already have one! Go you! Apply all of your excess cash towards debt. An extra $500 a month on debt can really make a difference!

    2. I would agree with you and recommend paying off the 6.8% student loans first.

    3. It depends on your schedule! If you have the time for a more full-time position, I would say go for it. A FT position will pay more than temping while you’re in school, and some companies can even offer tuition assistance, since it’s beneficial for them if you have an MBA, too. If you’re able to increase your income and get some tuition assistance, you could really start paying down faster on that debt before you graduate.

    Also, bravo on almost having a paid off car! Have you considered over-paying on your car balance to pay it off sooner? That means you’ll eventually have an extra $300 a month to throw at student loans.

    I put $200/mo into my Roth IRA, too, and while it’s not being maxed out, it’s still WONDERFUL that you’re contributing! Once you’re out of debt, I would recommend increasing these payments and maxing out.

    As far as life insurance goes, since you’re unmarried and don’t have kids yet, you probably don’t need such a robust policy. I’d recommend having a policy that will cover your funeral expenses and any debts, which hopefully wouldn’t amount to $1M!

    • Kim says:

      If she drops her life insurance, she may not qualify for such a good policy in the future, unless she gets great life insurance through an employer. I’d suggest she keep it in case she needs it down the road. Once she has built up enough wealth, then she could drop it.

      • Julie says:

        Thank you both for the encouragement! My current temp job pays 100% for tuition after 6 months of permanent employment . I keep getting reports that they like my work and I am always doing work for other people (including management). But my recruiter will not tell me if there is an option to go perm. The work life balance is great, it is close to home and the tuition payment would be a game changer. I just have no idea if going permanent is an option since no one (including the job) will give me a straight answer.

  42. Ava says:

    Julie, you should be proud of yourself for your diligence, budget checking and frugality, and your planning ahead for future goals (career and family)! So props to you! 🙂 I think you will totally be able to pull it off, although the timing and some of the specifics might change. For example, it could be quite costly to own land + a house + kids (think daycare and healthcare costs, plus time off taking kids to Dr. appts.). Maybe a comfortable home in a nice family neighborhood without the time and $ expense of maintaining land. (mowing/weedeating, fertilizing, animals, feed, vet bills, etc.) would be more realistic, as the cost of owning land seriously adds up! yikes! Maintaining just a regular yard takes a LOT of time away from work and family time. (just a thought).
    I also agree with one of the previous commenters that you should be more intentional about meeting potential marriage prospects in FREE places like school activity groups, or at a local church, or through the MeetUp app/website. Or go study at a local coffee shop that makes you more available and approachable? I think what you’re doing is GREAT! I also think that your goal, while you’re a student should be:
    1. Find a side hustle(s) that make more money. (ex. bartending, waiting tables at a high-end restaurant, tutoring undergrad students, etc. Also, the side hustles should be as close as possible to where you live in order to save gas $.
    2. Ask your current boss if you could work any overtime hours for extra money?
    3. Pay off your smallest debts first, then snowball that until you have all of your extra money going toward productive things, like paying on your student loan, saving for a downpayment on a home, and investing.
    4. Try to be as close to debt free as possible by the time you graduate, or at least hammer down and make good headway. That way you’ll have more financial freedom and opportunity when you graduate rather than still be burdened by old debt/financial obligations. Where you live, is there room to look for a roommate to share living expenses with? Or maybe find a new place to live and get a roommate?
    5. Talk to your dr. (preferably an OBGYN) about fertility, healthy diet and lifestyle so that you will be at your prime when ready to make babies! 😉
    Way to go! Your frugality is inspiring! 🙂

    • Julie says:

      Thanks Ava

      2. No overtime for temps, have asked

      5. Am medically unable to carry children.

      Thank you so much for being positive, I really appreciate it.

  43. Lanae says:

    Since I am debt averse, I would put that money towards paying off the non-student loan debt first, even though most is at 0% interest. Once you wipe out the $300 car payment that is an extra $300 that is yours to do whatever you wish with. I am also a big fan of cutting expenses and car payments, lingering medical bills, and credit card balances are all considered expenses to me. I used the snowball method to wiping out my debt but Julie could take a little from her emergency fund to wipe out one or two of those debts and then start paying aggressively on the others.

    I would also try to increase income with a more stable side hustle. With your finance and accounting background and tax season coming up you are a good candidate for working for one of the tax preparation places like H&R block.

  44. Naomi says:

    I’m 34 and just had my second child. We waited fourteen years before having a second one to feel financially secure enough that I could stay home for awhile. Julie doesn’t really mention whether or not she has someone in mind for family building. But if she doesn’t, then I would think that finding a mate should be a top priority. I suspect the biological clock is ticking. People do put having kids off too long and find themselves just too old to conceive, and she’s not there yet, but if there’s no partner prospect in sight she might be on that path. (Good news.. the world is full of kids who need love, attention, mentoring, etc, and they don’t have to be yours for you to build a rewarding relationship with them.)

    Financially, I think she’d do well to start putting money in the Roth, but I also wonder about that credit card balance. Surely the interest on that is going to spike sometime? Makes me nervous….. as do the car costs. I would definitely advise to not upgrade the car when she pays it off, which shouldn’t be long.

    Career wise it seems like temping is probably a good way to “get around”and look for more from time work.. See what different places are like to work at, mention you’re working on your MBA and will be looking for full time work, be uncomfortably social.

  45. Laronda says:

    I’d echo others on paying off the smaller debts as soon as possible. Partly, I think it clears mental space. And you should be able to refinance your student loans at some point–there are more options these days like Sofi, so I wouldn’t stress about them for now. My graduate debt ($27K) is currently riding along, but at 2.3%. That’s our biggest non-mortgate debt, and this low rate has allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom to my three kids for 9 years now (not the original plan when I entered grad school, but kids have a way of throwing many of the best-laid plans out the window :). I realized you’re not planning to stay at home, but consolidating what you owe and taking care of anything that will keep you up at night will put you in a better place to achieve that work/life balance you’re aiming for.

    I will also say that having kids will slow down many other financial goals, more than many of us anticipate. There are awesome examples of people achieving FI before having kids (the Frugalwoods, Mr. Money Moustache), but for those of us who didn’t see the FI light early enough–or as in our case, are in the public sector so didn’t choose careers paying enough to get us there faster–things move along more slowly. We’re okay with that, but I will say at times I look at my grad school classmates and see that many are much closer to financial goals than we are. But I know many of them didn’t have the option (without expensive interventions or adoption) to have three children like we did since we switched up our priorities/timeline for our family. It’s all about the trade-offs, and where you want to be in 10 years may look quite a bit different 5 years from now. That said, fewer debts and increased earnings will help any scenario! To that end, I agree with others encouraging you to try to nail down the best full-time position you can, now if possible. You are working crazy hard now, and it would be great to see you secure a higher salary, benefits, etc. Sounds like you’re doing everything you can to move towards your goals–best of luck!

  46. Bernadette O'Brien says:

    I agree with Mrs. FW’s advice for post graduation and focus on career. However I would encourage Julie to use some/most of her emergency fund to pay down debt. She could elimate all but one (credit cards) and still have $1,700 left in an emergency fund. She could then use that monthly saving to bank for emergencies or save to start hitting the student loan payments when they come due. Getting debt off your back will give her peace of mind, and that is priceless. If she can amp up her side gig of Ebay, that would be great. Finally, I suggest that Julie check into Dave Ramsey and take a look at his money principles. Julie it says a lot about you & your confidence that you reached out to get help. Good for you. I’m sure your future will be very bright. You are moving in the right direction.

