Welcome to this month’s Reader Case Study in which we’ll address Steph’s questions on how to plan for her future in light of her recent quarter-life crisis. 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 also provide updates from our Case Study subjects at the bottom of each Case Study several weeks/months after their story is featured. To see what past Case Study participants have decided to do, check out the Case Study section and scroll to the bottom of the individual posts.

P.S. Another way to get support on your financial journey is to participate in my free Uber Frugal Month Challenge! You can sign-up at any time to join the over 20,500 fellow frugal sojourners who’ve taken the Challenge and saved thousands of dollars.

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 Steph, this month’s case study subject, take it from here!

Steph’s Story

Steph & Zach on the day they bought their condo!

Hello, fellow Frugalwoodsians! My name is Steph, I’m 25 and I live in Nashville, TN with my wonderful husband, Zach, who is 26, and our Boston Terrier and kitten. There is not a frugal bone in my body, and everyone says I have a champagne taste on a beer salary, which is the most accurate way to describe me.

I grew up in Nashville and went to college in a tiny west Tennessee town where I majored in business. While there, I met Zach, a management information resources major, who is from a town with a population of less than 100 people. He moved out to the big city with me after we graduated from college in 2014. We got married in November 2016 after dating for five years. Our hobbies include going to concerts, music festivals, sushi dinners, shopping, and frequenting all the local coffee shops. We do not like going out in nature, saving money, or dealing with finances, so I’m the opposite of the Frugalwoods and probably every other reader 😊.

Steph and Zach’s Jobs

Zach works in IT in a job that he’s pretty content with. He’s a hard worker, often receives yearly raises, monthly bonuses, and plans to climb the corporate ladder at his company. I work in the public sector, where the pay is low and there’s little room for advancement, rare raises, and the work is menial. I’m currently searching for a new position and my dream job would be as a Human Resources generalist, benefits analyst, or really anything Human Resources-related, except for recruiting. I definitely want to stay working within the state/federal government. I love working for the government and don’t want a private sector job. I’m job searching now, but being picky and only applying for HR jobs within government agencies. Finding a new position is proving to be difficult.

Steph’s Debt and Housing Story

Steph & Zach’s pup Oscar

I graduated from college with $38,000 in debt. Zach and I both expected to make $40K-$60K right out of school, so money was no object to me while I charged up my credit card account. Let me tell you, we most certainly did not make anywhere near our expected salaries in our first jobs. We both landed jobs three days after graduation and made $12 an hour each before taxes, insurance, etc.

Despite our low salaries, we followed Dave Ramsey and paid off all of my student loans in January 2017! Zach and I both worked side jobs, got raises, threw all our windfalls at the loans, and kept our savings at $1,000 a month. On top of that, we saved 10% for a down payment to buy the condo we were renting. Since we knew the owner, she gave us $20K off the purchase price! We bought our condo in 2016 for $140K with $11,000 down.

At that point, we felt very accomplished. After my loans were gone and a home base was secured, we started to “deserve” nice things such as: dinners out, sushi lunches EVERYDAY with my co-workers, $200 bar tabs every weekend, and fancy coffee drinks three to four times a week. And then… my brand-new car. I had a 2007 Mazda CX-9, Maizy, for four years. She had served me well, and was NEVER sick.

But of course, life happens, and the same week I paid off my loans, Maizy died on me. With over 220k miles, she found life not worth living. With only $1,000 in savings, I was determined to find a car with no payments. This did not happen at all, and I ended up buying a brand-new car fresh off the lot for $20,000 with 0% in interest.

Steph and Zach’s Frugal Journey

We were socking away a fair amount into savings (or so we thought until we found this blog!), paid our bills on time, and had increased our retirement contributions, so we really didn’t see any problem with our newfound splurging, ‘treat yourself’ lifestyle. However, when I turned 25 in July 2017, a quarter-life crisis set in. I examined our lifestyle, our low retirement contributions, a job I felt “stuck” in, and realized that I’m not happy. Based on this feeling, Zach and I decided to make this our year to get our careers, finances, and lives in tip-top shape! We are now on a clothes-buying ban and are working on lowering our fun/entertainment budgets.

I discovered the concept of financial independence a few months ago via Frugalwoods. I didn’t know it was possible to leave a cubicle prior to age 55 or 65! It’s something Zach and I would love to pursue. However, to make it a reality, we have cut back and plan to give up eating out, my daily Starbucks addiction, and we are never buying a car on finance again!! I’ve also given up spending $100+ a month on make-up, hair products, and other beauty products. We’ve stopped traveling while we try to save and get our finances in better shape and haven’t taken a trip in over a year. Zach and I don’t buy gifts for each other and, in lieu of buying holiday gifts for family and friends, we dog sit, house sit, or babysit for them. We are trying hard, but it feels like our incomes are too low to make real headway towards a financial independence goal.

Where Steph Wants To Be In 10 Years

Steph & Zach’s kitten Zelda Fitz

What does our ten year plan look like? Great question! We didn’t even have one until a few weeks ago!

  • Finances: We’d like to be making maximum yearly contributions to our 401ks, Roth IRAs, and also into some other investment accounts. We plan to rent our condo out for a passive income stream at that time. We want to have no consumer debt and no other debt besides mortgages. We’d also like to have a year or two of expenses saved up in an easily accessible emergency fund. However, financial independence/early retirement doesn’t seem like an attainable goal for us in 10, or even 20, years due to our low income.
  • Lifestyle: Two kids, a single-family home in the ‘burbs, and money set aside to take our kids on some vacations once or twice a year. We aren’t into traveling much now, so I don’t see us getting the travel bug in a decade.  A typical, boring adult lifestyle is what we aim for and we plan to stay in the Nashville area. We are open to relocating anywhere for jobs, but for now, our plans are to rent out our condo and move to a Nashville suburb.
  • Career: I want to stay in the public sector, but not at my current position. I hope to find a job in human resources, or some type of analyst work that utilizes my degree better. Zach wants to advance and continue to be promoted at his current company. I’ve contemplated going back to school for my MBA, and my current employer pays for three classes a year; however, it would still cost me $10K-$12K for the degree. It’s unclear to me whether or not an MBA would open up more doors. I know so many people in debt with an MBA; however, I do think an MBA would open up more human resource opportunities, and hopefully give me an advantage in my career. That being said, I don’t have a clear-cut, defined plan post-MBA.

Steph and Zach’s Finances


Monthly Net Income Amount Notes
Steph $2,172 After taxes and 401k contributions.
Zach $2,400 After taxes, health, dental and vision insurance, 401k contributions, and mandatory pension contributions. This does not include OT pay or any bonuses Zach receives, since those aren’t consistent and go straight into savings.
Combined Monthly: $4,572  
Combined Annual: $54,864

Monthly Expenses

Item Amount Notes
Mortgage $896 30 yr loan, 4.5% interest rate, includes insurance and taxes. We pay an extra $60/month for a full year’s principal pmt. We have a high interest rate in order to avoid PMI!
Car Payment $350 2016 Mazda CX-3. 0% interest, 4 year loan
Groceries $320 We were spending over $400/month! Still trying to get this lower.
Food out $250 We are used to spending $400/month on lunches out, dinners, happy hours, and meals to go. YIKES! We are still trying to get this down.
Car Insurance $175 For two cars. It is high, but we have all the extras added and my husband has a “sports” car.
Fuel $160 I have a long commute with a lot of stop/go traffic.
Utilities $120 Average water + electricity per month.
Cell phones $80 Verizon plan, 2 phones and an iPad. We get steep discounts through work.
Coffee consumption $80 We were spending over $130/month for us both! Our jobs have coffee shops in them and Starbucks is all around us. We’re working to cut this out completely!
Internet $67 There are NO cheap options here. We’ve submitted our bills to those “bill cutter things,” we have shopped around, no luck. Womp womp.
Sundry items $60 Pet expenses, cars, yearly dues (Amazon, registrations, etc).
Household/beauty $55 Includes home supplies, make-up, shampoo, hair cuts, etc.
HOA $45 Pretty self explanatory!
American Home Shield $40 This is a warranty on home appliances, but we’re not renewing our contract when it’s up in December. With this and cutting the gym, we’ll save $60/month! It’s crazy how these things add up.
Home alarm system $32 A worthy expense for peace of mind! Cheapest plan we could find with no landline.
Concerts $30 We try to limit ourselves to 5 concerts a year. This year our big ones are The Shins, Father John Misty, and The Decemerbists! We plan to cut this after this year. .. Unless Wilco comes. We have our limits.
Gym memberships $20 Planet Fitness. Our contracts are up in December and we will not renew!
Spotify $16 We don’t have wifi at work, so this saves us from going over our data every month.
HBO $14 A worthy expense for Zach who is obsessed with Silicon Valley.
Netflix $8 A worthy expense to us.
Monthly Total: $2,818  
Annual Total: $33,816


Item Amount Notes
401k (combined) $13,100 I just got a 401k last year when I switched jobs. We were both contributing just 3% of our incomes to get the company match up until August 2017.
Savings $12,000 We started really saving in February 2017 after we paid off my student loans. Our goal is to save up 6 months’ of expenses.
Roth IRA $525 I did roughly 0 research, threw money into a USAA Roth IRA, and it has a whooping 3% return. Bleh!
Total: $25,625


$19k owed on car


Car Amount Owed Notes
 2016 Mazda CX-3 $19K 0% interest loan; pay-off date of 2022
2010 Mitsubishi Eclipse $0 Valued at around $5,000

Steph’s Questions For You

  1. Is it possible for us to reach financial independence at our current income level? Obviously, there’s a lot of fat we could trim in our budget, but it’s hard to stay motivated when we feel like little bits saved here and there aren’t adding up to much.
  2. Would it be worth it for me to pursue my MBA? As mentioned above, it would be a major out of pocket expense!
  3. Should I pay off my $19K car loan ahead of schedule (it’ll be paid off in 2022)? It’s at 0% interest, so we feel ok with paying the minimum while increasing our savings and retirement accounts, but I wonder if that’s wise? In general, how should we balance savings, investing, and debt repayment? It seems like an impossible feat!
  4. Should I consider taking a pay cut in order to pursue my dream job? Did I just bemoan our low salaries all through this post and then ask if it’s ok to take an even lower salary?!? Yep! The HR jobs I qualify for pay $200-$300 less PER MONTH. Should I just accept my current job, even though I don’t enjoy it?

Mrs. Frugalwoods’ Recommendations

Steph & Zach saw Pete Yorn at Music Midtown in ATL

Ok, first off, I rarely flat-out disagree with Case Study subjects, but I am going to flat-out disagree with Steph. She claims that she doesn’t “have a frugal bone” in her body, but she is dead WRONG. Steph is pretty much a frugal warrior!!! Girl, if paying off THIRTY-EIGHT THOUSAND dollars in student loan debt in a mere three years isn’t frugal, then I’m retiring (oh wait, I already did… ). Oh and they bought a house too!!!! Sheesh.

Point being, Steph, you need to give yourself some major credit here!! I am deeply impressed with where Steph and Zach’s finances are at, especially given the fact that they’re about 12 years old. Ok they’re 25 and 26, but WOW. These are some organized finances for people barely out of undergrad! Many folks TWICE their age would kill to be in the financial position they’re in: minimal debt, home owners, retirement savings, two stable jobs, and an emergency fund. Wow. So, you know, just needed to get that out of my system before proceeding.

And now, I’ll take Steph’s questions in turn.

Question #1: Is financial independence possible?

The short answer is that yes, it is possible for Zach and Steph to reach financial independence. However, the larger question is if they want to. You don’t need to become financially independent or retire early in order to live a financially stable, happy life. It is but one option in the great panoply of choices out there and it’s a choice that involves embracing a lifetime of frugality. Mr. Frugalwoods and I enjoy our frugal lifestyle and we love the auxiliary benefits we reap from living a simpler, less consumeristic life. But it’s not for everyone and that is perfectly fine!

The question for Steph and Zach to wrestle with right now isn’t so much financial as it lifestyle. While Steph did outline their ten-year plan, I’d encourage these two kids to spend some time reflecting on what they want in their future. I’ll tell you right now that I had NO CLUE what I wanted to do when I was their age and Mr. FW and I had NO IDEA we’d be retiring early to a homestead in the woods. So I think allowing some time and space for their dreams to come into focus is a wonderful idea. What really stands out to me, however, is Steph’s mention that she hates her job. Age 25 is pretty young to already feel trapped and hemmed in by a job and so this is a wonderful opportunity to do some soul searching.

If Steph and Zach decide that financial independence (FI) is a definite goal for them, then they are on the right track already! There are essentially only three variables to achieving FI:

  1. Income
  2. Spending
  3. Time
Restaurant meals must go!

It’s all about how much you make, how much of it you can save, and the amount of time it’ll take you to save. Obviously, the greater your income, the more you can save the faster. To that end, if FI is their goal, then finding better-paying positions is a great idea for Steph and Zach. That being said, they’re making pretty darn good salaries for being 25 and 26! Focusing on advancing in their careers and increasing their earnings will allow them to put more distance between their income and their spending, which is crucial. Now is the time for them to both be aggressive in their careers: they don’t have kids, they don’t have too many other responsibilities, and so now’s the time to show up early, stay late, and gun for every promotion. This is what Mr. FW and I did at that age and it worked. As they get older, things like flexibility in work hours to allow for time to care for kiddos might take precedence, but for now? Focus on climbing that ladder.

Steph and Zach will also need to slash even more of their spending if FI is a goal, but man oh man are they already doing well! I am super impressed with everything they’ve cut out and their rapid re-payment of Steph’s student loans is a testament to their frugal ninja capabilities. If they want to achieve FI, they will.

To Steph’s point that saving little bits here and there doesn’t seem to add up, allow me to assure you that it does. My first job out of college paid a whopping $10,000 a year and I saved $2,000 of my salary. My next job paid a bit more and I saved much more and so on and so on. Steph and Zach also need to embrace the beauty and wonder that is compounding interest. Over time, drips and drabs of money become thousands and then hundreds of thousands of dollars if invested.

And now, in fine Frugalwoods Case Study tradition, let’s take a run through Steph and Zach’s expenses:

  • Mortgage: My note here is that 4.5% is not a terrific interest rate–it’s ok, but not great. I’d advise Steph and Zach to investigate refinancing options in the future. Especially if they want to rent this condo out and generate a profit, getting that interest rate lower will help their margins.
  • Groceries: $320/month for two people is actually quite good! But, it’s only good if this covers ALL the food and drinks you’re consuming. It’s a great expenses level if you don’t spend anything on…
  • Eating out: Steph and Zach already know what I’m going to say here… this $250/month needs to go. In its entirety. I am excited for them that they’ve reduced this down from their previous staggering $400/month, but in order to reach financial independence, this line item needs to be eliminated. Here are a few posts for inspiration and ideas:
  • Car insurance: $2,100 per year seems really high to me. I recommend they shop this around and see if there are any cheaper options to be had. I’ll also note that this is yet another reason not to buy new cars.
  • Cell phones: $80/month for two phones isn’t terrible, but there are cheaper options. I pay $19.99/month through BOOM mobile. Other inexpensive providers include Ting and Republic Wireless. I recommend they price these out and see what they can find. I know folks on Ting, for example, who pay a mere $14 per month.
  • Coffee consumption: This is another one that would need to be eliminated entirely if financial independence is a goal. $80 per month is $960 per year on coffee!! Now I myself am an avid coffee drinker, but I buy organic, fair trade whole beans in bulk for dirt cheap from BJ’s and make it myself at home. Back in my office days, I took a thermos of coffee with me every morning. Now, in my working-at-home days, I have a thermos of coffee at my side. As a person who used to buy very expensive coffee, I can appreciate how hard this is. However, it can be done. Here’s more on how we coffee for cheap: Is Costco Coffee Any Good? We Bravely Discover (newsflash: it totally is).
  • American Home Shield: I am glad to hear they’ll be cancelling this–that’s another $40/month saved.
  • Home alarm system: My question here is if this is truly necessary. Everyone has their own comfort level and you have to do what works for you. But, it is an expense every month. I encourage Steph and Zach to research crime stats (particularly break-ins) in their neighborhood to determine if this is truly necessary.
  • Concerts: Same story as eating out and coffee. If financial independence is an earnest goal, then this needs to be eliminated.
  • Gym memberships: I’m excited they’ll be cancelling this as it’s another $20/month they’ll save. There are a million ways to exercise without a gym membership.
  • Spotify, HBO, and Netflix: These three all come down to how badly Steph and Zach want to achieve financial independence. If they REALLY want it, then these need to go. It boils down to: do you want to watch specific TV shows or do you want to retire early? Here’s how Mr. FW and I watch TV for free: How We Avoid Cable And Watch Free TV Online.

I know that Steph is having a hard time seeing how all these seemingly small expenses add up over time and so I want to do a little bit of fun (I promise!) math. If she and Zach were able to eliminate all of the above expenses I recommend, they’d be on track to save $490 more per month (and that’s without accounting for any reductions in their cell phone or car insurance bills). That’s $5,880 per year, which is no small change! Still not convinced? Allow me to unveil the wonder of compounding interest.

