Reader Case Study: Should We Buy A Campground And Laundromat?

We’re off to Nebraska in this month’s Reader Case Study to help Payton and Riley out with their deliberations over whether or not to buy a laundromat and a campground!

Case Studies are financial and life dilemmas that a reader of Frugalwoods sends to me requesting that Frugalwoods nation weigh in. Then, Frugalwoods nation (that’s you!), reads through their situation and provides advice, encouragement, insight, and feedback in the comments section. For an example, check out last month’s case study.

I provide updates from our Case Study subjects at the bottom of each Case Study several months after a Case is featured. You all have requested an easier way to track Case Study updates and I have heard your pleas :)! Here’s list of all the Case Studies that currently have an update provided at the end of the post (and a hint that if you’re a past Case Study participant who hasn’t sent me your update yet, send it on over–your fans want to hear from you!):

I probably don’t 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 endeavor to help one another, not to condemn.

With that I’ll let Payton, this month’s Case Study subject, take it from here!

Payton’s Story

Hi, Frugalwoods folks! I’m Payton, I’m 30 years old and I live with my husband Riley (age 33) in a small town in Nebraska with our 3 children, 4 chickens, 2 dogs, and 1 barn cat. We reside on 3.5 acres that we purchased as a foreclosure 4 years ago, but we’ve been in our current town for 10 years. Riley just celebrated his 10th year working for the company that moved us to this area. Our children are ages 5, 3, and 6 months and they keep us on our toes! They love story time at the library and meeting their friends for weekly play dates around town and at rotating houses.

Payton and Riley’s Careers and Hobbies

I completed my master’s degree in counseling and was a traveling therapist before deciding it was in the best interest of the family to put my career on hold. I now stay at home full-time raising our three children. Riley uses his associate degree in electrical technology and works 7am-3pm Monday through Friday for a medical device manufacturer. As a family, we enjoy spending time outdoors, gardening, caring for our animals, baking and playing board games. We are trying to help our kids learn all the various sports so you’re likely to see us playing baseball, soccer, volleyball, or football in our front yard.

Table and chairs made by Riley

Riley loves DIY projects and has made something in almost every room of our house and some items outside as well. His skills keep improving and we love to come up with new ideas and see them come to life. Some of his most recent projects include a dining room table, bench and chairs. For Mother’s Day, he helped the kids make and paint a bird hotel. He’s also made benches, coat racks, side tables, end tables, our chicken coop (from scrap lumber), and a fire truck mailbox for my parents.

Our acreage has created several opportunities for us to learn new skills. When we moved to our land we discovered 3 apple trees (unknown at the time of purchase) and spend a lot of time each year harvesting these apples. We make apple pie filling and freeze apples (after coring) for applesauce throughout the year.

We also discovered a cherry tree and pear tree, which we harvest from as well. Over the years, we’ve planted strawberry plants, raspberry bushes, blueberry bushes, a peach tree, more apple and cherry trees, and an evergreen tree line! Each year we plant a garden, typically with potatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, and tomatoes. We’re hoping we can harvest more and more on our property to sustain ourselves throughout the year. We also get eggs from our chickens!

Ethos and Lifestyle

When you look at our finances, you’ll see that we’re very frugal. We’ve worked really hard to cultivate this lifestyle and focus on simple living. One of my favorite things is line drying clothes and I’ve always felt that this epitomizes our lifestyle choices. We like the laidback, kick your shoes off, feel the dirt on your feet type of approach to life. I’m sure when our kids are in school it will be harder to hold onto this attitude, but we’re definitely enjoying this season of life.

Once we eliminate our mortgage, we’ll see a huge decrease in our expenses. In light of that, paying down our mortgage is a primary goal for us. We own two rental properties outright and we consider selling one or both of them each time there’s a tenant turnover in order to meet our goal of paying off our mortgage. So far, however, we always end up finding a renter quickly and it seems to keep working for us to rent out these two properties.

The Laundromat And Campground Question

We currently live 3+ hours away from family and in the last few years, we’ve considered making a huge lifestyle change, switching careers, and moving to live near my family in the town where Riley and I are both from. This would put us about an hour closer to Riley’s family as well. My entire family resides in this town and they’re extremely close. They see each other throughout the week and meet regularly for meals. It was always in our plans to move back there, but limited job opportunities there haven’t made it possible.

Since jobs in Riley’s field don’t exist there (unless he wants to do residential electrical and, for now, he doesn’t), we’re considering becoming entrepreneurs and taking over the local laundromat and the local camper campground. This town is a very popular summer travel destination and most locals make their money from people spending their summer vacations there. We personally know the owners of both the laundromat and the campground and think we could make these places work, especially since our cost of living is so low.

Here’s the basic info on the laundromat:

Payton & Riley’s older kids watering the flowers

According to tax statements, it looks like the gross earnings from the laundromat are $21,912 and the net is $9,586. This is an all-cash business and the current owners (brothers) are an attorney and a CPA. This laundromat has been in operation for almost three decades and, while we believe it likely makes more than that, we’re referring to these numbers for our calculations. The time we’d need to spend at the laundromat as the owners averages out to about 1 hour a day (7 hours/week) for cleaning and maintenance. The sellers are asking $150,000 (which includes the land), but we’re hoping we’d be able to purchase it for less.

Future plans: This town lacks a dry-cleaner and we’re considering adding a service for drop-off laundry. There’s a locked area in back that could be converted for this plan. There’s also excess land behind the laundromat that’s zoned commercial and we could build storage or rent it out for uncovered parking.

Basics on the campground:

This is another business that currently operates as cash-only and has been in business for over three decades. The gross profits range from $27,000-$38,000 annually (based on past tax forms) and the net income is estimated at $24,000-$30,000. The campground is listed at $190,000 (which includes the land), but the couple who currently own it have been trying to sell for awhile and are willing to negotiate.

Future plans: This is also the current owners’ primary residence and we would try to rent that out. Estimates from talking with a real estate agent and community members are that this could generate $600/month ($7,200/year) in rent. There’s also a meeting room that’s open to guests of the campground. Where we live now, there are annual father/daughter dances, tea parties, princess days, and mother/son date nights that are quite popular. These are not events currently offered in that town, so we believe we could host these events annually for additional side income.

Lastly, we’d like to add a Tropical Sno (frozen snow cone) stand on the campground sales floor, or have a trailer in front of the campground in the parking lot. We’ve researched start-up costs for this and are looking at $250-$8,000 depending on what route we choose. This is another venture that’s currently nonexistent in this small town and we believe would go over well with tourists and locals during the summer.

Potential Move Summary

As is, these two ventures yield low incomes; but, if we keep our current rentals, those net $13,200 annually. However, if we moved to this area and stayed debt-free, we don’t really need much money to live on. That being said, we would be giving up our health insurance and retirement accounts (currently offered through Riley’s work), so we’d need to find a way to fund both of these things.

This plan might be hard to swing during this season of life; however, once our kids are in school, I plan to return to counseling. If we moved to this small town, I could either secure a traveling position or open a private practice (something that’s desperately needed in that area). This would likely greatly increase our income.

Pros and cons of this potential move:

The Pros Of NOT Moving:

  • I’d be able to continue staying at home with our kids
  • We’d continue working our acreage in a place we love
  • We’d remain within 30 minutes of shopping
  • Riley would keep a job he loves

The Cons Of NOT Moving:

  • We continue to live 3+ hours away from our family support system

The Pros Of Moving:

  • We will have a family support system
  • We’re both from this town and know most of the people living there
  • We would be back in the town we grew up in and we feel this offers a lot to our children

The Cons Of Moving:

  • We’re unsure if we can make the income ranges work for us
  • I might have to return to the workforce before all three of our kids are in school
  • Retirement and health insurance would not be covered as they are now
  • We would most likely live in town and give up our country life in order to have a cheaper cost of living. The current housing market there is high. We estimate spending about $100k-120k for a home there. In time, we hope to move back out to the country when we are more comfortable with the change in our careers and finances.

Payton & Riley’s land

A note on our two rental properties: these are located in the town where we currently live. We manage them ourselves and plan to continue managing them on our own. There’s only one property manager in town and their rates are high. We personally know them and, at this time, wouldn’t trust them to manage our properties at the level of service we expect. If we move and managing the properties long distance became too much for us (and we still didn’t want to hire a property manager), we’d look into selling the properties at the time of a tenant turnover.

If we move, we’re pretty sure we would sell our current home. We’ve considered renting it out but we aren’t sure if our emotional attachment will play well in our favor as there are so many different kinds of tenants and their level of care varies greatly. Maintaining this size of home and 3 acres as a tenant is the biggest concern. However, we have discussed renting it out for 1-2 years so that we could have the option to return to if the move doesn’t work out. Rental rates for our property would most likely be about $1,000/month for the house and $300/month for the shop.

All that being said, it’s true that we’re really, really happy living where we are now. Our home is our happy place and we have some great friends in the area. We’ve always wanted to be closer to family and we feel that raising our children near family will give them strong relationships with their extended family. But, it’s hard to consider leaving a place that’s been so good for a place that we aren’t entirely sure we can make work financially.

Where Payton and Riley Want To Be In 10 years:

  • Finances: Debt-free! Yes, we are consumer debt-free but we want to have that mortgage gone, just so it isn’t mentally weighing us down. We would also like to grow our rental business while staying debt-free.
  • Lifestyle: Continue to live the simple, quiet life. When our youngest is 5, we hope to resume traveling with about 1-2 big trips per year.
  • Career: Continue building our careers. I would like to own a private counseling practice. Riley wants to still have a career as he has no plans to retire for another decade or two at this point.

Payton and Riley’s Finances

Net Income

Item Amount Notes
Riley’s Income $3,800 This is after taxes, 401k contributions, and HSA contributions
Rental Properties $1,100 We rent out two single-family homes, both of which are paid off. This income is minus $300/month for insurance and maintenance.
Monthly Subtotal: $4,900
Annual Total: $58,800

Monthly Expenses

Item Amount Notes
Mortgage $1,500 Our actual mortgage is $1,000 but we pay extra each month. This is for our house on 3.5 acres just outside of a small town in Nebraska.
Groceries $475 We get our meats (beef, chicken, pork) straight from local farmers and from Zaycon (wholesale prices). We get fruits and veggies from Bountiful baskets. The rest comes from grocery store trips (we make about 1/month). We have an annual garden, raspberry bushes, apple trees, and a cherry tree that we preserve for the winter and eat while in season.
Utilities: Electricity and Trash $300 This is our average
Gifts, Personal Care, Home, Pet Care, Craft Supplies, Charity, Misc. $250 Gifts are typically homemade. Personal care and crafts are minimal. Pet care is included in this category.
Car & Transportation $181 Includes gas, car insurance ($544/yr), maintanence, and taxes
Internet $135 TV and internet are combined. Where we live this is the only provider we can use and get semi-decent service
Vacation $75 We don’t do major vacations right now. For us, with 3 children under the age of 5, vacations sound like a lot of work. We camp during the summer on free weekends and travel for overnight trips about 2x/year. We budget this amount but aren’t spending it most of the time and are letting this account build up for when we do travel again.
Restaurants $60 We choose to eat out as a family about 2x/ month but go several months a year where we don’t eat out at all.
Cell Phones $60 Two Viaero cell phones
Entertainment $25 We mostly do free entertainment and with 3 kids under 5, we aren’t out in the evenings often anymore and stuff for the family to do is normally free.
Baby/kid stuff $15 With the 3rd child pretty much everything is hand me down. We cloth diaper (most of the time) and are currently only paying for wipes and the occasional box of diapers (I use disposables when traveling or when things get crazy busy).
Clothing $5 This is probably too high of an estimate. We are typically given clothes (for all 3 kids), and my husband and I may purchase from thrift stores/garage sales occasionally, but really we just keep wearing the same clothes we’ve worn FOREVER
Doctor and Pharmacy $0 We have extremely good health insurance and max out on our health savings account (HSA). Even with our 3rd child born in December of 2017 being in the NICU, we didn’t have to pull any more money for this.
Monthly Subtotal: $3,081
Annual Total: $36,972

Assets

Item Amount Notes
Primary Residence $305,000 A current market value estimate, based on advice from a real estate agent we recently spoke with
401k (through Riley’s employer) $100,649 Target date type funds, Vanguard 2040 and 2050.
Rental Property 2 $69,000 No loan, very conservative market value estimate
Rental Property 1 $62,000 No loan, very conservative market value estimate
Pension (through Riley’s employer) $22,769 Riley is fully vested
Cash $22,000
Total: $581,418

Cars/Vehicles

Item Valued At Notes
2007 Chevy Silverado $16,000 Used as needed for projects on our acreage; One of us has tried negotiating not keeping but another someone refuses to hear of that and sees it as a necessity for our living situation.
Tractor $10,000 Another need for our acreage and winter snow removal.
2003 Town and Country Van $1,000 Payton drives for transporting children and for trips.
1997 Subaru Legacy $750 Riley uses for driving back and forth to work (11 miles round trip each day)
Total: $27,750

Debts

Item Valued At Notes
Mortgage $89,000 Primary home loan; projected to pay off within 5 years if we do not change residences; it is a 15 year loan at 3.25% interest
Total: $89,000

Payton’s Questions For You:

  1. Considering our desire to live where our family support system is, would you consider these businesses and move to be feasible and worth sacrificing our current living arrangement?
  2. If so, should we sell our rental properties to help facilitate all of the initial costs of this move?
  3. Since being debt-free (including the mortgage) is one of our primary financial goals, should we consider selling one or both of our rental properties in order to meet this goal more quickly?

Mrs. Frugalwoods’ Recommendations

I am so impressed with how thoroughly Payton and Riley are considering this move and, I am thrilled that they’re debt free! They’ve done an excellent job of stewarding their money and it’s exciting to help them out at this juncture. Also, I am 100% having Mr. Frugalwoods make us one of those kid artwork display racks that Riley built (pictured below)!

Big Picture Analysis

Payton & Riley’s three adorable kiddos

Before I delve into the specifics (or the numbers), I want to encourage Payton and Riley to examine their motivations and desires for relocating. As someone who lives in a place with exactly zero family members closer than a plane ride away, I totally understand their wish to have their kids grow up near extended family members. For me, living away from family is the one downside to where I currently live and I get the sense it’s also the one and only downside for Payton and Riley. I found it telling that there were quite a few cons listed under the “moving” category, but only one con listed under the “not moving” category.

After reading through their Case Study, I didn’t come away with the impression that Payton and Riley have any sort of deep desire to become campground and laundromat proprietors. To the contrary, it seems to me that they truly love where they live now and are thrilled with their acreage, fruit trees, gardens, Riley’s job, and the town where they live. In many ways, it seems they’d be sacrificing an awful lot in order to live in the same town as Payton’s family. You can’t assign a monetary value to living near family, but, it does seem like they’d be giving up a lot in order to achieve this goal.

What really stood out to me was Payton’s note that, if they moved, they’d probably live in town in order to save money with the longterm hope of one day returning to the country. That’s a pretty tough trade off to leave your dream home with the hopes of maybe one day returning to a similar home.

