Former travel writer Juliana and her husband Nicolas, formerly an ecotourism guide in Central America, now live in the suburbs of DC along with their baby daughter and Juliana’s parents. They’d like our help in charting the next chapter of their lives and figuring out how to balance debt repayment with building an emergency fund and investments.

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

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

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

And a disclaimer that I am not a trained financial professional and I encourage people not to make serious financial decisions based solely on what one person on the internet advises. I encourage everyone to do their own research to determine the best course of action for their finances.

P.S. When you’re done reading this, head over to the Frugalwoods Facebook page to share your advice on this month’s Reader Suggestions question (hint: gobble, gobble, gobble)!

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

Juliana’s Story

Hello! I’m Juliana (34), my husband is Nicolas (33), and we have a daughter who is almost six months old. We’re undecided on whether we want more kids or not. I’m a little nervous because of the complications I had with my first pregnancy, but it would be nice to give our daughter a sibling one day.

Juliana & Nicolas on a family vacation in Sicily

Nicolas and I met about ten years ago when I was working as a travel writer and visited Nicolas’s family’s ecotourism business in the rainforest of Central America. We’ve been married for two and a half years and live in a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C. in a multigenerational home with my parents. My family is Latin American and this is not an unusual arrangement. It’s also a good situation for now: we get free childcare and low rent, and my parents get help with errands, cooking, and other household chores. Plus, my daughter gets lots of high-quality time with her grandparents! I had a typical suburban upbringing, and my husband grew up in the rainforest surrounded by wilderness.

My parents have pensions and–from a financial perspective–would likely be able to care for themselves into old age, but culturally, my siblings and I will probably have an active role in their care. For example, if one of my parents were to pass away, my assumption would be that the surviving parent would live with me or one of my siblings.

I want to start off by saying that this has been a tough year for us financially: I had a complicated pregnancy and birth, and we hit our $4,500 out-of-pocket insurance maximum, one of our cars needed $2,000 worth of repairs, and I was on unpaid maternity leave for over six weeks. In light of all this, our emergency fund took an almost $10,000 hit. I have to say, however, that it felt good to be able to use our savings instead of putting these unexpected expenses on credit!

Looking To The Future

Juliana and Nicolas at Shelburn farm in Vermont

As much as we appreciate being able to live with my parents, my husband and I would eventually like to live in a more rural locale on our own (my parents wouldn’t move with us). We don’t want to be too far from family for now, but love the idea of living on a small cottage/house on someone else’s farm/land to try out the idea of country living. Or more accurately, so that *I* can try out country living; my husband grew up without electricity or running water, so I think he can pretty much handle anything!

We’re not really interested in buying a place to live, but would like to be in our own (rented) place in the next few years. While I don’t HATE our current area, and there are plenty of amenities like walking trails, greenery and convenience, it’s not where I imagine living the rest of my life. Basically, I constantly have to convince myself that it’s not that bad. Anytime I’m in the woods, in the mountains, or staring out at a beautiful green field, I find myself invigorated and excited about life. My suburb, unfortunately, doesn’t inspire the same feelings, though I recognize that maybe I’m just seeking something novel not associated with my day-to-day life… because you know, “wherever you go, there you are.”

Background and Hobbies

I majored in English and, after college, spent most of my twenties working as a travel writer, barely scraping by and doing lots of travel and odd jobs, such as teaching English, writing data-driven articles and doing translations. This was great and I wouldn’t trade it, but it was a pretty broke and stressful existence. Also, I was so young and inexperienced (and, honestly, irresponsible), that I never quite figured out how to make a career out of the amazing opportunities I was given right out of college. I often regret this, but I try not to dwell on it. Nowadays, I love to read, listen to podcasts, write, create art, walk, hike, travel and simply enjoy nature. My husband and I overlap in our love of travel, walking, hiking and enjoying nature, but he’s a bit more extroverted and active, and also enjoys biking with a local group. We both like spending time with family, watching a Netflix show a couple times a week (on my parent’s plan) and visiting local (free!) attractions like the petting zoo and parks.

Juliana’s Career

I work in the public sector mental health field. This means I determine if individuals meet the agency’s criteria for services, but I don’t carry a caseload. I’m also currently working towards a masters in clinical mental health counseling. I have seven classes to go until I graduate in December 2019. I’m paying for this program out of pocket, with the hope that it will make me more marketable so that I can eventually find a well-paid part-time position in the field. I have a tendency to start a lot of things and then they don’t measure up to my expectations, so part of my motivation in finishing this graduate program is to prove to myself that I’m capable of following through with something.

Juliana & Nicolas on a trip to the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone

I would ideally like to work 20-24 hours per week so that I can focus more on the things I love, such as writing, creating art and spending time with my daughter. I rarely dread going to work, but I’d be lying if I said that I find it extremely fulfilling: it’s a job, it pays me fairly well to do something that I think is meaningful, and it allows me free weekends, benefits, and paid time-off.

But I’m tired of the long days and the fact that I’m not pursuing my passions. I leave my house at around 8:30 in the morning, and get back until 7 p.m., so I don’t spend much time with my daughter during the week.

I try to spend as much time with her as possible on the weekends, but the weekends are also my time to study, run errands, tidy up, etc. My commute is 13 miles each way and it takes me about 40 minutes to get to work in the morning and 50 minutes to get home in the evening. My husband’s commute is 20 miles, but because his hours are outside of rush hour, his commute is 25 to 30 minutes each way. I don’t love my commute, but I make it tolerable by listening to lots of books on tape.

Nicolas’s Career

My husband works as a phlebotomist at a local hospital. He’s working towards his phlebotomy certification, as this will make it easier for him to work at another hospital if and when we move to a more rural location. In college, Nicolas studied nursing in Central America, but it doesn’t transfer as a nursing degree here in the U.S. We’ve had his diploma translated, but his degree is over ten years old, and he’d probably have to start over in that field. His long-term goal is to obtain a degree or certification in a higher-paying healthcare field. He’d like to go back into nursing, but we’re not sure how realistic that is, given our age, the fact that he would need to score highly on the TOEFL, and the time commitment nursing would take (most hospital nursing jobs in our area now require a four-year degree). My husband works an early morning shift and is usually home by 2:30 p.m., so working part-time isn’t as important to him, as his schedule allows him the time to pursue his hobbies (like biking) and spend time with our daughter during the week.

Future Career Aspirations

Where I currently live, I estimate I could earn around $80,000/year (my first year) as a “senior clinician” after getting my counselor’s license, with modest cost of living and merit-based increases every year after that (I think 1.5-4% annually). This would be for full-time employment, and represents an approximately $15,000 raise over what I currently make. My husband’s income is more limited. If he stays on at his current job, he’d probably max out at around $50,000/year, many years down the road. Right now, he makes $36,000 gross annually.

Juliana & Nicolas at Catalina State Park near Tucson

I’m at a bit of a crossroads career-wise. In the future, I can imagine myself doing my job on a part-time basis because it would provide a steady income and give me time to pursue my true passions, which are art and writing. I’m good at my job, I feel like I’m contributing to the greater good of the community, and I think I’m providing a needed service. Plus, I’m really not sure what other career I could pursue. When I think back on the jobs I’ve liked, I can say I enjoyed working at a winery in a beautiful setting, at a daycare where I had the opportunity to use my imagination and interact with tiny, creative minds on a daily basis, and at my local grocery store, where I’d imagine the shoppers’ inner workings and home lives.

My husband enjoys working in the healthcare field and would be happy to continue this, but his true passion was working as a travel guide with his family’s ecotourism company in Central America. He’s a naturalist who grew up in the rainforest, and he knows the name of just about every plant and bird. However, moving back to Central America isn’t really an option for us right now. We both really, really enjoyed our “freelance” lifestyles: Nicolas worked hard from December to May and would travel to upstate New York to visit family the remainder of the year. I worked enough to get by and have enough money to travel and have fun. However, now that we have a daughter and no clear vision on how we could return to our freelance lifestyles, we understand that we need stable jobs for the time being.

In our ideal world, I would love to be making my living as a writer (or at least I would love to have long mornings for writing) and Nicolas would be happy in any job that allows him to interact with and engage deeply with other people. I’ve been working on a collection of short stories here and there for several years now, but I now have much greater clarity of vision for this project, and would love it if I had more uninterrupted time to write! Right now, I wake up at around 5 a.m. a few times a week in order to write a few sentences here and there, but I tend to work better in long, uninterrupted stretches.

Together, Nicolas and I make decent money. It’s not much by D.C standards but since we live with my parents, we have a great rent and childcare situation (even this far out in the suburbs, a two-bedroom starts at around $2,000 per month and childcare for an infant is about $1,500 per month). I spent most of my twenties making under $25K a year and just barely getting by (and spending big), but I’ve had an OK income for the last five years. That being said, I feel like we should be in a better place financially. I made poor financial decisions in my twenties (student loans I didn’t need, impulse purchases, a car I didn’t really need, etc.), and ended up with about $65K in debt. I worked several jobs for a few years to pay much of that off, and my only outstanding debt now is $12,315  in student loans.

Future Financial Goals

Juliana and Nicolas in the Blue Ridge Moountains

While I’m in a better place than I was five years ago, I’m almost embarrassed at how little we have in our 401ks/long-term investments. If this Reader Case Study exercise has taught me anything, it’s that I did not have a realistic view of our finances prior to compiling everything for Mrs. Frugalwoods.

Writing down every single monthly expense gave me insight into where our money is going, and it forced me to take a hard and cringe-worthy look at how much money I’m spending on insignificant things that don’t even matter to me in the long-term. For example, I could have saved more than $20,000 over the last five years if I’d given up my coffee/soda/eating out habit.

Prior to this, I was looking at my finances through rose-colored lenses and thought we were keeping more of our income than we actually are. And in all honestly, I’m the one mostly responsible for the excess spending. My husband is frugal by nature. He indulges in a few big purchases a year (usually bike-related) but doesn’t waste money on stuff that’s not meaningful to him. I, on the other hand, avoid expensive purchases, but spend A LOT of money on small things.

Where Juliana and Nicolas Want To Be In 10 Years:

  • Finances: I want to be able to work part-time, hopefully within five years.
    • Being rich isn’t important to me, but we want to be able to live our lives without putting anything on credit (except for possibly a mortgage in the future). In an ideal world, I’d love to be making money from my writing, but I would settle for the pleasure of having time to write for writing’s sake. Right now, I don’t have any great longing for homeownership, but would consider it with a convincing argument. One option if we wanted a tax shelter would be to buy an affordable condo one county over and rent it out while we continue living at my parent’s house. This would be more of a long-term investment, and we could stay on with my parents for a few more years. To be honest, we don’t seem to have very clear financial goals right now.
  • Lifestyle: I want more time.
    • Or better said, I want more control over my time. My husband and I would love to live somewhere where we can easily access nature (such as by a trail system, park, etc.) Living in view of the mountains is a non-negotiable. We plan to stay in Virginia for at least the next 3-4 years, but after that, we’d be open to moving to upstate New York, where my husband has family. Ideally, I’d like to be close to a town with a strong sense of community. It doesn’t have to be especially quaint, but it would be nice if this town had a coffee shop, a decent library, and a biking group my husband could join. In my ideal world, I would be a published author living on a small parcel of land somewhere in the countryside. My husband and I would grow some vegetables, have a few chickens just for the fun of it, and my daughter would grow up with an intimate knowledge of the natural world. Very cliché, I know, and maybe all these longings are escapist in nature?
  • Career: I’ll be honest, if I could go back, I might have chosen a different career path.
    • I am finishing my masters in clinical mental health counseling because I have seven years of experience in the field and I’m at a loss for how I would get started in another field or what that field would even be! I tend to have trouble zeroing in on goals and staying motivated, especially when it comes to long-term goals. In practical terms, getting my masters would ensure that I can obtain well-paid, part-time work in this particular field in the future. I only have seven classes to go after this semester, and my program is pretty affordable and flexible, as I’m doing the online version from a brick-and-mortar school.