Let’s say that Steph and Zach invested this $5,880 in low-fee index funds and enjoyed a 7% annual return (which is considered an average annual market return over the longterm). Imagine that they kept this $5,880 invested for decades (which is the wisest way to invest) and added just $5,880 to their investments every year instead of paying for restaurants, coffee, TV, etc.

In 30 years, their $5,880 would grow to $600,189.48. Yeah, you read that right and it’s not a typo: $600,189.48. Now ask yourself: would you rather have $600K or watch television, buy coffee, and eat at restaurants? That is the power of lifelong frugality. Want to do this calculation with your own numbers? Check out this handy dandy online compound interest calculator! For more on how to get started with investing, read this post and, for a deeper dive, I HIGHLY recommend this book: The Simple Path to Wealth: Your Road Map to Financial Independence And a Rich, Free Life, by: JL Collins, which provides a basic, easy-to-understand overview of how to invest for people of all ages.

No matter what Steph and Zach want out of life, being financially stable will smooth the road and will enable them to pursue whatever dreams they want. There’s nothing like debt or a $0 savings account to stop any dreams you might have dead in their tracks. You want to be a position of having plenty of money and the ability to find out what it is that you want to do with your life. There’s nothing more liberating than realizing what your passion is and having the financial ability to pursue it. Trust me.

Question #2: Should Steph pursue her MBA?

This is one of those questions that only Steph can answer. What I encourage her to do is determine exactly how much her salary would increase if she had an MBA. As a government employee, there should be salary bands available for her to research with inputs such as an MBA. If there’s no clear return on the investment (of time and money) for an MBA, then there’s no reason to do it (unless she just really wants to go back to school).

I don’t recommend taking on the debt or the stress of an MBA if she doesn’t have a very clear, articulated career path post-MBA. She should research these questions (and more): How much would she make? What position would she have? How quickly would she pay back her student loan debt? How would she manage her time while working and in school? It’s not easy to work full-time and go to school full-time, which I know because I did it. Here’s how I got my MA for free in case it’s helpful: That Time I Went To Grad School For Free*. All that to say, I wouldn’t dive into an MBA without a clearly articulated plan and rationale for doing so. The time, expense, and stress of grad school is not to be taken lightly.

Question #3: Should Steph pay off her car loan ahead of time? And, how should she balance savings, investing, and debt repayment?

My answer might surprise you, but, I firmly believe that Steph should NOT pay off her car loan ahead of time. Why? Because it’s got a 0% interest rate!!! Debt on its own is not a bad thing. What’s so bad about debt are interest rates. But with 0% in interest, there’s absolutely NO financial reason on EARTH to pay this off early. Pay it off on schedule and then never, ever, ever buy a new car ever again. Here’s an in-depth treatment of the math and rationale behind why buying used cars for cash makes the most fiscal sense: Why We Buy Used Cars And You Should Too.

Steph’s second question–on how to balance debt repayment, savings, retirement accounts, and investments–is an interesting one and a query I receive from readers on an almost daily basis. Here’s my advice:

  1. Track your expenses religiously. Steph and Zach are already doing this, so kudos!! If you’re not, you can sign-up for the free service Personal Capital, which is what I use and recommend for expense tracking. If you’d like to know more about how Personal Capital works, check out my full review.
  2. Pay off any high interest debt. Steph’s already taken care of this by paying off her student loans, so she can move on to…
  3. Building an emergency fund. You MUST, must, must, must, MUST have an emergency fund saved up. An emergency fund is kept in an easily-accessible bank account, such as a checking or savings account, NOT in investments, retirement funds, or cars/houses/expensive china. An emergency fund is cash money you can access immediately in an emergency. I recommend saving three to six months’ worth of expenses, which Steph and Zach are well on their way to accomplishing. They currently have $12K saved up, which is awesome! In order to reach their stated goal of six months’ worth of expenses, they’ll need a total of $16,908. Now, the other consideration here is that if they lower their monthly expenses, they won’t need as much in their emergency fund. This is yet another example of how frugality is a compounding game: the less you spend, the less you need, the more you save, and the wealthier you are!
  4. Contribute to retirement accounts. Steph and Zach are already doing this! Hooray! Especially if your employer matches your contributions, putting money into a 401k or 403b is a no-brainer. Here’s more on why: 401ks Are Your Friend: Demystifying Personal Finance Part 3.
  5. Invest in low-fee index funds. Once you’ve accomplished steps 1-4, which Steph and Zach pretty much have (with the exception of beefing up their emergency fund a bit), it’s time to start investing! Investing in the stock market is how you grow your wealth. Without this crucial step, you won’t reap the advantages of compounding interest and you’ll never build your net worth in a meaningful way.
  6. Explore other options for investing in order to achieve diversification. After completing steps 1-5, you should continue investing in your low-fee index funds on a regular basis (I recommend automating this process) and you can also start to look around for diversification options. This might include, for example, real estate. Mr. FW and I rent out our home in Cambridge, MA for a profit and Steph and Zach mentioned that they might want to rent out their condo. Renting a property can be a fabulous financial decision and it can also be an absolutely abysmal one. It depends entirely on the rate of return you’d receive. For more on renting out properties, I recommend the site Bigger Pockets, which discusses real estate investing.

Savings Accounts Side Note

One of the easiest ways to optimize your money is to keep it in a high-interest savings account. With these accounts, interest works in YOUR favor (as opposed to the interest rates on debt, which work against you). Having money in a no (or low) interest savings account is a waste of resources because your money is sitting there doing nothing. Don’t let your money be lazy! Make it work for you! And now, enjoy some explanatory math:

  • Let’s say you have $5,000 in a savings account that earns 0% interest. In a year’s time, your $5,000 will still be… $5,000.
  • Let’s say you instead put that $5,000 into an American Express Personal Savings account that–as of this writing–earns 1.70% in interest. In one year, your $5,000 will have increased to $5,085.67. That means you earned $85.67 just by having your money in a high-interest account.

And you didn’t have to do anything! I’m a big fan of earning money while doing nothing. I mean, is anybody not a fan of that? Apparently so, because anyone who uses a low (or no) interest savings account is NOT making money while doing nothing. Don’t be that person. Be the person who earns money while sleeping. Rack up the interest and prosper. More about high-interest savings accounts, as well as the ones I recommend, here: The Best High Interest Rate Online Savings Accounts.

As you can see, Steph and Zach are doing FABULOUSLY well!!!!

Question #4: Should Steph take a pay cut in order to pursue the job she wants?

Steph paid off her student loans!

This is a tough one. It’s hard to advise Steph to reduce her income, but it’s also not worth it to work a job you hate. I strongly encourage Steph to look around, and to look outside of the government to see if there might be an HR position that’ll pay more. I worked in the non-profit sector for my entire career and loved it. The private sector is another option. I advise that she not hem herself into just one sector so early in her career–it’s not worth it! Unless she’s getting mad benefits from her government job (which she doesn’t appear to be), she needs to keep an open mind and do a broader search.

Steph said that she doesn’t want to work in the private sector, but has she tried it? And what about the non-profit space? Since Steph loves music so much, and lives in a vibrant music town, I wonder if there might be an HR position open at a music-related company? Just about everyone has an HR department and so she might be able to enjoy her hobby while finding the job of her dreams. Plus, I bet there’d be an opportunity to snag free concert tickets! I used to work for a cultural institution and got benefits such as free classical concert tickets, free museum admissions, and more. It’s good to think broadly.


Steph and Zach are doing great, especially given how young they are! I am thrilled that they’re taking this hard look at their lives and finances now because NOW is the time to do it. They have the time, the energy, and the ability to dramatically change and shape their future at this stage. In summary, here’s what I recommend they do:

  1. Do some serious soul-searching and decide what they want to do with their lives. It’s OK if this takes some time to evolve. They could take my free Uber Frugal Month Challenge together as there are a lot of prompts in this challenge to articulate and define your life goals.
  2. Decide if financial independence is an earnest goal. It it is, they can absolutely get there–it’ll just take some hard work and some time.
  3. Focus on increasing their incomes and decreasing their expenses. No one has EVER wished they had less money saved up for their future.
  4. Do more research on the value of getting an MBA.
  5. Job search more extensively and look beyond just government positions.
  6. Figure out what would make them happy. If Steph is unhappy now, at the tender age of 25, then it’s time to determine what would make her happy and what she wants to do with her life. Lucky for her, she’s in a wonderful financial position to make these decisions!

Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice would you give to Steph? 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.

Updated January 10, 2018 with Steph’s decisions:

Happy 2018, Frugalwoods!!! Since my case study, I have applied to a ton of private and public HR careers. I decided I do not want to take any pay cut, and so, I have not found anything. My husband still works at his same job, and is now finally actively looking for a job he is passionate about! So excited for him!  I have decided to put grad school thoughts and plans on hold. I honestly have no idea what I want still, so getting in more debt seems silly. We have decided that FIRE isn’t a path we want to embark on, not yet anyway! We do want to invest and save like crazy, but we really want to have good careers first.

We have over $17k in our emergency fund!!! We opened up IRAs ($1,500 in them, combined), upped our 401k contributions to $300/month each, and our next goal is up to open a Vanguard non-tax-deferred account. After taxes and insurance, we are able to save or invest anywhere between 42-48% of our income. That is A LOT to us! We now have over $20k in retirement accounts! Yay! We decided to put savings and investing as our main focus, and just keep my car loan. We also plan to shop around for home refinancing once our credit score is 800 (we are so close!).

We always thought we made too little to save, invest, and adopt a more frugal lifestyle. And I’ve always viewed myself as “stuck” in my job. Those mindsets made us miserable! We didn’t get new jobs that pay a lot, a huge raise, or any sort of money wind fall (darn!), but what we did do is shift our mindset to one of being grateful for our jobs, hopeful for the future, and we cut back on all the frivolous things that distracted us from our future goals, like eating out, Starbucks, and concerts.

I want to give a big thanks to everyone that commented, and to you for featuring my story! The feedback made me realize ANYONE can be frugal with what they have now, and on the salaries they make now.

Thanks again!


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  1. Steph thanks for sharing your story! You have proven to be frugal and financially minded, so don’t be too hard on yourself!

    I agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods that you could definitely make many cuts to your budget. Our library carries DVDs of Silicon Valley, so we can watch the series a little late, or do you have a friend with HBO that you would arrange getting together every week during the season for watch parties? It’d be a frugal activity for the short 12 week season that would net you some savings.

    Also, with your job in the public sector do you have access to a 457? It is a very nice investment vehicle option since it functions similar to a 401k (pretax), but when you leave employment you gain access to the money 30 days after. You still have to pay tax on it when you withdraw the funds, just like a 401k, but no early withdrawal penalty or fancy conversions. I have access to one, which allows me to feel comfortable with only a 3 month emergency fund. I have the other 3+ month emergency fund saved in my 457 in the theory that if I really need my emergency fund I will likely be out my job.

    Also, I think you should definitely consider some non-profit options if the salaries are better. I’m surprised by the low salary for your position. If you can find a music related non-profit maybe you’ll get some cool perks like free concert tickets. Also, have you considered volunteering at music festivals in exchange for free tickets? I do that in my area and a 3 hour volunteer shift normally comes with free admission and a free t-shirt! You could also look at University HR positions.

    If you are open to relocating, I think you could definitely increase your salary and remain in the public sector. I believe jobs similar to yours pay substantially higher where I live (Michigan). But it seems like you are close to your family, which may not be something you are truly open to. Moving away from family can be difficult and expensive (especially if you’ll have free daycare down the road when you decide to expand your family).

    Great work on paying off your debt and buying your condo! I definitely think that if financial independence is a priority for you it is achievable.

    1. Good morning! Great tip about the library, I’ll have to check that out. 🙂 were TV/movie junkies (terrible habit!), so I’ll explore those options. I’ve def thought about volunteering for concerts and festivals, but it’s actually really hard to land those. Everyone here is obsessed with music, and spots fill up fast.

      Sadly, I don’t have access to a 457 🙁 I wish I did! The gov benefits in TN are pretty subpar, so is the pay, compared to other states and private sectors. We’ve definitely looked into relocating, even KY pays more for my position! Crazy! I was born in MI and have looked into moving back, it was my parents favorite state, but it appears cost of living is pretty high there too compared to TN! It’d be hard to leave TN since we’re used to such cheap housing, food, etc.

      1. Bummer on the 457! And make sense about the volunteering! Everyone loves their music in Nashville!

        We live in the Lansing area and other than our crazy high car insurance rates I don’t think you’d have any problem maintaining your cost of living! Our mortgage is very similar to yours (cheaper houses, higher property taxes probably) and we live in a single family home on 1/3 acre. But moving to KY may be a better option if the pay is better and it’s still close to your scene in Nashville!

      2. Steph, I think relocating would be my absolutely last recourse. If I were in your shoes, I would look around outside of government. Many jobs in the private & non-profit sector pay better and have better bennies than your state job does.

        Take a good long look at your annual mileage; one of you may be able to qualify for a low-mileage discount from your auto insurance company. I’m going to investigate this myself. My insurance company (in Massachusetts) offers a 10% low-mileage discount, along with an additional 3% discount for paying in full. These are all options you could consider. In addition, if you have your homeowners and your auto insurance with the same company, you may qualify for an additional discount.

        Could Zach give up his sporty car and buy something used, reliable, and less sexy? That would also cut your insurance costs — but if his car is paid for, I wouldn’t buy something else unless I could pay cash for it.

        Finally, I would absolutely take Mrs. FW’s advice about getting an MBA. When you’re unhappy at work, it seems like the easiest thing to do is to go back to school — but that is also one of the worst reasons to do it! It’s not just the money and time you have to think of. Will you be more marketable as an HR professional with an MBA? Are there online courses you could take for free to sharpen your skills *before* you change jobs? Do you have a good relationship with your boss and coworkers? These are all things to consider before changing jobs.

        Think widely — you’re young, don’t lock yourself into a job sector/position until you’ve explored all possible options. There may be career support services where you live/work. Many are funded by the state government, and they are definitely worth looking into. Good luck and bright blessings!

        1. “Bennies” awh I’m stealing that term 😊
          We wouldn’t mind relocating, but we’d prefer to be transferred thru my husband’s job, (or my job if I ever leave the gov!) I’ve been in TN almost my whole life, we wouldn’t mind a change!

          I agree our insurance is high, we need to start shopping around for rates. A few months ago I called and got a lot of discounts added, but it’s still so high! My husband’s car (knock on wood) has been such a good vehicle, no problems, were scared to sell it for something else that causes problems.

          I love my boss and coworkers a lot ☹️ They’d be hard to leave. I’ve only been working for 3 years, school is all I’ve known. Of course it seems like the easiest option, it’s what I’m used to. What a good point 🙂 thanks for your insight.

          1. Echo Kate’s comments about private sector: I “wasted” four years in my public sector job before switching (had to reach five to be vested in retirement). I DOUBLED MY SALARY IN < 3 YEARS of switching to the private sector. Now, I also work for a highly regulated utility, so the benefits are barely discernible from the public sector. The time off is a different story (can't get everything!).

            Not sure what your hold up is about private sector, so just be sure your reason outweighs the benefits.

        2. I agree with Kate. I would only relocate after I know for sure that both my husband and I can get a much better-paying job and the costs of living in the new city are not too high to offset the salary increase.

          I think investing in an MBA might be a good move as Kate and Mrs. Frugalwoods mentioned. But you might want to think about the job prospects and the financial implication of that decision. I dropped out of a PhD program after investing 4 years in it. An MBA might be more marketable, but please give it lots of thought since getting an MBA is not cheap.

          1. Also look at using simplisafe as a security system… $15 a month, no landlines needed, and super straight forward! Loving that company for 3 years now, in a fringe hood area!

    2. Salaries in the non-profit sector are rarely better than the public sector in my experience. Most folks who work for non-profits do so for altruistic reasons, not because they think they can make a lot of money. I’ve worked for non-profits for 30 years and I can attest that I’m not getting rich by any stretch of the imagination.

  2. First off, I want to echo what Mrs. Frugalwoods said… great job on paying off the student loans and diving into areas of frugality/questioning the norm! This is no small fete!

    I recently considered a part-time, MBA (also partially paid for by my employer) and decided that now was not the right time. Sure, an advanced degree sounds (and can be!) great, but I did not see a clear link between an MBA and my goals. I would simply be going into debt and spending time away from my family (while working full time as well!) to get a degree that I did not clearly want or need. So, I tabled the decision and decided that I could come back to it later if necessary. I suggest giving yourself time to think and research about the degree + talk to people who have similar degrees to see if it will benefit you in achieving your goals or not.

    On the job front, I also suggest considering the benefits of a job you enjoy vs. a job you hate that pays more. 40-60 hours a week is a lot of time to dedicate to something you dislike. A lousy job can affect all areas of life (relationships, health and wellness, etc). Not a good scenario to be in long-term. With a few of Mrs. Frugalwood’s suggestions, you could be replacing the $200-$300 pay cut by saving that money and lowering your overall monthly expenses.