Where They Want To Be In 10 Years

Another thing that’s striking to me is that Payton and Riley didn’t identify being the owners of a campground and a laundromat as longterm goals. What this tells me is that they’re focused on their wonderfully simple lifestyle and their time together as a family. The underlying message I got is that they’re already living the life they want to live! They’ve carved out their little corner of the world and truly love how they spend each day. THAT, my friends, is the ultimate goal of using your money wisely. Having the ability to enjoy your life every day is WHY we save money, why we invest, and why we steward our resources carefully. And Payton and Riley are already there! From that perspective, they are essentially a Case Study success story. Now, it’s entirely possible that their quality of life would increase if they lived closer to family, but it’s also possible it wouldn’t. I can’t answer this for them, but I encourage Payton and Riley to ask each other the following questions:

  • In five years, what will you regret more: not living near family or not living on your dream property?
  • Is it possible you’ll feel resentful towards family members if you give up so much in order to live near them?
  • If you moved, would you feel as though you were just trying to work back to what you have now (a home in the country)?
  • Will you feel as though your children are missing out on the benefits of family if you don’t move?

The Campground And Laundromat

Payton & Riley’s oldest learning about chicken care

Ok before I totally veto this idea (which I am going to do… ), I do have to say that I’m impressed with Payton and Riley’s creativity here. They identified some businesses for sale, they did some research, and they are definitely thinking outside of the box! And for that, I congratulate them. However, I’m not seeing how this would be a good decision financially. Plus, as I mentioned before, they don’t seem to have any passion or interest in running a campground and laundromat.

With such low profit margins, I’d only advise doing this if it was a lifelong passion or goal. Because from a financial perspective, there’s not a lot of upside. It’s a pretty massive expenditure of capital for some pretty low revenue businesses that have a lot of potential for expensive maintenance and upkeep over the years. One huge bonus is that Riley is both an electrician and extremely handy, which would likely mean they’d be able to do the maintenance work themselves. However, is that how they want to spend their time?

If Payton and Riley decide that they want to make this move, I strongly encourage them to consider other sources of income. A few ideas:

  • More rentals. They’re doing a great job of managing their two rental properties. Is there an opportunity to purchase more rentals in the town they might move to? With a few more revenue-generating rentals, they’d be in great shape from an income perspective. Their DIY approach to management means that their profit margins could remain pretty substantial. Since they’re already successful landlords–and thus know what goes into it–I encourage them to take this under consideration. I rarely encourage people to take on rental properties, but given their success and given Riley’s experience as an electrician and all-around handy person, I am inclined to think this is a good idea.
  • Residential electric. Is Riley dead set against doing residential electric work? With how low their expenses are (and especially if they add a few more rentals), I imagine he could work a limited schedule and earn enough to cover their needs.
  • Private counseling practice. It sounds like Payton is really interested in opening up a private counseling practice once their youngest is in school. This seems like another great avenue to explore since it’s something she already has experience–and a master’s degree–in. Perhaps the family should wait to make this move until the youngest is in school so that Payton can pursue this career path when they move.

Overall, Payton and Riley have A LOT of skills and strengths and I would encourage them to lean into these strengths as opposed to charting the totally unknown territory of a low-yield campground and laundromat. Additionally, other than the possibility of buying more rentals, these are low overhead businesses that wouldn’t gobble up very much capital. All in all, I don’t see the benefit of taking on a low-income proposition (a campground and a laundromat) unless it’s a genuine passion.

Another consideration with this move, which Payton mentioned, are healthcare and retirement savings. Since they’d likely be self-employed no matter what route they take, I recommend that Payton research what the family would be likely to pay per month for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. This will be a helpful guidepost in constructing their budget and mapping out what their income needs to be.

All that being said, I am not a small business valuation expert and if Payton and Riley decide they’re interested in pursing the campground and laundromat, I recommend they seek out a CPA in their area who can run the numbers on this accurately and advise on the valuation aspects. Another thing I would investigate is why the current owners are selling the businesses. Payton noted that the campground owners have been trying to sell for awhile, which could be a red flag.

Is There A Middle Ground?

Artwork display made by Riley (note to Mr. FW: please make me this!)

Another thought I had is that Payton’s family isn’t terribly far away from them. Three hours isn’t exactly next door, but it’s not insurmountable either. I’m not sure how often they visit now, but I wonder if it might be possible for Payton and Riley to continue living where they are but find more opportunities to visit family. Could they go every weekend? Every other weekend? Could the older kids go spend a week at a time with grandma and grandpa? One other idea: buy a fifth wheel travel trailer and leave it at a relatives’ home so that they have their own place to stay while visiting.

And finally, are there any locations in between where they currently live and the small town where Payton’s family lives that they could move to but retain Riley’s job and the country living that they love? It may very well be that they’ve already tried all of these options and found them unsuitable, but, worth tossing around middle ground ideas before going whole hog on moving.

Stop Paying Down Your Mortgage

While Payton and Riley are, on the whole, doing an amazing job managing their money, something that alarms me about their finances is their lack of diversity. I’m delighted to see that Riley has a 401k and a pension, but I’m concerned that they don’t have any other savings or investments. I understand that a primary goal of theirs is to pay off their mortgage early, but they’re doing this to the detriment of building wealth or planning for their future.

Riley and Payton have three kids and I mention this because I myself have two kids and kids are NOTORIOUS for cropping up with unexpected expenses, which can’t be paid for with a paid-off house. Additionally, I wonder if Payton and Riley are interested in saving for college for their kids because if so, they need to start doing that now. I recommend researching 529s (tax-advantaged college savings plans) and possibly opening up accounts in all three kids’ names.

Payton & Riley’s kids on family game night

A paid-off house is a wonderful thing, but you can’t use a paid-off house to buy groceries or pay for health insurance if you’ve lost your job (you might be able to get a Home Equity Line Of Credit, but that’s not a guarantee and certainly not if you’ve lost your job). In addition to the fact that a paid-off house is an illiquid asset (unless you’re able to sell it quickly, which is an unknown), there are opportunity costs to paying off a mortgage. Namely, you’re missing out on the potential investment returns you’d enjoy if your money was instead invested in the stock market.

Mr. FW and I choose to hold mortgages on both our primary residence and our rental property because, mathematically, our money is better deployed in the stock market thanks to the average annual rate of return (7%) that you can expect after many decades of remaining invested in low-fee index funds. Essentially, money is better leveraged in the stock market than in a paid-off house.

If you have a low, fixed interest rate mortgage, like Payton and Riley do at 3.25%, then from a mathematical standpoint, I wouldn’t pay it off early. I view holding a mortgage–and having money properly invested in diversified assets (aka low-fee index funds)–to be a much less risky decision.

Additionally, a mortgage is an excellent hedge against inflation. Inflation is when money becomes less valuable and the neat thing about a mortgage is that it’s denominated in the dollars you originally paid for the house and so, over time, as inflation increases (which generally happens), the money you’re using to pay off your mortgage is “cheaper.” Essentially, it’s not bad to hold a mortgage and it’s actually a fine component of a diversified portfolio of assets. Paying off your mortgage to the detriment of investing is a lot like putting all of your eggs in one basket.

It’s not that it’s a bad thing to pay off a house–it’s just that it comes at the expense of other opportunities to grow wealth. Many of us who are early retired/financially independent choose to hold mortgages–even though we could afford to pay them off tomorrow–for the above reasons. In lieu of paying off their mortgage, I highly recommend that they invest in a portfolio of low-fee index funds because this is where wealth is created. Without investments, you’re not going to grow your wealth. By leveraging a low-interest rate mortgage, and funneling extra cash into investments, Payton and Riley could create the possibility of buying more rental properties, which would in turn grow their wealth further. Not all debt is bad and sometimes, carrying debt is the most financially savvy thing to do. More information on how to start investing is here.

Don’t Sell The Rental Properties

In this same vein, I do not advise that Payton and Riley sell their rental properties because these represent some excellent diversification to their financial portfolio. However, I caution against owning three paid-off houses all in the same housing market as your only investments. Why? If there was a market downturn–and especially if there was a hyper-local downturn–ALL of Payton and Riley’s investments would be impacted. If they also had some money invested in the stock market, they’d have much greater diversity to their assets and would be able to move money around more fluidly. A paid-off house is not an asset you can easily leverage, or liquidate, and especially not in a bad housing market.

Selling the rentals in order to pay off their primary residence would decrease their income and would lower their overall net worth and ability to build wealth in the future. In my opinion, this would be a risky decision since it would concentrate almost all of their net worth into one asset: their home. Being mortgage-free is a good goal, but it shouldn’t come to the exclusion of all other financial considerations. A sound financial portfolio is a diverse financial portfolio and I really encourage Payton and Riley to start looking towards how they might diversify their assets.

Emergency Fund

Watching their neighbor work the fields

I’m delighted to see that Payton and Riley have $22,000 in cash as this is a great emergency fund for them! Huge congrats on having this cash on hand. The total amount for anyone’s emergency fund should be somewhere between three and six months’ worth of living expenses–I prefer six months, but some folks are comfortable with less. An emergency fund is your insurance against disaster. It’s the difference between an unexpected job loss or car breakdown or health issue being a crisis that you have to take on debt to pay for, or, merely a question of withdrawing money from your emergency fund. An emergency fund is not to be spent on Christmas or vacations, it’s for emergencies, such as if you both lose your jobs tomorrow and can’t find new ones immediately. Anytime you need to use some of this cash, replenish it as quickly as possible.

Since Payton and Riley spend only $3,081 per month (way to go, by the way!), their current emergency fund would last them seven months. Perfect!

Vehicles

Lilacs from Payton & Riley’s yard

I get the sense that Payton isn’t a fan of owning the truck in addition to the minivan and Subaru, but, I also understand the need to own a truck in order to facilitate life on a farm. What I recommend here is looking into whether or not the added expenses of owning three vehicles (registration, maintenance, insurance) outweighs the fuel efficiency of the Subaru versus the truck? If Riley is just using the Subaru to commute (and it looks like he has a pretty short commute), I wonder if it would make more sense for him to commute in the truck and sell the Subaru?

However, since the Subaru is an older car, the insurance might be so cheap that it doesn’t matter. But, something to consider since fewer cars = fewer maintenance headaches and overhead costs. Another thought is that they might want to sell the Subaru while it still has some value (we sold our 1996 Honda Odyssey minivan for $1,000 a few years ago in part because we wanted to sell it while it still had a modicum of value). But for $750, I obviously wouldn’t sell the Subaru to “make money”–I’d only sell it if the insurance and registration were more burdensome than gasoline for the truck (this assuming that the truck is less fuel efficient than the Subaru).

Expenses

I hesitate to even run through Payton and Riley’s expenses because they are firmly in the category of SUPER FRUGAL folks. Woohoo!!! They’ve done a STELLAR job of identifying their priorities, spending in service of those priorities, and saving in every other category. They are frugal rock stars with very little room for improvement in their spending. My focus for Payton and Riley is on the investment side of things because in terms of expenses, they are absolute pros. But since we’re here, let’s go ahead and see if we could save them any more money:

  • At $300/month, their utilities (electricity and trash) seem mighty high to me. However, since this is an average for the year, I’m guessing perhaps it’s higher for heat in the wintertime? Might be worth doing an energy audit to see what’s gobbling up so much electricity every month. In addition to analyzing their individual usage, they could get an energy watt monitor to see if their refrigerator or freezer (or other large appliance) is a secret energy hog.
  • $135/month for internet and TV also seems awfully expensive. I wonder if there’s an opportunity to get rid of TV and just have internet for a slightly lower bill? I recommend calling the company to find out.
  • $60 for two cell phones is pretty good, but they might be able to find something even cheaper. I have BOOM Mobile for $19.99/month. Other inexpensive providers to investigate include Republic Wireless and Ting.

Summary

In summary, here’s what I advise Payton and Riley to do:

  1. Do more soul-searching on whether or not they really want to make this move. Where would they be happiest? How would they feel if they left their dream home? Is this the right time to make the move? Is there a happy middle ground?
  2. If they do decide to move:
    1. I highly recommend they explore options for income other than the laundromat and campground. I’d look into residential electrical work, a private counseling practice, and additional rental properties.
    2. I recommend researching what their healthcare costs would be and also making a determination of how much to set aside in IRAs each month.
  3. Start investing in order to diversify their assets and reduce the level of risk in their portfolio. All of your money in one place (such as a paid-off house) is a risky proposition.

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

Would you like your own case study to appear here on Frugalwoods? Email me (mrs@frugalwoods.com) your brief story and we’ll talk.

Never Miss A Story

Sign up to get new Frugalwoods stories in your email inbox.

We're not fans of spam, canned or not. None of that here. Powered by ConvertKit

You may also like...

188 Responses

  1. Turia says:

    Really interesting case study, and kudos to Payton and Riley for their impressively frugal lifestyle!

    I want to say from the outset that I totally understand the desire to be closer to family, especially when your kids are little. We are now just over an hour from my mother and one of my sisters, which is a great distance for a day trip. It also means my Mum can come in to babysit and stay overnight. We have more date nights as a result. Previously she was a six hour drive away; my dad is five hours away and my husband’s family is on the other side of the world. When we had no family nearby it was really hard not to be jealous of those parents who had grandparents (and often aunts and uncles) in the same city. One of the reasons my Mum moved was to be closer to her grandchildren (there were other factors at play as well).

    Distance depends on the type of relationship you want to have. Three hours is a big improvement over five/six- it’s the difference between being able to go on a regular weekend and only being able to go on long/holiday weekends. But it’s not comparable to an hour, just as an hour isn’t the same as the same town. So I understand why three hours feels like a lot to them, even if it’s not that far in the grand scheme of things.

    I think Mrs. Frugalwoods already said most of what I would say. What stood out for me was the lengthy, loving description of Payton and Riley’s current home and, in contrast, the total lack of description of their proposed new town. There was nothing about the town (except its proximity to family) that they were excited about. And Payton used the word ‘sacrifice’ in her summary, which I think is particularly telling.

    I wonder about infrastructure in the proposed town. Payton made comments about being close to shopping where they are and about the various activities that the proposed town doesn’t have. I also noticed that Riley’s hours will be incredibly helpful once the kids are in school in terms of pick up and facilitating Payton’s own career.

    In short, it didn’t even seem to me that Payton and Riley wanted to move all that much. I wonder if they can stay where they are and think of other ways to involve their family. Can they all plan to travel together on those big trips when the kids are older? That is a great way to build memories and relationships. If they really want daily involvement from the rest of their family, then they should rethink the logistics of the move, but be very mindful of everything else they would be giving up to achieve that.

    • Payton says:

      Being close to family was always the plan (before kids) when we had kids. We never realized the challenges that would pose when it came to actually having children. I definitely didn’t realize how unexcited I was about the other town we would move to versus the current town. I love them both. The other town is my hometown and my parents still live in the house I grew up in. That town will definitely have a soft spot in my heart always.

      That said, making it work financially is as hard as this post makes it look. Our current distance from family makes traveling hard as our children are not good travelers. In a different season, we hope it gets easier.

      My side of the family actually does an annual family trip and we are leaving this friday for an extra long camping trip!

      Thank you so much for the thoughts!

      • Annie says:

        How are they not good travelers? 3 hours is a fairly short trip — would it really be unbearable once a month or so?

        • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

          Not sure about Payton’s kids, but I can chime in that my kiddos are not great car travelers either. It is really tough to go on long car rides with little children! It’s possible, but not always enjoyable.