  47. Kristen says:

    I would work as hard as possible to get the monthly debt payments as far as you can because once you’re required to start paying on the high-interest student loans you’ll be able to pay extra on them (with the $573 monthly payment that will be gone) and they’ll be paid off faster and cost less in the long run.

  48. 1.) Pay down the student loan with the highest monthly payment first. Do not invest anything until all your loans are paid off. The interest rates on your loans are fairly high and getting those off your plate will be huge. Check into Nelnet for refinance options.

    2.) Consider cancelling your life insurance policy, unless you have family who are depending on your income? You can, later, get a policy through your job after graduation, and after you have a family to support. That’s $73 bucks more towards those loans.

    3.) After you’ve paid off your car, sell it on Craigslist (not at the dealer!!!) I assume you could find a decent, used Honda Fit for $6,000, *if* you’re not able to relocate near work/school and can bike/walk instead at the same rents.

    4.) If you get a reliable beater car, like an old Honda civic with 100K miles, you could opt out of collision/comprehensive coverage and reduce your monthly auto insurance substantially. Check into GEICO for low auto coverage rates.

    5.) As Mrs. FW suggests, focus on finding a career that will pay well – there are a lot of openings for high-caliber project managers in IT and healthcare. Strengthen your EQ as people skills are what will get you ahead “in the game”. Attend networking events and get hot on LinkedIn.

    6.) Consider socking your emergency funds toward your loans. Use your lowest interest credit cards as your safety net emergency fund. I know it sounds like a crummy high interest option, but it is an *emergency fund* after all. And it’s one you can replenish with cash after you’ve got that dream job. You could start slowly on this, moving a thousand bucks over to your loans every month.

    The key is that you’re doing an absolutely *fantastic* job in 90% of your expense management. $100 a month for groceries is outstanding. Your mindset will help you reach your goals, no doubt. Continue to be mindful of the power of income generation. It’s not just about expense reduction. Good luck!

    • Julie says:

      I have a 2005 Honda Civic used. Never have had a new car, don’t plan on it. It is a great beater car, 4 wheels and even a CD player : ) I have Geico! I also took EQ in school and agree it is so crucial in all aspects of networking. Thanks for the well wishes!

  49. Melinda says:

    I may have missed it in the responses, and although the amount isn’t a lot, your cell phone bill could go down by as much as $30 a month if you look into Republic Wireless. I learned about Republic from Mr. Money Mustache’s website. It saved us $33 a month, because we were able to port our land line phone number over. For me, saving almost $400 a year was worth it. You do need to consider though the initial cost of purchasing their phone.

  50. Jillena says:

    You are seriously in the doable range of all of this. I had 70k of debt plus two mortgages on two houses when I started to focus on clearing my debt and I didn’t know how to be frugal so I also had that transition. Met my husband after 30, now have a house almost paid off and one kid. Both with state jobs, no big salaries here. On track to retire at 46 fingers crossed. So I am mainly posting to say, lady you are in good company! I agree with previous posters that you should power down all the misc debt first so that you can focus big chunks on the student loans. As your pay increases it will be focused and quick to pay down with your frugal lifestyle. Focusing one at a time is exilerating and motivating. Your life insurance is such a small bill in the scheme of things, if it is important to you for your future family you should feel free to keep it. Such a personal choice. Car payments bug me, but you can’t live without one in a small town. If you can move anywhere please consider moving to a location that will catapult you towards your goals as fast as possible. After you pay off your car, you could add $20 monthly to your IRA for a good feeling seeing that actually move a bit and increase it $5 everytime you get a raise. I moved at 30 in the midst of all this mind numbing stressful debt on my shoulders with both personal and work goals in mind. I fumbled through it, got into more debt at first!! But then carried on and finally got out. Theres no magic bullet obviously, the focus and frugality will win the day. Good luck with it all!!

    • Julie says:

      Thanks Jillena! I can’t wait to get rid of my only ever car loan. It is great to hear from someone who has done it!!

      • Jillena says:

        You are totally not alone!! I would literally cry myself to sleep stressed out. With your focus, just chip away bigger and bigger goals. I actually listed them out with check boxes and kept it on my fridge to keep me motivated.

  51. ren says:

    Agreeing with Mrs Frugalwoods. Decreasing your already low expenses will not reap significant benefits so it is up to your time schedule whether any of these are worth it: You could land a better insurance deal just by calling your providers – esp. car. Phone bill could be cut to “zero” if you switch to Skype video calls. Switching to a part time studying program and full time accounting job could give you both valuable experience and more income to prevent student loans from accruing too much. To keep in mind, I am not from US, so do not fully understand the options for higher education there. However, I know that experience and networking at a full time job, whilst having a studying side-hustle could be something to look into. Good luck in your ambitions! 🙂

  52. Chris says:

    Hi! Just by paying attention, you are ahead of the game! I agree generally with Allie, with these additional suggestions as food for thought.
    1) Focus is key. At some point, “side gigs” *may* become a distraction – try to get the side work to align with career interests – take advantage of internships and your student status as much as possible!
    2) As you finish your coursework, keep living as a student! You’re used to getting by on less, so hold on to that as your pay increases (and it will, with your attitude!). Focus on paying off your debt ASAP, and then you’ll have your full income at your disposal.
    3) The area you live in, or ANYWHERE in the upper I-95 corridor from northern VA up, are super-fabulous areas for high income. If you keep your lifestyle down, you can “take it with you” to a less expensive are later in life (like Mr & Mrs FW have!).
    4) As a woman, let children come – and make sure your life partner and yourself are aligned in your goals. You have time, and focusing on your career NOW will give you flexibility when you reach that point – absolutely do not back off on your career in anticipation of something that hasn’t happened yet. Start off working your bahoopus off 🙂 and it will pay you in dividends later ($, choices, flexibility…). The book, Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg is a great read – it was recommended to me by two women on a flight – random strangers who had a big impact on my life.

    Full Disclosure, my husband and I are Dave Ramsey nuts. His ideas served us well, to get our dream farm 100% owned with no debt at all. If you haven’t listened to his podcast (free), you might find it helpful as another point of view.
    FYI – We’re 40 and 36, an “Ex professional” and a construction worker who moved from the DC area, CT, and Philly to the midwest, where it’s oh-so-cheap to live (relatively speaking). Not owing anybody anything has left us with wide open choices – we haven’t worked (jobs) for a year to build our farm ourselves. It is completely liberating.
    Good luck! Let us know how it turns out!!

  53. dwasch says:

    The single biggest factor that will influence your financial life will come in a few years when you graduate and get a higher paying job — will you maintain your current lifestyle or inflate your spending? Maintaining your current frugality when your income goes up will be orders of magnitude more important than anything you can do now. Compared to that decision, sweating over the details of your current frugal lifestyle is small potatoes. Take this as a compliment – you are doing very well well with your finances given your current life situation.

    I do have one question about your current lifestyle, though — are you happy? Maybe I’m reading too much into things, but I wonder if that bigger question is what’s motivating some of your specific questions.

    • Julie says:

      I feel like I have everything I need with my current lifestyle and don’t see myself drastically ramping up my spending. I am happy, but I am uncertain with my temp job and that is causing a lot of stress in my life. No one (job or recruiter) will give me a straight answer and quite frankly I am not great with being in limbo.

      Having a family and a wife may or may not happen, but I am hopeful that I will be lucky enough to have both.