    One last suggestion… look for simple, fun adventures for you and your husband that may not include spending money or eating out. Even planning to bring a picnic before a concert or enjoying a beer & cookout at home with friends (vs. at a restaurant) can save a lot of money over time.

    Good luck and keep up the good work, Steph!

    1. I love reading your blog, and seeing your success! You definitely are a role model in your career path. I feel like you attainted huge success at a relatively young age, but still manage to keep lifestyle expenses under control! Very impressive. I hope my career can mirror half as much success as yours!

      1. Oh, thank you for the kind words, Steph! Honestly, I think a lot of the career path movement was aided by a) liking where I work, what I do, and who I work with and b) having mentors and managers who have supported and challenged me along the way. A good job in a field you enjoy is really helpful!

        And while we have plenty of room to improve on the frugality side (!!!), it certainly helps to have family and friends who are willing to get onboard with simple, frugal fun. Strength in numbers 😉

  3. I agree with all MrsFW advised, and here’s also my take:
    1. They can def achieve financial independence with the current income level, but why would you want to? I see so much potential, you could easily double, triple, quadruple…their income. For example, for us, with some determination we were able to increase our income from $0 to $160K to $400K+. And because of that, we only live on 15% of our income and will become financially independent soon.
    2. For the MBA, I agree with Mrs FW that it’s up to you to really figure out if it’s worth it. A lot of research is needed.
    3. For the $19K car loan, I also agree that you should not pay it off for now since it’s at 0% interest, but have the money ready to pay it off by end of the term.
    4. Consider taking a pay cut in order to pursue you dream job? No, don’t take a paycut. Continue looking for a better paying job. Also consider the private sector, not just the public sector. You can always go to the public sector later on, once you have got the necessary experience.

    1. I think you’re 100% correct. The public sector is good for work/life balance, but I need to focus more on increasing my income and getting experience in a field I love.

      After being rejected from so many good jobs, it was just easy to resign myself to never finding a good job with better pay that I’ll enjoy. I agree with #1! I should focus on finding a career I can grow in. Good points 🙂

  4. Wow…Steph definitely needs to give herself a lot more credit. She is doing much better and was expecting a much more dire situation.

    I’ll comment on the MBA portion. She should not get her MBA unless she has a plan on how to use it or leap frog into a new position. I speak from experience when I say that I got an MBA in the public sector and then unfortunately I didn’t see a lot of change in my salary or position.

    In some ways it was wasted time and effort since I didn’t get rewarded for it. So personally I wouldn’t get an MBA without a firm plan how it will advance your career.

    1. I completely agree. I’m (finally) getting my Bachelor’s next month and I was ready to sign up for a Masters program. Like Steph, I am in the public sector. After looking at the promotion opportunities for my position, I found that a Bachelor’s was the highest degree requirement. I’m glad I checked because a Masters would take a lot of time (part-time student) and cause a lot of stress without any obvious payoff. Because of that, I decided not to pursue a Masters.

      1. Congrats on the Bachelors!!!!
        It’s easy to want to get a Masters, school is all we’ve known our whole lives. Careers are scary haha. But working and going back for a Masters sounds like it’ll be a lot of undue expenses and stress. I think it’s something that I’m going to wait on, as well!

  5. First and foremost, I totally agree with Mrs. FW, you definitely have some natural frugality in you! Congrats on paying off all that debt! We used the Dave Ramsey plan ourselves (we’re fellow Southern neighbors too!) and know how it feels to be done with debt!

    So since you did FPU, you have to approach this the same way. You need to get that gazelle focus back, and go after what you want. But I think the biggest thing I took from this whole case study is that you’re not sure what you want.

    Let me tell you that we paid off our debt on one income of less that you make right now, and are on our way to FI with one income.We’re only a few years ahead of you age wise (29), but already have our 3 kids which is why we are still a one income. /e are on our way to FI, and will be there by the time we’re 40 or so, all on one income. So FI is possible for anyone.

    But if you want to do FI, you have to give up all the extra spending and find joy in smaller things or things that cost less. But even if you just want to put yourself in a better financial position, this needs to happen short term. If you reinstated how you both lived during debt payoff mode, you can get your emergency fund up in no time!

    I would either pay off the car super fast or sell it for a clunker until I could pay cash. That’s my personal opinion based on the pressure debt makes me feel. I get the interest isn’t a problem, but having any debt makes less monthly cashflow and for me, the monthly notes are the ones to get rid of.

    Other than that, I agree with what Mrs. FW said. You have to cut those extra expenses and find a job you love. You can’t spend your whole life hating a job, with the one goal of FI. That will take all the joy out of the journey of life.

    I hope y’all work it out! Good luck!!

    1. That’s impressive!!!! Kudos to you for having such clear goals and awesome finances, especially with kids. I feel like we can barley take care of ourselves haha.

      I’ve definitely looked into trading my car in and buying something cheaper! But I’d lose so much money, it doesn’t seem viable right now 🙁 definitely learned from this mistake, and will not be buying a new car again!

    2. I was also going to suggest getting rid of the car (and the debt). That’s a huge portion of the budget! Perhaps she can bike or take public transit instead? Not sure what the options are in their area.

      But I agree that they are doing very well. Good job tackling those student loans, Steph!

  6. I also agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods that it’s possible for you to achieve FI. I think your can further lower your grocery, eating out, cell phone, Spotify and other misc expenses. Each expense may not seem very high by itself, but they do add up over time.

    Eating out and grocery bills are something my husband and I are also struggling with. On the one hand, we love Good and healthy food. On the other hand, our grocery expenses have been hovering over $1,000 these past few months for a family of 3 adults and one toddler. But I believe we can all lower our food expenses if we keep at it. Best of luck!

    1. Hey Ms. FAF! We’re pretty smiliar to you and Mr. FAF! My husband is all about eating out, and sometimes he hides it from me 😛 I love dining out as much as the next person, but I also enjoy cooking haha.
      Glad to read the blog and see the FAF is all in one place. 😊 thanks for your tips!

  7. I agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods. When I heard that these guys paid off all their student loan debt AND saved for a house and are only 25 and 26, I thought, “they’re killing it!” Mr. ThreeYear and I were at a similar spot several years ago–we had bought a house, were contributing 25% to our retirement, and decided we could “relax” a little. So, like you guys, we took on new car debt and credit card debt. The very best things we did to get ourselves out of that debt and control our spending were:
    -increasing our incomes. We switched jobs a couple of times, made it clear to our employers that we felt underpaid, etc. We doubled our incomes in about 4 years by working really hard on doing that. That’s been key in helping us increase our net worth to the level it is now.
    -maxing out our 401ks. While I think it’s important to have an emergency fund in place, maxing out your 401ks gives you a double-wammy of savings. You’re increasing your retirement funds AND lowering your tax bill. That’s a big one. We started with 7% of Mr. ThreeYear’s salary and gradually increased the amount we were contributing, as he got raises. 3% raise? We increased the 401K % by that much. And before we knew it, we had maxed it out.
    -identifying our values. Like Mrs. Frugalwoods mentioned, you have to figure out what you want to do with your lives. Is it early retirement? More time to do what you want to do? Part-time work? This has been the hardest part for us, and as two Type A people, it’s hard to remember that we don’t necessarily want to climb the corporate ladder, just because everyone else is doing it (“achieve, achieve” seems to be in our DNAs). I think keeping your values at the forefront of what you choose is key to making decisions that work for your family. Then you can either keep or drop the coffee habit, without guilt either way. 🙂 Great, great job guys!! Very inspiring story you have!

  8. The MBA will likely increase her earning potential, but not in the public sector. Depending on your focus within the degree, it can open your eyes to new concepts. For instance, I focused on finance and entrepreneurship. Both of these subjects have tremendously increased my net worth, but only partially from my day job. If she is interested in an eye opening experience, gaining a great network and increasing her knowledge in investments for instance, go for it. But, find someone else to pay for it and don’t take on debt to do it.

    1. I’m torn regarding the MBA. I work for a private non-profit where it is now necessary to have a Bachelor’s degree to be a secretary. With that in mind, my suggestion would be to wait 5 years, work on wealth-building while “frugalizing” as a way of life. In 5 years, it may be that you could work a part-time position while working on the advanced degree.

  9. Frugal tip: if you volunteer for your local independent radio station, you often have opportunities to work the doors/membership tables for concerts, which means that you get to go to the concerts for free!

    1. Hey CJ! It’s cool you mention that, because I actually have applied to a few internships at local stations! But sadly, they need you to be open during the day while I’m at my job, and at night until like 2 am to help. 🙁 I couldn’t take them since I didn’t have an open schedule, but my eyes are always peeled for those opportunities!

  10. As everyone’s said, you’ve done really well to pay off your student loans and afford a house. A few ideas that can help with the spending:
    1. Emergency frozen pizzas (or ravioli or whatever it is you’re keen on). They’re not the healthiest thing ever, and it would be cheaper to make your own, but on a Friday night when you’ve had a long week (and/or a couple of beers after work) they can save you from the takeout. Very often in my local supermarket the oven-or-microwave-ready meals are discounted and can be cooked from frozen, so these might be a good thing to stash your freezer with.
    2. Make a meal plan and shopping list. I know so many people who don’t do this and I can’t understand why. That way, if you know you’ll be working late, you can plan to have something quick (the kitchn has some good recipes for this) or the aforementioned pierce-and-ping meals. The partner that’s home first can get dinner started if the ingredients are there and they know what’s for dinner (so I’d recommend putting the plan on a board in your kitchen).
    3. I cut my coffee-shop expenditure by 80% by having a separate purse for my cafe visits (which I used to put £20 a month into; I’ve since halved this). I enjoy my latte far more now that it’s once a week and try and drink in if I can (if it’s only once a week, nobody’s going to mind).

    Maybe try making a prioritised list of your expenses- this might help you decide which one to prune out.

    Good luck!

    1. I’m pretty good at meal planning and meal prep. But even better at falling into the temptation of eating out 😛 I do love to cook, I just need to get more exciting and cook our fave dishes at home. We love Indian, Thai, ethopian dishes that we are too scared (and lazy), to try at home! We def should Though. 🙂

      Since we’ve cut back our coffee trips, I definitely enjoy them more! If we can cut them down to once a week, or heck even to 10/mo like you, I’m sure they’ll be even more appreciated :)!

      1. You can totally cook Thai and Indian at home–we do! Just check out some recipes and buy the proper spices. I also enjoy Ethiopian though I have to admit we haven’t attempted it yet 🙂

      2. I have found that there are just a few key dishes in each cuisine that I miss/want to go to restaurants for. So I just learn to cook those. So much simpler!

      3. Steph (also my DD name!)
        You can cook Indian meals easily in a crockpot. If you don’t have one, you can get a good one for $20. I make Indian Butter Chicken in my crockpot at least once a month. There are also a ton of Indian-inspired vegetarian dishes you can make in a slow cooker. I’ve seen African recipes but not specifically Ethiopian ones. I would bet they exist.

      4. I also run into frugality problems with my grocery list. I’m great at cooking at home, but I just can’t do the same or similar meals every night. One resource I’ve found that I really love is the website budgetbytes.com for budget-friendly recipes with a ton of variety. She has some Thai and Indian food recipes on there. I also discovered that you can make most of the labor-intensive low and slow recipes typical of Indian fare in a crock pot if you have one, and most of the dishes (especially the veggie or legume based ones) are shockingly affordable to make at home.

  11. Steph – As usual, Mrs. Frugalwoods have given you some excellent advice, so there are only a few crumbs of advice left to give. 🙂 Also, as others have mentioned, you’re doing really, really well.

    1) Consider selling your new car, paying off the loan, and buying a much older and cheaper car. The biggest depreciation come in the first few years of the car. A 10 or 12 year old car is almost fully depreciated and so is a good value.

    2) I have an MBA. Don’t consider an MBA unless you’re willing to work in non-government jobs.

    3) You and Zach should consider starting your own business. I’m FIREd now, but I also used to work in IT. I made much more money doing Freelance Consulting than I did as a regular employee. Or you could start some type of other business. There is much more upside potential when you own your own company and your salaries are low enough that one of you should consider starting a business while the other keeps working for a steady income.

    Good luck!

    1. Start our own business?! Our only skills are going to concerts and Starbucks :p but that’s a really interesting idea. I love doing personal assistance work, and have thought about doing VA work. Zach is incredibly good with computers, I’ve suggest to him to do some consulting. What an interesting perspective, thank you!

  12. Nice job! Some HR advice – no need an MBA right now – look for a graduate certificate in HR local or at a reputable online school like Cornell. Find your local SHRM (google it) chapter and start networking. Contact the HR lead at your agency or others and ask for an informal coffee meeting to find out more about working in HR. And I agree with Mrs FW, don’t hem yourself in, consider non-profit or private sector companies that align with your values. Honestly, you may find HR in government to not be very exciting either, being open to other options allows you to more easily find a job and be on the cutting edge of HR practices.

    1. Good ideas! It’s been so hard to find a job on HR. I feel like that’s the new “it” career, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do since middle school. I think I should focus on furthering my education specifically in hr, thanks!

      1. Hi Steph! I’m a Career Advisor at a university in CA, and I would caution you against the MBA at this point. As HR mentioned above, definitely start networking with other HR professionals. Once you get a position in HR (HR Assistant and HR Coordinators are often entry-level titles you may want to take a look at), start looking at certification programs to become an PHR (Professional in HR). I do not believe a MBA would give you better access into the HR industry, as many opportunities will start you entry level and you can move up from there. As your experience progresses, the PHR will be more valuable to you, and at a much cheaper price! I would also recommend you be open to options outside of government. Government positions are great, but upward mobility can be challenging and the pay is less. If you are open to outside industries, you may be able to move up quicker and eventually make your way back to government down the road. Good luck!

        1. Hey, thanks so much for your helpful comments! I think that’s a really good idea, get some work experience, then some further certificates directly in the HR field. You’re dead on about the lack of mobility in gov 🙂

  13. Congrats Steph! Quick thought: instead of an MBA, have you tried researching HR certificate programs either through a local school or online? Those would be cheaper and much more targeted for what you actually want to do. Best wishes to you!

  14. Hi Steph, I think Mrs. Frugalwoods made some awesome recommendations, but I just wanted to address your first question: Is financial independence possible on a low income? Answer: YES! My husband and I are about your age (23 and 24) and we have been working toward financial independence for the past 3 years now. Have you ever read the Mr. Money Mustache post “The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement”? If not, it’s great for lower earners like us. A person making $500,000 who saves $100,000 a year and a person making $50,000 who saves $10,000 a year are really in the same financial boat; both will be able to retire in the same amount of time because they’re both saving (and spending, presumably) the same percentages of their incomes.

    As someone who makes less, it is true that it will be harder to save, because a bigger proportion of your income will get spent on necessities. But, my husband and I are living proof that it is possible. We earn a similar amount as you and we have saved 73% of our income for the year so far. I estimate that it would be about 58% if we had a mortgage; we bought a super cheap fixer upper in cash to avoid this expense. We have mainly accomplished this by 1. Living dirt cheap and 2. Increasing our income whenever possible.

    So, the living dirt cheap part is where Mrs. Frugalwoods suggestions come in. It sounds like y’all are doing AMAZING cutting expenses, but in my experience, there is always more to be done. Take a look at your necessities, is there any way to further cut groceries (can you switch to a cheaper store, for instance), can you lower your utilities by using less electricity and water, do you really get your money’s worth from that Amazon Prime subscription? If financial independence is your goal, nothing in your budget should be sacred.

    The second part of the equation is increasing your income. I have now switched jobs twice in my three year career in order to increase my income (they were also bad places to work; I’m not suggesting that you should necessarily leave a job you like for more money). When I started, I made $9.00 an hour; now I earn a bit over $20. If I stayed at my first job, I’m confident I would still be making in the $10.00 range. Now I’m an independent contractor with 3 separate companies, which is sort of weird, but allows me to maximize my hours and pay. I have also negotiated raises; one of my companies increased my pay by over 30% when I told them I was considering moving to one of my other employers full time. I am also currently in grad school (I’m paying cash out of pocket for this), because it will allow me to triple my income when I have my degree. You’d have to do the math to see if that was a worthwhile choice for you, but for me, the money spent on a degree will be majorly offset by my increased income. Also consider finding a side hustle to boost savings as well. I know that the struggle of finding a new job is REAL. My husband just got an amazing job offer after over a year of searching. It requires a lot of time and energy, but if financial independence is your goal, it will be a great payoff. Of course, this income boosting will not help much at all if you inflate your lifestyle, so keep living dirt cheap to maximize your savings rate.

    Sorry that this basically turned into an essay, but I really relate to your position! So many in the frugal community seem to be high earners, which can be discouraging. I just want you to know that you’re not alone, and you’re doing GREAT! Best of luck!

    1. Woah!! What an inspiring story! *wolf whistle* I cant imagine saving that much! You’re doing awesome, I wish I had your drive and determination.