        • Monty says:

          I leave for road trips way early in the morning – so the kids stay sleeping. Activities, water enabled paint books. If you must….snacks…but early in the am leaving is the key for my travels to keep it ok for two hours at least…

          • Payton says:

            We have tried the leaving early and/or close to nap time. 2 of my 3 children do not nap in cars and that has left us with overtired and easily upset children for the duration. I have nieces and nephews that travel to our house beautifully but my children can sometimes struggle with the 30 minute drive to the nearest shopping town.

            3 hours definitely gets unbearable when you have someone screaming and crying the whole trip. Add in other young children factors (like getting sick, potty accidents, or dropping a toy that is not within reach) and vehicle concerns (low tire pressure light kept turning on one time) and it is definitely very hard for us to travel at this time, especially for me to do solo.

          • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

            Oh man, I wish my kids would stay asleep like that! They’re both wide away the minute we put them in the car… 😉

        • Mary says:

          I can attest to this. My two kids were very intolerant of long trips. My daughter would cry and fuss and just generally be miserable, making me miserable too, and my son was prone to car sickness. I would try all the tricks but we ended up not traveling much when they were small. The years drug on but they finally got better about it!

        • Hannah Whitaker says:

          I’m reading this post after literally walking in the door after the return leg of a “short” 4 hour trip with just ONE 15 month old….it took 7 hours. On behalf of parents with sleep and carseat resistant children I really want to advocate for a bit more empathy and understanding from the world at large. Or at least fewer reactions that can easily be interpreted as judgemental.

          • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

            Thank you, Hannah! I appreciate you putting into words what I’ve been thinking! Parenting is ridiculously challenging and not everyone’s kids behave or react in the same way. I have one kid who likes the car and another kid who sees the car as her opportunity to scream at the top of her lungs. Thank you for the reminder to not judge others’ experiences.

          • Annie says:

            I have kids too! And my baby hates the car so we certainly couldn’t do three hours now. But I would think in a year or two you wouldn’t have screamers anymore? And a missed nap isn’t a terrible thing, especially for the older ones.

      • Krista says:

        Could you make it easier for your family to visit you? Could Riley build a guest house on your land? You could airbnb it when no family was staying. I have friends with kids who are three hours away, and they have a guest room I can stay in. However, if they had a guest house where I could have a little privacy and my own bathroom, I would visit as often as I could.

        Just a thought, might not work in your circumstances.

    • Cubert says:

      Just a couple ideas! To backup Mrs. FW, do not sell those rentals. Another reason? Depreciation recapture. The IRS will tax you 25% of the depreciation you’ve claimed to-date. With three houses, that’d be one hefty tax bill! And note, the tax code doesn’t factor in any hardship or income level.
      I would maybe argue that paying your primary mortgage isn’t necessarily a bad move. It can be a hedge even with a low, set rate like 4% or lower. I tend to think you gain the cash flow of what you would’ve paid month over month, and can use those dollars to invest wherever. In case you’re wondering, I’m both paying down the mortgage aggressively, and putting up to the employer match in my 401K. Good luck!

  2. Wow I think you guys are doing a great job with your budget! As I was going down each item, I was trying to see whether there’s something you can cut, but it seems pretty tight. The only thing I’ve spotted that you might want to consider cutting is the cable. I’m not sure if your husband is into any sports channels, but you can get a subscription for $10/mo or so. You can also ask around if your friends or neighbors want to share the cost and account with you.

    As for the move, I agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods that you seem to be enjoying living in the current town. I know living family has its perks. But you two would be giving up a lot to be able to make the move. Plus, you didn’t mention you’ve managed a laundromat or campground before, so I’m not sure how comfortable you’d be with that. Everything can look good on paper, but problems do arise. Selling two rental properties and your current home would be a big move.

    Also, based on my experience, it’s fun to see family every once in a while. But seeing them all the time and living to close to family can also create problems and tension you might not expect. 😉

    • Payton says:

      Riley and I have been a couple since high school and knew, even then, we didn’t want to go into debt and that the frugal lifestyle was right for us. We are fortunate to have never really gone into great debt (besides small vehicle loans and mortgages). But, Riley is dead set on having cable after we went without for about 5 years. That price has come up a bit over the last 6 months so it is definitely time to start price comparing.

      When we retire, it has always been a plan of ours to camp for part of the year and even explore working for campgrounds. When the owners of the campground in our current town (we know them personally and they want to retire) brought this opportunity to us it looked great at first. With further thought, we aren’t so sure if we would still love camping as much if we tied that into our careers now. On the flip side, we could all work both opportunities as a family, which is appealing to us. With our rentals, we do it all together and the kids are exposed to a lot the comes with this side business.

      My husband is extremely handy and good at fixing machines so he is confident in maintaining the laundromat. We considered purchasing that and managing long distance if we never actually moved back but that plan has been put on hold. Long distance managing may be much more of a headache than we need while raising young children.

  3. Juli says:

    Running a campground sounds like a lot of fun. If you go that route, could you live in the house that’s there instead of renting it out?
    A couple thoughts that came to mind while reading:
    1. Zaycon is no more, from what I can tell. You may need to find a new source for inexpensive meat.
    2. If you are using cloth diapers, why are you buying disposable wipes? The diapers are the hard part – stick to cloth wipes, and save a few dollars. Just some of the thin baby washcloths will work, and are cheap.

    • Payton says:

      Yes, we absolutely could live in the house instead of renting it out and have discussed this. It needs quite a bit of repair that would have to be done before we moved in (or renters if we go that route) and it’s 2 bedrooms which would be an adjustment from the current arrangement we have. Our biggest concern is that it would make it very difficult from separating work and personal life, which we both struggle with.

      At the time of this interview, Zaycon had not made their announcement yet and we are so bummed they are no longer! Yes, this will change our meat options but we have already been exploring raising chickens ourselves to eat each spring. That may be one route we go. We also have access to locals for beef products and chickens products that we can buy from but their pricing is a bit higher.

      Agh, the disposable wipes. I have struggled a ton with using cloth wipes. My first child was easy but after that, I have always had a toddler running around that likes to get into them. And then constantly putting together the solution was just one more thing on my already full plate. I am open to going back to them though and still use on occasion. But, with my disposables, I do tear those (by hand) by half or thirds and only use a bit. This helps them go farther!

      • Tamar says:

        What about washing the baby with water in the bathroom sink after each diaper change? That’s what we have done with our kid (she is 1.4). I much prefer it to using wipes (we also use cloth diapers), and it really helps to avoid rashes. We hardly had to use rash cream since she was born thanks to this routine.

        • Jane says:

          Thanks for the tip! My 5-month-old has horrible diaper rash that just won’t go away, so I’m going to try this.

      • Kellyn says:

        I find that cut up t-shirts works best for cloth wipes. And I just use plain water – in a ketchup squirt bottle. Works really well!

      • Rachel says:

        Instead of constantly making the solution, I made it in larger batches in 1 gallon milk bottles.

      • Laurie m Villotta says:

        I made my own homemade wipes from Bounty paper towels. Cut a roll in half. Take the cardboard out from the middle. In a sererate container mix 2TBLS baby wash, 2TBLS baby lotion in about 8-10 oz hot water. Shake well and pour over paper towels. I always had 2 tubs. One in the family room/kitchen for cleaning faces and hands and 1 in the bedroom. Super cheap and easy. By the way in live in Omaha. Nice to see a case study in my part of the world.

  4. Lisa says:

    Wow, good job guys! You’re an inspiration! I agree w/ Mrs FW that you’re doing so well where you are and should keep the mortgage to be more diversified. Since one of your doesn’t work full time, maybe you can consider reframing your summers and do what Mr. Money Mustache does w/ his long summer trips to Canada to visit family. Your husband can go for a week, and the rest of the family can stay for a month. Once you start working again, then you have a place to send the kids that they’ll remember as a special time – summers w/ family!

    • Payton says:

      Thank you! Great idea! We have discussed this for when our kids begin to travel a bit better (the baby travels the best currently).

  5. A shame Zaycon went out of business. Will that impact your grocery budget going forward?

    • Payton says:

      Yes, we are so disappointed as I just finished off our last of the chicken and bacon. It will definitely impact us but I have no idea by how much yet as we are exploring our options. There are locals in the area we may be able to negotiate with but I doubt we can get chicken down to 99 cents a pound.

      • frogoutofwater says:

        How about replacing the meat in your diet with plants? It’s cheaper, healthier, better for the environment and, most importantly, kinder. My sister and her husband grow most of their own food and/or barter what they grow for plant-based foods that people in their community produce.

  6. clarissa says:

    I would suggest keeping the rentals for the extra income if you do decide to take over the business and it does not work out. Also, I would rent out your current home at least temporarily to make sure everything works out. Maybe even sell an acre of the land of the property you currently own for extra cash.

    • Payton says:

      Thank you for your thoughts. We have definitely been looking into and considering all of this. I think our biggest drawback to renting our own property is how unloved a house can be treated. We have done rentals for long enough to know there are all kinds of renters out there and you absolutely have no idea how a person lives just by looking at them.

  7. Northmoon says:

    I have a friend who moved to be closer to her family and it didn’t turn out as well as she expected. Her other family members had busy lives already. Between their jobs, sports for their kids, plans with their friends etc. she didn’t spend as much time with them as she thought she would. The family was great to visit a couple of times a year but not so great full time! She ended up moving back to her original city with her friends around.

    Payton and her husband love their friends where they are now, their home sounds amazing and they are happy with his job. Sounds like a lot to give up for a single plus.

    • Payton says:

      That is my biggest fear. But, I’m afraid it could look the opposite as well. We have a lot of privacy and can structure our time as we want where we are. My family sees each other all the time (think daily to every other day) and eats typically one meal together a week. Sometimes, just talking to them about their meet ups makes me think I would feel too busy and suffocated around them. I’m not as enmeshed in their lives as they are in each other’s lives and that may be a huge adjustment for my family.

      • Mary says:

        As someone who has lived at least several states away from her family for 35 years after graduating college, I can say I very quickly knew the term You Can’t Go Home Again. I needed my privacy, my space, my time, that was not tied to and hinged on theirs. When I married and had two kids, we always lived far from family, and still do. Yes, over the years I wished we had that built-in support system, and I missed the connections for my kids. We did occasionally travel to see relatives. But, it was never an option for us to move, and we never discussed it. We had to live where the job(s) were.

        • Anne says:

          I moved away at age 27 from my family and hometown for about 9 years and wanted to come back the whole time. We did come back, but I can attest to the “You Can’t Go Home Again” feeling. I had changed and some things happened that caused things to not be the same as they were before. Now I sometimes feel a little guilty that I live in the same town, but am not as close to family as I used to be. We still get together and talk, but not as much as before.

  8. Caroline says:

    I think they sound really happy and settled where they are, and I agree with Mrs Frugalwoods pointing out that some diversifying of their (extremely impressive!) portfolio. Would it be possible to – just an idea – sell one of their rentals in their current location and buy a small lock-up-and-go type place that they could use themselves for weekends / holidays in their proposed new home town? That might allow them to spend more time with their families and be an investment also. As for the laundromat and the campground… I definitely wouldn’t on the campground. It’s so seasonal and such a lot of work for so little return… the laundromat might be better, especially if they upgrade and boost revenue in various ways, but even so, they have such a great life now, with a little bit of rearranging, they could have an EVEN greater one, and not completely rock their boat… when they seem extremely happy as they are.

    • Julia says:

      I second this idea. If the campground/laundromat town is a big tourism draw, maybe they could buy a rental there, rent out during the summer months (or whenever the tourists come), AirBnB-style, and arrange to spend a month or so there every year in the off-season themselves?

      • I think this is a great idea! Friends of ours do something like this, and it works out really well. Even assuming Riley still needs to work, Payton and the kids could hang out with the family during the week and he could join up with them on the weekend. It’s possible that just renting it out during the high season would cover the mortgage and other expenses for the rest of the year and they could visit at their leisure during the off season. If they need money for a down payment they could always sell the truck ;). All in all, though, well done! Hopefully they can find a way to optimize their already awesome lifestyle!

        • Payton says:

          Great thoughts and ideas. There is a small apartment complex we considered for this very reason as it is rented out to seasonal help during the summers but this option was under contract before we even had enough time to process it. It may be time to explore that idea again though!

  9. Iris says:

    Just a couple of comments –

    While the lure of living close to family may be great, there is the “You can’t go home again” factor. Several friends of ours went that route when a company downsizing left them looking for new jobs. The bottom line is that you are your own people, and when you “go home again” you may find that your family thinks you are what you were. We experienced something similar when we finished school and moved from being 4 hours from my husband’s parents to one hour from his parents and his 2 siblings (3 households in somewhat different directions) and they thought that we would appear on demand, though we were in a new house and both working. Think hard about how close you want to be.

    Having said that – if Riley is really finished at work at 3 on Fridays, consider planning weekends where you leave as soon as he gets home. Even better – if he can negotiate a late arrival (9?) on Monday (or not – depends on his stamina) then return late Sunday with the kids in their PJs and asleep in the car, then carry them straight to bed. (This said by the nutty couple that would drive 5 hours to see daughter’s events at college and drive back the same day, once doing this for a 1-hour concert and returning at 2 AM.)

    I agree that it doesn’t sound like you really want to run a campground or laundromat, nor does either sound like a great investment or income generator, and it is another career disruption. Not knowing the geography involved, would you consider a move to a town closer to family when the kids hit school age, that might offer better employment prospects for you both?

    • Payton says:

      You did bring up a few things I hadn’t considered and one is more with friends than family. I notice when we go back home to visit, seeing friends always seems like we are back in high school. Now that has been more than a decade ago and I am starting to wonder how that would look long-term versus just for a weekend at a time.

      Moving closer than we are now is also limited to a degree. Nebraska is pretty spread out in the area we are in and you only go through a few towns when we go back to our hometown from where we are now. We would be fairly limited on job options and would most likely be looking at a career change, with the exception of one business on the route similar to the one Riley works at now. Our biggest drawback to getting even closer in distance is that when we moved to our current town, we cut down 2 hours of drive time one-way, but we noticed that didn’t change how often any one visited each other. I’m not sure if my family or our household would visit more or less if we were 2 hours away versus 3 hours away.

      Riley’s current work schedule rocks! Especially with not having a family support system. He is normally at our house by 3:30 and it makes it easy for me to take our oldest to scheduled activities or the 2 big kids to play dates without interrupting the sleep schedule of our youngest.

  10. Kevin says:

    I love how these uber-frugal folks count their pennies yet don’t realize that the average cost of rearing a child in the US falls between 150-200K! Imagine your return if you’d invested those funds instead!

    I’ll pass on having kids and enjoy life a bit more while still smartly investing/saving.

    • Lee says:

      Ahh, but Kevin! Frugality “gives you options”, as Mrs. FW likes to say! If we count our pennies and spend mindfully, we’ll have enough other pennies saved up to do whatever we want, which (in my case) is enjoying life with my three kids:) I still travel the world and eat delicious food, it’s allllll gooood.

    • Melanie says:

      Kids aren’t for everyone, but 200k per kid doesn’t scare me. I enjoy life with my two boys so much!

    • Joy says:

      Children are a better investment than money, that is, unless you love money and it loves you back.

    • Monty says:

      I hate that figure $150-200k. Its a lie. My kids are still young, but you don’t need to spend that much on them. I came from humble beginnings – my parents did not spend that much on me. I know that my kids just need love and care. Even college does not need to cost much. I’d say community college for two years and then transfer to a big school after that. Save yourself $20k. Lets see how this works…I told me 4 year old last night that if she stays home for college – that I’ll give her the money that college would have cost. I’d rather keep the wealth in-house instead of State U.