Nicolas and Juliana’s Finances

Net Income

Item Amount Notes
Juliana monthly income $3,100 This is after taxes, 401k contributions, deferred compensation contributions, insurance, etc. Will go up slightly when I change insurance providers (about $85 a month increase in monthly take home), starting in January.
Nicolas monthly income $2,314 This is after taxes, 401K contributions, short-term disability, long-term disability, etc. Will probably get rid of short-term disability next year, so long as we have six months of savings, because it’s expensive (almost $100 a month, and only covers 60% of salary for six weeks).
Juliana tuition reimbursement $133 $1,600 total per year
Monthly Subtotal: $5,547
Annual Total: $66,564

Monthly Expenses

Item Amount Notes
Grad school + books $650 I am reimbursed $1,600 per year through my job. I have three semesters to go after this semester, so I will be done in December 2019. This is my pre-reimbursement cost as I included the reimbursement above under income.
Rent $500 We live with my parents. We pay them $500 per month as a courtesy.
Groceries $500 We contribute $500 a month to groceries. The total family bill for the five of us is much more, but this is our portion. We’ve started meal prepping (inspired by the Frugalwoods) so we may be able to reduce this by $100 or so.
Restaurants/coffee/soda/entertainment $500 This is my biggest problem area and includes mostly coffee, soda (I buy from a vending machine instead of getting a 12-pack… stupid, I know), breakfast on the go, fast food, etc. My husband rarely buys food when he’s out. If not for my impulse food buys, we’d save at least $300 a month in my estimate. I’d rather go out to a nice restaurant a few times a year when friends are visiting than spend this much on stuff I can’t even remember! This also includes occasionally going to a winery/brewery with family and going to the movies or other fee-based entertainment a few times a year.
Vacation $450 Covers airfare, hotels, etc. We take approximately two trips a year to visit relatives, another two to three mini vacations close to home, and one “big” trip on our own. I guess we could cut back a little, at least for a little while…
Car & Transportation $450 Includes gas (about $180 for both cars — we live in the suburbs in a high traffic area so it would be hard to decrease this amount), car insurance ($1,200/yr) and car maintenance, registration, taxes, inspections, and repairs. We own a 2005 Subaru Legacy (105K miles) and a 2012 Honda Civic (105K miles). We don’t have the option to bike or take public transit where we live. Our 13-year-old Subaru has required $2,000 worth of work this year, and the A/C and heating system just died… I’d really like to hold onto the Subaru for a few more years because of the low mileage, but it’s getting to the point where it’s not super reliable.
Doctor and Pharmacy $375 For all three of us: co-pays, pharmacy, etc. I had a complicated pregnancy and birth, so we hit our $4,500 max out of pocket. This year I’m switching to a lower cost HMO plan with very low co-pays, so I’m hoping this will decrease in the future. I estimate it’ll be more like $50/month starting next year.
School Loan $197 I still have $12,315 left to pay. I’m not sure if I should pay this off with savings, or hold on to our savings and pay it off over the next few years.
Money sent abroad to family $150 I send my grandma $50 a month and my husband sends his family money as needed. This is something we can’t reduce or change.
Two Cell Phones $108 Sprint unlimited data/calling/text for two cell phones. We are part of the family plan and this is our portion. We’d be open to a cheaper plan as long as it has unlimited data, as we only have one computer between the two of us. Right now, both us have phones that are over three years old and starting to have some problems, so new phones are something we may need to get next year.
Baby stuff $105 Milk, wipes, diapers. Baby got a lot of hand-me-down toys, so we don’t need to purchase any toys for a while.
Gym Membership (Juliana) $80 This is expensive, but it’s the only exercise program that’s actually stuck for me, so I’d like to keep it if possible.
Gifts, Personal Care, Household Supplies $75 Shampoo, toothpaste, toilet paper, other household items, and gifts for family.
Clothing $60 Baby clothes and clothes for my husband and me. I haven’t bought clothes in years, but I go through shoes pretty quickly. Husband likes to buy a few new outfits and pairs of shoes every year.
Recreational Class $50 I usually take one “for fun” writing class a year at my local community college.
Misc. $50 For things that come up. For example, my husband is taking a phlebotomist certification test, which is $117. Occasionally we’ve had to pay to get documents translated, or pay administrative fees for documents.
Monthly Subtotal: $4,300
Annual Total: $51,600


Item Amount Notes
Cash $21,000 I’d like to have a six month emergency fund, which would be $25,800 at our current level of monthly spending.
Deferred Compensation (Juliana) $16,000 I don’t really count this because this would be paid to me as a pension if I were to make it to retirement at my current job. It doesn’t really matter how much is in it at the end — you get paid a certain monthly amount upon retirement depending on your years of service. I put 5.5% of my salary in, and my employer contributes a certain amount, and disperses a monthly pension upon retirement (about 80% of my salary in my last two years of employment from retirement to death). If I were to leave my job, I could keep what I’ve contributed ($16,000) but would lose what my employer has contributed. At least this is my understanding. I’m considered vested at this time, so if I left, I’d keep my contributions as well as the interest accrued, but would lose the monthly pension.
457 Plan (Juliana) and 401k (Nicolas) $10,410 Target date type funds through T Rowe. I contribute 5% per pay period, no match; Nicolas contributes 5% per pay period with an employer match (he just started contributing six months ago because before that, he was a PRN employee). I only contributed 1% the first four years of my employment and paused contributions while I was on maternity leave. We’re a bit late to the investment/401k game.
Total: $45,000


Car Valued At Notes
2012 Honda Civic with 105K miles (Nicolas’ car) $5,500 Nicolas drives about 12,000 miles a year. I’m hoping this car lasts forever, or at least five more years. Unfortunately, due to our schedules, it would be almost impossible to downsize to one car.
2005 Subaru Legacy with 105K miles (Juliana’s car) $3,500 I also drive about 12,000 miles a year. I hope this car lasts another two to three years, but its had some pretty expensive problems lately. The heating/AC system just died, and I’m not sure how much that will cost to fix.
Total:  $9,000


Item Amount Notes
Juliana’s student loan $12,315 Unsure if I should pay this off or increase our savings/investments. Interest rate is 6.550% fixed. I currently pay $197 per month on it. This is a subsidized federal loan that’s in deferment right now (due to grad school), but I’m still making payments.

Juliana’s Questions For You:

  1. When will I be able to afford to work part-time? Can I ever afford to go part-time? At my current education level, if I were to work part-time, I’d make a maximum of $28/hr (less than I make now). However, once I finish my masters degree and am a licensed professional counselor, I might be able to make $35/hr working in the public sector. *I have no interest in private practice.* I estimate that if I were to quit my full-time job and go part-time before I have my license, we would be looking at making $40,000 gross less a year, and would likely have to live on $50K net or less per year. I estimate that on the cheaper end of things, a two bedroom house with utilities within 45 minutes of my family would cost about $1,500 per month, unless we can find some sort of labor/housing exchange gig.
  2. I find that I often put off living in the present because I’m not currently living the exact life I’d like to be living. This question is more philosophical than financial, but how can I enjoy the present more, considering my current schedule, the fact that I don’t love my job, and that we live somewhere we don’t love? Are there things I could be doing to “prepare” for my dream rural lifestyle that would make us feel as if we’re actively working towards those goals? (for example: growing vegetables in our small garden, learning how to compost, etc.) How can my husband and I pursue our passions within the confines of our current lives?
  3. Once we reach our goal of replenishing our emergency fund, what should we do with our extra money? Invest more in our 401ks (my husband’s company matches; mine doesn’t)? Open an independent investment fund? Pay off my student loan? Buy an affordable and easy-to-rent condo a little further out? Start a college bank account for our baby? All of the above? Our goal is to have more financial stability, so it’s very important that we grow our nest egg, as it’s in pretty paltry shape right now!
  4. Is there any way we can increase our incomes? Even without reader analysis/input, I know there are definitely areas we can cut back on! Because of my long days, I’d prefer to do something flexible from home, but most of the work-from-home opportunities I see seem a little scam-y. My husband could possibly get part-time work at another hospital, but he doesn’t have a set schedule and the logistics of this might be difficult.

Mrs. Frugalwoods’ Recommendations

Juliana, congratulations! Before you read any of my advice–or the wonderful advice readers will share–you’ve already put yourself in a better financial position. As Juliana articulated, the process of compiling her complete financial picture for this Case Study was deeply illuminating:

If this Reader Case Study exercise has taught me anything, it’s that I did not have a realistic view of our finances prior to compiling everything for Mrs. Frugalwoods. Writing down every single monthly expense gave me insight into where our money is going, and it forced me to take a hard and cringe-worthy look at how much money I’m spending on insignificant things that don’t even matter to me in the long-termFor example, I could have saved more than $20,000 over the last five years if I’d given up my coffee/soda/eating out habit.

It is NOT EASY to pull together all the material a Case Study requires and I’m in awe every single month of the determination that Case Study subjects display in assembling all of their numbers for us. If you’re wondering where start with improving your financial life, start here. Start with putting the following into a spreadsheet, exactly as Juliana did above:

  • Your net income: This means the after-tax dollar amount you take home every month, NOT your gross income.
  • Your monthly expenses: You can’t guess on this one. As Juliana sagely noted, it’s easy to underestimate what you spend every month. Use an expense tracking service–I use and recommend Personal Capital, which is free–or write down every dollar religiously.
  • Your debts with interest rates: include the total amount you owe on any cars, homes, credit cards, student loans, etc. List ALL debts and sort them according to interest rate.
  • Your assets: retirement accounts (401ks, 403bs, etc), investments, savings, checking accounts, cash under your mattress.

Knowing all of the above, and having it all written down in one place, can produce a transformational shift in how you think about your money. Once you write it all down per the above, it’s no longer a mysterious, terrifying force–it’s a simple question of numbers and math. I find that looking at your finances as just that–numbers–removes a lot of the emotion, fear, and anxiety that we allow our money to generate. Juliana highlighted the tremendous importance of knowing your full financial picture and I’m grateful to her for sharing how revelatory this exercise was. Kudos to Juliana for already being in better financial shape! I am excited for you!!

Also, I have to say that Juliana’s photos are AMAZING. They are, hands down, the most beautiful photos I’ve ever received for a Case Study. Truly, Juliana has a gift for photography and I’m grateful to her for sharing these incredible shots with us.

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.

Stay Put And Save $$$$ !!!!!

Juliana and Nicolas have a wonderful situation going on right now with her parents and I urge them to stay put and save up! Given their goals, their financial position, and their desire to move in the future, I think they should view the next five years or so as their time to ramp their savings rate up through the ROOF! I love both the familial closeness as well as the financial boon of living with Juliana’s parents and, at present, this means they’re not paying for:

  • Market-rate rent
  • Utilities
  • Home maintenance/repair/upkeep/security deposit to a landlord
  • Homeowner’s or renter’s insurance
  • Daycare
Juliana and Nicolas at the James River in central Virginia

In the absence of these standard (often exorbitant) expenses, Juliana and Nicolas are in the unique position of being able to save at a ridiculously high rate, despite having fairly modest incomes for the DC area. This is great news! Juliana is well aware of this as she has priced out rents and daycare costs for their area and, as she noted, these two costs alone–rent and daycare–would gobble up at least $3,500 per month, which is a good deal of their take-home pay.

In light of their low rent and free childcare, I highly recommend they consider staying with Juliana’s parents until their daughter is in kindergarten. Also, as Juliana noted, in addition to being free childcare, it’s childcare provided by loving grandparents, which no amount of money could every replace.

Furthermore, I encourage Juliana and Nicolas to consider their plans regarding having more children. Juliana noted that they’re currently undecided–which is very reasonable considering their first is a mere six months old–but a double daycare bill would, at this point, decimate their income. On top of the costs, there are also major logistical considerations with taking kids to and from daycare, in addition to sick days and holidays. All that to say, free, loving, in-home childcare is every parents’ dream (or at least, it’s certainly mine!).

Given this financial reality, if Juliana’s parents are amenable, I think it’s wise for Juliana and Nicolas to continue living with them until their youngest child is in school. The other reason to do this is so that they can save up enough money to enable their goals. Let’s take a look at how!

Juliana and Nicolas’s Expenses

Woohoo! This is an exciting expense review because Juliana already knows there’s a lot of room for them to save and, as noted above, they are mercifully absent a lot of fixed monthly expenses. I also want to point out that Juliana should not beat herself up. I know she did the calculation that she could’ve saved $20K more if she’d stopped buying coffee/soda/food out and, while I commend her for doing that reckoning, I don’t want to her to dwell on it. It’s in the past and we are not worried about it! We are going to work together today to focus on what Juliana and Nicolas can proactively do going forward. Full steam ahead, friends!

In every single Case Study, I like to point out that what you choose to save or not save is a very personal decision. Cutting every last expense is NOT the right answer for everyone and I am NOT an advocate for making yourself miserable in the process of achieving financial stability. I AM an advocate for values-based, goal-oriented spending. I think it’s important to assess whether all of your expenses bring you fulfillment and a good return on your investment.

I think it’s also important to question if your rate of savings will help you to achieve your long-term goals. But what you spend on? That’s a very personal choice and one you have to make for yourself. My job is to point out areas where you might be able to save, but only you can decide if that level of savings is right for you. If you’re struggling with where to save more and how to map out a longterm financial plan, I encourage you to take my free 31-day Uber Frugal Month Challenge.