      Jumping jobs for me is hard because I fear change, and get discouraged easily after one rejection. But it’s clear I need to get over those fears!

  15. I was expecting a doozy of a budget after reading that Stephanie isn’t frugal…but I’d consider them to have a lot of frugal bones! Paying off that debt was no small task!

    I recommend you broaden your horizons on your job search. Look everywhere, including work from home jobs (you can get paid well and you’ll also save on commuting costs!). Don’t go for that MBA unless you find a job that will cover the entire cost. By then you’ll probably have a better idea of its worth.

    Fighting temptation all day long is hard, but if you can get the coffee thing under control you’ll feel like Superwoman. Our family started a #yearofno and cut out extra spending (which, by then, was waaaay out of hand). Once we got through the first year, we found that we’d established a new normal for ourselves. Those things we thought we needed were actually putting more stress on us than we’d realized.

    Good luck! I think you’re off to a great start!

    1. #yearofno is an awesome idea to implement. Im going to borrow your mantra! After paying off my loans, we’ve been about “heck yes you deserve this!” Attitude. What a fun way to reign in savings, and give yourself a new challenge!

      I think an MBA wouldn’t be worth it at this time, after seeing all these suggestions about other, cheaper ways to further education without it!

  16. I agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods! I can see you have a few frugal bones in there, Steph. 😉

    Here are a few of my recommendations (take with a grain of salt!):
    -I would recommend increasing BOTH of your incomes. I firmly believe financial independence is possible at any livable salary. However, it’s A LOT easier to get there if you make more money and keep expenses low. I also started out in a job out of college making an hourly pittance at an office job. Through job hopping, I was able to double my income in two years (not that I recommend job hopping; that’s just how it worked out).

    -I love the cell phone discounts y’all get! Did you know you could probably save a bit more with a no-contract small carrier? I use Google Fi, but there’s also Republic Wireless and Ting. That could easily save you $30 – $50 a month.

    -Eating out: We set a $20 weekly limit for eating out to limit our takeout costs. It means we tend to go to Taco Bell instead of a sit-down restaurant. Or we’ll wait a few weeks to go out to a sit-down place for something a little nicer. If you cook regularly at home, you don’t really miss eating out any more.

    I LOVE that you’re cutting the gym and American Homeshield (I had American Homeshield and they saved us a little money, but they’re horrible to deal with).

    I also used to work in a huge company that had a Starbucks at every corner. Instead of doing Starbucks every day like I used to, now I just brew badass coffee at home. You can get a French press for $10 and quality coffee beans for $20 and you’ll cut your coffee cost significantly each month (while drinking uh-mazing coffee).

    If you like dark roast, Ruta Maya is my favorite bean of choice.

    1. We are definitely trying to increase our incomes 🙂 My husband and I are the worst at getting one job rejection, and crying about for months. We give up on our job search soooo easily, it’s not healthy!

      Taco Bell is our fave, we’re classy haha! That’s a good tip, we should find ways to eat cheaper when we do go out!

      We love dark roast 😍 I’ll have to check that bean out! We’ve started buying whole beans and got a grinder (for free through zachs work, yay!) and love to test new beans.

  17. Hi Steph! I just wanted to let you know that I kicked a very expensive daily Starbucks addiction that spanned over 10 years. The first few weeks were an adjustment but now, 2 years later, I don’t even crave Starbucks and am able to invest an additional $1400 a year. Good luck. Also, I wouldn’t miss a Wilco show either.

    1. That’s inspiring to hear 🙂 I’ve had a Starbucks addiction since middle school haha. It got worse when I went to college, and my meal plan covered Sbux! It wasn’t unusual for me to use 200/mo toward lattes. Def need to keep cutting back!

  18. Steph-you are doing awesome! And I have almost nothing to add other than I’m from the area (Rutherford County) and want to mention two fees you might be able to lower. You said your internet was the cheapest around. We pay $51 a month for internet only from Comcast and have for years. That would be another $16 trimmed a month…And I do not personally feel the need for a home security system so I do not have personal experience with this company but if you truly believe it is necessary where you live have you looked at NCA Alarms? They are apparently a local business and have wireless/cellular monitoring for $19.95 a month. Which would save you another $12 a month and I have some co-workers who love them. Keep looking for those ways to trim and I promise you-you will succeed!

    1. Nice to hear from a fellow middle tennesseer! We have looked into NCA, but they wanted to charge an extra 200 bucks to set up their system in our house. Plus, from what we read, the 19.95 is a teaser rate. 🙁 we don’t get Comcast in our area, can you believe that?!?! The neighborhood over does, but we are somehow out of their zone.

  19. Dear Steph,

    I join the chorus in congratulating you on repaying the student loans so quickly. Own that success! For your age, you are already on the road that will lead you to wherever you decide you want to be. As always, Mrs. Frugalwood & the Frugalwood Community has given great advice on how to cut some more expenses and maximize income—it’s all about focusing on that gap between income and expenditures and making it even larger. As your savings grow and you begin to understand how to invest, you’ll see compounding interest start to kick in on investments; your money makes money without you lifting a finger. As you track it and see how easy it is, you will want to save even more.

    You mention sushi a few times. We love it too. Maybe this sounds crazy but I wonder if the two of you would not sign up to take a sushi-making class together? It’s not very hard actually and as a couples-activity, it would be fun to master together. After the initial outlay of a very few cheap kitchen tools, sushi becomes a whole lot cheaper to make at home and every bit as good (maybe better). I just have a picture in my mind of the two of you laughing it up over rolling the rice…..

    My larger point is not to saddle yourself with feelings of scarcity or thoughts that you are denying yourself what you want. Be creative in finding ways to embark on your frugal path with joy. There is joy in the privilege you have to make the choice to be frugal, joy in forming new habits that will bring you together as a couple, joy in making smart choices about your future life together. And wow, joy when your plans succeed! I have no doubt you will.

    I join the Frugalwoods community in wishing you well in creating a joyfully frugal journey!

    1. What a wonderful post, thank you! I agree. We need to focus more on the joy of frugality, and the joy of the new habits we start to implement! We’re creatures of habit, its hard for us to change up our routine, break our eating out & other spendy habits. We need to relinquish the scarcity mind set we have surrounding frugality 🙂

      Sushi classes would be a fun activity! We’d probably stick with cali and cooked shrimp rolls at home. Still delicious 😍

    2. Publix has sushi also and it has been very tasty. I am not sure if it is really cheaper, though, it is $8.99 here…lol.

  20. I disagree with keeping the 2016 Mazda CX-3!! Even at 0% interest, a $350 payment to commute long distances in a fancy SUV is kind of absurd. You’re riding down the steepest part of the depreciation curve for a vehicle that doesn’t seem even remotely necessary for your lifestyle. Assuming that government job is good at closing or letting you work from home during bad weather, and you have no need to go off-roading or routinely hauling lots of kids/stuff, you could easily sell that car and buy something cheaper and more fuel-efficient. You’d save on gas and insurance costs.

    Also, I think we need more background on why Steph wants to stay in the government sector. If the satisfaction you get from the job itself isn’t making up for the low compensation, why commit to staying? At 25, you are lot less trapped in a career path than a 50 year old who can’t afford to leave and give up their pension at that point.

  21. Hi Steph and thank you for giving us the opportunity to help or offer you some suggestions 🙂 from Australia .

    You have done a wonderful job of paying off your student loans, so already I know you have the discipline to refine your expenses even more.

    Incidentally your after tax combined incomes are the same as ours and DH and I are on pensions, DH a military compensation pension and myself a carers pension. We are saving for our own home and are putting together a 50% deposit and borrowing the rest whilst renting with our rent being $225 a week. Currently out of that income we are saving on average $22,000 – $26,000 per year so we know you can do it too.

    I agree with Mrs FW about reducing particularly the expenses on eating out, Netflix and gym memberships as well as the home alarm system too. Sometimes we all have to sit down and really work out what is important to us financial freedom or not settling for less than we already are doing when we can do better things that move us forward.

    Thoroughly will say do as a priority save up an emergency fund and 6 months of all expenses is a good start and we keep a 12 month all expenses one, but that is our personal preference.

    I would also not be paying off your car loan being a 0% interest rate, nor would I be considering doing a job that offers you less of a take home pay than you are on now instead investigate other higher paying options that you are on now but not give up your current job until you have secured another position.

    Good luck.

  22. Could you go in on a family plan for some of the entertainment expenses? My brother and I share costs for Hulu and Spotify and my mom and I share Netflix…

  23. Hi! I really enjoyed reading this case study because I am in a very similar place to Steph except that I still have student loans and credit card debt 🙁 but I am working really hard at paying that off. My question is, I took Mrs. Frugalwoods advice and signed up for a personal capital account to track my accounts. However I’m not really sure what to do with all the information. I already track my income and expenses with an excel spreadsheet so I have a pretty good idea of what is coming in and what is going out. What else can I use personal capital for? Thanks!

    1. Hey Katie! I was just like you, I didn’t see the point in getting a personal capital account since I use google docs. However, I signed up and I am HOOKED! No more plugging info into cells, and the PC app creates all the graphics I need (cash flow, average budget, average expenses, etc). It also shows your net worth (I never set a spreadsheet up for that, not sure if yours includes it!) BUT, I suggest moving away from your spread sheets and letting PC do the work for ya. Ya can link your credit cards, student loan accounts, bank accts, houses, whatever, and watch your balances on the debt decease, and your net worth rise! It’s an awesome app.! It’s hard to explain All the cool things PC can do, it does so much.

      I feel ya, student loan debt sucks. 🙁 but you can do it! Even if it takes 5-10 years, your still ahead of the 15 year average repayment 🙂 Ya got this.

  24. I agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods. Stop spending and start saving!!! So many people have fallen into the coffee shop, weekend bar/restaurant activities. Very costly and a detriment to saving. I am an Rn. Could be retired if I wanted to be but I still work 2 eight hour shifts a week. My husband retired at 53 with a nice pension from General Motors. I encourage these two young people to look for jobs that have a pension. Even if they leave early they would still qualify for a little money monthly when they turn 65. I have a small pension from a job I had only 10 years at before they froze the pension and started a 401k. It is 300 a month for life with 2.5 % increase each year. Not much money but it pays 5 of our reoccurring monthly expenses. I love going to resale shops to find a top for 1.00 that would cost 20.00 in a retail store. I still have slacks and jeans and shorts from decades ago that I wear. I have my daughters clothes slacks and jeans from high school. Still very much in style. Do not gain weight. I have a friend who must have multiple clothes due to now weighing 50 pounds more, creaping up yearly causing a need for more clothing sizes. Hubby and I are the same sizes as when we married. Keep tabs on that by weighing yourself everyday and if gain is 2-3 pounds, back off eating until back to baseline. Look in these places also for dishes, kitchen items, etc. so much cheaper to pay 50 cent for something as opposed to 10 dollars. We also moved to Florida in 1999 and bought a small 2 bedroom! 2 bath home on canal where we could have boat on lift. This was our dream. Our friends all bought lots and built new at close to 3 times the cost of our place. We bought what we felt we needed, not what we wanted and this has been our saving grace. Paid it off in a few years and have saved my pay plus more for years in the stock market. We have never touched a penny of it even when the markets took big drops. It always recovered. We are FI and it is a great feeling when others around us are still struggling and we are in our 60’s and so are they. I have cut my husbands hair for years. I go to Great Cuts when they have a 7.99 coupon 2 or 3 Times a year. Other times hubby trims the ends. Wear easy longer hair styles, not those short cuts that need a professional to do. Cook at home. Stay out of the retail stores because a sale is not good if you are spending your FI money on it. We have been able to be more free with our money for several years now that we are wellinto the millionaires bracket. It takes time, patience and resolve to save. Another thing we still do is split a dinner if we go out or I will get a smaller meal or appetizer and my husband will get a larger meal and I take a portion of his. A way to have less calories, less expense and still enjoy a night out. Look up sites that explains numerous ways of becoming frugal. Ways of cooking frugally. Mr and Mrs. Frugalwoods have great posts on that. We do many of those things even though we do not have to. It becomes a part of your being to think about your dollars before you part with them. We too research prices, etc before any purchases. My friend who has little money saved shops at Publix. I shop at aldi, sams club, save a lot and Walmart. She does not like those places due to more warehouse like, I love them for that cheaper reason. Set your mind to it and you will be millionaires too. I am passionate about this and my granddaughter has taken after me to a degree. She says it makes her ill to her stomach to see the amount of money her young friends spend on clothing. Makes me proud. Thanks for listening to my rants and good luck to you

    1. I agree- we need to stop spending on a lot of our extras! I don’t know why it’s so hard for us haha. Everything you and got husband have done is so simple on paper. Such easy concepts! But dang, it’s hard to deny yourself things you want NOW, new clothes that are trendy NOW, and the bar hopping scene NOW. So impressive you and your husband have always been mindful and focused on the future. I hope I can adopt more of your approach, and am able to increase our savings! Thanks for the “rant” 😛

      1. So this might be an off-the-wall suggestion, but I found that the less I consumed popular media (TV, movies, magazines, etc.), the fewer impulses I had to shop. There are so many advertisements that try to convince us to buy, buy, buy. It really helps to use an advertisement blocking software on your web browser, mute commercials, and ignore the blogs that say that “mustard” is the new fall color. Filter that stuff out and you’ll be amazed at how you don’t need it anymore.

        As far as the bar-hopping goes, there are other fun things to do with friends that don’t involve money! Get creative! Invite friends over for a potluck at your place. Have them assist you in brewing your own cider or beer. Or do a “wine tasting” where each person brings a bottle of wine and you assess them blindly. Everyone will spend less money overall and you’ll still have a great time. Or, if you do end up going to the bar, order a seltzer water with lime. $3 or free if your bartender is feeling generous.

        Point being, it can be tough to “deny” yourself the things that you want… so don’t deny yourself! Just make different choices. 🙂

        1. Huge YES to at-home wine tastings. We recently did this with beer at our house with our friends and had everyone try to guess which beer was which. No one could agree and so we had to keep drinking to “taste” each one. Very juvenile and very fun.

        2. Hey Melanie! I couldn’t agree more. I deleted my Facebook a few months ago, and my FOMO has dropped soooo much. I used to be so humiliated to stay home on weekends. Now, I’ve gotten to enjoy them! Keeping up with the Joneses is A LOT easier too, since I have no idea what the Joneses are even doing anymore haha.

          I like the idea of more at home gatherings with friends 🙂 I’ll have to start suggesting those.

          1. Don’t just stay home – look for ‘off the wall’ but free things to do to get out. While we were doing the Ramsey steps we had to be creative, and created some of our best ‘date memories.” A few favorites… Our local library woudl host symphony nights (we were the youngest people there by about 3 decades!) and beforehand we brought a picnic and ate in a park. We would go out in the morning for political events (free donuts and we got to listen to cool speakers). We went to the “free” zoo a few times with a cup of cocoa. We bought annual passes to an arboretum (groupon made them half price) and woudl go to their holiday events and “theater in the park” where we could bring food and wine….Look around, you might be surprised at what the town you live in has to offer. You may have some colleges nearby – once we went to a play by the FRESHMAN college theater, it cost $5 for tickets and was relatively terrible, but hilarious for that reason. The at home bar/game/tasting nights are great, but sometimes you just need to get out of the house and I can imagine Nashville has some amazing music related things to do!

        3. Melanie, you are so right about being careful about Media Consumption. One of the things that Steph says over and over is the feeling of habits and the seemingly overwhelming desires she has to spend or acquire or experience. The question arises: where do these habits and desires come from? Yes, Television and Social Media primarily. Their messages of consuming and competing can lead to an empty life of envy and spending. Thanks for reminding us about how important it is to be mindful and strategic about what we let our minds consume each day; just like weaning ourselves off junk food, it may be hard at first but it makes us healthier and happier in the long run.

  25. Steph, have you looked at all on askamanager? She has really good ideas for how to find new jobs. She came from the non-profit sector but the commenters come from lots of places and might have ideas. I also live in the south (not in as cool a city as you though!). There are a lot of trade-offs in this region. One of the big plusses is the cheapness.

    1. I am obsessed with askmanager, career contessa, and all the other literature out there on how to advance your degree 🙂

      I haven’t had much luck yet, but I’ve also been pigeon holed in my quest for a public HR job. I need to broaden my horizons

  26. I don’t have a lot to say- but I’ll add my thoughts on the MBA (or another advanced degree)- can you find a program that doesn’t require you to join a cohort? Take only what your employer will pay for. It will take longer to get the degree, but it will be a lot cheaper!

    I’ve found that having an advanced degree is almost a necessity in many fields. Like what a college degree used to be. It is much easier to get one before you have kids.

  27. Thanks for sharing Steph. It was glad to see you’re a Dave Ramsey follower and as you’ve proven, his plan works! Congrats on paying off $38,000 in student loans. Now, as you know what Dave would say that $20,000 is a big no, no. If you really want to pursue your MBA. Why not consider selling the car and purchasing a $5,000 to get you buy and save up and pay as you go for your MBA. You will get a ton of more value from an education than a $20K car that’s going dwon in value everyday. I know it’s a sacrifice but it’s 100% worth it. If you can jump back on Dave Ramsey plan and stick with it in 3 years you’ll be a rock star!