      • Julie Lindgren says:

        I’d just say focus on the positive. You are SO on the right track. I don’t see you as being in limbo. You are working. You are looking for better work. You are actively adding skills. You are analyzing your current situation and utilizing great resources in order to optimize. Girl – you are NOT in limbo. Your current employer has a great gig with you one that many companies are using and expanding. By keeping you as a temp they get all your stellar work at a huge discount, and your temp company gets a fee too. Neither of them is motivated to do right by you when the current status is what is in their best interest. You ARE doing it right, right now, in every area, and with all this great advice you’ll fine tune it and keep plowing forward. I sincerely hope you and Mrs FW will provide and update on your progress at a later date. Very Best Wishes to you Julie – from another Julie.

  54. As others have pointed out, the really important thing here is to get that income up. It looks like your regular day job is taking home around $24,000 per year right now, which just isn’t really enough to make a big dent on those student loans. If you’re able to make $100k or so and have 63k in student loans, that, combined with our low expenses, means you should be able to crush those loans really quickly! And if you get that income up, keep doing those side hustles and save every penny of those side hustles! You can really see your money grow quickly if you do that.

  55. Hernan says:

    I am concerned that your student debt is too high. I would ditch your car if I were you. Instead of paying for the expense of owing a car, pay off your student debt.

  56. Asma says:

    1. Switch to Ting or similar for cell phone and use Skype for out of country calls on your computer
    2. Get rid of hair cuts, cut your own hair, wear braids or buns
    3. How do you spend 100 on your food? That’s amazing, good job
    4. Get rid of small debts- pay them off
    5. Keep the life insurance since you’re concerned about your health issues and don’t think you could get insurance in the future, but try shopping around to see if you could get it cheaper elsewhere
    6. leave the roth alone for now
    7. Use open office- it’s free, trial it before changing out of Microsoft office; why is it 11$ a month- usually schools have discounted rates for office, like 100-200 lump sum, do this instead and buy it outright instead of monthly
    8. Pay off the medical bills with your emergency fund and use the extra money to throw at the car/credit cards and get rid of those debts
    9. Stop taking loans. Cash flow further schooling with what you will have left over once you pay off your car and medical/credit debts.
    10. Stop selling things on ebay after you pay off the small debts and start volunteering at the youth sports or church now- good ways to meet people so you can get on with this finding a husband plan. Certainly you can find someone when you’re out of school too, but you can start now. If you have the time to do the ebay and the church, great, do both and don’t give up ebay!
    11. Look at your job for mentors or at church. Maybe one of them will have a nice son 🙂 Just kidding, this doesn’t have to do with #10.

    • Julie says:

      I agree I should get more involved with meeting new people. However, looking for a wife not a husband : ) Will make being more active in my community as a goal this month!

  57. Lindsey says:

    I found focus on paying off debt and getting a job with your MBA. Also, mini side hustles! For example, you can take a survey or two during your downtime. You can upload receipts to earn cash back. All of those things will help out as well. I agree with FrugalWoods and say make sure you land a career, none of this will matter without that job.

  58. Kate says:

    I just want to say how great your finances look already. You’re doing an amazing job of keeping your expenses low so I don’t really see a reason to change those. My suggestions aren’t so much from a numbers perspective, but rather what might bring you peace so you can focus on the future.

    I agree with whoever said it already that you should try to pay off the debt even though it’s at 0% interest, since it creates mental clutter and distracts you from your goals. Don’t take the money from your emergency fund if you’re uncomfortable doing so. Instead, use whatever you have leftover each month and add to your existing payments (“snowball effect”). It’ll feel like a lot of weight has been lifted off your shoulders once it’s paid off. At that point, you can start tackling student loans and even start putting more into your Roth or savings.

    I work in accounting/finance and have an MBA (which I completed in 2009 at the age of 33) so I understand where you’re at. If the temp job is working out for you and you’re not looking to increase your expenses, then stay where you are. A jr. accountant job is good experience (esp if you’re a history major) and will help you once you finish your MBA if you’re looking at a finance career. Keep an eye out for better positions but don’t worry about staying there if it’s working and you’re able to learn some skills on the job.

    Let me just say again how great you’re already doing. I know it’s daunting being in your position but you’ve already tackled the biggest hurdle to financial success – being in the right mindset!

    P.S. Feel free to reach out to me if there’s any professional guidance I can provide. I’m in MN but work for a huge corporation.

  59. Glenna says:

    You are clearly a very hard worker. I would double check (monthly if needed) to see if the school has any scholarships available. It concerns me that your student loan balance is continuing to grow. Also, I would eliminate the life insurance since you do not have any dependents. Even with your medical history, you should be able to get a life insurance policy with a future employer when the time comes that you need a policy. In addition, you indicated that you needed a car for some of your side jobs. I would sell this car and pay cash for a reliable old car. This would eliminate the car payment and lower your car insurance (going from full coverage to liability only).

  60. Ms Frugal Mechanic says:

    Julie – it sounds like you’re doing a great job already. One place there may be an opportunity to save some cash is your car. You don’t say what year/model it is, but if it is relatively new, I would recommend selling it and buying an older but reliable car. This would give you an influx of cash to pay down debt and potentially lower your insurance. Speaking as a frugal mechanic, I would highly recommend looking at a late 90s/early 2000s Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla with 125k miles (ish) on it. They are extremely reliable and good on gas. Ask around to find a good independent mechanic to look at it for you before you buy it. My whole family drives these and they’ve been excellent. Newer cars will be reliable for a while, but I can tell you from experience working on them that 2005 and later cars tend to have a lot more expensive issues than the older ones. Good luck!

  61. Melanie says:

    First if all, Julie is doing a great job of keeping expenses low and maintaining an income during grad school. I do have some recommendations:

    1. With the $300-$800 leftover at the end of the month, I would definitely pay down debt first. Imagine how much more you would have at the end of the month if you didn’t have the monthly debt payments? $578 less in monthly payments would free up a lot of your income and would be one less thing to think about. I would go to Dave Ramsey way- list your debts smallest to largest, regardless of the interest rate (so in this case, the smaller medical first and credit card last). Make the minimum payment on all but the smallest, then dump your $300-$800 toward the smallest. Once that is paid off, roll everything you were paying on it into the next smallest debt. This is the ‘debt snowball’, and it works because you pick up speed (therefore maintain motivation) as you go. I wouldn’t even think about investing at this point- being debt free means dramatically reduced risk, more freedom in how you spend your money, and a huge amount of stress lifted.

    2. The amount of students loans you have is pretty overwhelming, and it’s all the worse that you are accumulating more. If there is no way to continue your program without taking on more debt, it honestly might be better to take a year break, save up as much as you can, and then go back and pay cash. I don’t know if you are willing to go that extreme here, but I can’t imagine the burden of 63k+ in student debt on top of more than 8k of other debt. If you there is no way to pay cash or take a couple semesters off, I would focus all the more on paying off your other debts. Then after grad school I would attack the student debt, again using the debt snowball.

  62. Mr. Grumby says:

    You are doing a nice job of managing your expenses and there is a lot of great advice here.

    As a couple of others have mentioned, there is really no reason to spend $900 on life insurance with no dependents. You can asses the need later once you have 1-3 kids and a family, but is of no use now. In fact, you may very well end up with an empoyer who proviodes or offers lower cost life insurance coverage.

    Car: ideally you could sell it, pay some debt with the balance and either use a bicycle or public transportation. If that is not an option, and since you have a zero interest loan and a low balance, keep paying it monthly until it’s paid off. Your auto insurance rates seem very high, so if you are paying for comprehensive and add-ons like rental coverage, cancel those.
    Great work!

  63. Marisa Stone says:

    You are doing a great job of working with what you have. Sharing space, enjopying a couple side hustles and keeping your food expenses low are great.

    I have been a ‘work at home’ mom for 8 years. For me this means I am self-employed, work out of my home office and am raising kids(that numbers was 4 down to 3 as one left the nest).

    Although I think education is very important, I think your focus should be getting your income increased as quickly as possible. Both my husband and myself have both gone to college and neither of us have degrees, but earn 6 figures. The reason we earn that is because we have business critical job skills. What I am suggesting is, work on getting a job at one of the big 4 firms and work on your skills. The more quickly you do that the more quickly your value will increase. Getting an MBA is awesome but skills are what is going to keep you employed and those skills are what can enable you to work from home when you have kids. Working remotely could look like a ftw remote employee or having your own business that caters to large companies.

    I would also consider the time value of money. At the big 4 you will most likely be eligible for the company 401(k) match either in a month or after 12 months. If you wait another 1.5 to 2 years to get that started you are losing many thousands of dollars, not to mention cost of living raises over time.

    Good luck to you!

  64. Beth says:

    Julie – I have an MBA – and it was the best thing I ever did, it allowed me to leapfrog multiple positions and get a much higher paying job more quickly than without one. Please please please negotiate HARD on the front end when you get an offer. You have to do this to raise the floor of what you are going to get paid, and you will make way more in your life. Live in the most affordable place you can. When I was in grad school, I lived in horrid dorms with random other grad students, but had a really really low monthly rent that didn’t need sublets for the summer, that and walking to class ended up saving me over $20,000 (and being frugal with groceries, going to farmers markets – I also have special dietary needs). I also cannot carry children and can share my findings with you offline if you want to email me ( A few other notes. I took a sales rotation (which no MBAs at my company did) and threw every bonus I had into either savings or paying off the high interest loans. i bought used cars that I could pay for in full. Also – don’t work TOO much while you are getting your MBA. part of being there is the experience. I didn’t do this, I tried to work while I was there (mostly as a graduate assistant and a TA) and I didn’t make as many close connections and friends as I should have. i can tell you one thing for sure. You will get nearly every future job you have through people you know. Networking is smart, but knowing a lot of people just out in the world is even more important. Straight networking only gets you so far, true connections are where it’s at. Don’t be so obsessed with the Big 4 – you can get similar jobs in corporate America with slightly lower salaries, yet WAY better quality of life. You will have to work 70-80 hours a week (many out of your city) so good luck having a social life. Let me know if you want to know more! my email is above.

    • Julie says:


      I really appreciate your comments and will be reaching out to you, thank you! I have friends who work at the big 4 and though they make 6 figures they are miserable. My school, small private military college, is HUGE on networking which is a big reason of why I chose it. I wasn’t even getting interviews until I had my MBA on my resume, so I agree with you it can open a lot of doors, especially if you know people who are willing to help. : )

  65. Steven says:

    Hi Julie,

    As a fellow eBay side hustle entrepreneur my first suggestion would be to increase your quantity and numbers to sell more and increase the income. Your expenses are low, anything to increase the gap between those in the interim before the MBA job is certainly a plus. Best of luck with everything.

    Also nice work on the .70 costs, my purchases are usually from a thrift store and end up being $3-$4 with an increased markup.

  66. Melissa L. says:

    Great work so far, and kudos to you for having a plan, setting a 10 year vision, and working to make it happen!! From someone who had consumer debt, a car payment, and student loans (and officially became debt-free in February 2016), I would encourage you to stay the course on your frugal monthly budget, and put your monthly surplus income to paying off your non-student-loan debt. Yes, at first glance, “it’s interest-free” but it’s still causing background stress that you can easily eliminate while you’re a student. I would set the goal to have all debts other than student-loans paid off by your graduation date. That way, on graduation day, you’re debt free besides your education loans…hopefully walking into a killer full-time job the very next week. You can spend that 1st year or 2 out of school slaying your student loans if you maintain your current frugal lifestyle, and in less than 4 years time you’re a DEBT FREE individual with 2 Master’s Degrees, a fantastic job, and well on your way to accomplishing your 10 year plan. You can also then quickly save 20% for a down payment on a home.

    You said your average monthly surplus income ranges from $300-$800…so let’s just call that an average of $550 a month. Starting with your smallest debt (to build momentum), pay off your $659 medical debt. That will be gone by Thanksgiving! Then, take your $550+$53.73(former payment), and now you’ve got $600 to pay off debt each month. Next comes your car (it’s the next smallest debt), and that will be paid off by Jan/Feb! Then your snowball grow to $600+$300=$900, and your slaying your other medical debt. It’s gone by spring. Now you’ve got $900+$25= $925 each month to pay off your credit card (which by the way you’ve vowed to stop accruing debt on)..and heck, by next 4th of July you’re debt free. A Year ahead of schedule! You can then use all your “extra” money each month (which has now grown to $1125, to keep adding to your savings. Or, if you’re feeling super momentous, (which I’m willing to be you will having had slayed all your debt by then) you might even start paying off your student loans! You are well on your way to blowing your goals out of the water…you just have to start today!!!! Best of luck friend, you’ve got a whole frugal community behind you!!

    • Julie says:


      You are fantastic! This post really is inspirational. I can’t thank you enough!! That is the goal now: get rid of the non student loan debt by July 4th, what an Independence Day that will be!!! : )

  67. Alexandra says:

    Hi Julie – Congrats on making the move into the Finance/Accounting field. It’s pretty great over here. I’ve been reading through all of the comments and there are a lot of good ones. I’m a CPA with my Masters in Business Taxation, and spend my first 5 years in public accounting. I have a few thoughts for you on the work/life balance thing, because I’ve experienced it first hand. There is zero work/life balance in Big 4 or any large firm. They will try to tell you there is in the interview/recruitment process, but in my experience, they are all lying to you. In fact, I used to lie to new hires in the same way. You will be working all of the time. You will not have a social life, and it will be hard to build a relationship. The partners at both firms I worked at were divorced and/or rarely saw their children. Also, if you share that you want children, you WILL be mommy-tracked. There might be a few people that this didn’t happen to, but overall, it’s sadly true. Just wanted to throw all of the bad out there for you to consider. HOWEVER, spending my first five years working my butt off provided me with amazing private industry opportunities. I now work 40 hours a week and make a good salary. I finally have the work life/balance, but it took me 10+ years to get here.

    I know some people say ditch the car, but as a consultant you’ll need to travel to clients and sometimes your clients are in the middle of nowhere. Keep the car.

    While in school make sure to go to a lot of company-sponsored networking events. Not only do they have free food/booze, but you’ll build relationships with people that will weigh in on your future interviews. When deciding between two equally qualified candidates, it’s my experience that we pick the person we’d rather have a beer with after hours.

    Now as for your financial decision question, I think you have done a GREAT job limiting expenses. Seriously, great work! With your extra money left over each month, I think you need to decide what your top priority is. Do your 0% debts stress you out? If they weigh on your mind, it’s worth paying them off early so that you sleep soundly. Is a home purchase in the next 3-4 years most important? If so, start socking that extra money away into an account designated for that. Lastly, if early retirement is what makes your heart sing, start dumping it into your IRA. At this point I don’t think you can have more than one priority.

    Good luck and welcome to the Finance Club. 🙂

    • Julie says:

      Thanks Alexandra : ) The big 4 is not for me, but I am very lucky to have access to a huge and very active alumni community. Both the 0% debt and investments stress me out, no plans for home ownership any time soon.