Ok, with that said, let’s take a look at potential savings for Juliana and Nicolas:

Item Current Amount Mrs. FW’s Notes Proposed New Amount Amount Saved
Grad school + books $650 Fixed expense; no change $650 $0
Rent $500 Fixed expense; no change $500 $0
Groceries $500 Juliana posited that they might be able to reduce this by $100 and I strongly encourage her to do that. I also recognize that, since she and Nicolas are contributing towards the whole household’s meals, this might not be easily adjustable and they might need to consider it as part of their “rent.” However, I encourage them to make an effort at reducing this to the extent that it won’t cause friction with her parents. $400 $100
Restaurants/coffee/soda/entertainment $500 Alrighty, this is the category most eligible for intense savings! Juliana said that she’d rather go out for a nice meal every now and then as opposed to frittering away cash in this category. To that end, I encourage her to eliminate all but $50/month from this. That should allow for those special meals, but eliminate all the drips and drabs throughout the month. $50 $450
Vacation $450 I hear that travel is a passion for Juliana and Nicolas. However. $5,400 per year on travel is pretty high and this one is largely a question of how quickly and how seriously they want to reach their goals. This could be an easy way to save $450 per month, or, they could decide that this is a crucial element of their lives and that they’d rather postpone goals in order to continue traveling every year. No wrong answer, just different options. $0 $450
Car & Transportation $450 Fixed expense; no change $450 $0
Doctor and Pharmacy $375 Juliana noted this is likely to be $50/month starting in January as this was mostly due to her complicated pregnancy and birth $50 $325
School Loan $197 Pay this off in full (see my notes below for more details) $0 $197
Money sent abroad to family $150 Fixed expense; no change $150 $0
Two Cell Phones $108 Check out BOOM, Ting, Republic Wireless and other MVNO providers. Juliana and Nicolas should be able to find something that’s circa $20 each per month. DC-area readers, please let us know what you suggest! $40 $68
Baby stuff $105 I think there’s an opportunity to reduce this category. I encourage Juliana and Nicolas to source their daughter’s gear, clothes, and toys used through garage sales, Craigslist, thrift stores, swap meets, Facebook buy/sell groups, their local Buy Nothing group, and friends with older kids. More on that here.

Here are my notes on cheap diapers/wipes/supplies:
-Cheapest diapers are: Costco store brand (which is Kirkland); BJ’s store brand (which is Berkeley Jensen); and Wal-Mart store brand (which is Parents’ Choice). When we had a Costco near us, we used those exclusively. Then, when we moved and had a BJ’s, we used the BJ’s diapers for a month or so and weren’t happy with them–I found that they leaked (however, my friend who has a boy swears they’re the best, so it might be a boy/girl issue). Now we use Parents’ Choice for Littlewoods (Babywoods is mercifully potty trained, but we used Parents’ Choice for her prior to that). I’ve been really happy with them and they are cheap, cheap, cheap. From the last time I price checked, all three options were the same price per diaper and were the cheapest options available.
-Wipes: Basically the same three options as above. We use the BJ’s store brand wipes as they’re scent-free and for sensitive skin and also super duper cheap. Prior to that, we used the Costco store brand wipes. I once used the Wal-mart wipes and they were just fine too. We use the BJ’s wipes now because they periodically have coupons for them, which make them the cheapest.
-Other stuff (diaper rash cream, baby wash, lotion, etc): we get the generic Wal-Mart store brand of all of these items or the Wal-Mart knock-off of Aveno, Johnson & Johnson, Cetaphil, etc. They have lots of generic versions and the prices are excellent.

$75 $30
Gym Membership (Juliana) $80 Juliana’ gym membership and recreational writing class are things that only she knows the true value of. If these are important to her–and it sounds like they are–she should keep them and look to make deeper cuts in other areas. $80 $0
Gifts, Personal Care, Household Supplies $75 I’d keep a close eye on this and see if there are generic/cheaper versions of personal care and household supplies. I’d also encourage them to be judicious in their gift giving and try, if possible, to set reasonable dollar limits for their family members. $50 $25
Clothing $60 Time for a clothes-buying ban! If baby needs clothes, go the used/hand-me-down route. More here. $0 $60
Recreational Class $50 See notes next to “gym membership” $50 $0
Misc. $50 Fixed expense; no change $50 $0
Current Monthly Subtotal: $4,300 Proposed New Monthly Subtotal: $2,595 $1,705
Current Annual Total: $51,600 Proposed New Annual Total: $31,140 $20,460

From the potential savings I outlined, Juliana and Nicolas could be on track to save $20,460 MORE per year. They’re already doing a fantastic job of saving $1,247 per month–also known as $14,964 per year–which is phenomenal. If they made all of the above listed reductions, they’d save an astounding $35,424 IN A SINGLE YEAR. WOW. That means by the time their daughter enters kindergarten in five years–and they contemplate a move and a reduction in Juliana’s work hours–they could have a nest egg of $177,120 saved up. And that’s assuming they see no increase in their salaries during that time period.

Each and every one of these expenses is something Juliana and Nicolas will need to make a values-based decision about. I hope that this exercise has at least opened up Juliana’s mind to the incredible possibilities they have if they choose to dramatically reduce their spending. Her desire to work part-time seems much more feasible if they’re able to make these changes and save at such a high rate.

Increasing Income?

Juliana and Nicolas on a road trip through the New Hampshire White Mountains

The other end of this equation is, of course, increasing one’s income. Juliana knows this and asked how she and Nicolas might increase their incomes, but it seems to me they’re already doing everything possible in this arena.

Juliana is completing her master’s, which will clearly translate into a higher salary, and Nicolas is working his way up at the hospital. I don’t see any value–at this point–in bifurcating their time and energy any further.

A human can only do so much in a 24-hour period! Juliana is already maxing herself out with working full-time and going to school, so my advice would be to soldier on with finishing her degree and then immediately parlay that into a higher salary.

Asset Allocation

“Asset allocation” is just a fancy term for “how you use your money.” I love that Juliana and Nicolas have carefully saved up an emergency fund and I also love that they’re contributing to their retirement accounts! Given my love of emergency funds, Juliana will probably be shocked to hear my next piece of advice:

Use your emergency fund to pay off your student loan in full, right now.

I’m making this somewhat unorthodox suggestion for several reasons:

  1. Juliana has a robust $21,000 in her emergency fund and her student loan is only $12,315. That means she’ll still have $8,685 in cash after paying off her loan, which would cover her family for a solid two months.
  2. Juliana’s student loan has a 6.55% interest rate, which isn’t astronomical but isn’t low either. From my perspective, there’s no reason to pay such a high interest rate when you have the cash on hand to eliminate this debt.
  3. Since Juliana and Nicolas live with Juliana’s parents, their exposure to risk is minimized. If they lived on their own and owned their own home, I might be more hesitant to recommend utilizing their emergency fund in this way. However, since they’re not going to be evicted if something catastrophic happens and they can’t pay rent, I recommend they deploy their cash more wisely at this point.
  4. Once this loan is eliminated, Juliana and Nicolas will be DEBT FREE! HOORAY! And they’ll save the $197/month that they’re currently paying on her loan, which make it all the easier to build their emergency fund back up.
  5. I think that Juliana and Nicolas have a lot of room to reduce their expenses (as detailed above), which means they won’t need such a large emergency fund. If they make all of the reductions I suggest, their monthly spending will be slashed down to $2,595, which means they’d only need $15,570 for six months’ worth of expenses. If they have $8,685 in their emergency fund after paying off the loan in full, they’ll need to save another $6,885 to get back up to a six months’ stash, which–if they start saving $1,701 MORE per month, coupled with their current monthly savings of $1,247 ($2,948 saved per month total)–it would take them a mere two months to save up.
  6. In conclusion, pay off the student loan ASAP.

This segues nicely into Juliana’s question about what they should do with their money once they’ve: 1) paid off her student loan; and 2) saved up an emergency fund.

Juliana is SPOT ON here because she is already doing the top steps I advise:

  1. Track your expenses religiously. Know exactly what you’re spending every month. If you’re not tracking your spending, you can sign-up for the free service Personal Capital, which is what I use and recommend for expense tracking (affiliate link). If you’d like to know more about how Personal Capital works, check out my full review.
  2. Pay off high interest debt. List all of your debts in a spreadsheet and sort by interest rate. Prioritize paying them off in order of highest interest rate first.
  3. Build an emergency fund. An emergency fund should be 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 (meaning three to six months worth of what you spend every month, which is why it’s important to do #1: track your expenses).
  4. Contribute to retirement accounts. 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. 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’re unlikely to build your net worth in a meaningful way. I use and recommend investing in low-fee index funds through the brokerages of Fidelity or Vanguard. I personally use Fidelity (I primarily own FSTVX), but Vanguard offers a similar product. You can do this yourself (it’s just like any other form of online banking) and there are more details here: For the Love of Frugal Hound, Manage Your Money Yourself! (by following The Simple Path to Wealth).
  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 (and rebalancing them) 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. Renting a property can be a fabulous financial decision and it can also be an absolutely abysmal one. It depends on many factors, including the rate of return you’d receive. For more on renting out properties, I recommend the site BiggerPockets, which discusses real estate investing.
  7. Analyze your income. Concurrent with all of this should be an analysis of your net income (that means the dollar amount you bring home every month, minus taxes and any other withholdings). In some cases, the best route to financial stability will be to increase your income while also lowering your expenses. Income is the crucial second piece to this equation and, the more you make, the more you can save. That’s just a solid math fact.

Juliana and Nicolas will soon be at step #5. And honestly, this is the step at which things get more complicated and dependent upon your individual plans, goals, income level, age, and tolerance for risk. Numbers 1-5 are pretty much universally applicable and appropriate (with some rare exceptions) for just about everyone.

What should they do?

Juliana and Nicolas at Central Park

Investing in low-fee index funds (as discussed in step #5 above) could be very appropriate for Juliana and Nicolas, given their ages and asset levels. However, if they plan to buy a home in the near future, this might not make sense. Why? Because you don’t want to invest money that you’re likely to need in the near future. The idea behind investing–and the way to grow wealth–is to remain invested in the market for many decades.

Pulling money in and out of investments is unlikely to net the type of returns the stock market has historically delivered. So, if Juliana and Nicolas envision themselves buying a home in the coming years, they’ll likely want to save their downpayment up as cash. However, as I’ve written many times, home ownership is not necessarily a financial slam dunk nor always a wise idea. And so, if Juliana and Nicolas decide they want to be longterm renters, investing in the market becomes a much clearer yes.

What about saving for college?

Juliana asked specifically if they should begin saving for their daughter’s college education and my response is probably, maybe. Here’s the thing: you can take out loans to pay for college, but you cannot take out loans to fund your retirement. It’s very much a “put your own oxygen mask on first” type of situation. Parents need to ensure their own retirement is solid before starting to save for their kids’ higher education. However, their baby is young and their retirement savings are underway, so it will probably make sense for them to create a separate account intended as a college fund for their daughter. 529s can be a good idea as contributions are sometimes tax advantages (you don’t get a federal tax deduction, just a state tax deduction in some states), but this is really dependent upon your income tax rate and the laws governing your state. Juliana and Nicolas should certainly do more research into 529s and decide if that might be right for them.

What about buying a condo to rent out?

I have no idea on this one. Owning a rental property is so heavily location-dependent that I really can’t advise on whether or not this is a good idea. Juliana and Nicolas can research this and look at:

  • Purchase prices in the area
  • If the condo is in a home owners’ association, what the rules are governing rental units
  • The likelihood that their mortgage interest rate will be higher if they’re not buying the condo as their primary residence
  • The likelihood of missing out on the capital gains tax exclusion if they sell the condo without having lived in it for a specified number of years
  • The rental prices in the area and whether or not these typically include things like utilities, snow removal, trash, etc.
  • Whether or not they’d hire a property manager and the price this would be. If they don’t plan to hire a property manager, assess their DIY skills–can they re-plumb a toilet? Fix a leaky sink? etc etc etc (truly, repairs are endless in homes… )
  • Calculations for a robust fund to cover vacancy, maintenance, repairs, etc
  • The caliber of tenants in the area and how likely evictions or vacancies are
  • Landlord/tenant laws in their state

This is a cursory list and I encourage Juliana and Nicolas to do more research. My hunch is that, unless they want to actually live in this condo, this isn’t going to be a fabulous financial decision and that they’d be better off investing in low-fee index funds. But, I can’t know this without the answers to all of the above considerations.

Goal Planning Time!

Juliana and Nicolas articulated a pretty clear vision for their future: her working part-time and them living in a more rural location. Fortunately, given their ability to save mega bucks over the next few years, I think both of these goals are within reach.

Juliana and Nicolas enjoying fall in New Hampshire

Another factor in their favor is that both of their careers are portable and in demand. It seems likely they’d be able to find good jobs in a rural location (often very tough to do) as long as there’s a hospital/medical center nearby.

Plus, I think relocating to a lower cost of living area would bode well for them since they’re never going to make enough to cope with housing prices in DC, but, in a rural area, they could do very well.

One caution I have is that, at this stage, Juliana and Nicolas are enjoying the wonderful benefit of having family nearby to play a role in raising their daughter. When considering this move away from family, I encourage Juliana and Nicolas to reflect on all of the financial and ancillary benefits of living close to family when you have young children. Since I don’t have any family nearby, I’m particularly attuned to this and I consider it to be the only major downside of where we live. This isn’t to say they shouldn’t move, just that they should take this into consideration.