    Keep up the good work!

  28. I want to put in my two cents worth about your search for a new better paid job. Don’t get discouraged by your lack of success so far. A job search is a lot of ‘nos’ followed by a ‘yes’. In my twenties my first job was low paid and didn’t challenge me. I applied for many jobs over four years before I was able to get a better post. I saw each application as an opportunity to hone my resume and each interview that I got as a chance to practice my interview skills regardless of the outcome.

    Good luck with your search.

    1. Thank you 🙂 It seems like a lot of my friends land their dream jobs so quickly. It’s easy to feel stuck after hearing so many rejections. I need to change my perspective, and just keep trying!

  29. I must add a couple of other things to my post. I am on a roll. When I was first married I read the book How I feed my family on 15.00 a week. Also Your money or your life. I read most of the tightwad gazette booklets, Amy Dacyczyn and her husband became millionaires by being frugal, looking into people’s trash piles (this is still a habit of mine) and selling things the found at their own garage sale. I have found countless things that I still have today. Today there are multiple sites on the web to help young people. Back then there was not. I grew up in a 720 square foot home and my parents checked out trash piles also. I am sure all of that in my childhood and younger adulthood paved the way for my spending habits. Again, good luck to you.

    1. I just read your money or your life. It was eye opening. I’m reading Suze orman 9 Steps to Financial Freedom now. Very good read!

      I grew up very middle class, 3000+ sq ft house that we didn’t need,’tons of excess. And tons tons tons of credit card debt, car loans, and second/third mortgages. It’s so easy for me to justify debt and spending when that’s what I saw my parents do. They luckily have cut back, and are better financially, thank god!
      It’s def not a lifestyle I want to mirror though 🙂 I want to feel financially secure way before 50s!

  30. Good job on your finances so far! I completely agree with all of the advice Mrs. Frugalwoods gave you above. I’d definitely focus on bringing down those food, coffee, eating out and concert expenses in addition to everything else you are cutting out.

    As far as working in the public vs private sector, I think if you found a job in a field that you wanted regardless of whether it is in the public, private or non-profit sector, would be great because it will get you on the right path. After working there for a couple of years, you can start looking for a similar job in the public sector, if this is where you want to be down the road. Keep up with your contacts at your current job and you may be able to come back and work there again but in a department and position that you want. I did something similar with PR – I worked in agencies for a few years then went back and now work in the public sector again but in a different position (more along the lines of what I wanted to do).

    I’d also suggest looking at making some money on the side in addition to your day jobs. This can help you reach your goals faster by giving you some extra income to put toward them. Good luck!

  31. From one state employee to another, that MBA won’t be much help. Once you are on the government track, I’ve found that your job performance and your seniority matter much more than your education. It’s such a big system, you can get promoted within it.

    I’d echo Mrs. Frugalwoods comments and take a look at all your expense categories. Takeout food has to go. We use Tracfone for our phones and spend in the vicinity of $150 a year for our two smartphones.

    Get a good thermos and make your own coffee. Sadly, I lost my beloved thermos last week after eight years. I ordered a new thermos and considered buying coffee out in the meantime, but realized it would only take about ten coffees from the corner store to equal the cost of the thermos. What waste that would be. For car insurance, for comparison, we spend $1,200 a year on two 2005 and 2013 sedans.

    Do you need a home alarm system? I don’t think so. Put up a weird, fanatical pro-gun sign on your house. Seriously! The neighbors might think you’re crazy, but you definitely won’t be getting robbed, and you’ll save $32/mo.

    My method for saving money is to make it automatic, make it almost painful, and keep increasing it. Find how much you comfortably save on a monthly basis, add $100, and set up that amount to automatically transfer. I set up ours to transfer a weekly basis. Then, after a few months, increase the auto-savings by another $100 a month. As it keeps increasing, you’re forced to find those savings somewhere, or else make more money. I’ve found it to be pretty fool-proof. Between retirement accounts, short-term savings, after-tax investments, and debt paydowns, we save $5,100 a month now.

    1. Yeah, I’ve heard from upper mgt here an MBA means nothing. BUT, if I ever do jump back into private, it could give me an edge. I don’t have a clear trajectory on what to do with the MBA, so I think it’s best to wait it out and explore other education options.

      We put a beware of dog sign up before we got the alarm (as you can see, our little guy is scary!!!), but HOA won’t allow it. Or a pro gun sign. We have a lot of rules 😐 We live in an “up and coming” (aka not safe at all haha) neighborhood. There’s quite a few robberies in our neighborhood. The home alarm system is one expense i just couldn’t cut ☹️

      Good tips on cutting little expenses, it’s def time we review our insurance!

  32. I’m going to disagree with Mrs. FW a bit. I don’t think you should eliminate concerts from your budget. This isn’t Footloose – keep the joy in your life! The point of frugality is to have the freedom to spend money on the things you love. If you love concerts and music, go for it (although might help to seek out some free ones!). Music is great for mental health.

    I’d really focus on that food budget instead. If you start thinking of every restaurant meal as a concert ticket it will be even easier to ditch that habit.

    While your condo seems to be working out, I’d run the numbers and see what would happen if you rent it out and move yourselves to a cheaper rental closer to your jobs. You’d really be able to slash the budget if you lived within walking/biking distance to one of your jobs and could go down to one car. Might also be a good trial run as landlords. Could also be worth considering a move to Nashville sooner since that will be your best bet for increasing your income.

    Good luck to you!

  33. I’m a huge FW fan and love the detailed advice posts. Sometimes, though, I think the moratorium on eating out is too harsh. I understand the math of saving and investing that money and then seeing the pay off 20 years down the line, but I do think that sometimes we have to live a little too. Eating out is basically my only expense, and I only do it rarely. We don’t have kids, we have a 15 year mortgage, car is almost paid off, I max out my retirement, etc. I would like to invest more in retirement–and I’ll be looking into your suggestions for that too. But never eating out ever again? I think that might be an unrealistic goal for many of us.

    1. I think your situation is VASTLY different than mine (and many others!) Sadly, we love to eat out ON TOP off my car payment, expensive coffee, entertainment, and other expenses. You control your other finances so well, I think you eating out is no big deal 🙂 it’s all about priorities! It sounds like you have your finances figured out, and eating out is a splurge that I don’t think you should cut.

      1. Steph is spot on–it’s all about priorities and about how much you need to be saving in order to reach your goals. Mr. FW and I eat out once a month because it’s something we plan for and can easily afford without impacting our status as FI.

    2. haha I agree. Every time I read a post that suggests I give up meals out I think “DINING OUT IS MY HOBBY I LOVE FOOD AND AMBIANCE!” but, when you eat out all the time (like us!), grab a 5 dollar latte EVERYDAY, blow 100 bucks on concert tickets, etc, it’s one easy expense to evaluate and cut back on 🙂 We have to compromise somewhere, and sadly food out is an easy place.

      A lot of FI blogs love the outdoors, which I abhor, and they spend money on hiking, traveling to see outdoor things like a mountain, etc. If eating out is your one “splurge,” i think it’s fine, just like it’s fine these bloggers splurge on trips and their hobbies :)!

  34. One thing I would suggest, if you already subscribe to Amazon Prime, is to look into their music streaming option. They have a free version that is included with Prime, and also the Unlimited version. Right now, I have a free trial of Amazon Unlimited streaming that has been going on for about 6 months. I have no idea what’s going on, but I’m not complaining. Also, consider eliminating one of your streaming options – there’s a lot of content on Amazon Prime streaming (including a lot of the old HBO catalog), and movies and shows can be bought ala carte if you have to see them. Of course, you won’t be watching the newest shows in real time. But anyways, those are just options to look into to satisfy your entertainment needs.

    As far as concerts go – I also love live music, but living in the middle of nowhere, a lot of popular artists don’t come our way very often. Often I’m catching a local act at a bar or campus venue for much lower than big name national acts. I also seek out free/cheap music at community festivals. Just some ways to satisfy my need to see live music without spending a whole lot of $$. I have friends that LOVE live music and festivals, and they spend boatloads on lodging, travel, and festival tickets. I think if there’s a festival you have to see – make that your once-a-year vacation type spending, and then seek out cheap/free local options the rest of the time.

  35. Steph – it sounds like you are doing great! Now is a great time for you and your husband to be taking a close look at your finances and setting long-term goals (potentially FI!) before you have kids. I didn’t discover the idea of financial independence until after my son was born and I wish we could go back and start even sooner!

    You have gotten some great advice here, so I’ll stick to two quick things. First, on FI. It is a huge goal and a tough one at your income level. It absolutely can be done, but you should seriously consider if that is what would make you happy. If cutting all your expenses to the bone is painful, remember that your FI goals will depend on that lower level of spending. You likely won’t reach FI and then be able to spend luxuriously, unless you plan to continue to work or pursue other sources of income once you leave your job. The flip side is, with a little practice, spending less could actually lead to a more fulfilling life! Maybe test it out for a few months and see how it goes! Decide if one lunch or dinner out a month is more manageable for your tastes, test out what works best for you.

    On your MBA, I’m with Mrs. FW. Make sure you get a very specific sense of how it would increase your earnings power. I seriously considered getting mine, including applying and being accepted to some programs. But when I mapped out the cost, the potential benefit in my current job (minimal), and my early retirement goals it just didn’t make sense. Especially as many of the “polish” skills you learn in a good MBA program – communicating effectively, speaking to investors/employees, analyzing small businesses – you can learn for free on the internet if your bigger goal is to increase your knowledge base for ventures post FI.

    Good luck! You’re way ahead of the game!

  36. I definitely think reading personal finance blogs can make early retirement seem like the ultimate goal. But don’t you think that being financially stable in a job you like or even love could be even better? You’re only 25, you have lots of time to find a job you love – if I were you I would focus on making that happen.

    1. Amy, I agree! My husband and I are in our middle 40’s, and looking back as well as forward, I actually think that the ideal situation is NOT early retirement, but financial stability alongside a really enjoyable, rich life. Steph, you have time on your side right now–it would be very wise of you and your husband to buckle down and invest/save WHILE continuing to grow as people (maybe keep those concerts, but cut waaay down on the Sbucks and eating out if those are less of a “personal growth” experience). Invest all that you can in low fee index funds , but spend enough money on things that keep you from becoming stagnant and boring. The money you invest now, at such a young age, will grow and provide you guys with options for how to spend your time down the road, when you might have a family. But remember not to sacrifice too much in pursuit of early retirement–work/occupation is not a bad thing if you like it, you have the flexibility to spend time with your family when you need it, and it provides you with some nice little luxuries as well. Best of luck to you both! You are on a wonderful path!

      1. Yep, that’s why my biggest piece of advice for them is to determine if early retirement really is a goal for them. It’s not for everyone and it’s 100% possible to live a wonderful, financially secure life without retiring early. As I said in the post, it is but one option in our wide, wide world 🙂

  37. Great job thus far!

    I would agree to cutting down eating out, but if you really need to eat out on occasion, I would argue that setting a limit, like $100, is better than your current level of spending. We still eat out in our house, but it’s generally an occasional pizza from our amazing local pizza joint, plus a few WaWa subs (WaWa is a religion for our kind, lol). When you cut everything else, sometimes you have to have that “Rare and appropriate” (to borrow from Penn Jillette) outing to keep you going forward in your thrifty ways. Just don’t take the “rare and appropriate” above a certain level, whether it be $50-$100 a month.

    When you say coffee, do you mean coffee out? Or is that for your coffee beans? While I believe in frugality, I also believe in supporting ethical/local shopping (within reason) so if you’re buying great beans, perhaps you can find another source that still fits your ethical and/or local beliefs but is a little cheaper. But if this is take out coffee? Invest in a high quality coffee maker and get some good beans, get a quality grinder, buy a good quality thermos or two (how much do you drink on long commute?), and cut out buying coffee out. Heck, if lattes or cappucinos are your thang, you can even get a good espresso machine for $150 now on Amazon (Mr. Coffee Barista) that even automatically froths your milk for you. Maybe the initial investment might be higher than a month of coffee, but it definitely pays off after a year.

    Lastly, I agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods about the security system. Is your neighborhood that dangerous? Have neighbors been broken into? Have you been broken into before? If you don’t know, Trulia is a great place that lists crime history of an area via a map. But also, take it with a grain of salt, as that is all crime, including the ever-present domestic violence. Also keep in mind, that if someone isn’t breaking into your place because they see you have a security system, it might just be worth it to have the sign posted but cancel the system. Also, it might be better to invest in some better locks for your doors.

    Speaking of break-ins, it can be helpful to check out the reasons WHY people break into homes… often it’s because they’ve had access to place before (shady installation or delivery guy, a weird tag-a-long of a friend, a social night for your board game group you opened to people you don’t know, etc.). If you’re having anyone you don’t know in your home, regardless if they’re part of your Bible study group, be sure and hide any valuables (TVs usually aren’t considered valuable items to break into anymore). Also, be careful about tossing cardboard boxes that state what you ordered… like put them in a different recycling bins than your personal ones if possible. And keeping your blinds closed, especially when you’re not home, is probably the biggest break-in deterrent! Criminals are highly unlikely to break into random apartments if they have no idea that there is anything worth stealing inside because the charges for the crime (especially if occupant is home AND if the criminal possesses a gun) are so significant if caught. It might be worth it to discuss this more with current or former cops who could give even more pointers. I’m not saying a break-in couldn’t happen, but as someone who has lived in some shady areas, our household has come out fine because we have tried to be careful with our household.

    1. That category is for coffee out… only. Ek! We are like you, we support ethically grown coffee, we prefer local but that’s hard sometimes. We luckily have so many coffee shops and speciality stores that sell fair trade, ethical coffee beans!

      Yes, our neighborhood is quite dangerous. But we love it 😭 It’s close to so many unique resturaunts (namely ethopian places… I could eat it for every meal). Plus, my husband has a ten min commute! Mine is about 20-40 mins depending on traffic. We’re surrounded by such a diverse group of neighbors, it’s refreshing! But an urban area comes with higher crime, naturally. We live in a “red” area according to Truila maps. 🙂 the ONLY con our condo has is the high crime.

      1. oh, gotcha! I understand, you take what you love when you have it! However, I lived in an area of Crown Heights Brooklyn on the edge, near Weeksville and the Utica areas which is still red on Trulia (and I lived there 3 years ago when it was even less gentrified–off Albany Ave between Dean and Bergen Streets), although looking at crime map now, most of the crimes appear to be of store/car/outside bicycle thefts. We were never victims of crime for the three years we lived there and we lived in a first floor apartment (we’ve since moved to PA for new jobs). However, I didn’t hear of any of our neighbors being victimized with crime by unknowns so again, if you know someone in your building, or even yourselves, had been victimized before, I understand the desire for an extra level of security. I am paranoid more so about personal non-home crime (being pickpocketed, having car broken into or bike stolen, etc) even after moving to burbs as to this day, I won’t ever lock my bike outside for longer than a few hours, I never leave anything that even looks remotely valuable visible in my vehicle when parked, and my purses must always have zippers to keep out pickpockets. Some habits are hard to shake, lol. Where I live now, I see people leaving their unlocked bike outside the WaWa convenience store here in the Philly burbs to get something inside and I always shake my head. In NYC, that bike would be gone in 10 seconds!

  38. I agree with your opening comments – they’re way more frugal than they give themselves credit for! One thing I was thinking while reading, that was hard for me to see at their age: your salary tends to increase over time, as your skills and experience develop and likely as one changes jobs a few times. If you can keep your spending the same (minus inflation of course), all that extra goes into investments! That doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t look for something better, especially if an opportunity comes along, but it’s something important to keep in mind. I almost left my chosen field because it tends to be low-paying, but I’m glad I stuck it out, because now I love what I do and make a decent salary!

    Cut out the concerts, yes, but I 100 percent applaud their good taste in music! Anyway, I’m glad MSFW pointed out that they’re doing pretty darned good for 25 years old. It took me another decade to figure out what they’re already smartly doing.

    1. Everyone at work tells me my salary will increase here eventually. My husband now makes a little over 45k before deductions, and he started off making 12/hr at his company. Taxes just suck, since we have no kids, we naturally pay more haha.
      We’re just impatient on our salary increases 🙂 I thought for sure I’d make 100k by 25 ha!

      It’s so hard to cut the entertainment budget, but it just doesn’t align with our goals anymore😭

  39. You and Zak are doing great, Steph! My advice, career-wise, is to never ever take a pay cut. See if a small change like working for a different manager or in a different department might be enough of a change instead of a major change like quitting and going back to school. I agree with the comments above to look at a community college or online program for HR certification instead of all the cash and time for a MBA.

    Not sure it was mentioned above but I have found networking to be key for getting a new job. That way you might meet a manager you like or an organization that does something that really speaks to you. Little changes can make a big difference.