      • Alexandra says:

        Good for you! I also decided big 4 wasn’t for me and went for a large regional firm. I haven’t regretted my decision once! If I were you (and I did this with my car loan), I’d decide $500 of your excess each month goes to investments, and then whatever is over that you throw at your debt. I’d go with the smallest 0% first, because being able to say “woohoo! that’s paid off!” is the best. I’m down to just my mortgage right now and it feels really good. 🙂

  68. Sandra & the 2 Spaniels says:

    Wow! Julie has been doing impressive work on the financial end. I would think that the best place to put these degrees to work is to start thinking of working with a CPA who is willing to teach you tax work. I have a friend through my cocker club who did just that. She started with a AA in secretarial, and 9 years later is an enrolled agent with the IRS. She makes very good money-$90,000 a year (in Sacramento)-and her employer is willing to fund her advanced education. Julie’s education is so far advanced, I think that she needs a better employer who is able to help her get another masters. Taxes will always be with us, so use it to your advanctage. Also, many large corporations and government jobs provide school assistance and pay exceptionally well.
    The extremely small amount of money Julie can live on is very impressive. She should look for a job outside her area, as she has proven that she can, and has controlled her finances. Moving may be to her advantage, if it means more money coming in.

  69. Sheila Pulford says:

    I commend Julie on her work ethic and frugalness. I want to focus my comments on her education. She already has a master’s degree in a business-related field. Does she really need an MBA? Is she sure that an MBA will find her a high-paying job in her field? Her current master’s degree is excellent. Around the Connecticut area, there are many large companies who would find her skills and education appealing. However, it takes a while to find a great job that pays well. Personally I would be spending my time using my current degree to find that excellent job! Network network network. Provide the best resume possible. Go on “informational interviews” with potential companies she’s interested in. I NEVER turned down a request for informational interview when I was an employment manager for a Fortune 10 company. Read current books on the job hunting process. Go for it!!! Go to night school part time if she wants to get an MBA and gain more skills in Project Management, which is excellent to have. Find a mentor to help her with her job search and help keep her motivated. My background: BS in Business Admin, Master of Arts in Organizational Management. I actually changed from an MBA program to an MA program because I wanted to write a thesis, which was required in the MA program My thesis was about the correlation between recognition and employee motivation. Anyway, just my two cents’ worth. .

    • Julie says:


      This is refreshing to hear as no job (including large companies) have known what my MS was or what it could bring to the company. I would love to speak with you further about your experience if you are willing. Thank you!

  70. Excellent work Julie! I would recommend getting your cashflow game up a bit- pay off the car, potentially lower your insurance costs with a higher deductible. Then pay off the other debt. Cashflow is, to me, an undervalued part of personal finance. It allows you flexibility and security. Whatever you decide, know that your self discipline is an inspiration!

  71. Kristen says:

    I agree with all the comments suggesting she save nearly $1000/year by cancelling the life insurance. If heaven forbid the worst happens, your savings will be more than enough to pay necessary expenses. Yes, kids are in the future – but by then you will have a heap of savings, and your partner could always take out a life insurance plan if you can’t qualify again.

  72. Louisa says:

    I’m trying to come up with some new ideas for you, as so much has been suggested above! Make use of your student status. Get student discounts whenever possible, six months free of Amazon Prime, etc., presumably something with Microsoft.

    It looks like you have negotiated your non-student bills down to zero interest– Good for you! Guessing you enjoy the ebay work and the pet sitting; if not, look for something else.

    Are you in the same community as your school, or otherwise able to visit the physical place? Get a student ID card. Use their facilities. I agree with Allie, above– Go after every career services office you are connected to, (as well as the financial aid office! and the alumni office!). Higher education institutions are being pushed to improve their graduation rates and their job placement rates, so they have more services than they used to.

    Meet your teachers in person; maybe ask if you can meet someone for coffee after a semester is over. They are very important for networking. Online students are more easily forgotten by their teachers if they’ve never met, (I know from my online masters’ work; make some personal contact!). If they are also “land” teachers, they should have regular in-person office hours. Can you meet some of your classmates in person and form a support group for each other? Could you do tutoring for accounting, whether undergraduate or graduate? Could you go back to any of your Org Leadership faculty for contacts?

    Look for professional organizations that have student fees, look at when they have conferences or seminars, sometimes specific to women, look at whether they have career or internship listings open to members.

    Consider work in non-profits– There is a lot of turnover among administrators, and potentially good pay at the highest levels. It is also a way to meet influential or wealthier community members, who might have job connections for you. History? Museums? Health? Libraries? Animals? Gay rights? Or see if you can get an internship at such a place for experience, connections, and to build your resume. Taking on a grant-writing or -administrating project would be good experience for you.

    $19,000 is one year’s tuition? (You are one year into a three year program? I saw that you have two years left, but I’m sorry if you said how long it is). That seems really high. Can you transfer to another, less expensive program, and still get the benefits from the completed degree? Can you slow down? Do you need the degree/not every program has to be completed in full? Did the school give you any credit for your Organizational Leadership coursework?

    Would a session with a career coach who helps you think about “transferable skills” be of help? You seem to have degrees that call on you to do big projects; do you know how to present those in a resume? Do you have an ideal job, and can you do some informational interviews to find out more about it? Lots of career advice articles about how to do informational interviews are online, and you might be able to tap into the alumni of the schools you have attended. Best wishes to you, Julie! I hope we get an update in six or twelve months to know how you are doing then.

    • Julie says:

      I only have one more yr of school. I am taking the local Pride board up on their offer of a Board of Directors position (volunteer). I did receive credit for my Org Leadership coursework and I will be honest I have met with 3 career counselors and none of them had any productive advice and one was very expensive.

  73. Julie says:

    I want to give a truly heartfelt thanks to everyone who took the time to leave encouraging and insightful comments. I was a little worried about doing this, but am very glad I did!!

    THANK YOU : )

  74. snowcanyon says:

    Your self-discipline is impressive! However, I feel obligated to say, unless you marry wealthy, I think it’s going to be tough, with debt and minimal savings at 33, to retire by 50 if you have two or three kids, especially if you can’t (I’m sorry) carry them yourself. . If you plan on adopting, the price for children is very high- think 30k per kid, depending (sadly) on their race and medical status. Taking extensive time off is even more important with the abandonment/bonding issues of many adopted children, so be sure to factor a year or three off for each child; same with surrogacy. It’s difficult to adopt after 40, so your timeframe may be limited. Also, be sure to try and get disability, not just life, insurance.

    I’m not sure what advice I have to ameliorate that- perhaps try to marry someone who already has children and a solid career? You are doing an amazing and self-disciplined job, but you are essentially starting out at 33 with no savings and a fair amount of debt. Stay the path, I think, but realize even your tremendous discipline may not lead to retirement at 50.

    Good luck!

    • Julie says:

      I have the advantage of being gay and having the potential for my wife to carry a child. I truly believe anything is possible with enough discipline and commitment and have seen people with less achieve great things. I refuse to be negative about my situation.

      • Afroz says:

        I agree with you Julie, with your positive attitude anything is possible! When someone tells me its going to be tough or impossible it just motivates me more to prove them wrong. In my mind, 33 is still young enough to retire by 50. All the best!

  75. snowcanyon says:

    That would be a great, and cheaper, solution!! Good luck! And sign up for disability insurance- take care of yourself first. Some grad programs even offer it- mine did.

  76. sharon stanley says:

    Julie, what a great job you seem to be doing living a frugal life. Congrats on that! Obviously you are a planner and are organized, smart and open…all excellent qualities. My thoughts are, you have a large school debt already and admit your degree has done you little good in finding a well-paying job…are you certain the MBA will serve you better? More debt is more debt and I wonder if you would do better to throw yourself into finding a job with growth potential now using the degree you have and are still paying for rather than getting another degree. Don’t get me wrong, I think another degree would be good, but perhaps is not wise just now. Would you possibly be better off to throw your focus into finding a great paying job in your current field then letting your other jobs go, freeing up a bit of time to spend on fun while you are young? Just thoughts. I admire you for your planning, desire to live frugally and tolerance of all these suggestions! Best of luck to you.