Scout Out Locations

This is the fun part! Juliana and Nicolas should get to work on scouting out potential locations for their move. Juliana identified upstate New York as a strong possibility and I love that Nicolas has family there–that could really make it a win-win. In lieu of other vacations for the foreseeable future, I encourage them to scope out possible towns in upstate New York. They could rent an AirBnB, stay awhile, get a good sense of the community, check out housing prices, and determine where they might work. I imagine their criteria will narrow down possible candidates since they’re interested in:

  • A vibrant little community with a downtown
  • Near a medical center/hospital
  • Low cost of living
  • Close to nature

Fortunately, the Northeast is rife with these types of little towns, although I will caution that the cuter the downtown, the more expensive the housing prices. But, coming from the DC market, Juliana and Nicolas are likely to find somewhere that ticks all these boxes and has a lower priced housing market. I know that Juliana isn’t all that interested in buying a place, however, renting isn’t always possible in rural locations. They’ll just have to see what the market is like in the areas they’re interested in.

Why Not Central America?

Juliana and Nicolas at Cherry Pond in the White Mountains

It sounds like Juliana and Nicolas are set on staying in the US, but, her repeated mentions of how much they both loved their freelance lives made me wonder why they’re not considering returning to Central America to do ecotourism with Nicolas’ family.

There could be many factors that make this untenable, but it strikes me that they were both happiest when living a simpler, less expensive life. Just throwing that out there in case there’s any room for them to consider this option.

Why Not Private Practice?

Again, Juliana clearly stated that she doesn’t want to do private practice, but I have to ask why not?

This is certainly an area where she could craft a very flexible, part-time schedule and make much more than she does at present. Just something for her to consider.

Be Confident!

I was surprised to hear Juliana say that she feels like she doesn’t stick to goals and that she thinks they should be in better financial shape. We can all stand to be better about sticking to goals and managing our money–that’s sort of a universal given–but Juliana needs to give herself more credit. She and Nicolas are in excellent financial shape–and have the opporunity to catapult themselves into tremendous financial shape. Plus, she paid off $63,000 in debt!!! That is REMARKABLE!!!! And she’s getting her master’s degree while working full-time!!! And being a mom! Come on, Juliana, pat yourself on the back! These are all incredible accomplishments and I don’t want Juliana to feel anything but proud and confident about her future. She and Nicolas are doing really well and, if they can buckle down and save, they’ll be in an enviable financial position.

Passions vs. Making Money

An echo throughout Juliana’s story is the fact that she and Nicolas aren’t doing what they’re passionate about in their daily jobs. They seem to both like their jobs, but don’t love them. And I’m here to say: that is ok. Your life is not over if what you do is not immensely personally fulfilling every day. I know it may come as a surprise to hear me say this because I am an advocate for doing what you love every single day.

Juliana and Nicolas in Sicily

However, sometimes the best we can do is work that we find meaningful–even if we don’t absolutely love it–and carve out time to pursue our passions in the off hours. This is how Frugalwoods was born. I continued to work my 9 to 5, while nurturing an impossible-seeming dream of making my living as a full-time writer (which is what I do now, although I’m more like a part-time writer and full-time parent). There’s no magic bullet to propel Juliana into the life she wants, but there are incremental steps she and Nicolas can take–starting today–to get there.

What I find remarkable is that Juliana knows what she wants out of life. I can’t tell you how many people ask me how they can discern that for themselves (and I tried to write about it here, but it’s a tough thing to do) and I have no good answer for them. Juliana knows herself well, and she’s nurturing her passion for writing WHILE going to school AND working full-time AND being a parent. If she can manage all of that, then I have absolutely no doubt that she’ll become a writer some day.

I do think that part-time work will be financially possible for her in the future–again, if they’re able to lower their spending and move to a lower cost of living location. Juliana and Nicolas are in the midst of what I call the slog. I’ve done it. Many people have done it. It’s when you buckle down, keep working, finish your degree, save a ton of money, and research where you want to go next. You can do this, Juliana, and in five years, in ten years? You will be so glad that you did the slog.


In summary, here’s what I advise Juliana and Nicolas to do:

  1. Pay off Juliana’s student loan in full, immediately.
  2. Make a plan for how they want to decrease their monthly spending, starting now, and enact those changes. ASAP. If it feels too overwhelming to make these changes right before the holidays, then Juliana and Nicolas should take my free Uber Frugal Month Challenge with the group in January.
  3. Save up a robust three to six month emergency fund.
  4. Research 529s and other college savings vehicles for their daughter. Open an account.
  5. Juliana should finish her master’s degree, increase her salary, and then investigate part-time options, through either her current position or in private practice.
  6. Determine if they plan to purchase a home in the next 5-10 years. If so, continue saving (at a high rate) into a savings account to save up a down payment.
  7. If home ownership is not in their plans, open up a low-fee index fund investment account through either Fidelity or Vanguard.
  8. Research towns they might want to move to. Visit, scope out the community, determine where they might work, investigate school districts, and gather data on housing prices.
  9. Continue living with Juliana’s parents–at least until their daughter is in kindergarten–to avoid paying exorbitant daycare fees.
  10. Decide where they want to live and move there!

Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice would you give to Juliana? 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 ( your brief story and we’ll talk.

Update from Juliana on 2/13/20:

Since the case study was published, we have:

-Bought a low-mileage, four-year-old Camry for about 11k, and we were able to pay for this in cash.
-Sold our beloved Subaru for $3.2k after realizing the maintenance was getting too expensive and unpredictable for us.
-We were able to pay for my graduate degree completely in cash (20K). This means that I’m eligible now for a modest raise, and my work has actually gotten more interesting.
-Paid off the remainder of my student loan (about 10k)
-We are contributing regularly to a 529 college fund for my daughter, and have asked relatives to donate to that in lieu of gifts for her birthday and Christmas, as she has plenty of toys and doesn’t care about gifts yet.

Between paying for school, paying a off my student loan, buying a new (to us) car, and some (very expensive) dental work my husband had to get, we now only have about 7k in savings, BUT we are completely debt free and optimistic that we’ll be able to start saving at a higher rate very soon.

Now that I’m done with school, my plan is to start contributing to my 457k at a higher rate (dropped my contributions to 1% while in school). We’ve been able to accomplish many of these goals because we live with my parents and only contribute about $1,000 for rent and groceries, and they’ve been very supportive in helping us out with childcare, and letting us stay as long as we want.

We also took the advice we received from Ms. Frugalwoods and the comment section to heart and implemented a lot of the suggestions. We still aren’t sure if we are going to rent or buy, but are leaning towards renting in the near-ish future because we can’t really afford the kind of home we’d want. Although this will be more expensive than staying with my parents, I think it’s time for us to be on our own as a family. I still struggle with spending money on things like coffee, lunch, etc., and know I need to get better about this, but overall, it feels great to pay for things in cash and be debt free.

We are definitely not at the point where I can even think about working part-time, as my husband still hasn’t figured out the whole nursing thing, but, I’m hopeful that in the next 4-5 years this could become a possibility, and I’ll be able to focus on my writing and seeing my daughter a little bit more.


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  1. I think a crucial missing point here is that both of the cars they own are aging, with one becoming increasingly unreliable. I’d suggest that – after paying off that student loan debt in full – they create a second “pot” of money where they contribute that former student loan payment to building up secondary savings for a new car/car maintenance. This way they’ll have a separate pot of money – not the emergency fund – dedicated to taking care of expensive repairs or perhaps saving up for a used car that’s more reliable.

    1. Thank you for bringing this up, Michelle! I totally overlooked the car situation in my recommendations! I agree with your suggestion–after paying off the student loan they can begin to save towards either repairs on their current vehicles or buying a used car.

    2. Michelle, think you are right. We just put 700 more into our Subaru after the ac/heating died. Fingers crossed it will last another six months or even year, but it’s no fun putting so much money into an aging car!

      1. Yeah, at a certain point, you have to cut your losses with elder cars. I’d look into selling the Subaru (you can likely get something for it) and then buying a new-to-you used car.

  2. Thanks for sharing your story, Juliana!

    I think that working part-time is a great idea. However, I do believe that you and your family will be much better off financially if you continue to work full-time for at least the next 5 years or so to pay off debt and save money for a house.

    I know you don’t think about home ownership right now. But as your baby grows and your family expands, you will need the extra space. I wouldn’t buy a condo for now since t’s difficult to manage a property from a distance and you need more time to beef up your cash reserves. Once you pay off your student loans, you can begin maxing out your 401k(s) and save up for a house.

    I’d also cut expenses in the following categories: restaurants, vacation, car insurance, pay off student loans, and recreational class. I know there’s a reason why you’re spending money in these categories, but prioritization is key here.

    Best of luck!

    1. Thanks! I actually made a commitment to stop buying coffees, sodas and mediocre meals out since I started putting this together for Mrs. Frugalwoods….the first two weeks were tough, not going to lie, but it’s gotten easier now, and I do t really miss this stuff anymore! We are open to home ownership. The area we live in has pretty stable housing prices, which means housing is expensive, but it generally appreciates in a steady manner. I think for now though, it’s not one of our front and center goals!

  3. Regarding cell phones:
    -I prefer to buy older models of phones on ebay or amazon (right now I have an iPhone SE I bought last year for I think $150, which isn’t cheap, but it’s not $1000)
    -Some companies give small discounts for certain providers
    -You may not need unlimited data because you can be on wifi with smart phones too (and when I get close to my data limits I turn off data, so that I have to deliberately turn it on versus just mindlessly wasting it)

    Regarding travel:
    -One way to decrease vacation costs would be to vacation close to areas you want to live someday. Upstate New York can be beautiful and doesn’t require flights to get to.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Love the idea of vacationing close to where we’d like to live. Our trips to upstate NY right now are kind of must dos, since all of my husband’s US family is there, but I think we can at least be smarter about how we travel! Right now we tend to see our roadtrips and vacations as free for alls when it comes to eating out and spending freely.

      I would definitely need to work on my husband with the limited data, but may be worth considering. We are still part of the family plan, so we’d need to see how our “defecting” would impact other family members!

      1. Would you be willing to consider some options that might help frugalize your road trips and vacations? (And please feel free to ignore them if you’re already doing these!)

        My husband and I love eating out and exploring food when we travel, but part of the way we do that now is by going to local markets or grocery stores and making some meals on the go. Typically, we’ll plan to eat out one meal a day and do breakfast and lunch/dinner with groceries instead. This dramatically cuts our food costs and gives us better options than the food court of whatever place we’re driving through or visiting. (And many attractions have locations where you can eat picnic lunches!)

        We also tend to stay in house rentals (like Airbnb) instead of hotels when we travel since it gives us access to a kitchen and longer-term food storage. Otherwise, we bring a cooler and buy ice to keep perishables cold. (We recently camped around Kauai and made at least half of our meals from the cooler we brought as a carry-on!)

        Finally, if you’re open to credit cards, travel rewards and bonuses can help pay for some of the vacations. If you know that you fly a particular airline every year, you might consider getting their credit card to earn miles and pay for your flights. Otherwise, there are many great cards (like Chase Sapphire and AMEX) that let you earn generic points that you can redeem with or transfer to partner chains.

        Travelling is a passion of mine, and finding ways to reduce our expenses while on the road allows me to save money, take advantage of deals when they come up, or add in another trip if there’s money leftover!

        1. Lisa, all good suggestions. I think fir us, part of the problem when we travel is that we see it as an opportunity to spend freely and go out to eat a ton, so there is definitely room for improvement there!

      2. I am on a family plan with Cricket Wireless. I made my mom get off her ATT plan that was hundreds of dollars a month and sign up with me for this one. I pay $100 for 4 lines with 4 gb of data and I never get near the data limit. The deal with cricket family plans is every person you add takes $10 off the starting price of $40, so my line was $40, wife was $30, mom was $20, step-dad was $10, and they even let you add a 5th line for $0 for father-in-law, so $100/5 means we each pay $20 a month. The data limit might not work for everyone but it is worth looking into.

      3. Cricket works on the AT&T network and has a great family plan – $100/month for 4 phones with unlimited voice, text, and data. It would cut the cost for you two and your parents by more than half without reducing your data usage.

        1. That sounds like a great deal. I had cricket before, and was happy with it. Do you know if you can take your current phone with you when you change plans? I’m thinking that if we had to buy new phones, we might end up not saving as much.

          1. I recently switched from Verizon to Xfinity mobile, and I was able to take my phone with me. I think this is not a problem anymore.

  4. My grandmother moved in with my parents when I was just nine months old and still lives with them now, thirty years later. Having her there as an extra adult growing up was such a special experience, and now she’s helping my mom take care of my son once a week. Multigenerational households aren’t for everyone, but it was a really great for my family. Now we live a twenty minute drive away from them and it feels FAR.

    We also have one child and are likely done – know that onlies can be pretty freaking awesome too 🙂

  5. Hi Juliana – you’re doing great! Just a thought (from a fellow NOVA resident working in healthcare), has your husband looked into going back to Nova (Annandale campus I believe) to get a nursing degree? I know most of the local health care organization provide decent tuition reimbursement and since you will be in the area for several more years, it’s very doable for him to get his nursing associates in that amount of time. A nursing degree would open tons of possible short-term ‘travel jobs’ that pay quite well and might give you more budget margin to work part-time where ever you decide to settle.