      • Monty says:

        Regarding cost of children…I consider it to be about $2k a year. The same tax savings you get for each child you have. And then also the cost of College – $2.5k credit when they’re in college.

        So all together + $46k in taxes that would have been paid to the govt.

    • Jess says:

      To each their own then.

  11. Aaron says:

    With 3 young kids I would go with the safer route which, IMO, is to stay put. The husband likes his job and it pays well for the area and his education level. Now days it would be very difficult to get a job making that much with just an associates degree. He get a pension as well? I wouldn’t give that up for the riskier option of moving and being self employed. Are the grandparents retired? If they are then maybe they can make the drive and visit for a few days at a time. Otherwise you could get to the grandparents house in time for a late dinner on Friday and spend all weekend there. Maybe once or twice a month. Three hours isn’t unreasonable distance to keep in touch with family. Best of luck.

    • Payton says:

      Finding a job you are content with can be a challenge. He is grandfathered in for the pension as that has been a removed benefit in the last few years. He is paid well for the area as his pay was renegotiated after losing several in his department for better wages.

      The grandparents are not retired, but my mother took a job with the school systems and will be able to visit now in the summers. This is actually a change since the interview and my mother just spent her first week with us, which has made a huge difference for us as we evaluate our options.

    • Glenna says:

      Kevin – that’s the average. Frugal people can (and do) raise their kids for a whole lot less money. Been there, done that, and got the t-shirt to prove it!

    • Lindsey says:

      How is this helpful to this couple and their case study?

    • Cat says:

      This isn’t relevant to the discussion. The children are loved and wanted and worth more than whatever your link says they cost.

    • Payton says:

      I don’t think I can return them at this point!

      We definitely take the perspective that they cost as much as you want them to cost, to some degree. We were the last family to have children on Riley’s side and I can tell you we got enough clothes we could have 10 kids. They continue to give hand me downs so we haven’t had that to factor in since they were born. In our current situation, there is a lot of fruit and garden food to process and my kids, despite their young ages, help us greatly with the processing.

      To clarify, I wouldn’t return them if I had the choice either. And, if you choose to have kids, I bet you would end up saying the same thing as well.

  12. LJM says:

    I would urge Payton and Riley to consider their comfort level with giving up employer based health for their family. It is true that Riley and Payton can buy health insurance now, but there is no guarantee that will continue to be true if insurance companies are once again allowed to take pre-existing conditions into account. Further, in many places, the insurance you buy on the individual market is not the same as the insurance you get from an employer. An example: one of the best places for cancer treatment in Houston, Tx (or the world for that matter) is MD Anderson. If you live in Houston and have insurance through work and you have cancer, there is a reasonable chance that you can be treated at MD Anderson if that is your desired path. If you buy insurance on the individual market, there is no insurance you can buy in Houston that MD Anderson will accept. It simply is not for sale at any price. Houston is not special in this regard, and neither is MD Anderson. The same is true for other top Houston hospitals (e.g., Methodist). I would therefore urge Riley and Payton to think about their risk tolerance and personal preferences and beliefs regarding medical care before giving up employer health insurance. Would they be comfortable with a decision that may shut them or their children out of top hospitals if someone becomes seriously ill? Is the difference between MD Anderson and another hospital meaningful for them? There is no right or wrong answer, and I recognize that people have valid preferences that are all over the map about both risk and medical care, but I think that not enough people really understand the potential for significant differences between the health insurance that they as individuals can buy and the health insurance that an employer may offer.

    • KP says:

      I think this is an extremely good point, and the main one I was planning to bring up! My husband and I were recently in a similar situation to Payton and Riley, except we were considering moving from being expats in Germany to moving to rural WI to be near family and also changing our careers to be self-employed to allow this to happen. The main reason we were wanting to move was to be near family, since we love living in Germany. Living far away from family is difficult and I’m sure it’s even harder with small children.
      Ultimately, we decided not to make the move and the main reason was due to health insurance. We are currently under the German social insurance, which is very affordable and covers everything at no cost. Prior to that, I was covered by insurance through the US federal government, which was also good but not as good as we currently have in Germany. However, when we started looking into the specifics of the ACA, we discovered that your premiums are based on your yearly average salary and not current salary when you make the switch to ACA. So, if you are previously employed with a decent wage and suddenly become self-employed with temporary low or no income, you will still be paying ACA premiums on your previous salary. To give you an idea, we were looking at paying between $900-1,300 per month while having no income temporarily and with a $15,000 family deductible. That is insanely expensive! Also, ACA is highly state dependent, so these numbers are for WI and we would have paid much less in a state such as Oregon (about half). Playing with the numbers found we’d pay that amount when making anything over about $60-ish thousand average per year. So, it would be well worth while if you would move, become self-employed, and take out ACA to do so at the very end or beginning of a year where you could take your initially low self-employment income (I’m making assumption here for while you get set up) into account right away, since it seems you can later adjust the ACA premium to account for more income if needed. All of this also made us look at ways to reduce the health insurance/care costs, including going without insurance temporarily up to the maximum allowed to avoid tax penalties, not going to the doctor, etc, etc. In the end, we realized the shear stress and emotional aspects were almost worse than the financial. As I mentioned, the ACA is highly state dependent, so it could be that Nebraska is much better, but my general advice is not to take the health insurance part lightly!
      So now, we are deciding to stay permanent residents in Germany and come up with more creative ways to see family more often. We are currently looking into making our careers more “mobile” so that we could stay under the great German system, but visit family as much as we want while working as needed. We also realized this idea worked well with our longer goal of traveling the world, and it would allow us to have “the best of both worlds” in that we can continue to live in a place we love and see family more. We also figured it could let us ease more into seeing family instead of a huge culture shock changing everything at once; then if we still decide we want to make that move at some point, it will hopefully be easier.
      It seems like many others have suggested ways for Payton and Riley to do something similar with a middle ground, I think those are all great ideas to explore! Maybe Payton could even look at starting counseling practices in both locations and work only certain times in each.
      I wish Payton and Riley the best of luck in whatever they choose to do, the great thing is that their frugality has set them up to really do whatever they want! The hard part is figuring out what that actually is. 🙂

      • Payton says:

        This has actually been one of the top reasons we didn’t take the plunge on moving back home yet. We were really considering negotiating on the laundromat when our 3rd child was born. He had medical difficulties at birth and ended up in the NICU for 18 days (our first experience with that). Our medical coverage was amazing and even with that many days hospitalized, a major surgery, and 2 ambulance rides, our 3rd baby only cost us a bit more than our 2nd baby (think less than $500 difference). The benefits at Riley’s job are amazing and so hard to leave as we can never truly know when a medical issue will come up.

        • jess says:

          I have never been so grateful to my health insurance as on the day I saw a NICU bill for $100,00.00 and we only had to pay 100 of it.

  13. NB says:

    Payton, I’m sure you have thought about this, but just in case—I grew up a 7-hour plane ride away from my grandparents and cousins, and it was important to my mom that we have a close relationship with them. My grandparents were retired and in good health, so capable of full-time childcare, and we would stay with them for ~6 weeks every summer from when we were about 5 years old. Our parents dropped us off there, then came to stay for the last week or so of the visit.

    Is it possible for you to do something similar, where your kids stay a while with your parents seasonally, and you and your husband could visit on various weekends or times that work for you? Obviously this depends on your parents’ capacity for childcare, and whether you would mind your kids being away from home! But side note, if your parents are still working and/or have health issues, they may not be as helpful with day-to-day childcare and support as you might be banking on.

    Wishing you the best of luck with your decision but I agree with other commenters that the move doesn’t sound like your dream!

    • Payton says:

      My mom just switched jobs which makes this more possible, but there are 5 other grandchildren in the same age range as our 3 children so I’m not sure my mom would be willing to take that on any time soon. My grandfather trucks during the week so he is only available on weekends and the rest of our family works full-time jobs. As our children get older, this may be more of an option to consider.

    • Maisha says:

      That’s a great option when you have grandparents that you trust your kids with for that extended period of time. And if they don’t have small children to care for themselves or blended families.

  14. BC Kowalski says:

    Very interesting situation and I would say Payton and Riley are crushing it! Nice job!

    That being said, I almost fell out of my chair when they said they were thinking of selling the rentals to pay off the mortgage. At 3.25 percent, there are few good reasons to sell an asset that is generating a much higher percentage of “passive” (obviously not entirely passive since you have to manage it) income, unless you’re really sick of dealing with them. And from what I can see, neither the laundromat nor the campground would cash flow anything close to making it worth it. Especially the laundromat – at less than 10k per year (I’m assuming it was per year? Your post didn’t specify but the campground’s cashflow was given as annual) it wouldn’t cash flow enough to make it worth it. If it were in your town, a 10 percent generating asset wouldn’t be too bad, with minimal involvement. But it doesn’t make sense as a primary income, even as a part of a portfolio. (But you would have to be there every day, or SOMEONE would, meaning you might have to pay someone if you ever want to take a trip, get away for a weekend, emergency, etc).

    Also, come on. I’m with you Payton. If you already have a tractor, you don’t also need a pickup truck. It’s definitely in the nice to have category!

    From reading through the post, it seems like you’re really happy with your situation other than not being close to family. It seems like a better solution is to simply build more trips home into your schedule/budget. You still come out ahead and sometimes I think it’s good to have a buffer between family members. You appreciate the time you spend together more.

    Anyway, way to go fellow frugal folks! You’re doing awesome, that’s an impressive expenditure rate!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      I 100% agree about the mortgage! But I 100% disagree about the tractor and pick-up–we own both and they serve totally different purposes for rural living. I wouldn’t have believed it until we moved out to the country (and tried to live without a pick-up) ;).

      • Payton says:

        So we have not tried to live without a pick-up, but I totally don’t love that we have a tractor and a pick-up and 2 other vehicles. It is a lot. BUT, the tractor can’t take all our tree limbs and excess yard waste to the dump like the pick-up and trailer can. And the pick-up can’t move dirt, turn the garden, remove snow or assist us with picking apples, cherries, and pears like the tractor can. We didn’t have a tractor for the first 3 years we were here and I will say there is a huge difference to how long it takes us to get these tasks done and we definitely do need both.

    • Payton says:

      The harder part for us is that we don’t feel we have enough info, so I assume you all don’t feel you have enough information either. The 2 businesses are cash only. The laundromat is owned by the town’s lawyer and town’s CPA. I can easily assume (because I know them personally) that the numbers they are putting on their tax forms is the baseline for what they have to claim. This can make it riskier for us though as we do not get to see the actual numbers and know what reality will be for us.

      The campground owners currently use the property as their primary home so their tax numbers (they claim) are not entirely accurate for income either as they can reinvest so much of the money into their business/home. They are also cash based so it can be harder to see the money trail.

      • Mary in Maryland says:

        I would never buy a business (and I’ve bought two) without the seller letting my accountant examine the operating books for the previous five years. Even a cash only business should be keeping good records of the cash. The info about the business on the owner’s tax return doesn’t tell you all the things you need to know to make an informed decision.

        • Kayla says:

          Yes, you need more info than a tax return. Although there are some expenses they don’t have to include on a P&L, no way should you pony up $100,000+ to then discover the real financial situation. Maybe you just haven’t asked for the info since your still exploring the idea. My other concern is that if you were to make the move, find it’s not what you expected, what is your exit strategy? Even if you kept your current home, how are you going to unload two businesses in a small seasonal income town?

  15. Mary says:

    Payton and Riley have put a lot of work into researching their life situation. It seems to me a campground and a laundromat in a small-ish town in Nebraska, even if it’s a summer destination, would not be a huge income generator. I know small towns, and I just can’t imagine it. It seems to be a very large tradeoff of giving up the husband’s job, with a very short commute!, with health insurance and retirement plans to be near family. I agree, I think it’s too risky. I love the idea of Mrs. Frugalewood’s of buying a pre-owned trailer to park at a relative’s house in order to visit more often and stay frugally while there.

    I TOTALLY agree: the heart and goal of frugality is having the ability and means to live the life you want to live. It sounds like they are already doing that. I would stay where they are.

    • Payton says:

      It may be safe to say the heart wants what the heart wants. Our brains understand how financially risky this could be but we still desire returning to our hometown and being near my family.

  16. Libby says:

    A second vote here for cloth wipes in addition to cloth diapers — it’s actually easier than separating everything once you get the hang of it!

    • Mary says:

      A third vote!

      • Payton says:

        I’m not ruling it out, but I am not sure I can return to that full-time. The problem has been very sensitive skin (so breakouts with not finding a solution that works for us), and having a toddler that tries to help and isn’t a whole lot of help.

    • MaryP says:

      When my kids were babies and toddlers, I used paper towels and just wet them, then threw them away after using. For that to work, you need to get the more expensive closer to cloth-like ones (I used Viva). Even buying the more expensive paper towels, it was still a lot cheaper than buying wipes, and since you are only using water, there was no issue with irritating sensitive skin.

      • gk says:

        Yes to cloth wipes in addition to cloth diapers! You don’t need a solution – just water and a washcloth/spare fabric such as flannel. (I tried doing fancy essential oils and stuff to make a solution, but that irritated my kid’s bottom. Water worked perfectly with no irritation). Then you can just thrown them in the wash with the diapers, and it’s easier than separating them out into a trash can.

  17. Lyna says:

    Local friends and neighbors may not be blood relatives, but can fill many of the same needs for your children. Generally, I agree with what’s already been suggested, just have some questions that may be food-for-thought:
    Are any more kiddos in the plan?
    Are there any family members who might move to or near your town?
    Would Riley like to make his skills available as a part-time local handyman? (only what fits his time and talents…those chairs are beautiful!)
    Could Payton’s counseling practice happen in your current town?

    Thanks for sharing your life with us!

    • Payton says:

      Yes, to so much of this! We do have very close, wonderful friends but I am really not one to ask for help. I’m not even sure how much help my family would be to us if we moved to the town they live in. Any more kids? The short answer, we have no idea. The original plan was 4 kids but we didn’t actually plan to have them so close and feel pretty maxed out as it is. I’ve learned that sometimes what we plan is nothing like what we got so I don’t know for sure how our life will play out.

      Riley’s father retires this week and had his retirement party a few weekends ago. It was there that they mentioned they may move to the town we are currently in (never been mentioned prior) within the next 2 years. This news could definitely be a huge factor for us.

      Riley could definitely do a million things on his own and probably end up fine as that’s the type of guy he has always been. He has made so many things for us and our extended family that I know he would do great woodworking. We also have a riding lawn mower that he could easily mow lawns during the summer with which has been discussed. I have been blessed to continue to hear about work in our area despite being out of the field to raise children so we are fairly confident I can find work (either private practice or for a company) in the area we currently live.

  18. I got the feeling that the big draw to move is, yes, about being near family, but possibly more about being in one place for ten years and looking for a new adventure. I’m currently feeling the same itch (we’ve been in the same place for eight years now), but at the same time, they seem very happy with their little spot of land. Is there another option that might get them an hour or two closer to family but will still allow them their mini homestead dreams? I agree with Liz, 3 hours is nowhere near an insurmountable distance from family. Maybe making some concrete plans for regular visits can close that gap of time, if not distance.