    This year, my motto was “one small thing” and it helped me give up takeout coffee completely, ordering delivery, etc. I did the frugal month and then got me to break a lot of habits. For the coffee,. I started making nice coffee at home in the morning first, then taking a coffee in a travel mug for lunch and now I never have takeout coffee and think that’s it’s kind of gross. I’ve totally lost my taste for Starbucks and that Starbucks smell nauseates me now.

    Have you thought of making a vision board with your husband to help visualize the future? Might be a nice exercise for the two of you to really think about what you’re saving for and why. Do you want to be able to look after your parents as they age? Maybe take them on a trip in ten years when you have a family of your own? Be able to pay for Oscar and kitty’s vet bills as they age? Travel to NYC on your 10th anniversary to see Wilco play? Dream big and then you’ll have a reason to trim all the fat from your budget.

  40. A few thoughts:
    First-great job!!! Amazing!! Pat yourself on the back!
    Now to get to the meat of the conversation:
    1) why are you using husband’s job for insurance? All that should be cheaper through a government job (& if you read your benefits for health you will find most cover a LOT of vision and dental so you can stop buying those)
    2) get an aeropress and reuse the filters (so you can skip Starbucks) tastes way better (& I am a coffee snob)
    3) turn off the water after you are wet and turn it back on to rinse off
    4) consider going into private sector to work hard for five years AND get the paycheck to go with it – stash that, get preggers and then take a year off and re-evaluate things then (go take a Montana Money Adventure class 😉 )
    Best of luck!

    1. Zachs health insurance is… wait for it… EIGHT HUNDRED A YEAR! A YEAR! For both of us! included vision, dental, medical. For 800. A. YEAR. The gov insurance would cost us 220 A MONTH! One month! JUST FOR MEDICAL! Then, dental is 60. Then, vision is 30. Over 300 a month for us two. And the copays would be the same. Gov doesn’t offer the bennies it once did 🙁 we were so shocked and disappointed in my benefits.
      I like your #4 option haha! I actually think that a lot!

  41. I think it is fabulous that you have paid off your student loans, bought a home, landed a government job, and have a 0% car loan at the age of 25!. You are doing fantastic! I would not take a pay cut and I would not leave the government job. I have a government job. I just recently vested in it, at the ripe old age of 57 (I started working for the government when I was 47), so I would not give up my retirement benefits. I mean this very kindly, and as an oldster who has been around the block numerous times, are you sure that you are not expecting too much from your current job just starting out? I would be patient and look for other government jobs. I will also say, a good boss, and good co-workers are priceless! I have refused to go elsewhere because I have a good work environment. I have worked in hostile work environments before, and they are not worth the mental drag and physical symptoms they create. I would take the free classes that my employer offers, and just go to school part time doing that. I have always said my schooling has opened up other opportunities. You are doing well and continue the good work! I agree with Ms. Frugalwoods and I would cut all eating out, and cut out the concerts, unless you can go for free. Nashville does have a lot of good places that offer up and coming musicians places to play. I would go to those if you do not have to pay. I would totally cut out all the paid for tv stuff. I do not know what neighborhood you live in, but I wonder about the alarm system. Is that necessary? I love Nashville, Tennessee!

    1. I feel like I do expect too much from my first job haha. That’s what all my coworkers tell me. I technically make 19/hr (we work 37.5, and I contribute to a pension and 401k plan, which is my take home is low). But, I know a lot of people my age with bigger salaries haha. Makes it hard to be content 🙂 I hated my private sector job so so much. It scared me away from private work, but I don’t think it’s fair to judge a whole sector by one gig 😛

      I agree- we need to cut our entertainment budget!! It’ll be hard giving up concerts, but Nash has so much free music events!

  42. My suggestions are super specific and micro-level because I, too, live here in Nashville! 1
    1. You are so right- despite years of trying to find a cheaper internet provider, I just can’t. Comcast it is- just internet, no cable was $79 best case. Some years I’ve managed to get a 12 month offer of $39 a month internet (with all fees, pretty amazing) but my June then August attempts to negotiate didn’t work as well. I wound up with a 12 month contract for a package of internet with added basic cable (I don’t watch it, box not even hooked up) plus either HBO or Showtime, and my total bill is now $65. I’d anticipated saving $20 a month and it’s only $15 but oh well. That will go up in a year but as it approaches, I’ll call again. At the very least, I’ll drop the cable and be back where I started, but hopefully they’ll work with me. Sometimes it’s the person you get on the phone. If you don’t have any success, call again later. All to say, consider trying to call and negotiate and it took about an hour. Alot of, “no, that’s not really what I’m looking for. I simply want X. What else could we try? What else can you offer?” over and over and over. It’s not easy and it requires mad-fast math skills to ensure the hidden/ misc fees don’t add up too much because man, they love those fees and taxes. But it would at least lower your bill AND get you HBO for another 12 months. Maybe that would take the sting out of some of the other cost-cutting measures to at least have that for awhile longer (while actually saving money?) I’m so ready for Google to finally provide internet to my area! It may cost the same but I’d never have to deal with Comcast again!
    2. If you really are DYING to go out to eat and have a cocktail, try Chuy’s. Multiple locations and M-F, 4-7pm they have a full nacho bar (with meat, beans, queso and chips) for free. Order a happy hour priced margarita and eat “dinner.” It’s not free but if just can’t take it anymore, it’s the cheapest happy hour I’ve found!
    3. Not sure if the Ryman is hiring for ushers but that might be a way to see some concerts for free- Decemberists always play there anyway! 🙂 I don’t think they have a volunteer program, but I used to volunteer for shows at TPAC so that I could see Broadway stuff for free. I had to work an hour before the show and during intermission but that was no big deal!
    4. I gave up my alarm system a few years ago after 10 years. For me it was a total waste of money. But that’s just me. You could always keep the sign posted in a visible place but cut the service.
    5. A couple thoughts on the condo- A. I can’t believe you found ANYTHING for that price given the cost of real estate here so congrats. B. My research with PMI showed that you only had to pay it if your equity in the home was less than 80%. But appreciation counts towards equity and given the market here, you may have made up the 20% difference between your (admittedly small) principle contributions and by now just in appreciation. If you refinanced it at 3.7% or the like (I think that’s fairly typical these days with no points) you may be able to avoid PMI anyway. Worth exploring. Also, the rate and terms you get for a personal residence are different than what you find for an investment property. So you might want to do that now while you’re living there rather than after you move out. But have you priced suburb costs? I’d be shocked if you found something less than what you’re paying in your mortgage. Unless you were doing that for a school district need, it may not make sense to move. C. Have you explored Air BnB? It could be an option before you go the full time rental route, although the cat might be an issue with allergic folks. And Air BnB can be on your terms while you’re still living there- time when you know you’ll be out of town anyway (or just plan to be out of town for the June CMA week festival because you can make BANK and who wants to deal with the traffic anyway!)… Just a few things to potentially explore.
    6. Congrats on all your progress thus far. Sounds like you’re doing well. As someone almost 20 years your senior and only getting into this in the past 3 years, I can assure you that you’re WAY ahead of the game. Do it NOW bc I’d love to be able to retire right now. It may not be possible for you to do the FW/MMM “30 year old retired route,” but I assure you the desire doesn’t lessen when you’re older so *any* sooner is good.

    1. I’m all about great happy hours!! Ya need to check out the Sutler or Blvd. I can get a drink and huge cocktail at Blvd for 8 bucks! The sutler has apps 4-8 bucks and drinks are half off. Really good deals 🙂 Chuys is also one of our go-to places. I could make a meal out of their ranch.
      We live in south Nash, I feel like a security system is a necessity haha. We got so lucky with our place since we know the owner! We haven’t found an houses in the burbs that are cheaper, but eventually we’d be willing to pay more for a backyard and good schools!
      Airbnb! We wish 🙁 have you seen all the news stories about people being taken to court for them? Uncle Sam is not having it. Our neighbors ran a successful Airbnb but the cops came and shut it down… it was very overly dramatic haha

      1. Ha! I work VERY close to BLVD and have happy hour scheduled for 4pm next Tuesday after a big work day. we LOVE it. Why didn’t I think to share that one! Have only done Sutler once. I am a new mom and generally can’t go bc I’ve got to pick up my son but I do like it when I can! Air BnB shut down- was it legit with a permit? You do have to have a permit from metro to operate one legally but I, too, live in South Nashville not too far from the zoo (now I’m dying to know where you live!) and researched that area to get a permit and they were available for my area. Wondering if those folks didn’t have permits… But if you’re not comfortable, I understand that. And Chuy’s ranch. RIGHT? So here’s a little DIY recipe: http://www.modernhoney.com/chuys-creamy-jalapeno-cilantro-dip-dressing/

        1. Thanks for that recipe 😍 I’ll be trying that this weekend!

          No way! We go to Taj all the time out that way haha. I’m more south, near the airport! (Some may call us antioch, but we’re nashville through and through 😛)

          We’d have an excellent Airbnb property since we’re a five min drive to and from the airport. Might be something to look into. Our neighbors did NOT have a permit, but we’d go the legal way!

  43. Steph, I have just one consideration that I want to explore since Ms. FW only touched on this briefly and I haven’t seen it get much attention yet from the community: have you researched what you could rent your condo for now? Your condo is your largest asset, and it’s striking to me that you got a deal on it in the Nashville real estate market, which I understand to be pretty hot right now. I think you should definitely look into refinancing your mortgage — 4.5% is above-market right now. And I’m really curious about what kind of rental rate you could get for your condo unit. It seems to me that the combination of refinancing your mortgage, renting your condo out, and finding somewhere even cheaper to live, even if just for a couple years, could net you a nice boost to your overall net worth. Again, you’ll need to gather some data on market rents and run the numbers to be sure, but this seems ripe for investigating further.

    1. Hey Alex! I’ve actually researched this quite a bit. Our neighborhood is one of the last affordable places. Real estate is just now booming in our area. The condo across the street from us, which is exactly the same, sold for 180k last week! We can rent our place out for 1500+/mo. We are close to our old property manager (who we rent it thru before buying, we knew the owner so we got rent for 1000, what a steal for Nash!) anyway, the property manager said we can rent it for 1500-1700/mo and he’d be happy to manage it for us (for about 100/mo). Renting would be a great income stream!
      However, everywhere in Nash and the surrounding area is insanely expensive. We check housing sites a lot, and we just can’t find anything cheap enough yet to jump on 🙁

      1. Wow, that’s exciting! Sounds like you stand to earn a nice profit margin if you can just find somewhere else to put a roof over your heads for a reasonable price. Good luck!

  44. Lovely story! Very relatable and honest. When I was in school, I expected to make $50-60K when I got out as well. Those online salary thingies are pretty wild in variety. I actually had a $13/hr job (before tax) and I considered myself lucky to have that!

    Similar to other bloggers, I think selling the car and switching to a cheaper car would alleviate debt but that’s easier said then done. My family and I live car free and it always suprises people. It’s not always easy but the money saved is definitely worth it.

    1. Omg I love your blog. I feel like a celebrity just spoke to me haha. My husband reminds me sooo much of yours. He comes from a perfect little family, parents still married, comfortable upbringing, white picket fences, etc haha. His parents paid for his school, and he was actually an engineering major but switched to info systems 😛 I hope my husband expands his career as much as yours has (I stalk your blog a lot, I feel like I know you guys 😂)
      It’s impressive to see you’ve also expanded your career and saved so much on a low salary, kudos! Aren’t you in Seattle? Is there decent public transit there? 🙂 having two cars is a money suck

      1. Lol O_O wait wait…you know all this?!? Oh wait, yeah it’s on the blog xD

        I’m 2 seconds away from having soft fluffy emotions >_<!!!!

        Do you have a public Instagram Steph?! I shall follow you if you do!!! Seattle has pretty good transportation. But I emailed the city once and they said they're behind on the construction of 10,000 sidewalks. Doh! You can get to a bus but you better expect to share the road with some cars. Do-able and um….no one should trust me behind the wheel anyways 😉

  45. Mrs. Frugalwoods–and many others–have covered things pretty well. I would first like to echo them in praising you for getting your ducks in a row at a far younger age than many of us! To provide some perspective on how much wiggle room your budget has, my family lives in a similar-size, similar cost-of-living city and our annual spending for a family of 5 is right about where yours is now. The big differences: no car payment, almost no eating out, and an entertainment budget of near-0. I promise we’re not miserable misers having no fun at all! As others have said, give yourselves a monthly budget for eating out: $50 or $100 and stick to it. That way you still get the splurge experience and hopefully stave off cold-turkey rebound, but you’ll still be socking away plenty. Also, if you’re able to secure a job you enjoy more, you might feel less of a need to treat yourself so often. That’s how I am, anyway. The more miserable I am, the more I treat myself to feel better, making me feel guilty over the spending, necessitating even more self-treating… In any case, well done so far. You’ll be surprised at how quickly things pick up and start exponentially growing–or shrinking in the case of debt–once you get some momentum going. Good luck!

  46. One strategy that we use, which keeps our budget frugal but sustainable, is that we have a finite amount of recreational spending. We each get a small amount and we have a shared allotment (dates / entertainment). Anything like concerts, eating out, my dance class, an occasional coffee with a friend, etc must come out of that allowance. I have found it to be a really fun game to find ways to hold onto the money that’s in there so that it’s available for something else even cooler. I made a huge list of free/next-to-free things to do – looked up all of the museum free days, etc., and it’s there on a list so I am excited about doing those things and they are at my fingertips. Find all the discount sites – in my city, beyond groupon and living social there are local coupons through the alternative news weekly. Make a point, if you really do need to go out to eat, shave some dollars off.

    Giving up the coffees & eating out as a regular habit is hard – I find it’s best to make it a truly occasional indulgence. I find even if I’m doing it once a week, I slip back into “wellllll maybe twice a week is fine, it’s really still SO much better than the 3x a day I used to…” or what-have-you. Like recently, I had received a Sbux gift card and was able to treat myself to coffee a couple of days, and woah, so quickly, the craving returned. Invest in a couple of Contigos – they last forever and keep your drink hot for hours (or cold for hours). I bring two Contigos filled with coffee from home so I’m not tempted to get an afternoon pick-me-up!

  47. Good going folks. You’ve figured out your current lifestyle, now all you have to do is to figure out your future – that’s the really hard part. Be aware that whatever you think it will be it will probably change somewhere along the line. That’s just the nature of life. Being prepared financially will give you multiple options when the “stuff” of life happens.

    In my opinion your greatest asset is your husband’s internet and tech abilities. They are tremendously underpaid where you now live. You have mentioned that you are a little scared of change. Don’t be! This is one of the interesting and exciting trips in life you can experience. You said you wouldn’t be adverse to moving. With this thought in mind, may I suggest that your husband consider his job application process should extend to the entire United States! Why not. You can always say no to any offers that don’t appeal to you both. If his new salary is substantially more than it is now, that will help to make up for any additional expenses in a new area. You go along and take whatever you can find in the new area (crap jobs are essentially available most places) and proceed to keep looking. I did this when I moved from SF to Sacramento. Then I did a serious research project in finding out who and where in that area paid the most with the most and best benefits. You can do the same thing by targeting the kind of job you want. I got my job and you can get yours in the right location. Research and research
    before the first move. What about the condo? Get a property manager to handle it at first. You can make a decision to sell or not sell later. I decided to sell my house when I moved because the job market for my skills wasn’t getting me anywhere in the SF area and there was no point in going backwards, only forwards if the move didn’t pan out. It did.

    The bottom line is go for the gold and don’t tie yourself down to only one thing this early in your career. You can go back to it later if you desire. Always remember “Every No is one step closer to a YES”. This will give you both options if and when you decide to start a family.

  48. Steph: Thank you for sharing your story. I suspect that feels risky, and I second the admirable comments you and Zach are getting here!
    About the MBA, or other classes or certificates: If your employer pays, why not take a class and see if you like it? Unless the employer demands you finish a degree to get the tuition reimbursement, (I don’t know how these things work), check it out. You will gain the knowledge and meet some people who might have similar interests to yours, and there is no shame in finishing a class and not returning for the whole degree. You might decide you love school as an adult, or never want to go back. Also, attending class and doing homework might change your time and habits enough to rearrange your food and socializing schedules, (though I personally value eating out on occasion).

    Also, consider the lifetime learning credit and other tax benefits for college tuition if you go.

    Can Zach’s salary be improved? You describe him as a valuable employee, and he might be in a position to ask for a raise with his current employer. Good luck!

  49. Congratulations, Steph on all the progress that you’ve made! The cutting back that you’ve already done is really impressive. Keep working on cutting back, but also assess what frivolities you need (and perhaps ways to achieve them more cheaply as applicable) so that you’re not miserable. The uber Frugal Month might be a good thing to try and see what you learn. I’m in a similar financial position and still striving for FI, so I believe can be done! Much of it has to do with what you spend, as well as what you save. It’s fabulous that you have a head start on all of this in your mid-20s. As Mrs. FW said, let compounding do its work. It’s also really great that you already have the potential for rental income in the future. I believe these are two strengths that will help you greatly. Do your research on other jobs with or without some type of Masters degree. Just remember, you’ve got time on your side! Take a chance on other career opportunities now while you have the flexibility.

  50. Thanks for being so open with your finances.

    With regard to emergency fund. Not sure if someone brought this up or not, but I think the $12K you have in savings is more than sufficient. Given you are both currently employed, and your after tax expenses are very low, AND it is unlikely that you would both lose your jobs at the same time, you can consider a scenario where you lose one income. Thus, if your husband lost his position, you could live on your salary and make minimum withdrawals and cutting expenses further to easily live for 1 year, of not more. It would seem realistic that he could find another position before those funds were drawn down.

    Thus, with your emergency fund covered, you could either increase 401(k) contributions, or open a ROTH IRA or put money in taxable investment accounts.

    Just a thought

    1. we always wonder if we do have too much in emergency savings. Should we be planning the E fund with BOTH job losses in mind, or just one? It’s hard to tell haha. Having a hefty emergency fund on hand, however, does make it much easier to sleep at night, take chances in our careers, etc. It’s a tough thing to balance!

      1. I’d love to hear Mrs. FW thoughts on this! I know you recommended 6 months EXPENSES, but do you think with a dual income household an emergency fund could be lower? 🙂 Or do you suggest keeping the fund up to par of 6 months in case both jobs are lost? Thanks!

        1. So I calibrate emergency fund amounts off of monthly expenses and with the idea that an emergency fund is for capital E EMERGENCIES. Like you both lose your jobs, your condo needs a new roof, your pets require surgeries, both of your cars die, one of you is in a terrible accident, etc. The whole point of an emergency fund is to allow you to cover the unexpected situations of life without going into debt. There’s no perfect way to calculate how much to keep in an emergency fund because you don’t know what the potential emergency might be. I happen to keep a fair amount in an emergency fund because you just never know. It’s easy insurance in my opinion. It’s also true that the lower your monthly expenses are, the lower your emergency fund needs to be. So my general recommendation is three months’ worth at the bare minimum with six months being preferable (and full disclosure, I keep even more than that).

          1. Thank you for expanding on that 🙂 I agree, there’s no way to know how much you’ll really need in the fund. Having six months expenses has always been our goal, and it’ll make us feel way more prepared for anything. Thanks for your insight!

          2. I agree. The good news is that your monthly expenses are already pretty low, and Mrs FW has identified areas (likely already known to you) that you could cut out also in case of big E. I also know that my emergency fund is 12 months, and my expenses are a significant multiple of yours…and I indeed do sleep well at night (which is important). In your case, I was thinking that with such low expenses, and no debt, you could amplify your tax advantaged savings. But, if FIRE is your goal, you need to make sure you do so in a way that you can access that money, and you have a quite a ways to go before traditional retirement age.

  51. Hi Steph,
    I echo everyone else’s sentiments: you and your husband have done a great job so far in setting yourself up for future success – school loans gone and a low mortgage payment? High fives all around!!!

    Some of the things that caught my attention and I felt compelled to weigh in (which is highly unusual for me!):
    1. Should you go back to school and get a MBA? I don’t know if you are using ‘MBA’ synonymously with a “Masters’ Degree”. If not, I would suggest you look at many different Masters’ programs – not just an MBA if you truly want to continue in the HR world. I thought about getting an MBA (and hated! the idea), did a little digging and found an Information Management program that was much better suited to what I enjoyed and where I wanted to go in the world. The fact that it’s NOT an MBA sets me apart from all the other resumes that land on recruiters’ desks.
    2. I really think you need to expand your job search parameters. One bad private sector experience does not mean all private sector jobs are bad. It’s easy to settle for the perceived security of a government job – I know, I had one working for my state. However, as a government employee I knew that my earning potential was going to be governed by forces outside of my own initiative. It wouldn’t matter how well I performed my job or how much passion I had for my job…the salary bands were set out and that’s all there was. Additionally if there were budget shortfalls, the first thing to get axed were step increases for employees. I knew folks who had gone years without even a cost of living (COLA) increase. At least in the private sector, you have a little more ‘input’ into your salary. You just have to take the initiative, be your own best advocate and negotiate like the devil! (Easy to say, hard to do. Pretend your advocating on behalf of someone else – how would you approach the problem?) (P.S. for all those FW readership – none of this is to say that government jobs are bad and that no one should do them. But if that’s the career path you’re going to take, it’s better to know up front and make sure you really love what you do or that you absolutely need the job security.)
    3. Rejections letters. Absolutely no one likes getting turned down for jobs. No. one. at. all. It feels like you’re being told ‘you’re not good enough’. Looking for a new job is hard and demoralizing and a pain in the ….neck. But if you choose to settle at age 25 for a job you don’t like but are too afraid to leave? You’re in for a very long slog. So. Put on your Wonder Woman wristbands, write “An employer would be lucky to have me” 500 times and start sending out resumes. Remember that as someone with several years of solid job experience (versus the jobs we all hold through high school and college), you do have something to offer employers. When you receive a ‘no thank you’ email or letter contact the recruiter and ask what were the weak points on your resume or in your interview. Tell them you are trying to improve and that even though this wasn’t the right fit, you would appreciate their professional feedback. You may get some answers, you may not. What have you got to lose by asking?
    Another technique for dealing with the disappointment – when you receive the ‘no’, set 20 minutes on the clock. Then cry, moan, gnash your teeth, rend your garments and tear at your hair. When the alarm sounds – you’re done. Don’t look back. Sit down and send out another resume.

    I hope some of this helps. I know it’s really hard and really scary when you have to make the next big jumps, but it sounds like you and your husband are able to provide great support for each other. Lean on that. And remember you can change your mind about almost anything in life (almost – there are some decisions that you can’t back out of :-)). So – go for it.

    Best of luck!!!

    1. This is GREAT advice! And as a former manager who hired people, I can tell you that it’s not personal when you don’t hire someone–so please don’t take the rejections personally. It’s usually just a question of qualifications and the other candidates who also happened to apply. Totally not a litmus test of you as a person!

  52. You’ve gotten great financial and career advice already so I’ll limit myself to the one area I have a track record at, a lasting marriage. My wife has tolerated me for 39 years so far of marriage and part of that is that we have many shared hobbies. When I read what yours were they disturbed me a little. Concerts and music festivals , shopping and sushi represent a very limited amount of time spent as a couple, not to mention very expensive as hobbies. They also are not going to help keep you fit at all which is a very important part of being happy. You said you didn’t like outdoor activities but surely there are some indoor activities that are active. Dancing, group exercise or something. Also some kind of shared hobby that lets you talk while you do it. My wife and I run and play tennis, fish and hike, ski and travel together. We also do all of those things separately with other people but the point is we do active things together that let us talk while we do them. Watching TV doesn’t really count. Just saying find some joint hobbies that you love and you’ll be glad you did.

  53. Wow, it sounds like this young couple is actually doing really well and I’d consider them fairly frugal already. I agree with Mrs. FW on the suggestions of what to ditch in the budget. The only thing I’d add is to maybe get a side hustle like an Ebay business going if possible. An extra $1000 a month could be life-changing in terms of investment potential.

    The MBA is an interesting dilemma for me because I actually have an MBA fully paid for by my former employer, and I’m not sure it was worth it. It sucked up the better part of my non-working hours for almost 3 years and I saw no actual benefit to having that degree once I received it. In and of itself, it was not what I’d call a very educational experience either…I felt like I warmed a seat for 3 years while the university collected revenue from my employer. On the bright side, I had literally zero free time in those years, so also zero time to spend money 😉 It was like forced frugality. Honestly I wouldn’t get an MBA unless it was totally free and even then I might think twice since your time has value too. Is there some other graduate degree that might be more valuable (and that would qualify for the 3 free courses a year)? Would just getting a Masters of any sort automatically bump up your pay in the public sector?

  54. Great job at keeping track on your expenses, I never thought of doing that when I was in my mid 20s like you two. It’s also great that you paid off your student loans, you don’t have to worry about another monthly expense you had to pay.
    As far as your expenses you currently have, I would cut down on practically every item that you can cut down on. Stuff like your water, internet, electricty, and your Netflix(since it’s really low) are fixed so don’t bother with those.
    With your mortgage, I’d go with what Mrs. Frugalwoods says, look into refi to try a lower interest rate.
    Going out to eat, coffee consumption, car insurance, and cell phone plans should be cut down especially drinking coffee. Maybe look into making coffee at home if guys have the need to drink it daily.
    I used to be a member of Planet Fitness too at the same monthly rate of $20. And they sneak up on that yearly fee of $40. So that already saves you both $280 for the year. Good idea to end the membership. Working out at home and going out for a run are alternate ways to workout so.
    Also keep up building your emergency fund. Try to push it 20K!!
    Thanks for sharing your story Steph, good luck to you and your husband Zach! Keep us up to date!

  55. Lots of great ideas here, and congrats to you for everything you’ve accomplished so far! I definitely second making good coffee at home and getting a good travel mug. For me that means buying good beans and also good heavy cream to go in it, and when friends ask to go out for coffee I invite them over instead. Someone else mentioned learning to make sushi and other international foods that you like–definitely recommend that as well.

    I’m a librarian, so I’m going to put in a big push for using your public library! You can get DVDs for TV shows like Silicon Valley as well as books for anything you’re interested in, music CDs, databases (my library has a foreign language program, genealogy databases, and Lynda.com, which can really help build business and career skills). Browsing the library is like shopping but it’s free! Your library might also have discounted or free museum passes, which is a great way to spend your time.

    Some other ideas:
    *I’m betting you have quite a stash of hair and makeup stuff–I do, and I don’t feel that I’ve bought a lot of it over the years! Focus on using that stuff up instead of being sad about not buying new stuff. It also has the benefit of decluttering your home.
    *Someone else mentioned not cutting out concerts and I tend to agree–maybe cut it down to 5 this year and 3 next year. It will feel like more of a treat but you won’t be depriving yourself entirely.
    *I also have Netflix but you can suspend it for several months at a time and not have to pay for it those months if you know you have a busy month coming up and wouldn’t be able to watch it much anyway or plan to just check out items from the library.
    *Reading books and blogs about personal finance helps me stay motivated and in the right mindset. (Another thing the library is good for!)
    *Dig a little deeper into your health insurance benefits, and if the HR person at your husband’s work does a presentation, go to it! There are all sorts of things my health insurance does (like give me money for logging workout hours) that I had no idea about. They do one every year so I go every year and always learn something new.
    *You mentioned some of your hobbies, a lot of which seemed to focus on spending money–are there other more frugal hobbies that you didn’t mention? If not, you might consider focusing on gaining skills that will help you in your career or starting a side hustle. Or focusing on finding a few frugal hobbies to fill the void that will enrich your life and possibly build more skills to aid your frugality–reading (getting books from the library), either novels for enjoyment or books on a topic you are interested in; meditation; cooking (the library has cookbooks, too!); writing; etc.
    *Someone above put it more eloquently, but appreciating what you have and cultivating a mindset of abundance rather than deprivation is really helpful for me. I stay out of stores and unsubscribe from lots of emails so I don’t see what I’m missing. Eventually you get used to living without some of these things, as painful as it might be at first!

    1. Good tips 🙂 Sadly, our “hobbies” all involve spending money. We just love music so much, and trying out new, unique places around town. Living in a big city with tons of awesome, new resturaunts/coffee shops makes it so tempting to go out haha. We started playing cards and board games more at home, it’s been really fun and FREE!
      I have so much make up, clothes, and hair products that have never ever even been used! I’ve definitely learned to shop the back of my bathroom cupboard and closet, instead of buying new stuff 🙂

  56. Steph! I had a quarter life crisis at 25 too! I’m now 29. I would feel so frustrated and disillusioned most days both at work and when I got home from work. But you know what I realised after this went on for a few years? It was about me not making enough time for my passions outside of work – there needs to be a really good balance. I work in IT and always have, and my job can tend to be quite dry, but I’m quite a bubbly creative person. So, instead of watching tv in the evenings every night, I swapped a few nights out a week to play a team sport. I took up crafting as a hobby (sewing, crochet, knitting, quilting). I got myself into a really good daily routine that included some exercise, meditation and gratitude. And you know what? Things started to change. I promised myself that if I did all this and still felt the same, I’d move jobs, but it turns out I didn’t have to. I recently got promoted in my company and I can now say without reserve that I LOVE my job, something I’d never felt able to say previously. So I’m ranting on because I absolutely know how you feel, and I absolutely support whatever choice you make, but I also know it’s not always as simple as just following the dream job. It might surprise you how life unfolds if you’re willing to change your internal self to find happiness where you currently are, rather than changing the exterior of your life and pinning all hopes and dreams on that. You guys are doing amazingly well! Keep it up!!

    1. This really hits home for me! I’m very outgoing, and I work in a cubicle where I have no contact with the outside world haha. After years of working in fast food, it felt like a relief, but I do miss human interaction! I’ve definitely thought about looking into part time work in a service role, or finding a group of people near me that do free exercises in local parks. It seems you know EXACTLY how I feel, glad to see you survived your crisis!

  57. I love this case study! Being in my late 30’s, I cannot emphasize enough how much Steph and Zach’s young age creates huge opportunities for them and is a real advantage. Ah, the beauty of compound interest! I haven’t had time to read all the comments but here are my two cents:
    (1) public vs. private sector. Steph, really consider what’s underneath your stated desire to stay in the public sector. Especially in an area like HR, you may well find that private sector jobs could be great for you and make you happier, plus I assume they’ll pay more (possibly way more) and are probably easier to find in Nashville than government jobs. I would really take a serious look, interview, maybe even try one of these private sector jobs before you write off an entire sector of opportunity. You may love the different environment and culture, who knows. (Says someone who spent the bulk of my career at a private sector law firm, most of which time I found really rewarding – and lucrative.)
    (2) Nix the security system. Likely throwing money down the drain.
    (3) Sell at least one if not both of your cars; try to get down to one car for both of you (find said new job closer to where you live!), and buy a used car to replace the new car(s). Instant savings you can immediately start investing for your future. What’s Zach’s commuting situation? Is moving closer to his work or your next job a possibility?
    (4) nix the HBO and Spotify, keep the Netflix. You can sign up for the HBO app once a year and binge watch your favorite shows then. Otherwise, explore the deep cuts of Netflix – there’s so much good content on there it can keep you happily entertained for years! Re music – figure out other ways to download music to your phone – -library, burning CDs to your devices, etc. Or replace some of your on the go music listening with podcasts! Lots of good financial independence podcasts out there – especially Mad Fientist, and ChooseFI is a good motivator if still finding its sea legs.
    (5) agree with Mrs. FW that you shouldn’t underestimate your ability to change and evolve dramatically as people over the next 10 years. You may not think you want to travel, but maybe after a few more years in cubicle world, and learning more about the possibilities, you’ll get the travel itch. Keep your options open and allow your dreams to change as you guys continue on your journey.
    (6) don’t do the MBA. Full stop. Not worth opportunity cost (esp. the time cost, if you think you may want to go the FIRE route), likely not justified by possible increased income.
    And everything else Mrs. FW said in the post. Good luck! So awesome that you’re off to a solid savings start, and also that you live in a pretty low cost of living area. Your future is golden, especially if you can change your mindset and embrace frugality a little more on a lot of these monthly expenses.

    1. Thank you for all these wonderful tips! I had an awful, awful, awful private sector job right out of college. And my dad got laid off a few months ago from his private sector gig at 58!!!! His company sold. I know you can get fired from gov jobs, and downsizing happens, but public feels more secure to me.
      We’ve looked into being a one car family, and it’s still something we’re considering!! Zachs job is super close, so he could bus or Uber.

  58. One of my friends sees awesome concerts by getting a part time job at the local sports stadium. She is pretty much able to choose which events to work and has been able to see a lot of big name entertainment this way. Of course she has to work, and it is not the same as enjoying it freely, but hey.

  59. I echo everyone’s sentiments that you are doing a great job especially at 25. When I was 25, I was just excited to pay my bills. I didn’t have any financial goals at all except an emergency fund. I was also in a job that I was unfulfilling to me and didn’t pay well. And I spent 4 years in college preparing for this job. It took a bit of courage to admit that I’d just made a huge mistake. I spent a lot of time soul searching and picked a different career path and I’m so glad I did. It made a huge difference on my path to FI to enjoy my work. I guess what I’m trying to say is to keep at it until you find a position you enjoy.

    My husband I also love both concerts and live theater but they are both so expensive. While we were working towards FI, we would allow ourselves one concert and one play a year. We thought long and hard about which performances we would see and enjoyed every second of them. Now that we’ve reached FI, we could actually afford to spend more on concerts and plays but one of each seems to be enough for us. We can also afford to eat out more often but we rarely do and mostly we use coupons (bogo) when we do. We’ve gotten used to these events being special. And there is nothing like the freedom and piece of mind of being FI.