    1. Yes, we are looking into NOVA. They have a lot of great healthcare careers, and his job reimburses about 5k. We just need to work on the TOEFL and making sure he has all the requirements to apply! Also, decide if he’s going to go into nursing or another healthcare career.

    2. That’s what I was thinking. What if your husband got an ASN degree care of his healthcare employer after you finish your masters? There are a lot of ASN to BSN on-line options as well, giving him flexibility should he want to continue to the bachelors degree level. The demand for nurses is huge. Plus, once your daughter is in college (trust me, it goes fast) he would be able to take travel nursing jobs all over the country and in some international locations.

      1. Ohh, I hadn’t given thought to the online option for converting his ASN to a BSN, but that could work really well, since he already works at a hospital that seems to be supportive!

    1. Thank you for the compliment! I love taking pictures but had never considered selling them. These are all iPhone pics though, so they don’t enlarge well!

  6. It’s probably not going to net you more money right away, but because you work in mental health and you have a history as a writer, you might consider looking into a public relations position. As a communications/PR/outreach specialist or director, you will spend a lot of time writing stories, taking photos and doing video. If this is a passion for you, it might be worth the switch. If you could find a director position, you may be able to increase your pay as well, and we often hire directors straight from a media background. My bosses have mostly been former TV news anchors and former print journalists (I work as a Communications Specialist for a school district). You may also be able to find part time work now copywriting or in a few years, after getting some experience in PR, consulting.

    That said, financially, it sounds like finishing your current degree provides an excellent opportunity financially to continue in your career field and work part time at a reasonable salary.

  7. two things I’d suggest:

    Aldi has the BEST diapers, and they are cheaper than Costco, BJ’s and Wal-mart. Just make sure you buy in the largest box they have (and buy a few, as sometimes they’re out of stock). Same with their wipes, cheap and good and fragrance-free. For formula though, Costco was by and far the cheapest per ounce, especially when they had crazy sales where you could buy online. Aldi wasn’t a bad 2nd place though, and they’re great for everything kiddo.

    Also, I worry about your husband’s career path. I know we’re not there yet, but phlebotomist robots already exist and they are very accurate at getting blood, especially in hard-to-find-blood-vessels patients. He still has some years, but I would worry about a future in a career where automation can take over. With considerations like that, it might be smart to look at schooling, especially if there are adult nursing programs that take his life/work experience into consideration so he gets a few credits finished without taking classes. Community colleges also offer great, affordable 2 year programs that can transfer to a 4-year degree. There are not enough men in nursing, and especially being a man of color, he may be able to qualify for scholarship programs. And the nice thing about nursing, for people who don’t mind off-schedules, is per diem nurses can make good money, as long as health insurance isn’t a need. I know when my son was in the NICU and when I was previously on hospital bedrest, I met a lot of friendly per diem nurses who loved the work (all females, some moms) because they could get a lot of shifts when they needed the money, but take some time off when they didn’t. It’s all hard work, but if he’s up for it, it might be worth it.

    I recommend saving for a car as others suggested. I also recommend Mint Mobile, especially if you have overseas family. They have fair international rates, and if you have the money upfront, you pay $20 a month for 5 gb of data. Mint uses the T-Mobile network, so as long as you get good T-mobile reception where you live/work, it should be fine. I would avoid looking for a phone plan with unlimited data, and instead buy a second computer. You can get a cheap chrome book for $200 (or even less used), and that is a one-time cost. Then you don’t need your phones for streaming and social media except on the go.

    1. Also, many local hospitals will offer free or very low cost tuition to become a nurse. My mom did this – she got a CNA and then they completely paid for her nursing degree. She just had to agree to stay with them for 2 years after she got her degree. A nurse receives a lot more compensation than a phlebotomist, too.

      As you get experience and work your way through the nursing assistant certificates and get experience, you will also have a greater advantage in securing a higher-paying position over someone who only went to school but doesn’t have any experience. About 5 years after getting her RN, my mom is now a director of nursing at a healthcare facility – all because of her free nursing degree and experience as an CNA/LPN/RN path!

      1. Thank you Tara! Good suggestions. I think he has some anxiety/fears about going back to school, so we need to sit down and come up with a doable plan. Honestly, if could go back, I may have done nursing as well because it’s so in-need and flexible!

      2. That’s pretty impressive on your mom’s part. It sounds like a lot of the advice is pointing us toward my husband pursuing the nursing degree. I think we will sit down this weekend and map things out.

    2. Thank you Tara! Good suggestions. I think he has some anxiety/fears about going back to school, so we need to sit down and come up with a doable plan!

  8. 1. I love that Mrs. Frugalwoods discusses the SLOG. Having a written goal and timeline keeps that manageable.
    2. Juliana: I live <2 hours' south of you (Richmond, VA). Clearly, our housing market is entirely different, but a good way to get in snippets of your "ideal life" while in the SLOG is long weekend camping/hiking trips to the mountains. VA State parks have much nicer amenities than the national parks (fyi). Douthat is a personal favorite (and, an easy drive if you can hop on 66-81 once you're out of NOVA). Mrs. Frugalwoods also escaped to the Blue Ridge while in D.C.

    1. Thank you Lauren, I’ve always wanted to check our Douthat. May e we will make it out Memorial Day trip. Richmond is also a great place. My brother loved there fir a while, and really enjoyed it. I think I just need to get my head around the fact that there will be a slog, and I can still enjoy my life while I’m in it! I tend to want instant gratification, so I think it’s all about acceptance right now, and acknowledging there are certain things I need to do so that when we take the jump into our “ideal lives,” we can do so without the burden of debt or financial stress!

      1. Well, if you need an accountabilibuddy, I’m also in the slog and 35 years old. I make good $, but am catching up and am on the last year of my MBA. I, too, wasted ten years of saving (that had zero to do with chasing my passion. I was living the life my former spouse wanted). ANYWHO, I’m sure Mrs. FW could hook up our emails if interested.

        1. I want int on the accountabilibuddy!!

          I am 34 turning 35 in March and not a fan of the slog… i want to quit working every 3 months. No lie.
          I could benefit from Juliana by trying to figure out my ideal life… at least you’re working towards something. Working towards a ? makes the slog that much harder….

          1. I go through the same thing…I start fantasizing about quitting my job and moving somewhere far away every few months, especially in winter. I’m just trying to remember that if I do that right now, before I have everything in place, I’ll probably just be in a worse place emotionally and financially…I’m so bad at the slog though! I’ll try to contact you via your blog!

  9. I wonder if you and your husband should look into all the details of him returning to school for a nursing degree sooner than later? Actual costs, hours of courses and whether he could work part time as well, nearby school, etc etc.

    Nursing provides such flexibility in career choices and options! I know a lot of nurses, and I really don’t think your age precludes him going back to school, but sooner might be better than later for a number of reasons. Especially since you have such fantastic family support at this time in your lives!
    Best of luck to you all and thanks for letting us readers take a peek into your lives!!!

    1. Lindsey, I think it definitely makes sense for him to go back to school while we are living at home, especially because this might mean he needs to work part-time. I’m thinking a good start time would be January 2020, since I finish my degree in December 2019. Maybe he can start taking prerequisites in the mean time to get a feel for school in the U.S.

  10. One thing to consider for the student loans:

    Since they’re currently deferred and you have a robust expense reduction plan, you have options about whether you use your emergency fund to pay these off immediately or not. You could “pay yourself” the money to a savings account and then submit the payment in June 2020 when your deferment ends. A self-payment of $685/month for the next 18 months would pay these off in full and allow you to keep the emergency fund if that gives you more peace of mind.

    I suggest this only because it is similar to what my husband and I did with his student loans when he began his doctoral program. He was nervous about paying the loans when we were on a low, fixed income and wanted to be able to access the money in case of a catastrophe. I took the number of months we could have the deferment and divided the loans by that number. We kept that money in a savings account until about six months before his graduation (additional cash gifts put us ahead of schedule), opened a bottle of champagne, and paid off all the loans at once.

    There is of course the long-term/short-term analysis for potential gains in the stock market versus a high-yield savings account, but if maintaining the emergency fund as-is is a priority, especially with the failing car, this is an additional strategy you could consider.

    Congratulations on all of the great work you’ve done so far, and good luck with all of the decisions!

    1. That’s a good idea! I just need to put it in a hard-to-get-to savings account. I get a little nervous about going below a certain amount of money in the bank, especially because I worry my car could die at any moment.

  11. Writing a few thoughts as a counselor (I have my masters in counseling and am about 1 year away from getting my LPC). There are extra costs and a lot of time that go into getting the LPC. For example, I pay out of pocket for supervision ($240/month), liability insurance and the NCC certificate ($250 annually), and application fees to the state including special trainings, background check, etc. Getting the LPC is NOT easy. Many people who already have the LPC skim over the 2-4 year period post masters/pre licensure as if it was a blip on the radar, but it is a lot of work.

    Point being: if counseling is not your passion, I would reconsider the LPC career route. It sounds like you can tolerate the public sector mental health work. However, there is an extremely high rate of burnout in that part of the field, especially if you see ongoing clients (vs. your current job of assessment/intakes). I would weigh whether the hoop jumping of getting the LPC is worth the ultimate goal of possibly making more money. I’m not saying not to do it, but rather to examine if you can stay motivated to see it through. Also, what does the timeline look like to become a senior clinician? How does that timeline work with the LPC timeline (2 years+) and the possibility of moving to another area/state (keeping in mind that each state has their own LPC process and the license may not transfer across state lines)?

    These are things I wish someone would have made more clear to me before I started toward getting the LPC! I hope this is helpful info for you as you navigate these career, life, and financial decisions.

    1. Thank you for the thoughtfully considered comment. To be honest, I’ve agonized quite a bit about this! Right now, I feel like I will finish my masters (which will open more doors for me within my agency even without LPC, and see what happens from there. I’m lucky that I work for an agency with 1000+ employees, so I’m fairly sure I’d be able to find free supervision and the agency generally pays for continuing education costs. But you are right, there are costs I hadn’t given much thought to. If I stay in the field, I see myself continuing with intake, or working in short term treatment facilities such as the jail system, detox or crisis intervention, because I do worry that carrying a caseload may lead to burnout. I’ve been at my current job for five years now so I do have a idea of the pros and cons of unlicensed sector mental health, and while it’s not all roses, I’m just not sure I want to start in on another career at this point!

  12. Can you find a mechanic to barter with? I don’t know where you find them (I married mine so it was incredibly efficient) but we often barter for car repairs with friends. Yard work, baby sitting, home maintenance, etc, can be bartered for a mechanic’s hourly rate. Just be conscious that your unskilled labor may not be equivalent to their skilled labor (i.e. most get $90/hr vs. babysitting is $15-20/hr). My husband works on all of our friends’ cars, they pay for parts plus a small markup, and they do work in our yard. My husband works on the nights or weekends when he would be doing stuff at our house but he prefers to work on cars and have someone else put away the patio furniture or weed the garden. He also has to occasionally condemn a car that’s not worth fixing but we love our Subarus. I kick myself for selling my 2005 as it is probably still running.

    In lieu of this, find a small reliable mechanic shop and form a relationship with them. My husband worked in a small shop for years and often gave his customers options based on their price point. He couldn’t barter as he didn’t own the shop but he could help them evaluate if the repair was really needed. AC is nice but not required, heat may be a safety issue in the winter. There are also options to fix 100% or fix 75% or 50% and not impact the safety. People who stopped in, talked to them, brought them homemade holiday treats, and paid on time got way better service than those who just dropped the cars off or left curt messages.

    1. Thanks Nora, that’s a great idea. I love the idea of bartering — but I think I need to get better at forging relationships to get to that point. It can be hard in the suburbs to meet people/find people with similar views, but not impossible. We ended up getting our A/C and heat fixed because my car would fog up in the rain and in the mornings, and It just wasn’t safe to drive without the window open, and that got cold fast! We ended up getting a used part ($700 instead of $1500) but we’re now at almost 3k on the Subaru this year. Hoping this latest repair will keep the car running well for at least six months!

  13. Looks like you have way more savings than the average so that is wonderful. You should stay with your parents as long as you can – it is wonderful to have trusted, family members take care of your children and saves you a ton of money. You can visit the countryside more often on the weekends to get your wilderness fixes. Your priority now is to pay off the student loans, finish your degree, and save money for retirement. Your parents won’t always be around so treasure the time you get to spend with them now. Your husband can get certified as a phlebotomist by taking a nationwide computer test which I’m sure is in your area – he must be smart to have been a nurse in his previous country, so I’m sure he could easily pass the test. He can earn more when he gets certified, and also try to take the Lab Tech certification test and open himself up to other jobs as well. Keep your cars and repair them – the Subaru and Honda cars will last a really long time – you are just breaking them in at 100k miles!! Looks like everybody is giving you plenty of advice so that is all I have for you today – good luck in finishing your advanced degree and getting a better job so you can go part time.