    • Payton says:

      A 10 year itch? I could say that could easily be the draw, especially since our move to this area was supposed to be a 2-year career starting only plan. We did not ever think we would love this area so much or that Riley would stay with the same company for a decade.

      We are still in a phase where traveling isn’t easy. We have 2 out of 3 kids that have never liked long trips, being strapped in a car seat, and also struggle after a day or 2 out of routine. Each year gets a little easier and we are hoping in time we will be able to travel much more frequently.

  19. Nancy says:

    Kevin, I bet you wish your parents had done the same thing!

  20. Susan says:

    When our daughter was young we didn’t want to travel anywhere – and a 3 hour car ride was not fun. Multiply that by three and I can see how the travels to see family are wearing (see — “vacations sound like a lot of work” comment above). Do remember, it will get easier. Just as you will be able to pursue your practice when the youngest is in school, it will also be much easier to drive 6 hours in a weekend and still have enough sanity for Monday at work.

    • Payton says:

      Yes, to this! All of this! Car rides longer than 30 minutes are zero fun. zero. When I was pregnant with my 3rd, I was brave and would travel with the 2 back and forth to my family every few months but almost every single ride home was 3 hours of non-stop rotating crying (by all involved). The last trip was about a month before our 3rd child was born and I remember calling my mom, brother and sister and saying that I would probably not be making the trip back by myself again until my youngest was at least 3 years. It’s a hard season in so many ways but so beautiful in others!

      • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

        YES! Our 25 minute drive to church is currently populated by our baby crying the entire way… our 2.5 year old will happily read books and chatter in the car. But the baby? Nope. So I feel ya!

      • Tamar says:

        I hear you. My daughter is now a better traveler, but I’ve had some drives with her where she screamed the entire way. I also have to admit that sitting in a car for 3 hours sounds like hell to me, but it’s probably because I live in a small country.
        If you could solve the car ride problem with the kids would it be enough to see your family every other weekend?
        Have you researched how others get their kids to ride peacefully in the car?
        Some ideas- Do you allow your kids to watch videos during car rides? Have you considered stopping once an hour for a break? What about food in the car? Is there a public transportation option? Listening to a children’s book together? Changing the car seats? Think of ways to make the road trip fun.
        Good luck!

  21. Cindy in the South says:

    I am an hour from one kid, and a little over an hour and half for my two other sons. My daughter is 2,000 miles away. I say this to say, that I totally understand wanting to be closer to family, but not sure if that would be the right move, especially since you are happy where you are. I am in the same place, but on the other side….I am the grandparent not sure about moving closer…lol. I do not think I would give up a pension and health insurance. I also would not be a landlord long distance. I agree with Ms. Frugalwoods that I do not think you should move in your situation. Y’all are doing awesome in regards to being frugal! Best of luck to you!

  22. KaLynn says:

    I really enjoyed reading this case study and had a few thoughts:
    -Have you considered purchasing a 2-unit rental in the town your family lives in and reserving one unit for yourselves? This seems a little ridiculous, but perhaps with a space of your own you may be more inclined to take a long weekend to visit family AND/OR it would give you the feeling of being closer while being able to retain your homestead life. During summer vacation or holiday break Payton could even take the kids for several days during the week and hang out with family.
    -Taking on 2 very different small businesses seems like a daunting challenge, not to say you couldn’t make it work, but I might try to interview some other owners of campgrounds/laundromats to get a better idea on the actual time investment they both require. Would it be necessary to hire out the daily tasks associated with the laundromat during the busy season of the campground?
    Good luck with everything 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Payton says:

      We actually looked at a multi-unit complex in our hometown. I am much more willing to take the plunge if it’s well calculated and looks like we can make the numbers work, but Riley is way more hesitant. We may have had rentals for almost a decade, but it takes a lot of work and effort to get him to take the plunge.

      Riley is extremely good at fixing things (believe me, we have way too many experiences with this) and, despite the businesses being different, we do think we can maintain and repair most that comes our way. Riley has a lot of experience with construction and we have owned rentals for long enough to have had major things come up (including a basement foundation wall falling in). I think we approach it more that as long as we know who to call if we need help and can take on the things we are comfortable with, we will be okay.

      That being said, if we added a Tropical Sno shaved ice stand in front of the campground, we would probably have to hire teens to run that.

  23. Sarah says:

    As a therapist, I support the idea of moving if that’s what you want and opening a very low overhead private practice-think office expenses of no more than 500 a month. With that, even if you only worked 10 hours a week (at an average of 100/session) you would bring home 4000-500 a month or 3500/month. There is no way on an hourly basis that a laundromat or campground can beat this rate. Working 10 hours a week can even be built in around naps and kids bedtimes if necessary.

    • Payton says:

      Yes, this has definitely been an option considered. In this season (youngest child is 6 months) though, we aren’t quite sure if we want to send me back to work quite yet, unless we absolutely have to. It is very possible to office with another practitioner and have office expenses less than 500/month. But, it is also very possible that the demand in this very rural area will end up being much higher than 10 hours a week and I can struggle to say no when it comes to this. The current practitioner (I grew up knowing) carries a huge caseload and is still referring clients on to another practitioner 2 hours away.

  24. Torrie says:

    Wow, they’re doing great! My husband and I are close to them in age but aren’t nearly where they are financially, so kudos to them! I agree with what Mrs. FW said about doing some soul searching and seeing if the move is something they actually really want to do, since my gut also tells me that Payton isn’t really excited about the idea of giving up their dream life in the country (and I can’t blame her–it’s a dream we have too, though we’re not there yet!)

    One more question to consider that wasn’t mentioned above in the soul-searching section—there are a lot of benefits for kids in growing up with a lot of land (opportunities to learn firsthand about hard work, nature, animal care, etc.) that they might not get if they moved to the city to be closer to family. Would they regret giving up THOSE opportunities for their kids if they moved?

    We live about an hour and a half from family (which I know is definitely closer than 3 hours away), but I might encourage Payton and Riley, since their spending is so low, to allocate more money in their monthly budget to go visit family more frequently. They have the financial resources, and they wouldn’t have to give up this dream of theirs. Win win!

    • Payton says:

      Thank you! I think we were just really intentional from the start when most of our peers weren’t thinking a lot about money. I also didn’t get financial help with college so I was working full-time while going to school full-time. Not totally a path I would recommend but, in the end, it has paid off.

      Yes to so much of that! I have quite the entrepreneurial mind and we have come up with several ideas for “living off our own land” so to speak and teaching the children first-hand about running a business. We are only 2 miles from town so we aren’t in an entirely desolate area and are easy to get to. We have discussed selling fireworks, dog boarding (our only one in this area just closed after a decade of business), building a separate small house and renting it out, etc. We also hope the kids do 4-h when they are older and our daughter is very certain she will raise a bucket calf or a pig.

      We would give all those ideas up with the move but would become entrepreneurs that could show our children 2 other types of businesses. I just don’t see us living in the country initially there. We bought our current property as a foreclosure way under market value. It may have been the only way to get us to the country.

  25. Yes, I think staying where you’re happy and fulfilled is for the best. 🙂 Maybe once the kiddos are older it would make sense to delve into bigger ventures?

    • Payton says:

      It’s definitely a season we have to think hard about what we do. My hesitation in continuing to wait is it may be harder and harder to get our kids to break ties with everything they know. When they’re younger I sometimes think the transition may be smoother if they haven’t started school yet.

  26. Winifred says:

    The only comment I have is one my mom gave me: “never move to follow family.” What if they moved there, and the extended family slowly drifted apart due to romances, finances, jobs, etc.?

    My husband and I just got back from visiting his mom, who is 5 1/2 hours away and still lives in the house where he grew up. My husband also has a sister and 3 kids living in this town and his other siblings are scattered near-ish to his mom (everyone’s kids are now young adults). All the cousins/kids are extremely close to their grandma and cousins who live 5 1/2 hours away because they have visited often for holidays over the years, spend a couple of weeks with Grandma in the summer, etc.

    My mom’s dear friend moved from a community she loved to be near her son and his family. 6 months later he was offered a new minister’s job and they moved 2 hours away, and now mom’s friend is stuck with no relatives in this community.

    • Payton says:

      That is definitely a worry we have if we make the leap. I am closest to my mother, sister-in-law, and sister. All of which have talked periodically about moving but I’m not so sure one wouldn’t do it unless they all were. But it really only takes one to take the plunge and then everything will unravel. The community we would be going to though is my hometown and many of my friends remain there. As long as those friendships aren’t way different than I imagine they would be (which they could, who knows) I would probably still love my hometown. It has definitely always felt like home to me.

      On the flip side, we have been in our current town for almost my entire adult life. The community embraced us. That makes it feel like home as well.

  27. Steve says:

    I find it inspiring to see how frugal Payton and Riley are. I agree with doing more soul searching. It seems that’s the biggest “pro” of moving, but the two seem to really enjoy their current set up, and isn’t your family’s (kids and you two) happiness the most important?

  28. Kate Nelson says:

    Really do your research before deciding to dump cable and/or internet. In some locations, you don’t save that much, and your internet speeds are dramatically slower.

    • Payton says:

      We don’t actually have much available for internet here. 2 options and we don’t love internet speeds or service for either. We hope with time that will change.

  29. Marina says:

    Agree with Mrs. FW and everyone else – I’d advise you to think long and hard about what you would be giving up to gain some extra proximity to family, especially when you already live within a reasonable driving distance from them. It sounds like you have a good health insurance plan now, and with a family of 5, it could be very very expensive to self-insure everyone and may even wipe out any profits you get from your businesses.

    I understand the desire to be close to family when you have kids, especially if you are close to your family. My own parents moved to our area once we had our son and I am so grateful to have them nearby. However, you guys are close enough to your families that you can definitely make weekend and summer trips happen more often and still keep your current house and job.

  30. JD says:

    One comment I noticed was that they wanted to travel more as the kids got older. With the low incomes from the laundromat and campgrounds, plus paying more to fund insurance and retirement, will they have the money to travel if they move? I think that’s a big risk. I agree with others about moving near family — yes, I like to be near enough to visit, but family can move away on YOU, and then where are you — following them yet again? There are ways around this . My kids lived 12 hours — if we drove straight through — from their grandparents, but they visited us, we visited them, and when the kids got in school, we started leaving them with the grandparents for a couple of weeks each summer, which was pure gold for both the kids and grandparents (ice cream EVERY DAY!). Plus the home place Payton and Riley have now sounds like their dream home. I’d stay put and follow Mrs. Frugalwoods’ suggestions.

    • Payton says:

      Traveling if we move would definitely pose some challenges. We traveled a lot together prior to having children and were using credit reward travel hacking before we knew there was a term or blogs for it. I imagine that we would go that route and with 2 businesses, building credit card intro reward points for basic spending necessities may not be too hard for us.

  31. sunshineshed says:

    Wow, you two are doing a really amazing job! I hope that, first of all, you’ll give yourselves a pat on the back for setting your family up for success.

    A few thoughts:
    – You live close to family now because you live with your family! We moved across the country to be closer to a sibling, and after the initial newness wore off we don’t see them as often as we did at first. They live on one side of town and we live on the other, making through the week meet ups super inconvenient and besides both families have our own lives and interests. This might end up being the case if you move to your hometown.
    – Can you encourage your family to visit you more? Do you have a comfortable space for guests? If there are a lot of cousins around your kids’ ages, could you host a summer camp/slumber party for the kiddos for a few days each year?
    – If you plan on opening a practice down the road in the town where you live, could you invest in a home or building that would be a good office space in the future? You could rent it out now for the revenue stream and then it’s ready when the time comes.

    • Payton says:

      Thank you! You are so right about living with our own family. We are a bit concerned about how the dynamics with extended family could change as our children are the same age as several cousins. When school starts, that could change everything for better or worse. We went to school with cousins that were like siblings and cousins that did not get a long at all. It’s definitely an unknown we are unsure of.

      We may not travel much but our families visit us constantly and we are so grateful for that. But it does always leave us with that desire to live closer to them after they leave. My mother just switched jobs and has summers off so she just spent a full week with us and that was a real treat that we hope to get again next summer if we stay!

      I could invest in an office space or we could probably create one on our property. I know a few local therapists and could probably share their office space and split costs with them. Prior to quitting my full-time job to raise children, I was working for a company that was contracted out and I would work for them again! With that position, all my office work was done at home, which worked really well.

    • Lucinette says:

      I second your point about moving to family. My husband and I just made an international move to be closer to family, and the reality is definitely different from what we had imagined. We also now live on the other side of town from a sibling, and it’s hard to even see each other once a week. The rest of the family is a bit father, and they all have their own lives. While they might have been able to drop everything when we came on our once-yearly visits, they’re certainly not able to do that on a weekly or monthly basis. We don’t have kids yet but I’m not sure our kids will see family as much as we thought, even being in the same country now. We’re not hugely disappointed and do not plan to leave, but the family dynamics are not what we had expected. But every family is different, of course, and honestly we could not have known what it would be like without trying.

      I also wanted to say that you’re also allowed to try something that seems like a good idea at the time (based on research and careful thought) and change again later if it’s not working, even if you lose some money or time out of a certain career path in the process. It’s important to take off the pressure to “get it right” once and for all time. I have noticed this type of thinking in a few case studies (and recognize the thought pattern from my own deliberations about where to move and when). Sometimes you just have to try to know whether something works. It’s OK to take a well-informed leap towards something that you feel strongly drawn to, and trust yourself (and your skills, work ethic, savings and backup !) to readjust if things don’t go quite as planned.

      • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

        Wise words! Thank you for pointing out that we don’t have to get it right the first time! Life is certainly a series of trials and learning curves and Payton and Riley are in a great financial position to test those waters.

  32. Jennifer says:

    Speaking to Mrs. Frugal’s ‘Middle Ground’ wisdom, is there a city halfway between that you could meet up in once or twice a month? My sister/best friend lives 2.5 hours from me. She comes down to visit us (our parents live near me) every few weeks, but when she doesn’t want to make a whole weekend of it, every once in a while we meet in a city that is a little over an hour away from each of us to eat, shop, and visit. Easy day trip.
    I’m so afraid there will be regret if Payton and Riley make this move since they’re happy where they are.

    • Payton says:

      That’s definitely something to look into! We currently do an annual camping trip half-way and that has been something we all look forward to each year.

  33. MrsPillsparlour says:

    Imagine you meet a a mum at toddler group, she lives very happily in a beautiful house with land on an area that provides good future employment opportunities for herself, her husband and kids. They find this utopia affordable and even manage to overpay their mortgage. She tells you she’s moving back to her hometown which is more expensive so no house with land. There is little to do in this town and good jobs are hard to come by. You’d think she’s crazy right?
    I understand wanting to be near family, my dad lives on another continent and my mom 2 hours away. My in laws live 20 minutes away, yet my kids are fondest of my dad because when that see him it’s quality time where every second is cherished and counts. Quality over quantity wins every time. Are you considering this move because you are desperate to be closer to family or because you feel you should be closer to family?

    • Payton says:

      Such good points, thank you so much. There is something so special to getting any of my family for a weekend to ourselves.

  34. Debbi says:

    Someone mentioned the idea staying put but buying a duplex in your family’s town and living in half when you visit family while using the other half as a rental and another reader suggested buying a place that you use as a VRBO at high season and stay in during off season. I think these are brilliant ideas. You already know how to manage rentals and this would give you a place to stay without being the family of five that descends on relatives. As your children get older and both eat more (asking a relative to feed your brood gets even more expensive as they get bigger and family is usually not comfortable accepting grocery money from guests) and take up more space and bathroom time, it will get trickier to stay with relatives if you are visiting them frequently. This would also slightly diversify your rental properties, depending on how different the housing markets are in the two towns.