    1. Tina–you’ve captured the feeling and reality of FI so well :). So happy to hear you’re enjoying life!

  60. Have you considered getting a second job ushering at concert venues? Both independent venues or college venues often hire ushers and you’ll earn money while enjoying the music!

  61. Do you work for state government? Most state governments offer tuition waivers. I’m graduating in a few weeks with my masters and I’ve only paid $15/credit hour at a state university. I would look into that!

  62. Don’t consider a MBA for a government job. Realize I paid dearly for my masters cost 30 k in school fees (was working full time) didn’t borrow for books and didn’t borrow except for class charges. Got a pitiful raise of less than 3% afterwards. Swear that an extra $54 a month extra after taxes does not pay for the degree. Now oif they paid for it that’s different. I got only $600 every 18 months for educational reimbursement. I’m in Virginia, however after 17 years I’m still not double my starting salary. I’ve off set working government job by freelancing and working holidays and my extra days off. Its do able. You are doing really well to be so young, realize make a cons + pros list of your current job vs the mainstream job. Realize with holidays and times off and benefits some times that offsets the neg of the job. If u want kids in the future realize a gov job gives better times off with kids and with job security.

  63. First, let me say that I wish I had been as smart in my 20s as you two are! Second, I appear to differ with everyone in that I think an MBA or MA or MS is a good investment and can be pursued one class a semester. These days, a B.A. is about the same level that a high school diploma used to be—there are many jobs that won’t let you in the interview door without an advanced degree and sometimes it doesn’t matter that much what the degree was in. You don’t have to bankrupt yourself or make yourself crazy in terms of time, just do it little by little. You can either be five years older in five years, or five years older with a graduate degree that gives you a few more career options. Third, I agree with the person who talked about your marriage and having mutually enjoyable activities that contribute to relationship longevity and joy. One of the most financially destabilizing things that can happen to a person is a divorce, so the more you do to nurture your relationship the better and there are lots of inexpensive ways to do that. I am aware this sounds hopelessly corny, and I realize that there are situations, such as abuse, that make continuing in a marriage impossible. Finally, different folks have suggested various books and mine is The Millionaire Next Door, which talks about people with ordinary incomes that manage to save great amounts.

    1. Good point about grad school! The years will pass whether I pursue a degree or not.
      The millionaire next door is my next book to read 🙂 I have waiting on my night stand!

      I wanted to note that my husband and I do so much more than attend concerts and eat out 😂 I could’ve sent Mrs. FW a novel of all the activities we do. Since I wanted to focus more on eliminating expensive activities we do together, I didn’t note the cheap/free ones. We love board games, play a ton of trivia games (free online, he always wins haha), we do try to walk a few times a week together, we do all our cooking and chores together to make them more fun, and we do a millionaire more things together. 🙂 the only separate hobbies we have are I like to read, he hates ressimf, and he plays guitar/bass, but i don’t haha. I’ll read him a book if it’s one I really enjoyed, and he’ll play me music, so we do include each other in a lot than just music out and resturaunts!

  64. I don’t have any advice, but I have to say that this is my favorite case study ever. 🙂 Sometimes I have trouble relating to people who are making $100k a year, have $3000 mortgages and 6 kids. I do not say this in judgement, I just mean that I appreciate examples that more reflects my own circumstance. I love the Frugalwoods blog and devour every post but I am a living in a city with no kids who is more an indoors type person. 🙂 Keep up the good work!

  65. My now-husband and I were in a similar situation to you, Steph, about 3 years ago when we were your age. We had a serious talk about what we wanted out of life, how we wanted to spend our time and money, and what made us happy. Our combined income was similar to yours at the time, as were most of our expenses. I worked for a university and my husband at a small research firm. We wholeheartedly decided to relocate for new jobs at very large, for-profit companies, “selling our souls perhaps to pursue our goals. We took Mrs frugalwoods advice to aggressively pursue careers and have since tripled our household income with many possibilities for more advancement. We are on track to retire, should we choose at the time, in less than 7 years. We may want to move back into public service then, but the point is we will have options too. Don’t limit yourselves so young, you have a lot of life yet to live and many opportunities to pursue your true dreams, even if that means taking some detours to get there. Best of luck

    1. That’s awesome you and husband have worked so hard & it’s paid off!!! It feels like things won’t get much better career and salary wise at this age!!! It’s inspiring to hear your story, and so many others, that have grown their income so much without an inheritance or something 🙂 thanks for the encouragement!

    1. What an awesome suggestion! I called my insurance rep after reading that, and it turns out, we get a $30/mo discount already for having an alarm system connected to the police and fire station!! I had no idea I even told them about it when signing up for the policy!!!!! So, it looks like we’ve been reaping benefits without us realizing it, and the costs nearly offsets itself! Wouldn’t have even known this if it wasn’t for you, thanks!

  66. I think I’ve read through most of the comments, and a couple of things–
    1) You’re doing great. This was several years ago, but I made $50K right out of graduation…from LAW SCHOOL. (And had several friends who took jobs paying less!)I’ve luckily managed to leverage that degree and have significantly improved since then, but for the first 5+ years I didn’t break $60K. You’re just not going to make that kind of money right out of college unless you’re freakishly lucky or have a very specialized skill set.
    2) This is sooooooo outdated technology wise, but I actually listen to my iPod at work. I really like having music but didn’t want to drain my phone battery or go over on data. I think my iPod is 7 years old, but it has 1000+ songs on it which is more than enough to keep me happy.
    3) I also bought a new car at 25. I know it’s a no-no in the FI community, but when I was looking used was only going to save me $3-$4 thousand. Which certainly isn’t pocket change, but I decided ultimately not worth it since I had very specific wants. I was also able to finance at 0% and paid it off. 10 years later I’m still loving that car, have had no costs with it except for scheduled maintenance, and fully intend to drive it for as long as I can. I think especially since you already have it, if that car is one you’ll be happy with for a decade+ then go ahead and keep it.

    1. I agree! Finding a high paying job takes a lot of hard work and intelligence, but also a dash of luck. I know lawyers, CPAs, and stock analyst that make just at 40k a year (which is more than me, but not a lot!!)
      I had an iPod that I used since middle school and it died a few months ago ☹️ I downloaded a few songs on my phone, but after trying Spotify premium my husband and I got hooked. It’s def an expense we need to consider cutting though.
      I plan to keel my car until she dies 🙂 but I did learn my lesson about buying new (never again haha). We’ve looked into us getting something cheaper, but we’d lose so much money (I don’t know why I was so shocked to see how much depreciation a new car had…. idk what I was thinking haha).

  67. I think you’re doing a great job with your finances! I wish I had been that responsible at your age.

    I did want to point out one thing that may help you shift your mindset. You do not have “low” incomes, as you mentioned a couple of times. I entered your household income in the calculator below, and you are in the 48.9 percentile. You’re making more money than almost half the households in the U.S.! Not bad at all, especially for your ages.


    1. That’s really inspiring to read! Thanks for posting that. 🙂 we definitely need a mind set shift, about our salary and our careers then! Thank you!

  68. Two quick cost-saving ideas… Here in Minneapolis, I find grocery prices to be dramatically lower at Aldi stores. I see there are some stores in the Nashville area, so you may want to give it a try. They have fresh produce at really low prices. Also, I’m curious about the cellular service for your iPad. I use my iPad on wifi only, and it really works out for me. I definitely understand if that doesn’t fit with your lifestyle, but wanted to throw it out for consideration. Good luck in your frugal endeavors! 🙂

    1. Our grocery budget is one thing we need to cut! I’ve seen so many couples get by on 50/week! We need to check out an Aldi. We love Kroger because of the fuel points you get, so we’ve never even tried shopping around ☹️
      We went to cut the iPad from the plan, but it had an expensive buy out! We’re going to remove it once the contract is up 😊

  69. Steph, Bravo! You should pat yourselves on the back for realizing you are on the wrong path when you are still young enough to change lanes! I don’t think the debt of an MBA is worth the payments. By the time you reach your MBA goal, you might want kids, and then the options for making payments on the new and increased debt load will be limited. If you can do an on-line degree, and take classes as you can pay cash and still keep working, it might be worth it. As someone said, the years will pass regardless of whether you get the degree or not. But, staying out of debt in the process, drawing a line in the sand, and having everything (even your house) paid off, is the best way to live frugally. If the “nut” you have to “crack” each month is so small that you can literally work anywhere and “crack” it, it opens up all sorts of opportunities for doing work you LOVE vs. work you have to do to pay the bills. Good luck! And, congratulations for setting along this path so early in life! You are decades younger than most people who realize they are underwater. Thanks for sharing your story. You will be an inspiration to others in the same boat.

    1. Thank you for such kind words! I’m starting to think an MBA won’t be worth it either! We want children around the time the part time MBA would be finished, so that’s a really good point.

  70. Way to go on your progress so far! You two are on the right track. I agree with Mrs. FW’s suggestions on cuts/changes to the budget. My suggestion would be not to get discouraged too easily about your job. I have worked in county government in HR (benefits) for over 11 years and was promoted last year to the job I wanted when I started (managing the benefits). There are so many details to this type of job and it does literally take years to learn and gain experience, not to mention there is usually only one or two benefit jobs per municipality! Hang in there and learn everything you can. I would hold off on the MBA and volunteer for extra projects and ask if you can help the benefits person learn different aspects and ask to back them up when they go on vacation. This is experience that you can add to your resume when looking for another job. This type of job is very interesting and rewarding. Also, think about broadening your search to include Townships and Counties. With perseverance and hard work, you can ge the job you want. Good luck!

  71. YMMV but I have a nationwide cable provider for internet and I call them every year and ask to keep the introductory pricing, so it’s 42$ instead of 75$.

  72. Ooh, this was an awesome case study. First off, you have great advice already.
    1. At 25, you are totally normal. Your lifestyle is pretty typical. I still remember being 25 and eating out, going to concerts – those were all regular parts of my life.
    2. I also was pursuing a master’s at night because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. BUT I didn’t pay for it.
    3. The savings seems so small, all these little things. But compound interest is seriously amazing. Because I cut all that out – I’m 22 years older than you are, and our net worth is well over $1M. It really really works.

    MBA – I’d wait because you don’t really know if it’s for you or if it will help.

    HR career – pursue this. But I’d consider pursuing this in private companies, if you think that will work and get you more experience. It can often be hard to get hired for government, and the pay is lower. The way to get a bit more pay and get considered more highly is to have experience. It may seem like such a long process – and it is. Careers can be long!

    And that’s the other thing – stability. You mentioned a desire for stability in response to another comment above. I get that. Stability and security are important to me, and have been for a long time. It’s why I’m 25 years into my career, and have only worked at 4 places. But consider this:
    – Private sector jobs vary a lot. Some are awesome. Some are horrible soul sucking places. That’s true everywhere.
    – Private sector jobs pay more, allowing you to save more, allowing you to have security. I’ve been working for a startup for 9 years. We run out of money every two years. Scary right? Sort of. But by being frugal, it honestly doesn’t matter anymore. My husband makes enough to support us forever. And in fact, if we BOTH lost our jobs, we could honestly sell the house, move somewhere less expensive, and never work again. Private sector jobs got us there.
    – Working in the private sector, for more than one place, also gives you security and stability. If you are a hard worker and good and your job and easy to get along with – people will look out for you. They will call you with openings. They will try to recruit you away. Lather, rinse, repeat. I know people at every single company in this town that does anything related to my type of industry. This all happened by working private sector starting at the age of 27. Changing jobs within a company and between companies also gives you more varied experiences that you can apply to future jobs.

    Keep the car, don’t pay it off early, plan on driving it for 20 years. Seriously, do not even think about upgrading when you have 2 kids, you won’t need it. (I can’t say the same for the Eclipse).

    Cut back your eating out drastically. I wouldn’t aim for zero, but I’d aim for once a month.

    Finally – breathe! I didn’t really get serious about finances until I was in my early 30s. I didn’t even learn to cook until I was 32. Luckily I got frugal and learned to cook long before I had my first kid.

    And also remember it’s a process. It’s hard to think about long long in the future, and so many big decisions, at the age of 25. But here I am at 47 – I still remember 25 year old me. From there to here was not any “aha!” moments, just a lot of small, little, every day choices.

    1. Marcia, thanks for all this awesome advice! You’re dead on on everything, especially that private sector companies vary a lot. My first job after college was at an office with 5 employees, including the CEO. It was toxic, very back stabbing, and a miserable place. However, I need to quit assuming all private places are like that! Based on the comments, it appears people can be happy in the private sector. I thought gov jobs would be easier the land once I got my foot in the door, I was wrong!

  73. Love this case study. I’ll offer my thoughts on career and grad school, as I have worked in HR since 2004 and also have my MBA. I love that you want to pursue a career in HR, it can be such a rewarding field with excellent growth and pay potential! Seeking a generalist position is a wise move as it will expose you to all facets and make you well-rounded. I would open up your search pool to include public and private, don’t box yourself in. Instead of investing in your MBA at this time, I would focus on landing a job, getting some experience and then taking your HRCI or SHRM certification. While an MBA is a great accomplishment it personally didn’t help me land my most recent promotion. And I would NEVER do it without tuition reimbursement. Working hard, being a problem solver, a go-to who steps up for projects outside your norm and becoming a knowledgeable HR person can get you where you want to go in this field. You’ve got such a great start at such a young age. Best wishes in your career search!

    1. Awesome to hear from someone that has a career in HR. 🙂 thanks for all the tips. I definitely think I’ll hold off on the MBA, and instead pour all my energy into finding an HR job and certifications!

  74. Hi Steph, You are so far ahead of most couples your age give yourself a pat on the back. I think you have gotten some great advice from the community. Will either of your companies pay or reimburse your for cell phone usage? Also some companies offer benefits like reduced movie tickets or passes to museums etc. I get $150 back towards my gym membership thru Blue Cross. Tell all of your friends you are working on being frugal. Try to plan more events at friends homes. Think long and hard about what your priorities are and what specific steps do you need to get yourself to the goals you have set. PS I have a Starbucks problem too! I let myself have one cup a week. I also have their card so I get points towards free drinks!

  75. Hey there! One thing that struck me about your job is have you tried talking with somebody who is already doing what you want to do? That way you can find out more in general, ask specifically what they look for when hiring (to help decide if an MBA will help), and maybe even hear about job openings. You never know!

  76. You sound pretty frugal to me, at least relative to the average American. I’d question all those entertainment costs, especially HBO, we rent all the HBO shows for free from the library. We’ve only got $9k worth of cars so I don’t know what’s reasonable, but that insurance cost sounds so high. Maybe just a downside of new cars.
    Also I wanted to bring up the PMI discussion… Not to beat up your decision, but PMI is essentially a temporary 0.8% addition to the mortgage interest rate. 4.5% sounds like about 0.8% above the market rate, but it is locked in forever rather than removable once LTV reaches 80+% (78 I guess is normal). Anyhow, I’d look strongly at refinancing, trying to avoid the PMI if your value has gone up, or just pay it and then get it removed with an appraisal when you are pretty sure you’ve got the 80% LTV. Good time to lock in the savings of a lower rate rather than be stuck with 4.5% for 30 years when you could be at 3.75% or whatever.
    Doing great though!

  77. Ok, I have to rant on one item in their financial summary… This whole idea of a higher interest rate to avoid PMI, I hate that!!! PMI is not as bad as people make it seem, I am a young financial planner and I pay PMI right now. I absolutely refused to take the higher interest rate to avoid it, because why would I pay more over the entire course of the loan when PMI can be removed when 20% equity is reached? Sure, the bank is the one benefiting from PMI, but again, you are paying them more over the entire loan with the higher interest rate, so they get a bigger benefit from that! When we bought our home, I ran an amortization schedule and found that we will pay PMI for roughly 3-4 years, then I call the bank, ask them to remove it because we hit 20% equity, and then I can leave my payments the same to unlock more equity quicker.

    In my case, I could have had 4.5% interest rate with no PMI, but instead I got 3.375% interest rate with PMI for a few years. Just my two cents.

  78. Steph, you have come a long way! Congratulations on your hard work. My wife and I live in south Nashville so some of what you say is familiar to me!

    My biggest recommendation would be to forsake government work. Nashville has a lot of lucrative job opportunities in the private sector right now. You can find private sector jobs with a good work life balance, good benefits, and better salary and growth opportunity than you will in the public sector. You don’t need to move to advance your career! Specifically HCA is always hiring HR/benefits people and is known for being a good place to work. You can’t let yourself get discouraged from job rejection, that will keep you locked in crappy jobs your whole life.

    The other biggest thing I would comment on is your struggle with bars and eating out- it seems like a lot of this is related to your friend group. We have a lot of friends that like going out, but they have largely been amenable to gatherings at home. Everyone brings beer and food and we play boardgames or yard games.
    But if you are dead set on still going out, have you tried the art crawl? http://www.nashvilledowntown.com/play/first-saturday-art-crawl
    You get to see and meet local artists, and they give out free wine.

    Anyway Financial Independence is definitely possible for you guys, no question about it. Keep on your path of improvement and keep optimizing! Maybe we will see you at a free concert or something sometime 🙂

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