    1. Thank you Pauline, my husband just took and passed the phlebotomy certification test this Monday, so that should open more doors for him in terms of where he can find work, and may lead to a small raise next time he has an evaluation. I’ll look into the lab tech certification. I think that pays a little better!

  14. Juliana, first of all, congratulations on doing well and for wanting to do better! More importantly, congratulations on becoming a mom! I had a similar situation about 2 year ago, where I debated between paying off my student loan (2.5% interest rate) and keeping that money in cash for home renovations. After lots of back and forth with myself (it’s just me!), I opted to pay off the loan. It was one less bill to worry about, and I knew I’d be much more inclined to work extra hours to pay for home renovations than to pay off that stupid loan. It was a relief to see it gone! Once you’ve paid it off, redirect the amount you were paying to your emergency savings to rebuild that account.

    Next, I’d finish the degree because you’ve already invested a considerable amount of time and money. Why not reap the rewards and higher salary? If you’re not planning to stay at this job, then I wouldn’t suggest increasing the contribution to the pension. Either way, I highly suggest opening an IRA (Roth or Traditional) and building retirement savings that way.

    As for that excessive soda and coffee consumption, please, please, please redirect that money to something more beneficial! You love to travel, so redirect it there. You find your gym membership beneficial. Direct it there. Just please stop all the soda — you don’t need it! I don’t care if it’s diet, it’s still crap and it’s draining your wallet. As for coffee, get a French press for work and call it a day. And enjoy a dinner out with your husband instead of all those little things.

    I LOVE to travel and understand how important it is to you, so I don’t think you have to completely scrap it, but I think you can look into ways to travel hack, especially given your backgrounds. Look into alternative ways to travel or focus on some cheaper roadtrips to save some money.

    I agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods to stay where you are. You may not love your situation or where you live, but you have the right idea to make it more livable: compost, garden, etc. In the meantime, keep reminding yourself, “These actions will pay off in the future.” That’s what I told myself for years while living with 3 other girls from 25-31. If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have my house now. Just enjoy the gift of having your parents there for you and your child. That’s priceless! And enjoy the savings! It’s all for a great cause and future goal, so keep that in mind. Maybe create a vision board for those particularly difficult days to remind you of the goal.

    Keep on track and know you’re doing the right thing. You won’t get there tomorrow, but you will get there!

    1. Katie, I completely agree with you! I find when debt is paid off I have more initiative to work hard and save for goals.

      Juliana, The slog can be an essential part of our growth personally, professionally, and financially. My husband and I are currently contemplating a move but his benefits are so good! We are not thrilled about where we live and I, too, sometimes have to give myself a pep talk often that we have it good where we are planted. It has been challenging but a good reminder to be thankful in circumstances and take that time to make goals, and start working towards them.

    2. Thank you Katie, I agree the soda is terrible for me…I stopped buying vending machine sodas three weeks ago (expensive and unhealthy) and bought a cheap 12 pack from Aldi (terrible but not as expensive). Now I’m on day 5 of no soda…tapering off. I tend to have trouble focusing on the long-term and want to have all the things I want to have NOW, but ultimately, this need for instant gratification has caused a significant delay in me being where I’d like to be. I like your suggestion to tell myself these actions will pay off in the future!

  15. As an RN in NE, I would contact your state’s licensing board to find d out exactly what Nicholas must do to practice nursing. There may be shortcuts.

    1. Thank you, we will do that! Even as an RN/LPN, I think his earning potential would be much higher than as a phlebotomist.

  16. Juliana, thanks for sharing your story! You’re doing much better than you give yourself credit for. I would second the trying to stick with your current living situation if it’s doable until your kiddo is in school.

    One thing that really stuck out to me in your post is how you mentioned that you wanted to finish your schooling to prove that you can follow through on something. I can really relate to that sentiment, and recently read a book that really wowed me and helped me understand myself better. It’s called The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin (link: You might be an Obliger like me. Worth checking it out from your library.

    1. Bec B, Gretchen Rubin is my guilty secret! I listen to her podcast often. I think I’m an obliger-rebel; I definitely not motivated enough to do for myself, and need that outer accountability…but also tend to rebel when I’m given rules/strict instructions.

      1. Same, Juliana, same! I knew I was recognizing a kindred when I read that sentence. I’m devouring her website now and will definitely have to check out her podcast.

  17. My mom lives part of the time with my family and part of the time with my sister, it has been a blessing for all of us. I hope your living situation adds joy to your life.

    In regards to your husband’s career, you mention that hospitals in your current area nearly always require a 4-year degree (BSN). In a lot of places, especially rural ones, even if a BSN in preferred, an RN degree is perfectly fine. In our rural location, the pay differential for a BSN as compared to an RN is only $0.25/hr and the jobs are identical. It may make long-term financial sense for your husband to work on the TOEFL exam and an RN degree over the next several years to increase potential job opportunities later. There is often a lot of flexibility in RN programs that account for different variables such as previous experience, part-time program, etc. He might also see if his current employer offers reimbursement educational expenses.

    Best of luck

    1. Thanks Robin, his current employer reimbursed 5k a year, so we should probably take advantage of that! I think if he were to become a nurse, this would easily double his income and nurses are always in need! Good point about rural area nursing requirements!

    2. I also agree that hospitals that prefer a BSN would be happy to hire a nurse with your husband’s background particularly if he could say he was enrolled in a on line RN-BSN program which he could do over 5-7 years and get tuition reimbursement from the hospital each year after being an employee for a short period of time. I also think your husband’s past nursing experience and phlebotomy skills as well as being multilingual would be looked at very positively. Good luck

  18. If you do end up moving to upstate NY, just be aware of the licensure requirements around mental health counseling. You will need to complete 3,000 hours of work under qualified supervision. Here’s some more information:

    I live in upstate NY and work in the mental health field but with a focus on integrated health. Pay for the field here depends on where you work — my brother in law who is a licensed therapist works for a hospital and makes about $50,000. Prior to his licensure, he made about $40,000 – but he was also in a rural area. Now he lives in a more urban area. It will increase when he gets an R number and can bill insurance.

    So, just be very aware that pay in upstate NY is vastly different from pay in DC. That stated, it is a beautiful area to live and there are many, many rural areas to live with reasonably priced housing. You might really like Ithaca NY. There’s also New Paltz which is gorgeous as well. If your husband continues with his medical career, it could be viable to look into Syracuse. There are programs here that will help him to get his RN and honestly, he could effectively double his income becoming an RN in the central NY area .

    Good luck with everything!

    1. Thank you AJS! My husbands family is in the Saratoga/Albany area, so that’s likely where we would look if we did go the upstate route. Thanks for the info about mental health work in your area! We probably wouldn’t move out of state for at least a few years, as our current childcare situation is pretty great, but I agree that upstate NY is really beautiful and reasonably priced compared to DC area.

  19. Thanks for sharing your story! I am in agreement with others, but have a question with Mrs. Frugalwoods suggestions. Under Asset Allocation, #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 (and rebalancing them) on a regular basis (I recommend automating this process) and you can also start to look around for diversification options. ” What exactly is “rebalancing”? How/why do you do it? Thank you to anyone who can answer that for me. I’m new to all of this!

    1. Rebalancing is something you would do if you’re following an asset allocation strategy. Basically, instead of putting all your investments in a single index fund (or ETF), you would put them in a few index funds/ETFs tracking indices for a variety of assets. Ideally, these would have low correlation (or even a negative correlation!)–a good example would be commodities/REITs which tend to have low correlation with stocks. When you do this, you can reduce your risk without affecting your return (and, depending on how you calculate average returns, you might actually see a slight increase in return because of risk drag).

      It’s definitely slightly harder to do this than just putting your money in a single fund so I generally tell people to at least start with some broad stock index fund before going to this step. However, it sounds like you may have already reached that point, so asset allocation may make sense for you.

      Happy to talk more about this if you want–I’m somewhat of a math geek, so I really like this stuff and enjoy helping others set up a strategy. I’m trying to remember exactly what book I read to start learning about this–I think it was Bernstein’s, but there are a lot of good ones out there.

      1. Woahhhhh!! Would love to learn more. I began reading JL Collins’ book but had to return it to the library(after I was out of renewals and didn’t have enough free time to finish it). Perhaps I should try to request it again. We are new to this whole world. We opened up a Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund at the end of May and are working towards reaching $10k for the Admiral accounts for lower fees. Would love to hear what else you have to say regarding this! I just started reading How to Retire Early by Robert & Robin Charlton. Any recommendations for my next one???? Thanks again, you have definitely piqued my interest!

      2. Thanks Shannon…I think I need to read up a little on this as well, because I’m pretty much illiterate when it comes to investing. I need to take more advantage of my work 403k (nice because they do all the work for me) but I’d like to learn how to invest on my own as well.

  20. I just want to say that I appreciate how positive and encouraging Mrs. Frugalwoods is with the case study participants. Thank you for your inspiring attitude, Mrs. Frugalwoods. And great job paying down debt and planning for your future, Juliana!

    1. Missy, I absolutely agree! I have ventured over to other bloggers as well, and have not found their responses as respectful or positive.

      Thank you Mrs. Frugalwoods for this resource and platform to discuss finances! I appreciate the financial community here!

      1. Aww, thank you so much! I love our community here and it’s my mission for us to have a positive, proactive, supportive community where we can work together towards financial (and life!) goals. I really appreciate hearing from you all 🙂

  21. As someone who grew up with her grandmother 15 minutes away who was essentially a third parent, I completely agree with other comments to stay with your parents at least until your daughter has free public education. I am much closer to that grandmother even though we now live hundreds of miles apart than I am to my other grandmother, and I think a lot of that was because she took care of me during those early years. She’s also 92 and still very active (we went hiking on the Appalachian last time I visited her)–I like to think helping to corral my rambunctious sister and I has at least something to do with that!

    In terms of Nicholas’ career, has he considered becoming a CNA or LPN? It’s still some school, but it’s generally only two years instead of four and may be reimbursed by certain hospitals. It has better career potential, and he could turn it into an RN in the future if that’s the path he wants to go. I also don’t know what kind of degree he got overseas, but if its equivalent to a bachelor’s here, there may also be some programs he can do which let him get an accelerated nursing degree (I have a friend who’s getting an RN in two years though she admittedly has a degree from a school in the US). The timing might work out well for him to start school around the time you finish. You would then both have very flexible degrees if you did decide to move when your daughter was five or so.

    Also, on a side note–you mention Nicholas is contributing 5% to the 401K. Is that how much his employer matches? If his employer matches more, I would definitely up the contribution at least to the match level.

    1. His employer matches 8% so we will definitely be increasing this contribution. We have thought about the LPN route and if my husband goes the nursing route, I think this is what he would do…a two year program at the local community college.

  22. I too feel that you should stay where you are and save like crazy. Enjoy the time you spend with family but work hard and save every dime that you can. The parents may not always be there. That situation could change. Take advantage while you can. I encouraged my granddaughter to stay with her parents for the first few years out of business school until she was established in her job. They did not plan to charge her at all. She is an only child so they wanted to help her. She chose to rent an apt approx 10 min away. Rent is reasonable at 750 a month but just think of all that money that she could save plus renters insurance, electric, etc. you are fortunate to have parents willing to do this for you. Good luck to you!!

    1. Thanks Jean! That seems to be the overwhelming consensus! Staying with my parents has its perks…usually there’s dinner on the table when I come home, I feel very supported, and my daughter has really bonded with my parents. The only drawback is that it’s not “my” house, and definitely feels like my mom’s house, but I think I can probably tolerate that for a few more years. Staying with my parents is a savings of at least $25,000 a year on rent!

  23. I loved this case study because I saw so much of myself in it – from starting a lot of things that then don’t measure up to my expectations down to buying soda out of the vending machine even though you know it’s dumb.

    I agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods that your photos are beautiful! Have you thought about starting a travel blog?

    1. Thank you Tera! I’m working hard on ending the soda habit! Haven’t had any in five days….It’s such a dumb and unhealthy habit. I do have a travel blog, though I don’t update much anymore. Another thing I started but haven’t followed through with all that well!

      1. I look forward to reading it! I, too, have a blog that I haven’t followed through with all that well. 🙂 Please give yourself some grace though. You have a baby, a husband, a full-time job, a commute, and you’re going to grad school! All will be well.

  24. First thanks for sharing your story Juliana. In terms of your car, I think you should look searching for another car to replace the Legacy, preferably used. With the potential increase in repairs for the Legacy, I think looking into another car that is more reliable and less of a headache with the repair costs would be better off. As soon as you pay off the student loans, you should consider another car!
    I concur with Mrs. Frugalwoods about cutting down spending for groceries, restaurants and the cell phone bill. I read that your trying to cut down on your grocery expenses so good job on that. With going out to eat, we only go out 1-2 times a month to eat and that’s for fast food. All the other times we stay home and eat. Hopefully you plan to eat more at home and save money in the process.
    With cell phone plan, we are with Ting and pay about $70 for three people(myself and both of my FIL and MIL) that’s for over 2GBs of data and 1000 minutes and messaging. I know that you want unlimited data and Ting doesn’t provide that but other low-cost carriers that Mrs. Frugalwoods mentioned may have that.
    All the best to you and keep us updated!