    • Payton says:

      Great points! I think we are already overwhelming to our families as we arrive. Our 2 children are great eaters and we definitely can kill someone’s food budget that isn’t used to us.

  35. Diane says:

    As someone who has raised kids on the other side of the country as other family members, I’d like to encourage them to put their extensive creativity and skills into keeping relationships close and being involved with family should they decide to stay put. I like the ideas I’m reading about a camper/property in the family’s town/traveling there on the weekends, etc. Another idea is that same camper on their own property that visiting family members could stay in, or perhaps since their current property is so large, there could be a guest “house/room”/yurt/something to welcome family to. I have friends w/o kids who host their nieces and nephews for an extended “camp” in the summer. Perhaps a combination of a camper, frequent travel, combined vacations, “camps” hosted at both locations, etc. would fit the bill. Personally, I wish I had budgeted non-negotiable money to traveling/bringing family and raising my kids with those connections. It’s something I really regret and I think it’s important to imagine 20 years from now, how would they feel if their kids and extended family don’t have strong connections? It sounds to me like it’s possible to create in their current location if they put their creativity to that goal. Also, I love Payton’s art and think there’s potential for a side income there. Great job and suggestions!

    • Payton says:

      Thank you, he is very talented! We have definitely considered adding a guest house to our property with hopes that one set of parents would choose to move to it permanently. It would be on the other half of our property so there would still be a little bit of separation.

  36. Pauline says:

    I think you are on the right track now and it sounds like you are really happy. Three hours is not very far away from family, it is probably a great distance for visiting back and forth several times a year. I think running a laundromat is more entailed than you mentioned – you really need an attendant there in case something happens to a machine or a customer has a problem. Dry cleaners are environmental hazards aren’t they? I would steer clear of that type of business. Having a campground is a seasonal venture, but you could live at the campground instead of having a house. It sound like you are really happy where you are, and you have the finances in order. It’s great you can get good renters quickly and they are not tearing your rental places up. Your husband seems very happy with his job. You can still do counseling from your home if you want to go back to that now or in the future.

    • Payton says:

      I think I could definitely go into each of those points in so much more detail but I’d be writing a book! There is a house on the campground that we could reside in as well and is an option.

  37. Joy says:

    Great family story. But I agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods. It sounds like this family loves where they live and the only drawback is the 3 hour distance from family. Pulling up stakes and making this campground/laundromat idea sounds like a ton of work, stress and quite a long shot. I had the thought that perhaps Payton and Riley could make some more income right on their own land. Could they build a little bed and breakfast guest house? Perhaps for hunters in the fall and rent it out as a peaceful retreat for those wanting a getaway from the stress of the city? You have this beautiful open land and fruit trees… the description of your location sounds like it belongs in a brochure for a getaway vacation. My first thought on the campground thing is that you would be depending on the summer tourist season… which in Nebraska lasts about end of May to perhaps mid September–if that long. The rest of the year would be bare-bones income I think. In Nebraska, three hours from family isn’t too much of a driving stretch. I think you have the freedom now, right where you live, to drive to see family once in awhile–and that might be enough. I would disagree with one commenter who said that the husband does not need a pick up that a tractor is enough. A tractor is not the same as a pick up–you don’t drive a tractor to town. A used, good condition pick up would be a huge help—load up all those apples, pears, etc, and take them to a farm market. If you live close enough to a large city, sell them to a restaurant. A pick up is needed to haul animal feed, tools, fencing, etc. Get an old beater and enjoy. Frankly, I think Payton and Riley are living on a potential gold mine. And if they really want to sell, I too live in a small town in Nebraska (with too-close neighbors) and their property sounds like just what my husband and I are looking for. Would she be willing to share her location?

    • Payton says:

      We have definitely considered monetizing our property in a variety of ways! Our tractor and pick-up are vital for us where we live and, despite my own attempts to persuade Riley, I don’t think we will get rid of either.

      Cheers to living in the same state! We live just outside of Kearney!

    • Joy says:

      Okay, I missed that they already have a pickup. Keep that puppy.

  38. Margaret says:

    Beware of ‘shoulds’ – like ‘we should live near family’ or ‘we should give the kids the chance to live near family’ and then making that one thing happen by giving up or letting go of (many) other things. Choosing to move at this time in these circumstances seems like a BIG sacrifice for a single positive gain. And as others have pointed out, it’s not a guaranteed positive.

    • Payton says:

      As a counselor I “should” have caught all my shoulds. Thank you for that! It’s true, we can’t live doing all the things we think we should do.

  39. Chris says:

    If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Sounds like Payton and Riley have a wonderful life now and truly love what they do where they are. Moving closer to family will NOT guarantee happiness and add a boat load of stress and anxiety to their lives. Payton, your kids will get older and you’ll wish you had stayed home with them. You cannot get back these precious years. 🙂 Owning two businesses is a recipe for headaches and arguments. Please rethink your motives and stay put. You are gambling with the very fabric of your beautiful, happy lives to make this move and take on so many things at once. Best of luck!!!

    • Payton says:

      It’s like you’ve been around our conversations! We talk about our kids joining us to work their ventures but then we wonder if we will find it’s too much stress and we’ve lost our simple lifestyle and just enjoying being together.

  40. You guys are in a great financial situation! The decisions you are weighing are quite obviously a direct result of your intentional efforts to construct a financially free lifestyle, and one which doesn’t require a significantly high income. You’ve given yourself two very good options to choose between, so kudos!

    I am both a family man and entrepreneur at heart, so I applaud both your creativity and thoroughness in identifying and exploring the laundromat and campground as income sources that would allow you to be closer to family. That said, my advice would be to stay put, for the following reasons:

    1) Riley loves his current job. This is huge. A job you love, are talented at, live close to, and which is financially viable for your situation is a rare find and one worth treasuring. The income from Riley’s job combined with your low living expenses allows you to be a SAHM, which jives well with your lifestyle values.

    2) Creating and operating a small business, even a semi-passive one like a laundromat or campground, can require a serious time commitment. Don’t under-estimate the benefit of your husband working 40 hours/week at his current job with the ability to be home and mentally off the clock by 3:00-3:30 PM each day. This is worth a lot. When you have your own business, you’re never truly off the clock, which can make work-life balance difficult.

    3) You’ve worked hard to build a financially secure lifestyle, and you’d be taking on significant debt ($340,000) and financial risk were you to pull up stakes and move to your hometown. Don’t under-estimate the stress this can put on your young family. It sounds like living debt-free is very important to you.

    4) You referenced a strong tourism industry in your hometown. Both the campground and laundromat are tourism-based, which poses another layer of risk to the proposed acquisitions. What was the cash flow like for the two businesses during the Great Recession? You may want to request this information to give you a worst-case scenario cash flow floor for sake of your planning.

    5) If you give up so much of what you hold dear to move near family, how will you feel if your family moves away or doesn’t prioritize time with you? Mrs. FW touched on this and I feel it’s an important point. You have designed and achieved a lifestyle that is in alignment with your values. There’s a very real possibility that if you give this up to be near family, you may (even subconsciously) begrudge the sacrifice and resent your family for it. It’s not worth letting this become a wedge issue.

    Should You Sell Your Rentals If You Move?
    To answer your question regarding the sale of your rentals if you move, I think you should absolutely sell both of them if you do in fact move to your hometown. The combination of not being able to trust local property management and the 3+ hour commute (one-way!) means managing these properties and upholding your reputation as reputable land-lords will be a nightmare. You’ll be spending much more money on travel and vehicle maintenance commuting back and forth for mundane fixes, cutting into your net profit. And you’ll be left with much less time with your family to boot.

    For the same reason, I’d recommend selling your current home as well if you do end up moving. I can see hanging on to it for a year or so as a fallback option as you test the waters, but long-term I think you’ll want to sell it due to the distance involved. Selling the rental properties (and potentially your home as well) would have the added advantage of giving you the cash needed to pay off the laundromat immediately or purchase your new home with 100% cash down.

    Should You Sell One Or Both Rentals To Pre-Pay The Mortgage?
    Whether or not you should sell one or both of your rentals to pay down your mortgage more quickly is a good old-fashioned math problem. Your current mortgage is at a 3.25% rate over 15 years with a $89,000 balance outstanding. Minimum payment is $1,000/month, but you’re making a $500 extra payment per month. I show this puts your payoff date at 5.4 years, over which you’ll pay $8,164.61 in mortgage interest.

    Average real estate agent commission is 6% of sale price, so if you were to sell your higher value rental through an agent you’d pay $4,140 out of the $69,000 proceeds. If you sold your lower value rental, you’d be looking at paying $3,720 out of your $62,000 sale price. Sell them both and you’d “lose” $7,860 in profits to listing agent fees. This just about matches the $8,164.61 in interest you’ll pay if you continue paying your house off at the current rate without selling either of your rentals, and doesn’t factor in all of the hassle of listing and selling a home.

    You could avoid paying this by listing the properties yourself, but there are other costs to consider as well. For example, the cost of purchasing replacement rental properties in future since you do have a desire to increase your rental portfolio. Average closing costs for home buyers are 2-5% of the purchase price. Using a middle of the road 3.5% number, you’d be looking at $2,415 and $2,170 respectively ($4,585 total) to repurchase rentals valued at $69,000 and $62,000.

    Last but not least, there’s the Capital Gains Tax you’ll have to pay on the proceeds of your rental properties to consider if you sell them. If you sell just one rental (no matter which), I project your marginal tax rate to fall in the 22% bracket, while selling both would put you in the 24% bracket. Capital Gains is levied in the amount of 15% for both of these brackets. 15% Capital Gains Tax on $62,000 is $9,300, while 15% on $69,000 is $10,350. Selling both would involve up to $19,650 in taxes.

    Add this all up, and the math definitely favors hanging on to both rental properties if you stay put in your current home and not selling them to prepay the mortgage.

    Should You Continue Making Extra Payments On Your Mortgage?
    Mrs. FW pointed out that mathematically it is often more advantageous to invest excess cash in the stock market via low-cost index funds than it is to pre-pay a mortgage. This is of course contingent on the mortgage interest rate vs. the historical 7% long-term return of the market.

    While I agree with this in premise, there are several other factors at play that can potentially change this calculation. The first is the time period that is being considered. For example, while the stock market averages a 7% return over the long term, a window of 5.4 years could return static or even negative returns overall, whereas your mortgage offers a guaranteed 3.25% return on investment.

    The second factor to consider is the excess cash flow you’ll have available once you no longer have $1,500 tied up in mortgage payments each month. Depending on what (if any) employer match is offered in Riley’s 401K and his current contribution amount, free money may be available in the form of untapped employer matching funds which you could use this excess cash to take advantage of in the absence of a housing payment.

    In addition, pending your current contribution level, maxing out your 401K can potentially drop your AGI (Adjusted Gross Income) low enough to become eligible for lucrative tax credits such as the Retirement Saver’s Credit, which can be worth up to $2,000/year for married couples filing jointly.

    I mention all of this only because I ran the same pre-pay mortgage vs. invest comparison for my situation years ago and found it more advantageous to pay off the mortgage aggressively rather than invest. This was primarily because killing the house payment freed up enough cash for us to be able to max out our 401K and take advantage of a very generous employer match as well as tax benefits. Investing years earlier at a lower rate couldn’t catch up.

    Last but not least, there’s always the psychological factor as well. Being mortgage-free means your fixed cost of living are that much lower, opening up a slew of new possibilities and opportunities.

    To make a long story short – what (if any) 401K match is offered by Riley’s employer? And what is your current annual contribution to Riley’s 401K and HSA? This information should help you determine whether pre-paying the mortgage is the best plan for your situation.

    Also, I show the difference between your annual income and spending is $21,828. Is this currently simply growing your emergency fund / cash savings? If not, to what are you allocating this amount?

    Summary
    Your current lifestyle supports and enables your values of gardening, spending time outdoors, caring for animals, spending time together as a family, and pursuing meaningful hobbies and DIY skills.

    I’m concerned that moving from country to town, trading Riley’s enjoyable and reliable job at 40 hours per week for the time commitment and stress of owning and managing two businesses, exchanging a single-income household with a stay-at-home parent for a dual income household, and giving up the security of retirement accounts and health insurance for self-employment options will threaten your stated lifestyle value of living “the simple, quiet life”.

    I would recommend holding pat where you are at least until your children are in school. By that time, your mortgage will be paid off if you continue with your current plan, and you’ll be considering that consulting start-up. I would re-consider your move at that point in time, but would probably forego it at the moment.

    As an aside, I come from a close-knit family myself. I’m fortunate enough to live only a few miles from my parents, but my brother and sister-in-law live 1.5 hours away. We’ve developed the concept of what we call “Family Weekends” where we designate one weekend every 1-2 months where the family gets together for the entire weekend at one of our homes to catch up, visit, play games, et al. Would something like this allow you and your families to spend quality time together despite the distance apart?

    Best of luck to you with whatever option you choose! Remember – the fact that you can even entertain these two choices means you’ve done a bang-up job with your finances to date. Good work!

    • Payton says:

      Thank you so much for this thorough response and I plan to read it through better in the morning when my mind is more alert as there is so much to process. Until then, I wanted to answer your questions:
      Riley’s employer matches 75% up to 6%. We are contributing 12%. Off the top of my head our HSA gets about $6,000 a year (can carry over year to year) with contributions from both Riley and his employer.

      The current plan is to pay off the house and then we would max out on his retirement contribution allowed if we stayed here (I’m really tired but I think his max is at 20%, but not entirely positive on that). Paying off the house has always been less about the investment side and more about having that peace of mind and being able to walk on our property knowing we own it outright.

      As for the difference between our annual income and spending at $21,828. This grows savings and has allowed us to buy for bigger expense items on our property with cash (like the tractor mentioned), cover what could come up with our rentals (new a/c or new roof, etc), and continue to fund our 3-6 months of expenses. About $1500/year does go into a spending account for Riley to use as he chooses (he’s the spender while I’m the saver) and this arrangement just works well for us.

      • My pleasure! Reading your story and the details surrounding the potential purchase of the laundromat and campground was fascinating. Thanks for providing the additional details regarding employer match and use for the unallocated savings.

        Can you clarify what you meant by your husband’s 401K max contribution being limited to 20%? He should be able to contribute the $18,500 maximum allowed under Federal law, and not be artificially limited to any amount less than that.

        It looks like you’re already claiming the full employer 401K match, so there’s no additional “free money” there that would impact the house payoff decision. However, taxes are another story. In the absence of that $1,500 housing payment, you could repurpose that $18,000 per year to max out your 401K and HSA, and contribute enough of the remainder to traditional, pre-tax IRAs to lower your taxable income to a point where you have optimized your tax credits.

        By my calculations, if you were to do so you would not only pay nothing at all in Federal income taxes, but receive a net tax refund in the range of $7,000 – $8,000/year. This could be another potential justification / incentive to continue prepaying your mortgage so you can claim your maximum Federal tax refund as early as possible while your children are still living at home, as the bulk of that $7-8K is related to child-based refundable tax credits.