  77. Holly says:

    You are doing a great job with frugality! When you are ready to start with a family, don’t rule out adoption. I have adopted 2 children as a single female. Really has blessed my life:)

  78. Anne says:

    In terms of long-term finances, I would really suggest prioritizing getting the next job possible with your MBA and putting extra cash flow toward your Roth contributions. This will (hopefully) be the last time in your life that your income and taxes are so low, so you will thank yourself later for having the money tax-free for retirement. That of course is if you are comfortable with the reduced flexibility of having the funds tied up and harder to access. Unless it is a major psychological burden, try not to pay early on debts at 0%.

    A couple of commenters have pointed out how expensive it can be to adopt or do assisted reproduction. You may want to eventually explore adopting through the foster care system. You would be taking in a child that really needs a home, have a chance to get to know the child and know that it is the right match, and costs are much lower than doing agency or international adoptions. There are even circumstances where the government will continue to provide financial assistance for learning or medical support the child may need after the adoption goes through, or university tuition funding for children adopted through foster care.

  79. Melissa says:

    I am a grad student also and I get Microsoft Office download for free for up to 5 devices through my university. I wasn’t told about this upfront. I found the link on my university student portal site.
    Take advantage of as many student discounts as possible! I’m getting acupuncture treatments for fertility and only pay $20 as opposed to regular $30 fee. I got an Amazon Prime membership for $49/yr (half price!). Also, I am studying to be a Speech Language Pathologist and pay really low membership fees for professional associations and conferences. I’m not sure if these are necessary in your field, but they are good networking opportunities. I always ask or look for student discounts everywhere.

  80. Lynn says:

    Wow, lady, I am super impressed that you are a full time MBA student and work 40+ hours a week! I don’t know how you do that. Your work ethic is incredible and an inspiration. My advice (as someone who went through law school) is to find an internship/job now that will help you on your career path, otherwise that MBA will be a waste. Does your school have career services? They should be able to help you find something that matches your career goals. Also, those student loans are killer (I am in the same position, but worse!), so consider looking at public interest jobs to get loan forgiveness.

  81. Meg says:

    Hi Julie, I’m super impressed by your budgeting skills! One thing that has drastically helped me in the last year was paying off my car. I was paying around $200/month, and once that was gone, I took that $200 and added it to my smallest student loan. The result has been amazing!

    So if I were you, I would just take $1900 from your emergency savings and pay off that car loan NOW. Get rid of it–you will feel so much better! Driving around a “free” car that you’re not paying loans on is such an emotionally freeing feeling. And then adding that monthly $300 to another loan will really start to make a difference. Good luck!

  82. Whitney says:

    I’ve read a lot of great advice! Good luck with deciding what to do Julie! Just a quick bit of info i recently found out concerning life insurance: I use Allstate for my life insurance and when you get a term policy, if you convert it to a whole life policy within 5 years, you don’t have to medically requalify. This helped us immensely as my husband has medical issues as well. Just wanted to share that in case you are within that 5 years and would rather have whole life insurance instead of term. Good luck!

  83. snowcanyon says:

    Have you considered selling the car? It seems like a huge luxury for someone who is still in school. Much of the area near New Haven has decent transit and iis fairly densely populated. If you are spending $158 a month between gas and insurance, have you thought about biking and occasionally UBERing to fill in the gaps? Or selling your car and getting a much, much cheaper beater which will require less insurance?

    Are you too far from work? Or school? Could you move closer? That’s a lot of money on gas, payments, and insurance for a depreciating asset.

  84. Sheila Pulford says:

    Julie, I wrote the post about job-seeking. I would be glad to talk with you. You can e-mail me at Sheila Pulford

  85. Barb says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with Mrs Frugalwoods! But ALSO: max out that Roth ASAP with your extra dough, while maintaining your emergency fund as-is. I repeat – START INVESTING NOW!! Compare the chart on this page carefully (I am not a Ramsey fan, just look at the chart). Eight years of investment in your 20’s massively outperforms FORTY years of investment later. Of course you could do better with larger initial investments, but note that the lump sum would need to be the amount including interest and not just the original amounts.

    So to match the earnings of $2k a year for 8 years you would need to start with $27,551 not $16k. Not that you can’t do that, just be aware of the long term cost of not starting investing right now. Especially in a Roth!! Max it out ASAP.

  86. Michael says:

    I haven’t read through the 185 comments posted so far, but one thing that strikes me is: Do you really need Microsoft Office specifically? I would suggest giving LibreOffice a serious try. It can be downloaded for free from and has zero ongoing cost, and has most features that most people need and then some.

  87. debbie says:

    Hey there, Julie – I’m a single, frugal knitter just a bit up the road from you, in Glastonbury. Get in touch if you want to get together for a knit night. I have a feeling there would be no lack of conversation topics. 🙂

  88. Alex says:

    Sounds like Julie’s doing great. If I was asked for advice I’d say put most extra money towards debt and/or not taking on any more student debt – the emergency fund seems like plenty on this lifestyle. Also, try to find MS office cheaper, and look into car insurance changes. Car insurance at $78 seems a lot for a 2005 civic, with almost no assets your liability probably doesn’t need to be incredibly high and removing collision/comprehensive could be an option, the car can’t be worth that much. Might have to wait till the loan is paid off which could be a good reason to focus there.

  89. Laura from Baltimore says:

    Hi Julie – You seem to be very hard-working, organized, committed, frugal – and stressed. My impression is that you are in the tough part of a multi-year slog, and maybe you’re starting to feel like it will never end and you’re doing something wrong and it needs to change.

    So if I can give you some advice from the other side of the hill: breathe. You are doing so many things right, even if it doesn’t feel like you are making progress. You have a career path with a significant potential bump in pay just around the corner. You have a full-time job and very frugal lifestyle that is minimizing your bleed now. You’re doing great!

    My one suggestion is to focus your energy and effort on the areas with the most potential payback. You seem to be running in 83 different directions to make ends meet – school, full-time job, and TWO side hustles is a lot! Which of those get you the best return on your investment? Focusing on your degree will double or triple your pay in another year and a half. How does your hourly E-Bay rate compare? You only have so much time and energy, and every hour you are spending on reselling things is an hour you are not devoting to higher purposes, like working toward that permanent job or finding a wife (because it’s not just the financial priorities that matter).

    So speaking as an old fart (I just hit your target retirement age), my two pieces of more specific advice are:

    1. Simplify your life as much as possible – get rid of anything that brings more stress than benefits or takes you away from your larger goals, and spend your time on things that bring you joy and move you closer to your goals. E.g., keep the dog sitting if you are getting joy from it; but maybe knock out those stupid medical and credit card bills because, hey, that is just fewer things to worry about forgetting each month. I would even argue that it is worth giving up some of the money-making enterprises in the short-term if that gives you time to take an internship that gives you a better shot at a great permanent job. Yes, I hate debt (paid off my student loans in 2 years) – but you have already chosen a path that requires loans to get that better job. So the smartest thing you can do is throw all your effort into making sure those loans buy you what you want (best post-grad employment possible).

    2. Don’t panic and make short-term changes with possible long-term consequences. Keep that life insurance – if you achieve your goal of family, your future you will need that security more than present you needs that extra few bucks a month. If you’re happy in the current job, don’t panic just because they are taking their time telling you whether it is permanent. If having that emergency fund makes you feel secure, keep it (I would!). Etc. Yes, you are in a sucky moment right now – when you are inherently frugal, having expenses that exceed your income is miserable. But it is just a moment – a short period in a long life. And your long-term plan is still on track. Two years from now, when you have that degree and job, the stress will be gone and you will have plenty of resources to throw at your debt. if you can focus a little on the long view, it might give you a little better perspective on the short-term (which really will pass, and you really will be fine).

    Best of luck!

    • Julie says:

      Thank you so much Laura! My situation is only temporary and I am choosing to look at this time as something that will help me grow.

  90. Are the loans federal? If so, do you qualify for any advantaged programs? See the attempt at SoFi—might be worth giving state refinancing programs a look. Some are open nationwide. Just remember if they are federal that you’ll lose those benefits!

  91. Sean says:

    I only read a few of them, but the ones I agree with most are: dump debt. How much money are you going to be able to invest and save if you are not sending money out in payments each month? “But what about the interest-free loans?” What about them? You are kicking all kinds of butt up and down the eastern seaboard, but the debt is only a weight to drag you down. Take that extra $800 a month and pay down on your debt. That’s $9,600 a year. If you throw that at your non-student loan debt you’ll be free from it before you graduate. Then, like many are saying, stay the course on your joyously frugal lifestyle choices and get the student loans paid off. Well done Julie, outstanding work!!!

  92. Anne says:

    By doing temp work, you are paying the temp agency (which skims off some of your wage) and also paying medical out of pocket. That’s a double whammy. You could find a job which can offer you full benefits including education. This would allow you to lower your monthly expenses and increase your income at the same time.

    Real estate is very inflated at this moment and not a good deal. The math makes sense only if prices are lower even with higher interest rates. I’ve owned 2 homes and I learned that an excessive amount of time, energy and money went into owning them. That is money and time that could be put towards a wonderful life which can include traveling, savings, investments and valuable experiences. Which in the end is what will determine the quality of life. We are the ones that make a house a home and that can be anywhere and under any number of circumstances because a home comes from spirit and not from owning things. So, it’s important to fit finances into our lives as human beings rather than human beings fitting into finances and to be able to embrace the wonderful life we are living in the present which in the final analysis is all that each of us are given.

  93. Sean says:

    Hi Julie! Let’s talk more about the “life” part of the work-life balance. You seem to have a lot of good focus and great habits for the “work” side of the equation (and have received some great advice here too). I’m a middle-aged single gay man, and I think a lot of the advice offered here presumes heteronormativity (even though you’ve mentioned being gay in the comments).

    Your goal is to meet a future wife with the same values and priorities in life. The good news is that you know what you want in life and sound like a very cool person. The bad news is that your dating pool and potential matches is a smaller subset than “average” – being gay is being a minority, being so frugally-minded is a minority, and so forth. However, you don’t need to find lots of potential wives – just one!

    Unfortunately if you’re spending your time with a 40 hour job, a full-time MBA program, pet-sitting, ebay selling, and with predominantly “stay home” hobbies, you aren’t doing enough to get out and meet a future life partner. Then if you spend your energy/money/time for going out for networking events, you don’t have a lot left for a personal life. Let’s face it – most people don’t like dating, esp frugal introverts (like me). How much time and energy are you spending on trying to date or meet people? You mention doing more with coaching sports, volunteering with your church, and non-profit gay rights. These are three excellent ways to meet other women with similar hobbies, interests or values as you. That said – it sounds exhausting to try to do all of these things at the same time on top of all the other things you are juggling. It also can be daunting to give up gigs earning income (like ebay) to carve out time to date or meet people. I don’t know how you do want to prioritize this (maybe you don’t even want to look until after you graduate). But I do know that people hyper-focused on extreme savings and profit margin can lose a sense of something less concrete, like having the space in your life to go on bad dates and give new people a try – the necessary “investment” for finding a wife.

    • JLC says:

      This is a great response! I agree 100%!

      To add to this, I wonder if you have considered the value of your time. How much time does it take to run your side businesses? What is your hourly rate of income? Could this time be better spent finding your future love? Finding a spouse does take a substantial time commitment. In the year leading up to my first date with my now husband, I had one committed relationship, and went on dates with about a half dozen others. The garden grows best where you tend to and water it.

      If after this evaluation you still have a surplus of funds, I would use it to pay down the 6.8% debt. Even now, while the loans are in deferment, they are gaining interest which you will have to pay back…with interest. I assume like most student loans, they are broken up into chunks of loans? You can use this time to take a decent bite at that debt, paying on just one, before your payments start and your money is divided up into multiple payments.

      At 0% interest, it doesn’t make sense to pay off the little debts. (BTW, where did you get a credit card with 0% interest? Is that just 0% for the first year? If so, adjust to pay that debt off ASAP.) You are already living a very frugal life, and I don’t foresee paying off those debts as providing any more encouragement to pay off debts quicker. But, as you pay off those debts, use the extra money freed up and roll it into your student loan payment.

      Good luck with everything!

  94. Christine K says:

    In advance I’d like to say that I didn’t read all of the other comments/responses. Can you find a company to pay for your MBA? Verizon paid for mine 100% up-front. I don’t remember if there was a waiting period, but I started the degree program about 6 months after I started my job there so it was a short waiting period if there was one. I went nights but I went full-time and got it done in 2.5 years. It wasn’t bad. That said, while I’m glad that I have the degree, I wouldn’t have gotten it if it weren’t free. The payoff just wasn’t there. I was obsessed with getting an MBA though, so nobody could have talked me out of it.

    Since you’re already committed to getting the MBA, my advice would be to secure a job with a big accounting firm asap. My friend (accountant) worked for BankBoston (no clue what they’re called now) as an auditor while getting her MBA at night. They paid for most of her MBA also but I think she said they reimbursed her after the semester. She said she also could have worked for a big firm in Hartford.

    Work life balance is tough in MA, no other way to put it. Our solution was to move to greener pastures to achieve balance and FI. Could that be a possibility in the future (or in the present since the MBA is online) for Julie?

  95. David A Naccarato says:

    Hi Julie
    Consider looking into post MBA jobs in the consulting field – your organization leadership degree plus MBA fit well. Consulting (or audit) will give you great exposure to business and help you develop a professional network.
    I’ve been in corporate fine for 20 years including temp positions for five. Happy to provide advice.

  96. Judy says:

    Did not read the comments, so someone may have already suggested this: Perhaps Julie could find a job on campus to pay for the rest of her MBA.

  97. S.G. says:


    I agree with Sean, above, that you seem to have the financial stuff down and you might want to focus a bit more on your more personal goals. Not only does finding a life mate take some investment of it’s own, often doing so throws all of your other plans out the window. Trying to project your finances out ten years while also thinking about kids and marriage is to build your house on shifting sand. And I don’t know about you, you may be very comfortable alone, but when I was single I just wasn’t as happy as I am married. I was frugal and working toward my goals, but I would happily trade early retirement for a happy marriage.

    As long as you have a goal of FI and early retirement, I wouldn’t try putting numbers on it yet. And I personally wouldn’t really set a time goal for retirement before you even start your career. If you really think you won’t want to work beyond 15 years maybe you should focus on another field where you’d be happier. 50 years would be a great early retirement, but 15 years is a long time. I’d rather do something I love for 25 than something I hate for 15. But if it’s just a goal for the sake of having a goal, I would, once again, focus more on the life than the money right now. After all picking a retirement date is something you will hopefully be able to work out with you spouse and she may have completely different ideas and goals that you you will merge and together craft a vision of your future. And if you think it’s possible that you won’t find her, then you really won’t do much different in the long run anyway. I know this because you’re already doing it. You just might need to adjust your lifestyle a little bit to make it more likely that your happily ever after includes someone to cuddle with on cold nights.

    Personally, I would focus on peace of mind today by reducing payments and increasing cash flow. Others have talked about the psychological benefit of paying off debt, but there is a very practical argument as well: lower fixed expenses make you far more financially flexible. If you have go without working because you lose your job or decide to move and have to take some time off, lower expenses will make your emergency account stretch further. It also frees up more money to put toward debt or savings or what have you. When looking at cash flow just divide the payment by the balance. So if you pay off the car your monthly discretionary funds will go up by $15.15 for every hundred dollars you pay off, but the $25 medical bill will only increase your cash flow by $1 for every hundred dollars you pay them. Therefore I would devote any extra money to the car, then the first medical bill, then the credit card, and I’d let the $25 bill float until it’s much lower.

  98. Hillary says:

    So many great comments! Hope they are helpful to you Julie.

    I really agree with what SG and Sean are saying. You are doing great financially! Network, network, network at school (teachers, admins, other students) to connect to your dream job. But what makes for a truly happy life (for many people, but not all – although it sounds like you really want this) is a happy home life. I would recommend paying off those small debts asap (Roth IRA can wait) to free up mental anxiety. Then get out there and date! It takes practice, but you get better at it and will find your mate, I know it. As a bi woman myself who was single for several years, I really had to make the decision to get out there again and go for it. I joined dating apps, talked to friends about it, and treated it seriously. I’ve now been committed for over a year and I’m so happy with my partner! There are cliché’s that things happen when you least expect it, but for me, I certainly wasn’t meeting anyone sitting in my apartment counting my pennies. Did my savings rate drop a bit (more happy hours, going to the zoo, movies, etc), sure! Was it worth it, absolutely.

  99. Wyla says:

    Hi Julie,

    A few other ideas for cost savings:

    Car insurance – you may want to eliminate collision (i.e. self-insure that aspect) or increase the deductible

    Cell phone – there are a few $10/month cheap phone plans around these days and if you add a PennyTalk account, you can can call other countries for a $.50 connection fee plus $.01 or $.02/minute – I’ve used it for many yrs and the connectivity and sound quality are great).

    And I agree with your stance on not paying down 0% debt.

    That said, I’m with Mrs. Frugalwoods that the focus should be on finding a higher paying job after graduation. Or….

    In fact, I’d probably try to find a higher paying job right now (instead of the hrs you’re spending on the ebay biz). At this point in your career, I think experience is more important than the MBA. The MBA is great if you’re in a good company and you want to advance. So, I’d even think about doing the rest of the MBA part time and start getting some decent increases in salary now, because it’s difficult to go from a $25K job to a $50 or $60K job on the sole basis of having finished your MBA.

  100. Kris says:

    Like all the comments and recommendations for Julie. I just want to throw my two cents in for her. Basically just pay off all of your current debt first especially your medical and car loan. Once you paid off all your debts just start saving as much as you can until you have to start paying off your student loans. Hopefully you will enough saved up to pay off your student loans by 2020(a year after you start paying your loans). Also look into start contributing to your Roth IRA after you paid off your current debt. You don’t have to contribute the maximum amount but whatever amount you can contribute that meets your budget.
    Also just enjoy life. You got a plan in place financially and you know what you are doing. Have fun, network, and go on dates and hope you find that special someone. Best of luck Julie!!

  101. Jen says:

    Honestly it sounds to me like you’re doing a great job balancing everything. You should be proud of yourself and what you have accomplished thus far. I’m 42 and as of last week we paid off my husbands car loan. This will be the first time he has not had a car loan in the 14 years we have been together. I would definitely try and get that to zero (you are sooooooo close). That will free up money and stress. I also second the poster that talked about investing in an IRA. Even if you put $100 of your car payment a month in you won’t regret it. I have been contributing 6% to my 401K – my company matches up to 6% and it’s just enough so it doesn’t hurt and I’m dumbfounded with the compound interest (like..huh? I think I’m accidentally in incredible shape to retire in my mid 50’s). I know you stated you would move, we’re not in CT but I work for Verizon in the Boston area and we have been hiring a lot of off the street talent this year. In addition to the 401K match Verizon has great medical benefits, tuition reimbursement, vacation time and also adoption reimbursement. I am very proud of the adoption benefit because my late father helped spearhead the inception of that benefit after I was adopted 41 years ago (though he liked to tell everyone it wasn’t retroactive for me!). Verizon (and I’m sure many other big companies) have so many types of these items available and lots of room for advancements. Good luck with everything I wish you well!

  102. Stockbeard says:

    On the frugal side: not too much fat to trim here, but for the sake of the argument, I would look into the following:
    – cell phone $45, to keep in touch with out of country parents.
    –> How about a $30 plan from T-mobile or another low cost, + free skype for out of country parents (note: my parents are out of the US and that’s what we do. Assumes parents have computer and internet access, otherwise skype is still very cheap)

    – life insurance: with no kids and as a single person, who are the beneficiaries of that insurance, what’s the point? Genuinely interested to know here, but I would cut it assuming there’s no additional information we don’t know about.

    – My renter’s insurance is $130 a year, wondering if you’d have some room to reduce your costs here.

    Other advice: whatever career you choose, I would recommend one that gives you enough time to work on your side hustle. $500 a month is a great start and could grow significantly if you decided to put more time into it. The Goodwill/eBay flipping this is brilliant and requires some specific knowledge on what’s going to actually sell well. In other words, not everyone can do it, meaning your expertise adds significant value here. So I would be careful about not finding a job that ends up requiring 60 or 70 hours of work a week, potentially killing a promising side hustle.

  103. Helen S says:

    I’d use the $300-$800 discretionary per month to pay down current consumer/medical debt, starting with the car. Once ALL that consumer debt is gone, hit that student loan debt with both barrels and get rid of it asap.

    I’d shop the car insurance, mine dropped by nearly 50% moving from my long-term supplier to new supplier last year.

    Also, the life insurance. A mil in coverage for a single person? Wow. Who would be the beneficiary? I’d get enough (when I was employed my employer covered 1 yr of pay in life ins. for a very low $) to cover my funeral expenses and that’s it. I’d put the extra $ to the debt. Once you’ve become a parent you can revisit enough to pay your funeral expenses and help cover college for a couple kids, but life insurance is there to help the survivors cope in your absence.

    How do you get by on $100 a month in food? I’m a vegetarian with Celiac disease (no wheat anywhere ever) and with a family of 4 I’m still looking at $600-700 a month in groceries (all of us eat vegetarian & wheat free, we use next to zero packaged food and cook nearly every. single. day. of the world, LOL, from scratch, with leftovers filling in now and then).

    Your goals for age 50 are very ambitious. I think I’d start the hunt for a better job, something full time with some growth potential and maybe even educational assistance. Seventeen years goes by really fast.

  104. Trudy says:

    Hello I am much older then your basic reader. Actually we have been in non spending mode for a few years, but really holds bar since my son and his boys moved out. I so enjoy your stories and great information. I have always been frugal but got lost a few years ago to help everyone in need, without thinking how that would create an issue later on down the line. I have mentioned your website to my adult children with kids of their own. Thank you for all that you share!! Its very fun to see such a young couple bucking the system now where you must have the best of everything. When really we all do with the wonderful people in our lives. its not about things or cars etc. I am one of 8 kids and we had very little but I never felt I needed more. Now in My mid 50’s I am glad to go back to that simple time and relish in the simple Thank you! Grandma to 7

  105. Chelsea says:

    As a current student, there’s a good chance that you have access to a free/discounted license for Microsoft Word. Check with your IT services! If not, I believe anybody with a .edu email address can get access to the online version, Office 365:

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