    1. Thank you Kris. We will look into the discount carriers. Also agree that the car is becoming a headache. I just hate that it only has 105k miles on it and it’s this problematic! I’ve buckled down on the eating out/dumb spending since compiling this information for Mrs. Frugalwoods, and it’s getting much easier now. I just tell myself “I’m just not the kind of person who spends money on soda, coffee and crappy food!”

  25. A point of discussion for the two of you: which part of which country to own the home in? You still have time to settle it, as it looks like you want to finish the master’s degree before pushing to own a place ….

    1. Something we haven’t really discussed seriously. Whenever I think of homeownership and what it entails (mowing the lawn, fixing appliances, replacing roofs, leaky faucets, cleaning multiple bathrooms, furnishing rooms)…I just feel overwhelmed and lazy. It seems like so much work!

  26. Nicholas should go to nursing school. He has some background and could probably get into a 2 year program. Most hospitals will hire a two year grad that they know if he is known to be a hard worker. They will probably give him 5 years to get his BSN and will help pay for it through tuition reimbursement. Western Governors has an RN to BSN program that costs about 3500$ for a semester. You do as much as you can in a semester–most new grads I know do it in 2. There are a lot of other programs to check out once he gets his RN. Your living situation is perfect until he graduates. This will increase your income by quite a bit, insure stability, and allow you to go part time at your job. Best wishes!

    1. Thank you! The general consensus seems to be that nursing school is a smart idea, and should be sooner rather than later!

  27. hi Juliana,

    I think you and yours are doing just great, financewise. Of course, there are places to cut, as there are for all of us. Obviously at this time in your life–full time work, school, new mom–there is NO WAY you can take on any sort of regular side gig for extra income. BUT, since travelling is clearly a top priority for you and your husband and you spent around a decade as a freelance travel writer, is there anyway you could tap into contacts in the travel writing field to pitch ideas for articles that would compensate you for your travels? Free vacations!
    Also, as Mrs Frugalwoods and you noted yourself, the easiest monthly expense for you to cut is the soda/coffee/eating out expense. A few years ago, two coworkers and myself came up with a plan, being disgusted with how much we were spending on the above. I was even pretty good about bringing lunch from home! Also, buying lunch at work, we agreed, just led to too much junk. French fries are good–but not very often! So, our plan. We work in an office with plenty of counter space in the lunch room, plenty of fridge space, etc. Also, a supermarket a half mile away. One Monday, we all went shopping, chipping in $20 each.. Bought soda, coffee, creamer, mayo, mustard, deli meat, bread, etc. Salad dressing. . . you get the idea. We claimed a fridge shelf for our groceries and each kept a supply of cash in our wallets. We would make our own coffee or take a soda from the stash. And charge ourselves for it–$2 out of our wallet into a separate stash. Make a sandwich or salad for lunch instead of buying one? $8 into the stash. Each week, one of us would collect a few $$ from the others and resupply. At the end of the two month experiment, we broke open our piggy banks and were astonished at the cash on hand! An easy and fun way to break that Starbucks/deli habit!
    Good luck!

    1. Thanks Melanie. figuring out how much I was spending on eating out was definitely the best/worst part of this experiment!

  28. Hi Juliana – I just wanted to say, I LOVED reading your case study. I often feel discouraged by these because people can be so well-off that it seems unachievable. You are so relatable, in a similar situation to my husband and I, and I love your honesty about your anxieties and regrets. I’m 28, and have been feeling a lot of regret/anxiety about ~life~ lately, and one of my friends shared a study with me that shows your late 20s/early to mid 30s are the most difficult part of life. It made me feel less alone and realize that this is just a cycle of life 🙂 Anyways, I appreciate you sharing so much, and echo Mrs. Frugalwood and others that you are doing GREAT.

    1. Thank you, LaReesa. I feel the same way about some of the case studies, and also when I read some early retirement jobs. I think we can all be more financially responsible, cut back on things that aren’t necessary and work toward increasing our incomes, but a couple making $100k a year in an expensive metropolitan area will likely have a harder time of achieving financial independence than a couple making $300k a year (which is not an uncommon combined income for a lot of couples in my suburb). I think in general, we’re all really good at increasing our spending to match our incomes, though! For me, my twenties were definitely tough and I often wish I’d done things differently, but there’s no going back. Thank you for the comment!

  29. Forgive me if someone already mentioned this, but Julianna could probably make some extra cash with a photography side gig. Her photos are really good!

  30. Regarding the comment you made about not wanting to start over career wise, I’d highly recommend this book ‘Designing Your Life’

    It is based on a Stanford course (written by the lecturers) of the same name & provides a step by step guide to ‘designing’ your life. When I read it I learnt that you don’t need to change things drastically to discover your passions – often it’s about going about things in a smarter way. This book might also be great for your husband to read.

    1. Ally, I *just* finished reading this book. Granted, I “read” the audio version, but I just put a hold on the book version from the library, so that I can try out some of the exercises!

  31. Mrs. FW and the others above have given good advice on the small stuff…so let’s hop to the Big Picture: what do you really want to do and how can you make that happen? It’s easier to do the Slog for 4 years more if you have a plan. I think you both should write down your skills, wishes and dreams and think hard on how you might choose a lifestyle (like Mrs. FW has) that accomplishes this. For instance, living in the country, the mountains, makes you both happy. As long as you were willing to continue working full time for at least a few more years, perhaps you could work towards a new path for your husband that would make you both happier. For instance, my cousin was a paid caretaker on an island in the Puget Sound in Washington for several years with a free house. Obviously not ideal with a child, but perhaps you could explore country inns or caretaking where where your husband’s job would include free housing. You would be the main breadwinner with the health insurance and you might have to commute further (or not) but you would have the country lifestyle you both desire. Sometimes working in national parks or water districts also come with houses.

    I definitely would not think about homeownership until you find an area that you want to settle down in…lucky you to have cheap housing and babysitting for right now while you are both earning good money. Many of us have done or are doing the Slog…I worked full time until my younger child was ten, including commuting an hour and finishing two degrees at night…it’s doable but hard and you are conquering it! Saving and investing for your future and retirement is what’s important. Continue your Passions on the side and Dream…good luck to you both!

  32. Congrats on doing such a great job of saving in a very expensive area. I live in DC, in a coop apartment I bought 23 years ago. I lived with my parents for five years in order to save for a down payment. I couldn’t afford my home today. I echo so many others: live with family as long as you can. Also, carry your own food and water with you at all times. You mentioned you stopped buying coffee and lunches. Washington’s fast food/carry out businesses are so expensive — more than NYC. Take advantage of the free family activities DC offers. And you are wise to plan for future auto repairs, and a future vehicle. You are well on your way to stabilizing your situation. Good luck —

    1. Thank you lizzie r. Carrying food/water is definitely a must. I’ve also found that carrying around a thermos of coffee (as Mrs. Frugalwoods suggests) is *almost* as good as buying coffee.

      1. Hi Juliana! Yes *almost* but get excited about making it as special as possible. I’ve been experimenting with bulletproof coffee (with butter, not my taste), super coffee (brewed with cinnamon and raw sugar plus a little coco oil) and even tried the banana milk coffee I’d been hearing about and have perfected it!! I look at crazy coffee house recipes and replicate them so it does indeed feel as special, and I make them for cheap and use only the ingredients that appeal to me. It’s become quite fun!!

        And beyond coffee, great work!!! I must echo the call to stay put and utilize both the family time and the resources provided. I am living a hybrid approach by living very near mom and dad (across the street) and so we too share certain expenses such as cell phones and use an extender to run off the same wifi. We eat together and share Costco size items for shopping. Unfortunately I’m here because of an ill parent but it just goes to show that the time is in fact precious for not only the baby but your folks, and you too!! Enjoy the time you have 🙂

        1. Thank you Bri. I like your coffee ideas and may try the butter one! I think I’ve also realized I don’t even like coffee that much! It’s more the smell, the warmth and the ritual. It’s now been over a month since I’ve gone out to eat or bought coffee or soda out, and I can’t say I miss it all that much. The first few weeks are the hardest.
          Sorry about having an ill parent. I’m sure that’s difficult, but it’s really nice that you are able to (frugally) share this time with your parents. I’ve been trying to focus on this too, and to remind myself how lovely it is that my daughter will be able to form such strong bonds with her grandparents from such a young age.

  33. Good for you! My husband and I did the multigenerational thing at different periods(one year in his mom’s house while undergoing some transition of jobs/houses. And I lived at my parents for six months as we did a staged international move.) I am going to say that a lot of what it looks like you need to be doing is less “financial” and more purposeful. I don’t disagree with any of the frugal tweaks/savings advice given above but I’m not sure they are that huge. And I think given all the moving parts (jobs, school, baby, dream area, multi-gen housing relationship) you might want to think about not trying to address all of this at once. Make a date with your husband, get a baby sitter and and sit down every 3 or 6 months with a family agenda and work your way through your situation with short term goals, long term goals and checkups on how both of you are feeling about savings, jobs, education, child-care, family reliance, longer term goals of relocation to a rural place, etc. Think of it like seeing a counselor or financial advisor but towards yourself. You can set goals on doing research for job opportunities, how a rental property or farm education program would work, how to deal with obligations/visits to family (both his and hers), making travel more affordable and doable, etc. Don’t try to address everything every check-up. Your goals as your family changes so much right now are going to be very moveable and not so much a set it up and forget it plan. Also, I would encourage you to have your husband speak to an hr person or a hospital continuing education representative and see if you can make some connections in setting up a language exchange. Many hospital personnel/ medical students may wish to learn Spanish in return your husband may have targeted tutoring in that makes a lot of professional sense. My guess is that your husband felt he was a pretty educated and intellectual guy and moving to the US, and hitting a wall of English in very mono-lingual culture and credential oriented job world was very rough. The TOEFL is a tough test and it very much benefits people who move in and out of academic language easily (Europeans who use English in academic settings and people who have spent a bunch of time moving between countries, cultures). I do think you probably have a bunch more resources in terms of figuring out how to level up your husband’s toefl, allied health/nursing credentials, or even science/environment/tour guiding opportunities in your area with a reasonable investment in time/effort/money. I understand if that may not be where you want to put the time since you do have a very young daughter but I do think having the goal of both adults capable of financially “carrying” the fixed costs in your household opens up a lot of flexibility in your goals long term. And l think given that you seem to have a lot of medium priorities that may change or shift in order or urgency over time. The great thing is that with your current setup you really are maximizing the financial stability to be able to make those changes in the future. It’s really tempting to say this is my life plan and here is what I need to do it and let’s cut out everything else but in reality most of us don’t have so set priorities that there is only one game plan that works for us. I’m down to making 3 year plans myself. I’ve learned enough about myself to see what jobs make me truly unhappy but that most of the time I really only need to be fulfilled and challenged I’m my job and not to be in my dream field. My husband and I moved internationally to where we can both have jobs that pay more with better cost of living. I have really enjoyed both the international experience and mostly my job, currently I’m switching positions with quite a lot of hassle but I felt I needed to do that before I hit burnout. I suspect some of what your feeling may be impatience with how much your pulling right now. New baby, long hours, graduate school, and the little time you have for yourself is in a boring suburb and making a boring commute. I don’t know what your job offers in vacation/time off/flex days or how your grad school schedules semester classes but maybe instead of targeting savings in takeout/coffee/fast food use it to fund mini-vacation days. You plan them, and enjoy the anticipation, and let your husband execute the packing, food making, and driving to some kind of state park. And set up, picnic, camp and do nothing for a few hours or days.

    1. Rose, thank you for your nuanced response. I think I fall into the trap a lot of people fall into, which is wanting to address everything I see as wrong with my life all at once. Unfortunately, this usually just leaves me overwhelmed and inert, and I end up not really dealing with any of it! I think the comments here have really given me some clarity, in that finishing my master’s would likely lead to more financial freedom down the road, as would having my husband pursue nursing school. Right now, I can choose to focus on the fact that my work is meaningful, and provides me with plenty of holidays and vacation leave. I like the idea of the tutoring bartering, and I think my husband also has the option of completing several levels of English at the local community college instead of taking the TOEFL. I also love the idea of checking in with one another every few months. I think when you are married and busy and used to each other, checking in to make sure everyone is on the same page sometimes falls to the wayside. Thank you again for the sound advice!

  34. Juliana, Thank you for sharing your story! You wrote clearly of what I think many of us sometimes feel: This is not bad, yet how can it be better?
    I dislike the word “leverage” and will use it anyway. Nicolas is male and bi-lingual in (presumably) Spanish and English. Use that. It moves him to the top of the list of desirable hires for nursing positions, or whatever other work he might do in the medical world. Perhaps a goal should be to help him be more confident in his English, spoken and written. And you need to find just the right person or group of people to help him with this; it might not be you personally. I hope you are helping your daughter be bi-lingual as well! You didn’t say that you are– if you are fluent, you can use that in your work. DC might have many multi-lingual people, but that is NOT the norm for much of the country outside of the larger cities.

    Is there an intersection of health care and eco-tourism Nicolas could investigate? Health care staff at a national park? I am making up that idea; just know that there are more possible jobs than you can imagine until you look for them. Or, if you move to a more rural area, see what he could do as a translator, such as in health care situations. A friend of mine occasionally worked with the local courts to translate for Spanish-speakers in our small town. You might even work together translating written documents, where he would do the first drafts and you would polish them. (Excuse me if I am making incorrect assumptions about his skills).

    For yourself, as the call to be a writer continues, make sure you have some sacred time for writing for yourself. Can you dictate thoughts outloud and record them when you commute?

    You mentioned the opportunities you had lost or wasted when you first graduated from college: Why can’t you return to them? Do they require mobility? Could you leave your job and family for short bursts of time? Good luck!

    1. I love the idea of health care staff at a national park if such a position exists! My husband is Native American, so I have given some thought to working on a reservation both because it would be meaningful to him, and because there are national scholarship programs for Native Americans in health care. I have looked into court interpretation and it’s something I’ve considered, and I think it’s something I could do on a part-time basis in the future, though it requires passing a pretty rigorous test that I’m not sure I could pass even having grown up bilingual!

      In terms of writing opportunities, I have occasional written for local publications in the last few years, but I’ve lost contact with writing contacts of my early twenties. The field I was involved in had a lot of turn over, so I’m not sure if anyone would still be there. I also wasn’t great about getting things turned in on time and was a big time procrastinator, so I don’t think I made the best name for myself!

      1. I unfortunately understand procrastination all too well. Nothing to do but start over again! If the field turned over, you can start fresh!
        I don’t know about programs that benefit Native Americans in the United States but I expect there are a great many scholarships. It seems possible some of them would tie paying for schooling to commitment to work on the reservation for a certain number of years? If he and your daughter are registered with their nation, I will guess (in my uninformed, speculative way) that that would be the connection to use to find more opportunities.

  35. I am a nurse. When I went back to school, I had a BA in another field, and went to a 2 year nursing program. I worked ICU after I graduated, and my employer paid for 2/3 of my BSN. Most employers want a nurse with a BSN if you live near a major city,but many will hire you if you agree to get a BSN within 2 years. I went to an online BSN completion program (Indiana Wesleyan) and we cash flowed what tuition reimbursement did not cover. It was totally doable. Most of my BA credits transferred over, and I only had to take a couple extra classes. I generally took only one class at a time. I worked full time and had our third child while I did this. I telecommute from home for a Medicaid plan now and dropped to part time and my rate is higher than what I was earning in the hospital. I got my MSN by cash flowing it.

    1. Something I never think to do is talk to people who’ve already traveled the path we want to travel. All of this sounds really doable, and I think breaking it into small steps helps. Right now, ASN can be the goal, and we can reevaluate when that’s completed!

  36. Thank you everyone (and of course, Mrs. Frugalwoods) for all of the replies/advice. I will be sitting down with my husband to take a serious look on how we can cut back on expenses and plan for a (more prosperous) future that will allow us to pursue the things we want.

  37. I know you said you don’t want to do private practice and I get this (MD who does medical care for public inpatient mental health facility) but – would you do it in addition to your public sector work? It’s pretty common here for clinicians to work 20-30 hours for the DMH and then have a private practice on the side.

    1. Hi Kate, the thing is…I like intake, screening, case management, public health and psychoeducation, but I don’t like actual counseling. I would possibly do something like a state-approved anger management program, DV program or family preservation/education, but not one-on-one traditional therapy. I like feeling like I’m connecting clients to a needed service, or being part of a team providing evidence-based treatment.

      Private practice would give me flexibility, but I feel like I’m not passionate enough about counseling to put the significant effort into managing the daily grind of insurance reimbursements, paying rent, dealing with missed appointments, liability insurance, paying for my own continuing education, etc. Being part of a large organization gives me a lot of support (financially and clinically), as well as built in organization, and I just don’t think I’d want to take that on for myself (organization is NOT my forte). But you never know…I may feel differently when I graduate from my program and feel more confident in my skills and my abilities to organize my own business!

      1. Yeah, that all makes sense! I wonder about consulting, too as a way to boost income. I know a few MD’s who work as expert witnesses in malpractice cases and it pays pretty well (100’s/hr). They actually feel like they are helping by defending providers against frivolous lawsuits a lot of the time. I’m not sure if a similar thing exists for clinicians but may be worth looking in to in the future.

  38. Mrs. Frugalwoods, I am really interested in the info you provided about your choices in diapers and wipes, and would love to hear more. Baby food, toddler snack ideas, preschool lunch choices, baby lotions, diaper creams….it goes on and on. I am always weighing cost, quality, and convenience for my baby items and would love to hear your thoughts.

    1. Thank you for letting me know, Kelly! I was thinking I should do another “frugal with kids” post since its been awhile since my last one. I will put it on my list :)! Let me know if you have specific questions you’d like me to address in the post and I’ll do my best!

  39. Hey I know this might be too hippie or penny-pinching for some, but I only use water on my baby of four months. This was recommended by my paediatrician and a few of my midwives. AND IT IS FREEEE! 🙂 Baby’s skin is blemish-free, smells like baby, and she has zero diaper rash. Baths mean a light rubdown with a soft washcloth, and I use cotton with a splash of water on her bottom. Her hair is soft and never looks at all dirty in spite of only having been rinsed.
    Also, if home ownership doesn’t appeal, I’d say DONT BUY! I just bought a house this year and I love it, but it is tons of work to maintain. My interest rate was 1.5, and unless you can get an amazing rate, renting is often much more financially advantageous than buying.
    I am trying my damndest, after having a very interesting and globe-trotting 20s, trying to become a paid writer. Like you! I live in France, so it’s hard to meet other English speaking writers, but I’d say that if this is your goal, NETWORK WHILE YOU CAN! It doesn’t get any easier to break in when you live in the countryside…
    Also, are you doing Nano? I am, and feel free to buddy me if you’d like. It’s good for us slackers who need external motivation :). My name is georgiavail.
    Best of luck!

    1. Georgia,

      Thank you for the message! Baby is currently in a phase where she likes to hold her bottle and pour it all over her neck and head, so we’ve been using soap on her for the last couple of months because otherwise she smells like a rotten cheese factory! I’m not doing Nano right now…I need to get more serious about setting aside time to write. With the baby, school, and work, I’ve been having some trouble prioritizing/figuring out how to organize my days!

  40. I really enjoyed this case study as the couple are in a situation that is most similar to mine as I’ve seen in any of the case studies so far. I found Mrs. Frugalwoods’ suggestions about whether or not to pay off the student loans very interesting as I’m debating the same. I have about 6 months living expenses saved but my income is low right now so I wouldn’t be easily able to build up my emergency savings again very quickly. If I were to pay off my student loans in full, I’d only have about 2 months living expenses saved which feels very uncomfortable! We are also quite frugal already so there isn’t a significant amount of spending we could cut to make up the difference, as we’ve already cut most of it. Perhaps another Uber Frugal Month is in order! 😀

    Anyway, I love reading the case studies!

    1. Brianne, I am still struggling with whether or not to pay off student loans, as it’s not an insubstantial amount of money. I’m thinking that instead of paying it off all at once, I may attack it in 3-4k intervals so that our savings aren’t completely depleted.

      1. Juliana,
        I’m lot older than you (and Mrs. Frugalwoods) are, and back in the day, 7% was common for student loan interest rates. And it was considered LOW. Personally, I don’t think your student loan debt is all that terrible. I’m sure some days it feels like it will never be gone. If it were me, I’d be more worried about the aging cars. I know that one year of Subarus (it was 2005, 2006 or 2007) had a lot of problems. I like your idea of paying extra on your student loans (unless there’s a penalty for that), but not worrying about paying off the whole thing at once. (This is one of the only times I find myself disagreeing with Mrs. F!)

        In terms of buying a house, if it doesn’t appeal to you, then don’t do it! While we own a home (or, at least, carry a mortgage on one!), we have friends who have always rented. It’s not that they can’t afford to buy, but their priorities are different. To me, the biggest downsides to renting are that your monthly rent could go up, you might end up with a bad landlord who doesn’t take care of problems right away, and you’re paying money but not earning equity. On the other hand, if you want to travel for extended periods of time, it can be easier (especially if you’re not required to take care of the yard).

        The part of your case study that struck me the most, though, was the feeling that both you and your husband have settled for a life (or the employment part at least) that you’re not thrilled with because it seems to be the most pragmatic thing to do. So, in addition to reviewing what’s working/not working in terms of finances, maybe you guys need to ask yourselves if the compromise is too much? I think this gets to identifying your dream, and then making everything about achieving that dream. Or–more likely–there’s a balance that will work. You just have to identify it. Give yourself some grace! You had a difficult pregnancy (and, I’m guessing, maybe not getting as much sleep or free time as you’d like). But keep your dream(s) alive (whether that includes moving to upstate NY or out of the US), and question what you and your husband really need to make you happy, even if those things are more unconventional!

  41. Have you or your husband checked out the National Public Health Service Corps as a long-range, health-related option. It helps repay/forgive loans for health care providers willing to work for a number of years in (primarily) smaller and rural settings. Although this would be a ways off, you may want to see if this matches your values and it might help guide future educational decisions.

    Regarding your husband’s nursing degree and future training, I suggest check out regional public university campuses. In my experience, these are the schools who have the easiest time working with nontraditional students. Many of the schools have options to challenge courses by taking and passing final exams. If he wishes to return to nursing, this might give help him speed along the path.

    1. Thank you Karl. After all the suggestions on here and the consensus that it very much makes sense for my husband to go back to nursing school, we’ve researched our local community college, and found out that an entire two year nursing degree will only cost about 12k, and his work reimburses 5k, which means that we’d only have about 5k out of pocket with fees, books, and remaining tuition. So it’s much more doable than I initially thought! I’m going to look into the National Public Health Service Corps — that’s something that would interest me, because I like the idea of being placed somewhere in the middle of nowhere for a few years. That’s something we might be able to take advantage of when he transitions from an ASN to a BSN. Our particular area is fairly competitive in terms of nursing programs, even our local public universities but I know a lot of universities, especially in southern/southwestern VA have very doable programs. Someone on here also mentioned online ASN to BSN programs we should look into. Thank you for the comment!

  42. As always the case study is very interesting. Everyone has submitted great ideas.

    About the diapers: wouldn’t it be cheaper and definitely more environmentally responsible to use cloth diapers? I remember Amy Dacyczn (Tightwad Gazettes– 3 GREAT books) costing out the difference and finding cloth less expensive. And “disposable” diapers truly are a scourge on the earth that your child(ren) will inherit.
    About Walmart: does anyone really want to be supporting a corporation with such terrible ethics, just because of cost?
    I urge the contemplation of the true costs of choices.

  43. What a great case study and I agree knowing what you want in the first place is half the battle. Having family around for your daughter is amazing. If you want some tips on meal prep [even for your lunches etc] check out “Downshiftology” blog and you tube. OMG very inspiring. Prepping 9-10 items and then you can put together whatever meal you want in minutes. She has ones for Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring however here is the link to the summer one just so you can watch it. They are about 20 minutes long…get a cuppa and watch it.

    Also it is hard sometimes to live in the present when it’s not really what you want. Check out Homesteading Blogs and podcasts because this is all about learning skills no matter if you live in a city apartment or on the land. Start by growing some herbs in pots if you don’t have a big garden, learn how to compost your scraps, look up how to make sourdough bread or even better NYT 5 minute no need bread [get a dutch oven from the charity op shop] as I’m sure they will be cheap for your bread. Learn how to make things from scratch, pizza sauce, BBQ sauce, tomato sauce [check out Addictive Free Lifestyle blog] in Australia – making these things from scratch. Make home made pizza on a Friday night [some people like to call it “fake-away” instead of “take-away” so having a take out meal made at home so it still feels like a Friday night. There are lots of things you can learn by searching “homesteading” and making home made cleaning products without chemicals. Check out Home Grown Happiness blog [New Zealand} for her no knead bread and step by step instructions on making a sourdough starter and making your bread. It’s fun learning new things and having these skills in place before you end up on land you’ll be ahead of the game. Check out your local library or community center do they run free classes on composting and growing veggies. You don’t need to live on property to learn and do these skills like making soap etc. Knowing you have these fun things to look forward to reading about at night after work or doing on the weekend will get you excited about “now/the present”.

    1. Kathy, thank you for your great comment! I actually just started reading “the Zero Waste Home,” and it’s inspired me to be less wasteful and compost more. I will check out the youtube link for meal prep — spending money on lunch and coffee is an area I continue to struggle with. It’s not a problem while we live with my parents, but I will have to tighten up once we move out, and it feels so wasteful!

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