        The psychological aspect of paying off your home early is very real, as is the elimination of all risk of losing a home by paying it off in full. These two factors impacted our decision to pay off our home early as well, aside from the math behind the decision.

        • Mary says:

          We paid off our mortgage early as well, two years ago. The money that used to go to our monthly mortgage loan payment now goes directly into a savings account, plus most months I can usually double that amount deposited into savings. Our emergency savings is now a very healthy balance. Our next step is taking a portion of that out (leaving a good emergency fund in place) and investing it. We already have some investments elsewhere. Our two kids are teens now, one leaving for college, and our goal, ever since they were small was to pay off our home. I understand the logic against it, but we like that we own our home outright. We have no debts now other than everyday necessities: utilities, cell phone, groceries, gas, etc. No car payments either. We own three cars, a 2003, 2007, and 2014.

          • Payton says:

            Mary- We are right there in line with your thinking. We just seem to feel it’s best, for us, to have the mortgage paid off before investing more into other areas. Our hope would be that when our kids go to college, we would not have any other debts and then could look at helping to cash flow college (as much as possible), if that’s the route they choose.

        • Payton says:

          So much good information! We totally understand the theory behind investing the extra money instead of paying off the mortgage but the psychological factor has played a higher priority for us. I just looked at our 2017 taxes and we could definitely look at moving ourselves down a tax bracket with your information.

          As for the employer 401k cap, I don’t know why there’s a , but it is a company policy. We did look up the policy and I guess they changed it in December to 35% max (Riley was on maternity leave during this time). When he gets closer to retirement, I know that cap changes and he can put much more into retirement (like 75% max or something like that). Riley did look at his retirement today and said that, despite the policy, we is able to put up to 60% in, so not sure if the policy is enforced or not.

          Again, thank you so much for so much information to think about and look at!

  41. Dorothy says:

    My dad owned a laundromat and his profits went up substantially once he learned to maintain his own machines. Ev n with electronic machines today, washers and dryers aren’t complicated. So I do recommend learning to work on the machines yourself.

    Too, I think an hour a day may be an optimistic estimate of the time it takes to run a laundromat.

    All the best!

    • Payton says:

      That would be the plan would be to learn to maintain them on our own. We may need to re-evaluate the time needed to run the laundromat.

  42. RL Lorente says:

    Wow, Payton and Riley are amazing. Please give yourselves a huge pat on the back for being financially stable, goal achievers and highly motivated when it comes to designing the life they had envisioned. Seriously impressive. Everyone else has pretty much summed up some of my thoughts. But here I go: I did not get a passionate vibe when you spoke of owning the laundromat & campground (and the other “cons”). So – I would suggest setting that on the back burner for a bit. Mull it over some more. In the meantime – since having family close is very important – try exploring other alternatives such as: building a cottage on their property so family can stay an extended period but not necessarily be disruptive to the children’s routines and such. Or about visiting family twice a month (or more) until all the children are of school age. That buys a buffer of time to further refine where you truly want to be (in town or rural) and what that will look like. Payton & Riley, you have done amazing work in clearly identifying goals & achieving them. The possible move closer to family – has great merit but seems like it comes at a steep price. From our family to yours, we wish you all the best.

  43. Norm says:

    I basically agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods. I was reading the description of your current life with jealousy, but when I got to the campground and laundromat part, I thought, “What a drag that sounds like!”

    I would not pay off your mortgage early. Looking at the value of your home, it’s very high compared to your retirement investments. It’s just not a very diversified bunch of assets you have since you are so heavily in real estate.

    Which brings me to my next point: I think you should sell the rental properties, but NOT to pay off the mortgage. You say you make $1,100 a month after maintenance and insurance. What about property taxes? Let’s just say that that’s another $2,000/year for the two properties combined, so income is closer to $11,000 a year. On your conservative market valuation of $131,000 for the two properties, that is a 8.5% return. If you sold the properties and invested it, you could make close to that return, but with zero the amount of work. I own two rentals and the returns are only great when you have a mortgage on the properties and leverage is working on your side. I intend on selling them once they’re paid off, or close to paid off.

  44. margann34 says:

    As a small business owner in a small town, I would caution Payton to really research each business proposition. I think both the campground and laundromat would be great side businesses. I do NOT think they would provide enough income to live off of even with their level of frugality. This would mean that one spouse may have to get a full time time job leaving the other to run the business. Riley my regret leaving a career position to devote his time and money to a small business with little financial gain. I also agree that the health benefits are extremely valuable. To budget health costs at $0 Is very unusual. I have a very good health plan but still pay about $1500/year out of pocket. My brother and sister in law buy on the open market. They pay much more than I do, for a lower quality plan. My sister on law has had to search for a new plan each year as the offered plans change.

    One last comment I have is for Mrs. Frugalwoods. Do you ever recommend paying extra on a mortgage? We will be in a position to do so in a year or so. I have gone back and forth on whether to pay extra or how much to pay. At this time, we are planning to split our money with some going to investments, some to college saving and some extra on the mortgage. I am interested in your view. Thanks.

    • Payton says:

      The small businesses are definitely challenging for us to consider even in theory as I don’t think we are given enough information to really know what it would look like for us.

      We have private insurance with Riley’s job as well as an HSA that is funded by both Riley and his employer (taken out before he even gets his paycheck). Our HSA amount carries over each year as well. We have put enough into the HSA that we have yet to pay extra on top of that.

      We know a few people who buy on the open market and we are definitely looking at their rates as a consideration for how we could be impacted if we move.

  45. I am of the opinion that the move back home to family would not be a good move financially or lifestyle wise because you would a) be giving up multiple good sources of income; b) the profit potential on those two businesses are low while the headache potential is high; and c) you would likely have to spend time running low-margin businesses that would take time away from more lucrative biz opps (counseling) AND family time. 3 hours from your family isn’t that far, really. I also seem to get that you enjoy country life too much to give it up. Forgive me if it sounds to me like you were looking for a reason to tell your family why you wouldn’t move closer (that’s what I get when I read between the lines). You’re on solid footing financially, emotionally, and lifestyle-wise right where you are, so I suggest strongly you stay.

    I am also somewhat biased against being close to family for its own sake, without considering the financial or lifestyle implications. Any family that loves you wouldn’t want you to a) overextend yourself financially or b) move away from a country lifestyle you love. (I moved 800 miles away from my family when I was 22 years old, never looked back, and have never tied my lifestyle to where/how my relatives live, because the nontangibles and financial costs of doing that are/were way too high. But that’s just me.)

  46. Sunny says:

    Hi,
    I don’t read case studies very often unless it catches my eye and I have some free time to ‘waste’ (I could’ve cleaned a room or two instead LOL). So, I read more than a half of the story and skimmed advice from FW.
    My opinion … Even before getting to the money part, it was at least 90% clear to me that the family doesn’t really have their heart in moving into this new and untested venture vs. how happy they sound in the current situation.
    I’m more of a fearful and conservative person, so I wouldn’t want to give up the sure paycheck from my husband’s job that he loves and especially the health insurance when having 3 small children.
    Peyton can be a stay-at-home mom because of the above, but she would lose that option if she became an entrepreneur with so 2-3 ventures at the same time. Based on the numbers, there is hardly any beneficial trade-off of what they would earn then and how much time they would need to devote to earn that little money. Plus they wouldn’t be able to save for retirement and might need to pay for the health insurance. OTOH, because of such low income, perhaps they would qualify for Nebraska’s Medicaid or another plan at a very very low price for a family of 5.

    The current life does indeed sound lovely (at least in writing) and I wouldn’t change it, but of course that’s just my personal opinion.

    I’m also impressed that there are areas in the USA where families can live on such a low cash flow. Impressive!!

  47. Emily says:

    Great job, guys! Aspirational for me in terms of your spending. One question/thought on expenses: what about life insurance? Maybe that’s paid annually and just not quantified here? I’m a Debbie Downer but with a SAHM in particular, I think this is really important. Good luck!

    • Payton says:

      We do have life insurance through Riley’s employer and that is taken out prior to the take home pay amount.

  48. Bobbi says:

    Your family is doing awesome! Plus welcome to beautiful Nebraska. I live in the SE part of the state in a rural setting also . We travel to Lincoln for our groceries, there is a Walmart 20 min away , but I prefer Aldi 40 min . I try & go bi monthly & I buy our meat in bulk from Sams club- they sell by the case & repackage when I get home . We also garden & can or freeze as much as we can . I was a SAHM while are children were young & ran a home base childcare & made a nice business out of it !! Your story is very inspiring & we hope to be debt free & living the Dream !! Enjoy your family & Nebraska!!

    • Payton says:

      We love the Lincoln area and lived there the first few years we went to college. With Zaycon closing, we may be looking into Sams as an option but we are about 1 1/2 hours away from them. Thank you so much for reading!

  49. Stephanie says:

    How will you feel if you guys give up your great life, house, job, insurance, and staying home with the kids if your extended family doesn’t have as much time for you as you expect? People get busy and have their routines and as the kids get older they get busier too. I know a few people who live in the same town as their extended family and one has Sunday dinner every week, one sees them every couple of months, and another does Christmas only. Proximity does not always mean much. Figure out your worst case scenario and whether or not you could make your peace with it.

  50. Kathy says:

    I would stay where you are. You’ve stated that you live where you live, Riley’s job and the life you have created. What about moving in 10 years if you are mortgage free.? I don’t see each of the opportunities in your old home town as providing much income and the loss of health insurance snd 401 k options seem foolhardy. Can you afford to buy one of the businesses in your home town and hire someone to run it for you? See if you can create a good income before taking a jump. Btw- neither if you mention living the idea of moving home like you mention living where you are. ID think about why you moved away in the first place and be sure that nostalgia isn’t what’s pulling you back. It is wonderful to have family nearby for support. Is there an option to visit each summer for a month or even the whole season and kind of get the best of both worlds??

    • Payton says:

      We are thinking if we don’t go now, it will definitely be explored again when I return to the workforce full-time. There will just be so many added variables at that point that it may make it even harder to make the move.

      We have considered purchasing the laundromat and hiring someone to maintain but the numbers just don’t work for us for that option. There would be a lot of time involved in finding the right person for the job as well.

  51. redrider_00 says:

    My wife and I live in a small town in Northwest Iowa, we have about 30 rentals that we have purchased within the last 7 years . I quit my full time job 2 years ago and we just manage our rentals now with our 4 young daughters. I live within 7 miles of all my siblings and parents and love it. If you decide to sell your rentals why not do a 1031 exchange? It would cost you about $2,000 extra but you wouldn’t pay any capital gains and you have 45 days to pick out the new properties and 6 months to close on the new ones. You might be able to trade your two for 5 new ones that need work. Also you wouldn’t pay any capital gains on your house as long as you have lived in it for 2 years so that would be beneficial as well. Hope this helps and good luck with your decision!

    • Payton says:

      Yes, we have explored this as well, either in the area we are in or with where we are moving to. We really aren’t big risk takers (despite having rentals already) and I’m not sure we will ever feel ready to take that leap, but we will keep exploring that option!

  52. RJR says:

    KUDOS to you and your family on your goals (which you have there at the moment) and finances!! Man, it sure seems like your current set up is awesome for your family’s desires and needs at the moment. Traveling to see your family a few times a year for 3 hours one way and then back isn’t too bad really, considering your travel time with children will only improve. Do your family and friends have a welcome to come see you and have fun harvesting and enjoying your place? Seeing family (and friends too) so close is really an awesome opportunity and goes both ways. Once your kids are in school, you will still be a BUSY family! Have you looked into tele-medicine? I live in a rural area and had a DR “visit” with one who lived several states away! Not sure but, possibly your skills as a counselor could become an online business if connected with a local provider – even “after or before hours” for your time zone when the kiddos are asleep? Something to ponder.

    • Payton says:

      Yes, our friends and family are here frequently but this may change as their children get older and start school and sports, etc. Online counseling is definitely something to look into. Thank you!

  53. Debbie says:

    Do.Not.Move.

  54. CompletelyDebtFree says:

    Just wanted to send you support for the plan to pay down your mortgage early. In your position, it makes great sense (just don’t sell the rentals to do it). Living without a mortgage lowers your fixed cost of living and gives you options. Some folks will never support that approach even when it makes sense for the individual. If you had $500k in principal at that rate it would be a different story, but for your situation, great plan. The intrinsic value of eliminating that debt is rarely considered in these calculations.

  55. Gwen says:

    I also live 3 hours from my dad and brother, and some friends, so I go there one weekend every month.
    Sometimwes I make it a 3 days break, but it works well. Also, if you have a spare bedroom or basement, art of te family could visit you too, and enjoy the countryside with you.

  56. Jana Colgin says:

    Hi Payton! I really enjoyed your case study. I don’t have any advice for you, but I just wanted to chime is to say GREAT JOB!!

    I laughed at the note beside the truck. For a while we had 2 Chevy Silverados (a 1500 and a 3500 dually that we still have) and I cried when we sold the first one. We’ll likely sell the diesel over the winter and I’ll probably cry again, but I’m ridiculous.

    You guys take care and best of luck to you! Looking forward to reading your updates one day. 🙂

    • Payton says:

      Thank you! Yes, the vehicle stuff is regularly a source of frustration and brings some arguments, BUT overall, we do find we need what we have for the time being.

  57. Dara says:

    Hi Payton— besides a hardy “WELL DONE!!” I must add this:
    Goooo Biiiiggg Reddd! 😎 (Fellow Nebraskan here! We’re gonna have an early Frost!! 😀)
    P.S. Stay put for now. You’ve got a couple years to figure things out before the kiddos start getting attached to school pals, country living, etc. New job opportunities will arise in your home town, or you could start your practice (DESPERATELY needed out there). And even if you decide to sell the homes and move later on, kids are generally very resilient, and yours would have the extended family bonus. You all could visit the “old homestead”/town a few times a year. Best wishes to you and Riley! Please be sure to keep us posted— you have a fascinating story!

  58. Teresa says:

    Running a campground is very time and labor intensive, there’s a reason the house on the property is in disrepair. Campers are needy and all their problems become yours! Lol
    We have 7 children and live 1.5 hours from my in laws and 2 hours from my parents. I think this is the perfect distance, close enough to visit but far enough that you don’t have to! Our kids range from 20 to 2 and life is always busy, I find it actually easier and better to plan something good once a month with them then it would be to try to have dinner together once a week.

  59. LongtimeFrugal says:

    Perhaps one of the reason the laundromat and camp ground are for sale IS that they are cash businesses. With the current law changes for KYC (know your customer) and AML (anti-money laundering), depositing cash is getting to be a hassle. Some larger banks won’t allow you to buy a Visa gift card paying cash – you have to deposit the money first.

    I don’t know if you have opened a bank account lately but the amount of information some banks expect you to provide is to me onerous. They want your income which they will use to monitor for suspicious activity.

    I am glad I found this website – a much better match to the life I’ve been living since the early 80s (25% unemployment in my area). Solid middle class and I intend to remain so.

    I concur with the comments re: buying health insurance (and don’t forget dental/vision) on the open market (private or non-ACA as I call it) or via the ACA.

  60. Hanna says:

    I understand and appreciate the desire to be close to family. I am a family-oriented parent myself and love it when my kids spend quality time with their grandparents, cousins, etc. Family is so precious. However, it feels to me that the story above is one that is too focused on what is missing versus all the blessings that already exist. It sounds like you’ve created a happy and beautiful life for your family in the home and town you’re in now. Your husband’s job seems to offer flexibility, security, benefits, and fulfillment. I have worked in Human Resources for many years coaching and guiding people from all walks of life in search of all the things that your husband’s job already provides. Additionally, your kids seem happy and healthy with the lifestyle you’ve created – so all around, kudos! Now, my concern is that you’re tinkering with the idea of giving up so much good for the possibility of gaining one thing – proximity to family. Having family close by can serve as a solid support system, especially when your kids are young. But fast forward just a few, quick years and your kids will be much more independent and self-sufficient. Hard to imagine perhaps, but I have an 8 and a 6 year old now and I could never have imagined how much “easier” it be at this age when I was in the thick of toddler- and baby- season. Additionally, as kids get older they take on extracurricular activities and spend more time with friends, so the free time they have as babies and toddlers is not so “free” as they get older. Meaning, you’ll likely use weekends and school breaks to have that good old family time, and you can already do that now by visiting your family for several days at a time. 3 hours away may feel far, but again, as your kids get older, they will surely be able to travel easier and 3 hours is really not far at all. Granted, it’s not across the street, but it’s also not a 14 hr flight away (which is our case for my husband’s family and 2 hours for my family by car). Anyway, I can almost hear the happiness through your words when you describe your current lifestyle and I’m sure it would be even more perfect with family closeby, but it does sound like you have a great situation and it seems unnecessarily sacrificial to give it all up and almost start over in a new town. Remember, family time is about quality, not about proximity or quantity. It might be helpful to ask yourself, what is the life I want in 10 years? Think of how old you and your husband will be, the ages your kids will be, and imagine what your life looks/feels like. That might help you make your decision. Good luck!!

  61. Tamar says:

    Mrs FW, I would add a shelf above the artwork display for displaying 3D artworks (the older kids do a lot of them in kindergarten / school).

  62. K says:

    I say the following as a private practice therapist and a family member of someone who manages a campground like establishment. Do NOT buy the campground if that is all you are going to make. It’s not worth it. The amount of time invested in that business is 24/7 and completely not worth it in my opinion. In addition, you could make SO much money on a flexible mom friendly schedule as a therapist. You could even do this online! I think you should look into getting back into counseling. It’s hugely in demand. Perhaps you get your counseling practice jump started and you then buy the laundry mat service that your husband manages? It sounds like he could do that part time and help more with childcare while you build your therapy practice.

  63. Laura says:

    Another way to look at this is at your current place for your rentals plus your home I am estimating you spent about $300,000 and you are making $58,000 year income. Your home and two rentals are worth as assets about $$450,000 and are fairly liquid assets. If you move it looks like you have to spend for campground, plus laundromat, plus a house about $450,000 to make about $45,000 year income. They will probably only be worth about the $450,000 you spent for them and with the exception of the house are fairly illiquid assets. So you have to spend 30% more to make about 25% less a year income and have more stress as a small business owner in industries that are very customer driven (high work/high stress). I think that this is something that you have to very much at heart want to do, or you may end up regretting the position you have put yourselves in and laundromats and campgrounds are not as liquid of assets as houses if you decide you want to sell them.

  64. Erin says:

    Ditto overall what most folks have written here – including the thanks for sharing your story and questions! One extra point that I don’t think anyone has mentioned in consideration with the possible move: not only would you be undertaking a large move to a different town (change 1) with three kids, you’d be leaving a loved home/situation/job w/ benefits (Changes 2, 3, 4) to manage 3 new-to-you businesses. A single business alone is difficult enough to undertake, with the learning curve alone (permits to staff to marketing, managing, maintenance, upgrading, etc, etc), but three at once, when such a primary enjoyment of your current life is the leisurely time you get to spend with your children? That would slip right through your fingers. Don’t move! Start memorable summers with family while planning for later trips further afield, and sink your toes into the lovely life you’ve already crafted. 🙂

  65. Kim says:

    As a full-time business owner myself, I agree that the laundry mat and campground are a bad idea! The profit margins are extremely low and while in theory it may sound fun or passive… business like this often don’t turn out to be. Unless you hire employees to run it for you you are essentially a slave to the business! With such low profit margins, they would have to keep and grow these businesses for a long, long time to even be profitable! And they may be forced to sell at a loss if they decided entreprenuership is not what they expected. It sounds like they have exactly the life they want now!

  66. Brook Hart says:

    My concerns about the laundry mat. These commercial appliances are much more expensive than residential units. Secondly, if the building has a flat roof, they are an expensive problem waiting to happen. Several of the properties I do engineering for have laundry mats. I find them to all be a nightmare. Good luck. Family nearby is overrated. Sounds like you have a little slice of heaven where you are. Good luck.

  67. Maria says:

    I would stay where you are at for now. Having a permanent job with benefits and decent hours is a blessing. There are many who have to work contract jobs without these perks.

    When making trips to see your family, (after the stressful drive) do the children enjoy seeing Grandma/Grandpa and Aunties?

    Perhaps a phone call or Skype from family members to the children would be a nice way to stay in touch.
    As a child I enjoyed when my Grandma called and spoke to me on the phone. Also one of my close girlfriends had to move 6 hours away and neither of us have the time to make the trip so we enjoy phone calls and Skype to catch up and stay in touch.

  68. When I just read the subject of this blog post I thought “fun! They should get the campground!” But then actually reading the post, I think you said it all here “we’re really really happy where we are living right now”. Three hours away is a distance but it’s not that far at all. My folks live a plane ride away (24 hours of driving) and I would love to live even a days drive away. But when we visit, it really is such great concentrated time that we wouldn’t have if we were living in the same city with our full lives.

  69. Rachel says:

    One word about traveling with kids in the car: DVDs. I was super resistant at first, but once e got portable DVD players, I was like “ooooh, this is how people go on car trips with kids.” (Maybe you already do this but since you said the baby is the best traveler, I am thinking the older kids could benefit from a little distraction!)

    • Mary says:

      I did this as one of many, many tricks. It helps with the general strapped-in-car seat miserableness of one child, but did not alleviate the car sickness tendencies in the other! There’s just no way around it: some kids are just not good travelers until they are much older.

  70. Sophia says:

    Payton and Riley,
    What you’ve established as a family is rare and huge kudos to you both.

    Looking back, I’d like to offer some perspective. My husband has deep roots in East Tennessee. I came here from the California Bay Area 34 years ago. My family has deep roots there, going back before the gold rush. I used to bemoan leaving the Bay Area at the start of Silicon Valley boom but here’s the perspective: not that many got rich there and more are locked into huge mortgages, working far more than a 40-hour week to get by, and time their lives on the freeways. The Bay Area of my childhood no longer exists.

    Giving up Riley’s job is giving up a sure thing for what, from my perspective, is a bad bet. Add to his pay: considerable benefits package, a short commute, set work hours, high quality/quantity family time, and income generating side hustles. As they say in East TN, you are living a blessed life. As my Italian mom would say, don’t screw it up. And as I say, your situation is ideal. Best of luck in your decision.

    Bottom Line:

  71. Sarah says:

    Awesome job on the frugality and living the life you want to live!

    I just wanted to chime in to add that I moved to be near family and I regret it. We don’t have kids, but my now husband is from the UK and I’m from the US. When deciding where to start our married life, I pushed to live in CA near my family so that’s where we’ve been for the last few years. In some ways it’s been good, but in many ways, mainly financial, it’s been a bad decision and has negatively affected us. I love spending the time with my family, but the tradeoffs that we gave up in order to have that one benefit have outweighed it.

    I’d suggest you stay where you are but budget a little more to see family more often, or if it’s too hard to travel with the little kids, perhaps pay for your parents’ travel to come stay with you. I’m sure it would be more cost effective to spend a little more on this travel & family time than the large cost of moving and trying to make self employment work.

  72. Kim says:

    We also live in the Midwest (Des Moines, Iowa) and most of my family lives in the town that I grew up in which is about three and a half hours from where I live. I am very close to my family and greatly enjoy the time that I spend with them . At one time, I would definitely have loved to find a job in that location, however there are not that many International exporting jobs in a small town in Northeast Iowa. I have two boys that are now ages 10 and 12 and this is what we did while they were younger to make sure they were close with their grandparents and their cousins. Every summer we would spend one week of vacation staying with my mom on her acreage. Then as the boys got older we let them go spend a week by themselves up with their grandma and cousins. They would do this separately from one another so that it became a special one-on-one time and also so my mom did not have to dwal with any fighting among siblings. This summer they are actually each doing a two-week visit since they love their time there so much. I do try to give her some money to help with groceries and activities. My mom and sister and her family also make regular visits to our place in the summer; first for my son’s dance recital in June and then again in August for the State Fair. I feel like between our visits and their trips here that we get to see them quite a bit. Also, my mom retired 2 years ago so now she comes during the school year for concerts and such and stays for 4-5 days. As for the traveling, we let them watch videos or play on their tablets the entire way. To keep this in perspective, they typically do not get to do either of those electronic items throughout the work week or school week and then on the weekends they get to have some TV time which is less than 2 hours a day so we treat the traveling time as a special rare treat of “unlimited” TV time and that made the traveling quite easy. In summary, I think it gets easier as the kids get older and I would stay put. (Final note: I also grew up going to school with a bunch of cousins that were similar ages and I would agree that it can be complicated. I’m not super close to any of the ones that grew up in the same town as me. I’m definitely closer to the ones that I saw less often)

  73. Anon says:

    You might consider MintMobile for cell service. It’s a T-mobile MVNO, so if T-mobile works well in your area, this might be an option for you. Their basic plan is $15/month for unlimited talk, text, and data (throttled after 2 GB). If you want more data before throttling, you can pay more. They offer 3, 6, and 12 month plans. Whichever you choose, you have to pay for the whole term at once. You can BYOD if it’s compatible (T-mobile devices work well, obviously).

  74. Cindy Brick says:

    Boy, what’s up with me?!? My response, after reading this, was totally the opposite of Mrs. Frugalwoods and many of the responses here —
    GO FOR IT!

    Why? Because I got the feeling that they WOULD like to try this change…
    the income from the properties, albeit modest, would be adequate (not to mention that one person could probably run both)
    and they’d be with family. Which is obviously important to them.
    And frankly, if they’re careful bargaining — and they should be — even if it’s a mistake, they’ve got time to back out and recoup.

    Ways to help:
    Sell their current rental properties plus their house — less to worry about long-distance, and the money can be used for purchasing in their home town
    Live in the house by the campground.
    Go ahead and start the side businesses (particularly the electrical work — people are always looking for good workmen they can count on)
    Or take it one business at a time — buy the campground or the laundromat and operate it for a year, then see how you feel about taking on the second business. (The laundromat would be the easiest to run, but not as profitable, I would guess, as the campground. On the other hand, a lot more people have their own washers and dryers now. I think the drop-off laundry idea is smart, and might make all the difference.)
    Hold off on the sno-cone stand until you absolutely positively know what you’re doing in this area.
    Keep on producing as much of your own food as you can. Chickens can live anywhere, and there’s always pick-your-own and gleaning opportunities.

    But then, Mrs. F., I strongly disagree with the idea that you should invest in the stock market vs. paying off your house. And I come at it from experience — when the Brick’s mom died and we got a substantial inheritance, the collective wisdom back then was the same as now: the stock market’s booming, you’d be an idiot to pay off your mortgage etc etc. (Ours was 5% then, just a little more than the example here.)
    We paid it off, anyways — and within six months, not only had the market crashed substantially, but Husband lost his job. He took another less stressful position (he was an engineer) that paid approx. 1/3 his previous salary. Our house was safe. If we’d put the money in the market, instead, we would have lost 25-35% almost immediately, and still had to come up with mortgage payments.
    Knowing that, would you still advocate putting the money in the market? I wouldn’t. Having your house paid off is one of the best, most secure feelings I know…particularly if sickness or job loss happens. And it invariably does.

  75. Laura says:

    After seeing your mention of 529 plans, I searched around your site in hopes of finding a “How to pick a 529 plan” or “The full rundown on 529 plans, dos, don’ts, etc” article to no such avail 🙁
    Any chance you’ve got one coming up in your editorial calendar?? I’ve been doing lots of research on them lately but still feel kind of in the dark on what to do, where to invest, how much to allocate, etc! Help 🙂

  76. Louise says:

    So hard to think of anything to add! Thank you for sharing your story.
    Do you need to start a vehicle replacement fund?
    Can you set up a regular Skype appointment each week with the grandparents so your children (and you) can know them? Maybe have them read a bedtime story? Your children will find their relatives special if you talk about them as though they are important, however much you see them in person.

    Do you make friends easily? Do you have those “my baby is in NICU– help!” people you can call on now? Or, if you move, would you expect family to step in, and would they? Are there new people to meet in your old town, as well as your former high school friends? You’re now college educated, professionals, married, with small children– dynamics with high school classmates will have changed if you haven’t stayed in touch.

    I can imagine interacting with people who camp, yet would not want the routine of checking and washing the washers and driers every day. Either business would tie you down in ways you don’t experience now, and you would need good substitute managers for when you are gone. Do you want to supervise other people, even the teens at the slushee stand? Are you ready to call the police on a camper who is out of control (note that I think that is a tiny tiny number of people)? If someone opens a competing camp ground, are you ready to make the moves to be competitive? Do you have the personality to handle complaints from customers at either business, and to focus on the positive people (which I believe are a much larger group)?

    Best wishes to you!

  77. Megan Marais says:

    Thanks for sharing your story and dreams, Payton!
    As a fellow business owner, my caution to you would be: do not underestimate HOW MUCH time and energy a small business sucks up. You’re considering running four (the laundromat, campground, sno cone stand and counseling practice) in addition to your rental properties. Flip, that’s going to take up a huge amount of your time and heart and energy!! I’d be really concerned about this doing away with the simplicity of your life that you love now, and also leaving very little time to enjoy with your extended family. That doesn’t sound like a good trade off!
    I’d agree with Mrs FW: if you’re going to move, find business options that will be more profitable (I like the idea of rentals + counseling practice) so that you can only run one business, so that you can spend less time and mental&heart energy.
    All the best!!

  78. Lesley Young says:

    I am so impressed by this couple and their great values. In the U.K. we have the National Health Service so I am not qualified to know about medical insurance and benefits in the USA. I did live in Australia as a child and saw how stressed my parents ( with 3 small children ) would get whenever there was a medical emergency so I think medical benefits must be really important. As to the general question I think that the strain of a young family and the stress of taking over two business where the income is somewhat precarious is not worth it at this stage in life. There are all sorts of pluses but also minuses, there might be insurance costs, law suits from dissatisfied customers, unexpected time demands. They are happy are they are and doing remarkably well. I agree with some suggestions of other readers such as to have times set aside where you commit to seeing family. Invite them to come to you too. As what is going on so far is going so brilliantly not just financially but in terms of nurturing relationships between husband and wife, parents and children I would stick with it. I am sure whatever they do decide though they will do well. What a great couple.

  79. Kristen S. says:

    My husband runs a summer camp, and I would caution that it is A LOT of time consuming maintenance work. I’m talking 12-16 hour days in the summer time. I know a summer camp is different than a rental campground because his time is also spent running the kitchen and managing a staff, but please be prepared to spend a lot of time cleaning, doing maintenance, paying bills, and calling contractors if you go that route. I have to agree with Mrs. FW that it sounds like you have a lovely situation already in your country home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *