Marie is an active, travel-loving grandmother of five who wants our help planning the remainder of her career and her retirement. We’re headed to North Carolina today to make sure Marie can meet her goals of financial security coupled with fun!

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 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.

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

Marie’s Story

Marie and her oldest grandson

Hello Frugalwoods nation! I’m Marie and I just turned 50 years old. I’m divorced and happily single with no plans to change that as I’m not interested in dating at this point in my life. Maybe that will change in the future, but I doubt it!

I’m originally from the San Francisco Bay Area and moved to North Carolina four years ago to be closer to my son and his family. My daughter and her family have since moved here, so it’s wonderful to have my entire family–both of my adult children and all five of my grandchildren–nearby! The area in California that I’m from is expensive and the lifestyle very stressful. There was a lot of pressure to have a big house and an expensive car, etc., even if you can’t afford it.

I was ready for a major change and since my son and his family were already in North Carolina, I decided to make the move. I also decided to move out east to be able to help with my grandson who has autism.  Another thing I love about North Carolina is how friendly people are and how much more relaxed the pace of life is. The cost of living is also much lower. When I’m not working, I love spending time with my family, reading, cooking, and traveling. I love to visit museums, attend special events (low cost/ free ones!), and write. All in all, I love living here and am so glad I made the cross-country move!

Marie’s Career

From Marie’s travels for work

After working as an executive assistant for nigh on 20 years, I was recently promoted to a project coordinator position in the health care sector. It was great to get a promotion, but my raise was only an extra $2,000 per year. Plus, my new position has longer hours and travel, so the pay has been a disappointing aspect. I’ve been thinking of going to back to school to finish my AA degree and then perhaps pursue a BA/BS degree in order to command a higher salary.

My employer would pay for my tuition if I went into a career in healthcare, which I’m not currently in. Therefore, the cost would be on my dime to the tune of about $6,000 for tuition and books at the local community college. I’m not sure if this makes sense at this time in my life. I love to learn and I enjoy school, but I’m mindful that I need to select my goals carefully since time is not necessarily on my side.

However, I’m deeply grateful to have a job that allows me to help others, that has good benefits, and I get to work with some pretty amazing people. Plus, when I travel for business, I work at beautiful venues and stay in very nice accommodations. Not bad for a day’s work! Still, I feel I could be making a lot more if I had a degree. I’ve also thought about getting a side hustle, such as in virtual assisting or starting a blog, to bump up my income a bit. Due to my work schedule, I wouldn’t be able to do a second traditional “brick and mortar” job.

One of the main perks of my job is the travel. When flying to a city I’ve never been to before (or one I love to revisit), I try to tack on a half-day to explore before flying back home. When you aren’t paying for accommodations or airfare, travel costs are minimal. While in Boston recently, after my conference ended, I toured the exquisite Trinity Church ($10), dined on one of the best sandwiches and chai lattes I’ve had in my life ($14), enjoyed exploring the Harvard campus ($0), rubbed the left foot of the John Harvard statue for luck (!), visited the World’s Only Curious George shop–which my youngest grandson is crazy about ($9 for a toy)–enjoyed nature’s gorgeous October leaf show ($0), and bought a few souvenirs for my other grandkids ($22). I love finding ways to save while having great experiences!

Marie’s Money and Housing Question

From Marie’s travels

I’m concerned that I do have some debt: about $1k in credit card debt and a car loan of $11k. Due to the increased travel for my new job, I financed a 2014 Hyundai Sonata with very low mileage for $14k.

I currently share a large three-bedroom apartment with a roommate and we split the rent and utilities equally. My roommate and I get along very well and don’t plan to get a 3rd roommate, especially since the third bedroom is more of a bonus room. We pay for our own groceries and household supplies and share those items as needed.

Houses are fairly inexpensive here, so I’m thinking seriously of buying something small next year and paying it off before I retire. However, I have $0 saved for a down payment as I’ve been focused on paying off my debt. I’m beginning to rethink that strategy as I have only $1,000 in my emergency fund, not a whole lot in retirement, and am still about $12k in debt.

That scares me since retirement is only 15-18 years away if all goes according to plan. I love giving to others through tithing 10% of my net income and also giving nice gifts to my kids and grandkids. I can be overly generous at times, which is something I know I need to change so that I can reach my goals.

Where Marie Wants To Be in 10 Years:

  • Finances: I’d love to have a nearly paid-off house, one year’s worth of living expenses in savings, $250k or more in my retirement account, and enough discretionary income to fund a bit of travel, hobbies and fun with family.
    • This is where I shake my head and wonder where all the money I’ve made has gone. I’ve gotten in and out of debt more times than I can count and I frittered away a small inheritance and a divorce settlement in the last decade. I think it comes down to never learning about money and always thinking that I have plenty of time.
    • I tend to be overly generous, as mentioned above, but I also know that by not taking care of myself financially now, I put an unfair burden on my children in the future.
    • I’d love to have over $350k in investments by the time I retire in 15-18 years, no debt, and a home that I own free and clear. I feel that with social security and a withdrawal rate of 4% from investments, I won’t be living a lavish retirement life, but it will be comfortable as long as I continue to live frugally.
    • That said, I don’t want to put off living NOW for the future. I want to take a trip to Paris next year (2020) with my daughter and also take my grandkids to Florida someday to visit the famous mouse.
    • Again, I am painfully aware that time is not on my side and that I can do anything, but not everything. I’m willing to do what it takes, including living very frugally, to make a change for the better for my future.
  • Lifestyle: I’d like to be active and traveling more as I turn 60 (and beyond!).
    • The most important thing for me is to have more downtime to enjoy life.
    • I’d like to have the time and the resources to do a little travel, spend extended time with my family and friends, and time to volunteer.
    • I love visiting Europe and also exploring beautiful places right here in the U.S. such as New England, the Pacific Northwest, and the beaches in Florida.
    • I am fine with frugal travel so I believe I can make this work, plus the Frugalwoods have given me great tips on how to do exactly that!
  • Career: I don’t see myself continuing on in the project coordinating role, but rather, would like to do something in program management, event planning, or writing that can be done from home with a bit of travel and a lot of autonomy.
    • With my executive assistant background, I have a lot of skills that could be put to good use for people that need part-time administrative support, travel arranging, etc.

Marie’s Finances

Monthly Income

Item Amount Notes
Marie’s monthly net income $4,000 Take home pay after taxes, healthcare, life insurance (through company), AD & D, long-term disability, and short-term disability. This also includes cell phone and mileage reimbursement as I travel quite a bit for work.. The total amount fluctuates–since I often work 10-20 hours overtime per month–but it’s usually around this total.
Annual bonus $1,200 Annual bonus; this amount fluctuates from year to year but this is about average.
Annual total: $49,200 Note: this doesn’t include 401k contributions as I have temporarily suspended them to focus on paying off my debt (my employer matches 100% of up to 6% of my contributions). This also does not include an extra $1,500 per quarter for selling back 80 hours of PTO per quarter at 75% value. I don’t take PTO very often so I’m fine with keeping 80 hours of PTO in my account and selling off the rest each quarter. Since I only get 75% value, I’m not sure if this is something I should continue doing or not.

Monthly Expenses

Item Amount Notes
Extra debt payments $1,238 I use all of my remaining take-home pay to pay down debt every month.
Rent $600 I share a 3 bedroom, 2 bath apartment with a roommate; rent is split 50/50
Charity $400 Giving 10% of my net income to charity is important to me
Groceries $275 Some organic items; I cook most of my meals at home and pack lunches and snacks for work. I know I need to spend less in this area. I tend to overspend when I go to Costco to shop for groceries!
Car payment $208 2014 Hyundai Sonata; financed at 3.6%
Travel $200 Sinking fund for trips throughout the year. This is also my savings for trips to visit family  and a planned trip to Paris with my daughter in Spring 2020. I travel a lot for work so I’m able to combine some leisure travel with work trips with very minimal out-of-pocket cost so this amount is for special trips.
Grandkids $150 Granddaughter’s dance lessons; therapy for my grandson with special needs; other occasional educations opportunities for all grandkids. Education is very imporant to me.
Eating out $120 This is for “dates” with my grandkids; coffee dates with friends and occasional meals out with my adult children.
Gasoline $100 I travel quite a bit from work; mileage reimbursement included in my paycheck helps offset this cost.
Gifts $100 Birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas gift fund (I buy gifts throughout the year for optimal savings, which allows me to purchase thoughtful gifts)
Entertainment/Miscellaneous $100 Books, hobbies, movies, entrance fees to museums, etc. My local library has a few passes I can check out, but it only includes one local museum and one kids’ museum.  I almost always look for things that are free/very low cost so I have lumped entertainment into this category.
Credit card payment $100 0% until October 2019
Car insurance $65 Sinking fund for bi-yearly expense paid in full; insurance is with Geico; high-coverage limits as car is financed with a $1,000 deductible; this amount will go down once car is paid off.
Life insurance $59 Personal life insurance policy; separate from work policy
Utilities: Electricity $52 1/2 of bill, which is split with my roommate
Car maintenance $50 Sinking fund for car maintenance: tires, oil changes, etc.
Clothing $50 My new role at work has required a nicer wardrobe
Utilities: Water $30 1/2 of bill, which is split with my roommate
Utilities: Internet $25 1/2 of bill, which is split with my roommate
Utilities: Gas $15 1/2 of bill, which is split with my roommate
Household supplies $10 mostly paper goods; I make my own laundry detergent, use vinegar for fabric softener and buy shampoo/conditioner at a deep discount through sales
Car registration $10 sinking fund for yearly expense
Renter’s insurance $8 1/2 of bill, which is split with my roommate
Monthly total: $3,965
Annual total: $47,580


Item Amount Notes
401k $29,264 Retirement fund from previous employer; need to roll over
IRA $16,603 Vanguard; personal IRA
401k $6,693 401k with current employer; temporarily stopped contributions to focus on paying off debt; employer matches up to 6% at 100%
Emergency fund $1,000 I reduced my emergency fund from $5k to $1,000 in order to pay off debt, but I’m not sure that was the best thing to do
Total: $53,560

Life Insurance

Item Amount Notes
Life insurance policies $352,000 $252k whole-life policy through employer; $100k 20-year term life personal policy; I was diagnosed with very early stage cervical cancer nine years ago (treatment was deemed curative so I’m at extremly low risk for a recurrence) but it can still be challenging for me to get a reasonably priced policy.


Item Valued At Notes
2014 Hyundai Sonata $12,254 Loan balance is currently $11,300; I’ve been thinking that perhaps I should trade this in for an SUV without taking on more debt. My job requires me to transport items for programs I set up, so that would give me more trunk space.


Item Amount Notes
Car loan $11,300 Financed at 3.6%
Credit card debt $980 Barclay card; 0% through October 2019
Total: $12,280

Marie’s Questions For You:

  1. Should I buy a house? Although real estate in North Carolina is very reasonable (I could get a nice, small home for under $170k or a condo for under $120k), does it make sense to tie up my income to pay off a home within 15 years, or would I be better off investing it/paying off all my debt/building up my emergency fund?
  2. Should I return to school to finish my AA degree and then possibly my BA/BS degree in the hopes of commanding a higher salary? Or should I focus on getting the most out of my current role while I: a) live as frugally as possible while still enjoying life; and b) create extra sources of income through blogging/virtual assisting/other?
  3. What suggestions do you have for curbing my natural bend towards being overly generous? I need help in this area!
  4. What are the most important lifestyle adjustments I can make to get myself on firmer financial footing?

Mrs. Frugalwoods’ Recommendations

From Marie’s travels for work

I know Marie feels like she has a lot of room for improvement, but I have to tell you, she is doing tremendously well! It’s not easy to go through a divorce and navigate the workforce without a college degree and live with a roommate as an adult and have joyful relationships with your adult children–and Marie is crushing it on all of these fronts! Wow! Marie has beaten the odds and should serve as an inspiration to anyone else facing similar circumstances.

I am impressed with Marie’s ability to be introspective and to recognize that yes, some things do need to change if she wants to retire comfortably and frankly, have the ability to retire at all. Marie’s determination–and her willingness to be flexible and creative–will serve her well and I am honored and thrilled to be part of her journey. Marie is an incredibly organized and composed person, which I know because she goes down in Case Study history as the FIRST person to ever submit a Case Study that I didn’t have any clarifying or follow-up questions about. And I ask a lot of questions, so that should tell you something about Marie’s level of detail and accuracy!

KUDOS on the Roommate Situation

I want to spend a moment congratulating Marie for making what I’m guessing wasn’t an easy decision to live with a roommate in a rented apartment. This is quite possibly the BEST financial decision Marie has ever made. Why? It keeps her housing costs DIRT CHEAP. For many of us (myself included), our rent or mortgage is by far our largest outlay every month. But not Marie. She spends a cool $600 per month on rent, which is phenomenal. And cheap. And she said she likes her roommate and her apartment, so she’s not sacrificing her quality of life. Way to go, Marie! This housing kudos leads us nicely into addressing Marie’s first question:

Should Marie Buy A House?

From Marie’s travels for work

Nope. At least, not right now for the simple fact that she doesn’t have the assets to do so. Before considering buying a home, I advise Marie to do the following:

  • Pay off her debt
  • Rebuild her emergency fund
  • Re-start 401k contributions
  • Save up a downpayment
    • If Marie focused on the lower end of the price range she cited ($120K for a condo), a 20% downpayment would be $24,000 plus closing costs, moving expenses, and a home maintence/repair savings account.

Buying a house–especially one as inexpensive as Marie cited–isn’t a bad idea, it’s just not tenable in her current financial situation. However, Marie is a focused person and so if she decides that owning a home is a priority, I have no doubt she’ll make it happen.

A few other rent vs. buy considerations:

  • Marie’s rent is such an incredible deal right now and I wonder if this is typical of her area or if she lucked into a great deal? If this is in fact market rate rent for her area, then I’d say it seems like a fabulous place to be a renter–especially with a roommate.
  • If Marie bought a home, I wonder if she would rent out a room to either her current roommate or someone else? Doing so could make the math work well in her favor–with someone paying half of her mortgage in rent every month, she’d be on a fast track to paying it off.
  • Marie’s love of travel–and desire to do more of it–is another factor that makes me pro-renting and anti-buying. Owning a home (no matter how modest) is a responsibility and might impinge on Marie’s ability to flit around the globe. Renting, particularly with a roommate, seems like an ideal arrangement because she never has to worry about her house when she’s away. Furthermore, if her roommate was amenable, might she be able to sublet her room while she’s gone? If Marie is thinking of traveling for much of the year post-retirement, I wonder if she could forgo a permanent address entirely and just stay with one of her kids when she’s home? I’m not sure if Marie is thinking of traveling quite that much, but that would certainly be a frugal way to do it and would avoid rent and a mortgage altogether! Just a thought.

All in all, buying a home right now isn’t possible and buying a home in the future might not make the most sense for Marie’s finances and lifestyle. There’s nothing wrong with being a longterm renter and there’s no need to own a home in order to have financial security. In fact, not owning a home would give Marie quite a few more options in how she uses her time and money.

Should Marie Pursue her Associate’s and Bachelor’s Degrees?

I don’t know. I think Marie should do a bit more research before making this decision. Principally, she should suss out whether or not have a degree (either an associate’s or a BA) would guarantee her a higher salary at her current company. It doesn’t sound like Marie has any desire to leave the company she’s working for and so I recommend she do some digging into whether or not having a degree automatically equals a pay raise and if so, how much that raise would be. In some professions, and at some employers, a degree triggers an automatic promotion or pay increase. But at plenty of other jobs? It’s nice but it doesn’t translate into more money. Since Marie seems to enjoy her job, getting a degree would only make sense if there was a guaranteed commensurate pay bump. Furthermore, since Marie is getting ready to glide into retirement, I’d want to see the cold hard math pan out on her costs for the degree + the number of years it’ll take her to complete it + the increase in salary until retirement.

From Marie’s travels

Marie should talk to HR, her supervisor, friends at work–anyone who can shed light on whether or not a degree would equal more pay. Some companies have this type of information formally written down in an employee manual. Additionally, I’d dig a bit deeper into the employer tuition benefit she mentioned. Marie should get a list of exactly which degree programs her employer would pay for and consider if any of those make sense for her. Even so, I’m not saying that getting a free degree would necessarily even be worth it. As someone who worked full-time while getting my employer-paid master’s degree, I can attest it is SO MUCH work to go to school while working full-time. I’m hard pressed to advise it. It’s not unmanageable, but it was a pretty awful time in my life–and I didn’t even have children yet!!! All that to say, even if the degree is free or cheap, the outlay of time and stress might not be worth it. So, do some more research, Marie, and see what you think.

My uneducated hunch is that it might be better for Marie to do an awesome job in her current position and advocate for a raise after a year of proven excellent performance. It’s obvious Marie’s employer values her–in light of her recent promotion–and wouldn’t want to lose her. So, Marie should feel confident at the negotiation table when year-end reviews or salary conversations come up.

Should Marie Get A Side Hustle?

If she wants to, sure! Marie is insightful and creative and I love that she’s considering lots of different ways to earn more. Her incredible track record as an executive assistant would, I imagine, make her a stellar virtual assistant (VA). I think my question for Marie is if she thinks she’d enjoy this work and if she’d be able to make enough money to justify the outlay of her time, which is precious. As part of her to-degree or not-to-degree question, Marie should do some preliminary virtual assistant research and see what sort of hourly rate she could expect as a VA. This would be another great data point to plug into the equation of whether or not a degree is worth it. Again, since I think Marie’s question is primarily about earning more income, it might be that she could start work as a VA tomorrow and make enough in a year to compensate for the salary we’re assuming she’s losing without a degree. I like her ingenuity and it’s OBVIOUS Marie is super organized and efficient, so it seems to me that she’d be a very in-demand VA.

From Marie’s travels for work

As to her question about starting a blog, I wouldn’t advise it as a money-making scheme. It takes A LONG TIME to earn an income from blogging and it’s not a very part-time type of occupation. I do earn an income from Frugalwoods, but I’ve been writing it for almost five years and I made $0 for quite a long time… It also takes a ton of work to write a blog and I’d only advise Marie start one for the love of writing. I wouldn’t do it for any other reason. That being said, there’s no law against Marie working as a VA to make that money and writing a blog for the sheer joy of it. These are two highly mobile careers/hobbies and so Marie could easily tackle both while traveling for work or pleasure!

And, I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself here, but… if Marie found that she enjoyed working as VA, and if she had a large enough client base, and if she earned enough to replace her salary… do you see where I’m going with this? She’d put herself in a very fine position to retire from her current position and travel the world while holding down her VA jobs. Just a thought…. And if Marie likes this thought, I’d advise starting VA work ASAP to see how tenable that plan is. It takes time to build up a client base and it takes time to work for yourself (oh boy does it ever… ), so she should see if it’s something she enjoys. I love working for myself and don’t see myself ever going back into an office, but I will tell you there are days that I wish it didn’t all fall to ME (and to Mr. FW) when something goes awry with the website or a client or etc etc and so forth. All that to say, Marie should test the self-employment waters and see how she likes it! If I needed a VA, I would definitely want to hire someone like Marie who has decades of experience. Just sayin.

How Can Marie Be Less Generous?

Marie’s grandson at equine therapy

You didn’t read that wrong, Marie hit the nail on the head when she identified that one of her downfalls is generosity. I encourage generosity and I am touched every time this topic comes up in a Case Study or a conversation with a reader because you all are such deeply compassionate, caring individuals. There’s nothing wrong with having a generous heart, indeed we’d all be a lot better off if more of us approached the world with a generous heart.

However. This becomes a problem when we’re generous to the detriment of our own financial health and stability. I consider this a “put your own oxygen mask on first” type of scenario. The issue is that if a person is generous beyond their means, at some point, they will become wholly dependent upon others to support them.

Marie is keenly aware of this because she noted:

I tend to be overly generous.. but I also know that by not taking care of myself financially now, I put an unfair burden on my children in the future.

My thoughts exactly. I LOVE that Marie is the type of grandmother who is actively involved with her kid and grandkids, but for her own sake–and the sake of her kids–she’s got to dial back the financial outlay to her family. If Marie does not want to be financially dependent on her children after she retires, she needs to make some changes to her spending. Unfortunately, some of the ripest areas for reduction relate to her generosity (which we’ll cover in detail in a moment).

I want Marie to reflect on what she loves about spending time with her children and grandchildren and realize that buying things for them isn’t the highlight of her interactions. I am sure her children adore having her as an ongoing positive presence in their kids’ lives and I encourage her to look for free and cheap ways to show her love. A few ideas (which she probably already does, but I figured I’d share them just in case):

  • Babysitting. As the parent of two young children, THE BEST gift anyone can give me is childcare. My in-laws, my parents, and my adopted mom neighbor all know this about me (probably because I’ve told them 1 million times) and so when they visit, they watch the kids for periods of time so that Mr. FW and I can: tackle a household chore/project, go hiking, or go out to dinner. Together. Alone. Without our darling children. Our amazing adopted mom neighbor takes Kidwoods for one morning a week and babysits for one date night every month. This is pure gold and I can’t ever repay her. If Marie isn’t already doing date nights/Saturday afternoon/whenever kidwatching, this would be a wonderful gift to her children and their children.
  • A cooked meal. As the parent of two young children, THE SECOND BEST gift anyone can give me is food. Life is so hectic with kids and so anytime someone offers us a meal, I say YES. An occasional cooked dinner could be an incredibly supportive and thoughtful gift.
  • Help with chores/projects. As the parent of two young children, THE THIRD BEST gift anyone can give me is their time and energy to help me with a chore/project. While my parents visited this fall, they helped me do a slew of household chores/projects Mr. FW and I haven’t had a chance to get to. My awesome mom and dad put furniture pads on the bottom of all of our furniture (yes we’ve lived here for almost three years), helped me sort through Kidwoods’ summer clothes and the next size of clothes for Littlewoods, organized all of our toy bins and identified stuff to give away or save for when the kids are older, cleaned under my oven, cleaned my kitchen sink, glued broken things back together (that was an embarrassingly large pile)… and the list goes on. Point being, this might seem like trivial stuff, but it was an incredible gift to me since this is the type of work I just can’t seem to get around to on my own.

These are all free ways that Marie could demonstrate her affection for her children and grandchildren. I am not advising that Marie become a grinchy miser, but rather, that she get a clearer picture of how much she needs to save before retirement and an articulated path on how to get there. Fortunately, that’s exactly the sort of thing we tackle in Case Studies, so let’s continue!

Retirement Planning

Marie is currently 50 and said she’s hoping to retire in 15-18 years, when she’ll be 65-68. She also noted that she’d like to have “over $350k in investments by the time I retire in 15-18 years, no debt, and a home that I own free and clear.” This is a laudable goal and I love how forward-thinking Marie is. Let’s break down some numbers and see how we can get Marie to this goal.

  • Current assets $53,560
  • Minus current debt ($12,280): $41,280
  • Savings goal: $350,000
  • Total amount needed to save to reach goal: $308,720
  • Number of years to save: 18
  • Amount Marie will need to save each year for the next 18 years: $17,151*

*this is not a perfect calculation as it doesn’t account for any interest gains from investments, but it’s a ballpark

Marie should also run these numbers with this calculator, which allows you to account for an annual interest rate.

Marie should also do the work to calculate her expected social security benefit. The program on this website can tell Marie the dollar amount to expect each month. I suggest she perform this calculation to have a more accurate view of what to expect from social security. Marie also mentioned enacting a 4% safe withdrawal rate from her assets in retirement, which, if she succeeds in saving $350k, would be $14,000 per year, which isn’t impossible to live on, but it’s not much, especially if she’s still paying rent or a mortgage.

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.

Let’s map out a plan to help Marie get here! Per usual, we’re going to start with everyone’s favorite Frugalwoods Case Study exercise…


From Marie’s travels

The reason I love talking about reducing spending is that it’s something you can do RIGHT NOW, today, immediately! It doesn’t involve a lot of complicated maneuvering and it’s usually a process of NOT doing stuff, so ya know, it’s easier than a lot of other things you could do on very short notice.

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 Marie:

Item Current Amount Mrs. FW’s Notes Proposed New Amount Amount Saved
Extra debt payments $1,238 Marie should get this debt dispensed with ASAP (we’ll discuss how in a moment), which will free up this mega amount for her to SAVE!! $0 $1,238
Rent $600 As I mentioned, Marie gets a gold star here. No change recommended. $600 $0
Charity $400 I know it’s important to Marie to be generous and give to others. I commend her for this, but I’m also deeply worried about her own future if she doesn’t start saving money. I urge Marie to suspend her charitable giving until she can get her own finances in order. Once she’s on solid financial footing, she can re-start her philanthropic donations. In the meantime, I urge her to find other ways to give back, namely through volunteering her time $0 $400
Groceries $275 This isn’t outrageous, but as Marie noted, there’s room for savings here. She said she tends to overspend when she goes to Costco and I think I’d ask why she’s going to Costco in the first place. Their quantities are massive and, it could very well be costing her money as opposed to saving it. I encourage her to try a month or two of not going to Costco and being more mindful about groceries to see if there’s an opportunity to save more. $200 $75
Car payment $208 As soon as this is paid off, Marie can celebrate saving this money every month! And then drive this car forever. No seriously, forever. $0 $208
Travel $200 I know that this is another major priority for Marie and so I hate to tell her to eliminate it, but I’m also concerned about how far she has to go before retirement. I encourage her to consider if she can truly afford $2,400 of travel every year at this point. I’ll leave it in for now. $200 $0
Granddaughter’s dance lessons; therapy for my grandson with special needs; other occasional educations opportunities for all grandkids. $150 Woah woah woah. Put on the brakes! Why is Marie paying for all of these things for her grandchildren? I hate to be the grumpy bear, but Marie’s kids need to pay for these things for their children. As Marie sagely noted, she is in a position right now where she needs to ensure her own future, unless she thinks her kids will be in a position to support her during her retirement. $0 $150
Eating out $120 I hate to say it (because I LOVE to eat out), but this is low-hanging fruit that Marie needs to cut (at least for now!). $0 $120
Gasoline $100 I imagine there’s no room to reduce this and it’s not terribly high. $100 $0
Birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas gift fund (I buy gifts throughout the year for optimal savings, which allows me to purchase thoughtful gifts) $100 I like Marie’s strategy of buying gifts throughout the year and assuming she’s buying for nine people (her two children, their spouses, and nine grandkids), $1,200 per year isn’t awful. However. Marie also has a travel fund, another line item for her grandkids’ activities, and a line item for taking them all out to eat. I think Marie needs to decide which of these is the priority and then tell her family that she’ll be suspending one of them in favor of paying for the others. It’s either: gifts, travel, grandkids’ activities/lessons, entertainment, or eating out as a family. It can’t be all. $50 $50
Entertainment/Miscellaneous: Books, hobbies, movies, entrance fees to museums, etc. My local library has a few passes I can check out, but it only includes one local museum and one kids’ museum.  I almost always look for things that are free/very low cost so I have lumped entertainment into this category. $100 This is yet another line item that involves Marie’s generosity towards her family, which is such a warmhearted thing. BUT! We’ve got to prioritize Marie’s needs right now and I think this is another area that’ll need to be either cut or reduced. $50 $50
Credit card payment $100 Let’s get this paid off! $0 $100
Car insurance: Sinking fund for bi-yearly expense paid in full; insurance is with Geico; high-coverage limits as car is financed with a $1,000 deductible; this amount will go down once car is paid off. $65 Fixed expense, I imagine it can’t change. $65 $0
Life insurance: Personal life insurance policy; separate from work policy $59 I have a note on this below. $0 $59
Utilities: Electricity $52 Fixed expense, I imagine it can’t change. $52 $0
Car maintenance $50 Fixed expense, I imagine it can’t change. $50 $0
Clothing: My new role at work has required a nicer wardrobe $50 Once Marie has her new work wardrobe set, I strongly encourage her to go on a clothes-buying ban $0 $50
Utilities: Water $30 Fixed expense, I imagine it can’t change. $30 $0
Utilities: Internet $25 Fixed expense, I imagine it can’t change. $25 $0
Utilities: Gas $15 Fixed expense, I imagine it can’t change. $15 $0
Household supplies $10 Impressively low! Wow! $10 $0
Car registration $10 Fixed expense, I imagine it can’t change. $10 $0
Renter’s insurance $8 Smart! I’m glad Marie has this! $8 $0
Current Monthly Subtotal: $3,965 Proposed New Monthly Subtotal: $1,465 $2,500
Current Annual Total: $47,580 Proposed New Annual Total: $17,580 $30,000

Holy cow!!! If Marie is able to make even some of the above reductions, she will be in excellent shape! If she makes all of these cuts, she’ll be on track to save a record-breaking $30,000 per year. PER YEAR. That’ll fast track her to her retirement goal (which we outlined above) and give her plenty leftover for traveling!

I fully realize, however, that what I’m suggesting in the above spreadsheet would entail a seismic lifestyle change for Marie. These aren’t easy things to stop paying for and a lot of it might be painful. And I’m not necessarily saying she should eliminate all of these expenses. But if she wants to have a prayer of retiring in 15-18 years, she will need to save around $17,151 per year as we calculated above. And even that much saved would equal a pretty lean retirement, with an annual outlay that’s much, much lower than she currently spends.

The main points on Marie’s spending for her family:

  • I’m not pretending these are easy choices to make. They’re not. They are, for the most part, a question of delayed gratification and of focusing on future Marie instead of what present Marie wants to do. It’s also tough because A LOT of this spending isn’t on Marie herself–it’s on things for other people. And that, in my experience, is the absolute hardest stuff to eliminate.
  • What I suggest is that Marie be strategic and begin to prioritize what and how she wants to be generous with her family. Her monthly budget includes all of the following categories for her family:
    • Travel with family
    • Activities/lessons/therapy for grandchildren
    • Eating out with kids and grandkids
    • Gifts (birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas)
    • Entertainment
  • I think Marie needs to decide which items on this list are her sacred cows and which items she can either dramatically reduce or eliminate. Marie–I’m going to email you my spreadsheet so that you can play around with different dollar amounts to figure out where you want to save and spend.
  • This won’t be an easy conversation for Marie to have with her adult children, but I encourage her to frame it along the lines of, “I need to cut back and save more money right now so that I don’t end up living with you when I retire.” At this point in her life, Marie has a responsibility to plan for her own future.

Life insurance? 

I’m wondering why Marie carries life insurance? Life insurance is typically held by a primary breadwinner to provide for their dependents (spouse and/or children) in the event of the breadwinner’s death. Since Marie no longer has any dependents, I’m wondering why she has life insurance? Unless I’m missing something, I’d get rid of it entirely.

The Other Side Of The Equation

From Marie’s travels

Right after the expense rundown, I always like to point out that there are two sides to this equation:

Spending AND Income

Marie has already broached the idea of trying to earn more, so it’s highly possible she could ramp up her income and decrease her spending in order to get to her goals even faster. Usually, the best results (and the fastest) come from a strategic combination of both increased income and decreased spending.

Overall Financial Next Steps

Ok I’ve already written a novel, so I’m gonna summarize this real quick for Marie. Here are the immediate next steps I advise Marie take:

  • Contribute to 401k. If Marie does nothing else, she needs to start contributing 6% to her 401k to qualify for her employer match. This is free money, DO NOT leave it on the table. Especially when there’s so much room to save more every month. More on 401ks here.
  • Pay off debt. Marie does not have a lot of debt, especially when you consider how much she could potentially save every month and funnel into debt repayment. Woohoo!!!! Go Marie!
    • Prioritize your debt-payoff by interest rate. Pay off the car loan ($11,300 at 3.6%) first and then the credit card ($980 at 0%).
  • Build emergency fund back up. Marie noted this is a goal and so she knows the drill. Calculate 3-6 months worth of spending and then beef up that e-fund.
  • Save, save, save! In order to reach that $350k in 18 years goal, Marie needs to save like the awesome woman she is and put herself–and her needs–first.
  • Do not trade in the car. NOPE. Marie is still paying off her current car and trading in is almost never a good deal. Marie should pay this car off and then drive it into the ground.
  • No more credit cards. I don’t often give this advice because I’m a credit card user and an advocate for earning credit card rewards. However, I was struck by Marie’s note that she’s been in and out of debt more times than she can count. This to me says that credit cards probably don’t jive with Marie’s personal finance style. I recommend she ditch the cards and go all-cash (and debit cards). I have a feeling this might help Marie get out–and stay out–of debt.

I am rooting for Marie and I’m also very confident that she has what it takes to make the life she’s envisioning possible.

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

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  1. Oooh I have to say a nope to the house as well but mostly for different reasons. The biggest ones are liability and upkeep. It’s hard manage the physical aspects of a house when aging. Although my husband and I are only in our 20s/30s, messing with the bathroom fan, roof issues, plumbing work etc. it’s just been very physically challenging. They’re tasks too small to hire out / DIYable but big enough that it needs to be dealt with before it gets much worst. I don’t see the car loan as much of an issue, I think Marie’s doing great, the emergency fund is critical though! Got to get that bumped up 🙂

    1. I agree! I’m a geriatric social worker and I don’t recommend buying a house in your older years, unless you have the money to pay for the services to keep things up. And, in some instances, subsidized elderly housing doesn’t check assets, just income (e.g. social security/ pension). So she may qualify for elderly housing in 15 years which will have a very cheap rent. Its something to research in her area. Waiting lists can be quite long, and all have different rules, so some research now (and putting yourself on those 8-10 year waiting lists in the next couple years) can be extremely helpful in your later years.

    2. Hi Lily,

      Thank you for your comment! I’m starting to see that having a house doesn’t need to be a top priority for me. I’d rather get my debt paid off and my emergency fund/401k up to solid levels. 🙂

  2. I don’t have any more advice than you have given but I am so impressed as to the way you have absolutely nailed all the potential savings.Marie actually has the chance to totally turn her life around AND buy and pay off her own home.What a wonderful resource the Frugalwoods website has proven to be over and over again.

  3. As a nonprofit professional, I welcome/need financial donations to our little organization, but I am also happy to have volunteers come in and help out. As they say in our business, we welcome: “time, talent, treasure” Volunteering is INDEED a great way to give back, and you can sometimes do it with the children/grandchildren and make it a family event. This helps the cause and it creates a culture of giving in the family!

    1. Hi Rebecca,

      I really, really love the idea of volunteering with my grandkids and making it a family event. My oldest grandson is 10 and this would be a good time to start doing this with him.

      1. Hi Marie — I did this when my kids were young, and they LOVED it. My son actually got us started when he said one days that he wanted to work with kids with special needs. Took a little time to find an organization that would welcome an 11 year old (I kept him company), but he finally ended up helping out a Special Olympics basketball team. Eventually, we created a small nonprofit where he coached basketball, my daughter coached a cheer squad, and the all-volunteer organization ended up doing quite well. Bonus: it all jumpstarted a nonprofit career for me. 🙂

        1. This is so amazing — talk about a family team effort to make a difference in the lives of others. My older grandkids are so compassionate with other kids partly due to having a brother/cousin with autism. What a beautiful example you have set for your children. They sound like wonderful human beings.

    2. You beat me to the “Time Talent Treasure” speech that I always give! I don’t have a lot of “treasure” to give (just my participation gifts to my alma maters), but I volunteer for committees and as a class fundraiser. You can “tithe” that value of $400 for your organization/ church via services which would cost them a boat load more. Its worth a discussion and a thought!

      1. Yay you! Our volunteers mean so much to us (and help us stay financially healthy). Honestly – everything from homework help to IT support to website design… we couldn’t do what we do without our volunteers.

  4. Mrs Frugalwoods has written that the rent at 600 is quite low, which is true. But since Marie has an extra spare room, why not utilise it. Because that could significantly lessen the rent that has to be paid by Marie. 1200/3 = 400. That’s an extra monthly 200 and yearly 2400 to contribute to savings.

    Alternatively, short term rentals through Airbnb and the like for the spare room could yield a considerable income which would be higher than a third room mate. And renting out the room short term would give Marie and her room mate the flexibility to block dates when they need the house for themselves.

    1. I agree that the third room is an underutilized asset (though may be what helps them have a great roommate relationship).

      My only caution is that renting through Airbnb is a lot of work, and can cost money (and time) since you then have to keep your home ready for visitors at almost all times. Renting it out to a stable person (maybe someone who travels a lot?) may earn them less but it might be more affordable than the labor involved in airbnb.

    2. Hi Elena,

      Thank you for your comment. I’ll need to ask my roommate about this but it’s an idea worth researching and considering.

      1. Remind your roommate that she, too, can benefit financially from renting that extra room! We have rented via Airbnb before. I do not recommend it. I would find a 3rd roommate! And you are KILLING IT! Inspiring!

    3. It may be worth the peace of mind, though, to keep the situation status quo, if both Marie and the roommate are really happy. A three-person dynamic in a living space can bring more drama than a two-person one, and if it leads to Marie needing to leave, then it’s definitely a negative. If it were me, this would be a quality-of-life issue, and I’d look to save in other ways.

      1. I tend to agree with Jessica on this. It sounds like Marie and her roommate get along really well and it might not be worth the marginal savings to add a third person. It’s certainly something to consider, but Marie’s rent is already super cheap. If it were me, I think I’d focus more on finding VA work to increase income as opposed to rocking the happy home boat :). In my experience, you can’t put a price on a harmonious, stable living environment (well, I mean you can… but you get the idea 🙂 ).

  5. As usual, Mrs. Frugalwoods hits the nail on the head!

    I don’t have much to add other than I would change what Marie says to her children from “I need to cut back and save more money right now so that I don’t end up living with you when I retire.” to “I need to cut back and save more money now so that I don’t become a financial burden to you when I retire.” I think my version would make it more likely that her children would want her to save more. Just a thought.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. My children will be completely on board with my taking care of myself financially and this language does make it clear and simple, especially in those moments when I feel like being too generous.

  6. I agree with Liz about the generosity issue. Spending big money at Disneyworld for the grandkids just goes to a corporation. For your grandkids, spending TIME with YOU is all that matters. How about hosting potlucks at your apartment, invite the roommate and your children and grandkids? You can make this a twice-a-month endeavor and give your children a break. Or, how about taking your grandkids for movies/story hour at the local library, or trips to museums? These are free or low cost outings.

    Tithing to charity can be resumed once your financial picture is on firmer footing. Isn’t there a saying that goes something like: “God helps those who help themselves”?

    It sounds as though TRAVEL is your main hobby. Why not investigate FREE travel as a volunteer? Organizations exist which welcome English-speaking volunteers who help their native speakers practice their English skills. in Spain comes to mind.

    Lastly, my personal experience regarding extra degrees/certificates over the last two decades has been extremely negative in the workplace. Unless you are OFFERED a specific promotion in WRITING or it is encoded in PERSONNEL POLICY that an extra degree will get you a raise or promotion, I would be leery of spending time and money returning to school. Lots of people are facing decades of enormous debt payoffs with degrees that got them barista jobs at Starbucks.

    1. Hi Marilyn,

      Thank you so much for your comment. You are so right about quality time being the most important thing when it comes to my family. I love your idea about traveling as a volunteer and I am going to check out that website. I have tutored people in English before and so this is a great reminder that I may want to revisit doing that again. So very rewarding.


      1. On the tutoring English…how about VIPKid…. I keep seeing it pop up as online jobs. It’s virtual English teaching to Chinese children. If you’re already looking for virtual work and have experience tutoring English.

        I also second the time with grandkids vs dining out… your love language might be gift giving, but your financial vernacular is begging a code switch to quality time. Like Frugalwoods suggested…why not have dinner dates at your grandkids homes…that way you can cook for them and babysit if the parents need an outing. You could still make it special or a regular thing… Gran night, or special in that everyone sits at the table or is washed and cleaned first, or gets to drink out of special glasses, Kool Aid is only 10 cents… etc… if you really want to party ! 🙂

        Also as a fellow NC gal, your utilities seem extraordinarily high to me… my water usage is $6/mon… your share is $30/mon… what are you all doing? Especially if you say you travel a lot. Does a toilet need to be looked at for draining too much water. I have dishwasher and w/d in my apt. My power also averages $35/mon or less and there’s no gas. Again if you’re traveling that much, what is the usage on? Quick tips: unplug plugs that are not used, yes chargers, toasters, small appliances, energy efficient temps, there are certain times in the day when it’s cheaper to run the w/d etc…

        That’s my 2 cents. Also I ran your numbers in the compound interest savings calculator, and based on that, you would want to be at least $515/mon to reach your $302k goal at 6% annual interest over 18 years. You can easily do that doing just some of the things suggested by Frugalwoods. Cheers!

        1. Good point on the utilities, MERJ. I had similar thoughts but didn’t note them above. Marie–something you and your roommate might want to try is an energy use monitor. They are fairly cheap (or see if you can borrow from a friend) and you plug it into all of your appliances to identify what’s draining the most energy. We did this in our first home and discovered that the old fridge in our basement was eating more energy than everything else in the house (we promptly unplugged it)! So, might be worth a look to see if there’s anything you could unplug to reduce utilities. Here’s a link to the energy meter we have.

  7. I assume there is some sort of state pension in the US. She wouldn’t have to live off of just 4% of $350k ($14k per year) in retirement?

    1. Yes, as mentioned in the post, Marie should receive social security and I recommend she do the calculations (at the site I linked to) to determine how much she can expect every month through SS.

  8. Hi I’m in England. Have you considered studying with The open university or another on line university. If you are travelling by public transport you can study. I work full time plus s few hoyrs a week part time job and study for a masters degree. I do get some study time from work so that’s a huge bonus.

  9. I agree with your aggressive approach to cost cutting and increased savings. I would also recommend that she consider a part time job to save even more. 350k is not much of a savings cushion to retire with particularly if she wants to travel.

  10. I, too own a Hyundai Sonata. I’d say she needs to keep it- the trunk space is LARGE for a car. In order to get more cargo room, she’d have to jump up to a fairly large SUV, which of course would be $$$$. In addition, she’d be paying more for gas as the gas mileage would not even be close to what she’s getting now.

    1. So true…it is rather spacious and you make a very good argument re the gas mileage for an SUV. I have to transport chairs for some of our events which is why I was thinking I might need a larger car. My employer will cover the cost of a rental car/SUV so am going to do that instead. 🙂

      Thanks for the comment!

      1. There should be party rental companies that would drop off and pick up chairs/equipment/ tables. Why spend the extra time and effort yourself with those things?

  11. Great post!

    I am thinking that Marie might have meant that she wants to have 350k plus a house When she retires. This would mean the need to save up 500k in the next 15-18 years, making the cuts even more urgent.

    Having only 350k in retirement when renting is really cutting it close, as it’s only 14k per year with the 4% withdrawal rate. This is scary! If she does not want to have a roommate in her retirement, she would spend all of her retirement earnings on rent.

  12. Great job, Marie. Way to be disciplined and thoughtful about your future! I think you should ditch the life insurance. Is there anyone depending on your income if you were to die? Sounds like they aren’t, so I would dispense with the life insurance and whole life policy for sure. Maybe you could take the money you’ve saved in your whole life policy and keep that as a “funeral expenses” fund. Sorry to talk about such a morbid topic but I think a lot of people can waste money on life insurance when they don’t need it!

    1. Hi Laurie,

      I agree. It’s time to get rid of it. And no worries — I’ve already discussed with my family my funeral wishes and it’s very simple and frugal. 🙂

  13. perhaps negotiate with her employer for her car expenses. She purchased and maintains a new car for work with only a $2k raise. Seems to me that the employer should, at least, be sharing her car expenses.

    1. Ann, thank you for your comment. I do get a mileage reimburse each month and I will begin using a rental car for times when I don’t have the space or the distance is too far to reduce wear and tear on my car.

      1. Will your employer cover the cost of a rental car/SUV needed to do the job? Is there a company owned vehicle for those times?

  14. Excellent advice as always Mrs. FW. I’m so happy you’ve advised Marie to stop tithing. That’s way too much generosity with the level of retirement savings she currently has.

  15. As a divorced woman in her fifties, I commend Marie for her insight and goals. Mrs. Frugal woods is right on IMHO. Definitely go all in w the 401k and ditch the life insurance. As for additional education or buying a house, proceed with caution. From the vantage of my rear-view mirror, a house (especially w/o a partner or kids or World’s Best Handyman) is ALOT of work even if it’s small. There are many associated costs even if you go small (insurance, prop taxes). If ties you down if you enjoy travel. As for upward mobility in job market, I found it exceedingly difficult for a woman after 50. I never regained my prior earning status after losing a management job at 50. I went from a corner office to walking dogs, barista, secretary, and multiple side gigs. Better to live very small and frugally and exit early–I am now 58 and “retired.” I had to sell my house, cut out vacations, entertainment, shopping, etc etc but it was SO WORTH IT and it gets here fast. It’s a huge mindset shift but once you make it, you wonder how and why you stayed in the rat race for so long. Also, the VA idea is a winner and I agree, it could be an excellent and timely way for Marie to transition.

    1. Hi Elleby,

      Thank you for your comment. That is very true and something I need to keep in mind about home ownership. I think focusing on paying my debt, getting my savings and 401k up and having fun frugally is the way to go from this point on. Luckily, I truly enjoy being frugal. 🙂

    1. Hi A,

      This is awesome – thanks so much for sharing. I’m about 2 hours away from that area but free/ low cost fun for less than a tank of gas is something I will definitely take advantage of when I want to do something special outside of my neighborhood.

  16. Hi Marie, thank you for sharing your story!

    I think you might want to pay off all of your debt and up your retirement contribution before buying a house. One way to not be overly generous is to automate your 401k and Roth IRA contributions together with all the other tax deductible amounts that you can take advantage of. You can also start contributing to 592 (education) funds for your grandchildren instead of buying them gifts here and there. Once all the tax-advantaged accounts are maxed, you will have less disposable income to spend and to give (in a good way).

    I’d suggest cutting your expenses in eating out, gifts, and even charitable contributions. I know you want to be generous, but as you mentioned, at this rate, you might be a financial burden on your children.

    Going back to school is a great choice if you can cash flow it.

    Best of luck!

    1. Great suggestions! I love the idea of contributing to my grandchildren’s education. Education is really important to me so doing this would be a great idea in lieu of gifts.

  17. Hi Marie! Thanks for sharing your story. I was reflecting on my time with my grandmother while reading this. One thing I remember enjoying most of all were sleepovers at her house. I have so many vivid memories of hanging out with her in the evenings before bedtime, playing games and watching movies. I’m sure it was very frugal for her, as she mostly fed me Chef Boyardee! 😉 I wonder if you could do that (perhaps excluding the spaghettios) rather than taking them out for treats and paying for their lessons? Good luck to you, I’m rooting for you!

    1. Hi Jana,

      Thank you for sharing such sweet memories of your grandmother. LOL – I remember always having Eggo waffles for breakfast at my beloved grandmother’s house. I think we all have that one food or treat that we associate with our loved ones. 🙂 I LOVE this idea. It truly is the simple joys that mean the most. I had the most amazing relationship with my grandmother and I just realized that everything we did was basically free as she lived extremely frugally. I appreciate you reminding me of that.

      1. My grandmother’s go-to breakfast when we spent the night was fresh cooked, hot elbow macaroni with butter and then covered with milk (macaroni cereal!). Weird, I know, but to this day that is my favorite breakfast. Luckily, I only have time to make it about once a month.

        1. The weird foods are the best ones. 🙂 What a great memory and such a fun meal. My grandkids love breakfast for dinner so that is what I usually make for them. That and popcorn with junior mints for movie nights. Seriously the best.

        2. My grandmother also made me this! I’ve never heard of anyone else doing it – depression era food maybe? She always had a container of buttered elbow macaroni ready in the fridge to heat up with milk.

  18. I would urge Marie to start contributing to her 401k stat! Even if the debt hasn’t been paid off. Leaving that amount of free money on the table is crazy. No where else can you find a savings account that would offer a 100% rate of return.

    1. I am happy to report that I have reinstated my contribution to my 401k to 6% (what my employer matches) as of a few minutes ago, while I pay off this debt and get my emergency fund back up to 3-6 months.

      1. Glad you did that increase for 401k. I think you should actually increase to 30% of your paycheck (this being that ~1200/month extra you have to debt payment) to the 401k. Around tax time determine if you need to withhold less in Taxes. I like to owe just a slight bit to the Fed govt each year so I know that I do not give an interest free loan each paycheck. Might be small- but it adds up.

        Also – do everything that Mrs Frugalwoods mentioned. You need to focus on your savings more than $ for charities and these grandchildren expenses. Time is more important (presence vs presents). I remember my memories with my grand parents – not the gifts that they gave me each year.

        I’d avoid going back to school and focus on other side-hustles possibly like driving a ride-share for your commute home/office?

        1. Thanks Monty. I’m excited for the future thanks to this case study and can’t wait until I can invest a large amount of my paychecks each month. I’m definitely going to look into a side hustle I can do that will use my skills.

  19. I wonder if maybe Marie should focus on paying off that credit card debt BEFORE the car loan. She says that the CC debt is 0% interest until October 2019. What happens after October 2019 if it’s not paid off? Is she obligated to pay back interest at a ridiculous rate? If yes, then prolonging the payoff increases her risk of missing that October 2019 deadline. If Marie implements the FW savings plan, she should be able to pay off that $1000 debt within the next 2-3 months and close out that credit card sooner rather than later. Good luck, Marie! I’m rooting for you!!

    1. I agree and was going to mention that too! Usually the interest rate goes up immediately so I agree that she should pay it off before the interest free date expires. Even if she wanted to prioritize paying more on the car and/or emergency fund first, she has 9 months to save up that last $1000 and pay it off by the deadline.

    2. I was going to say the same thing. The interest rate is likely much higher than the car loan and it’s a fairly small amount anyway. And paying off one debt entirely is probably a great psychological boost 🙂

  20. All of this advice (including of course by Frugalwoods herself!) is wonderful. I have to comment that I just think Marie is tops for the ways she wants to spend time with her grandkids. My memories of my grandmothers are so fond–and really, we just puttered around. There was nothing fancy. I can’t even remember doing something with them other than being at their homes where I was loved, fed and allowed to play and read. Thank you for being an amazing case study!

    1. Thank you! I love that you have such wonderful memories of your time with your grandmothers. That is my hope for my grandkids as well.

  21. I’m a big believer in life-long education but I also know that it’s easy to burn through money pursuing studies that don’t have a good return on investment and/or don’t fit your passions and aptitudes. Luckily, there are a wide range of free or inexpensive options that you can pursue to explore your interests, build your skills and assess your willpower/aptitude before you spend big $. Here are a few options to consider:

    1) (from LinkedIn Learning) has a vast array of excellent, online courses, especially business tech-related courses and management courses. It is a subscription-based model (where you can pay month-to-month) to access all of their courses – BUT I don’t think you should pay for it. First, there are a number of public library systems that enable you to get free access. Alternatively, your employer might already have, or might be willing to pay, for you to have a subscription for a specific period of time (e.g. to complete certain courses). It’s about USD $30 per month (approximately), so it’s not something you personally should be paying for on any kind of long-term basis. Find out more at

    2) If you are looking to boost your income through qualifications, you might look into the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) from the Project Management Institute. You don’t need a degree to get the CAPM, but you do need to write an exam and get a certain number of project management hours under your belt. If the work you’re doing now meets the criteria for qualifying hours, it might be worth exploring with your employer down the road to see if that would support a salary boost.

    3) If you are disciplined to complete course work without attending live classes, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) offer amazing opportunities to learn new skills and explore subjects that might interest you and be useful for work. Coursera is one provider but there are others. There are fee-paying options and free options. (To get a certificate for a series of courses, you’ll need to pay fees, but you can audit the courses and access the materials for free.)

      1. You can also check and see if your local library offers membership for any of these types of programs. My local library includes free Lynda access, and other online skill services like language-learning.

  22. I don’t think this summary fully underscores that Marie is at a serious juncture with her retirement. Let’s assume Marie has made $50K at year for 35 years. She could expect $2,119 a month if she claims at full retirement age (67). Add to that 14K that she could hopefully withdraw and she could make $39,428 a year. Sounds very doable until you consider that is $39,428 in today’s money not accounting for inflation. Things change a lot in 17 years. What would cost $28,773 would now cost $40,000 today. Many things her work is subsidizing (like the cell phone) would now come out of pocket. At the very least Marie would need to pay for Medicare Part B plus a Medicare Supplement. Marie should really sit down and figure out if 350K is truly enough to have the time of retirement she wants. Moreover, most people need long-term care (something not covered by Medicare) so retirement is not just about the travel you want to do but what type of health team you can put together as you get older.

    The good news is that Marie can save in her 401(k) even more aggressively since she’s over 50 and she has a really good employer match. And it is great that Marie is asking these questions now when she can truly do something about it. But I wish the urgency of her situation has been highlighted a bit more. Generosity is only that when a gift has no strings attached. Right now Marie is trading longer term personal security for the immediate gratification of delighting her grandchildren. As noted, there are many ways to show love and support without money.

    1. I agree 100%. I’d add that she needs to have a fully transparent conversion with her children regarding her finances. Frugalwoods & others assume her children will help her in retirement for housing etc. That assumption is a big one. The more transparent about her finances with them she is, hopefully, the more supportive they can be in helping her trim excessive spending and SAVE SAVE SAVE.

      1. I am not assuming that Marie’s children will assist her in retirement. I’m proposing that Marie have this conversation with her kids now to explain why she needs to reduce her spending.

  23. Depending on spending and being able to pay off credit cards, I would recommend getting a credit card that has a bonus travel feature. This way you can save up points and use them for travel – this is something important to me as well and we like to plan one trip per year to enjoy. You may also be able to save some funds with using Air BnB for accommodations and buy locally when you are there to save eating out costs.

  24. Dear Mrs. Frugalwoods — thank you for posting this — your response is spot on! I’m 57 and looking to retire at 62. Getting out of debt is the biggest gift you can give yourself! And I agree with the life insurance thing — who benefits from this and why? The policy from Marie’s employer should be enough for final expenses. Good luck, Marie!!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Sharon. I completely agree about getting out of debt. I’m excited to have no payments and I’m going to work to make that happen as quickly as possible. I agree I should let that smaller policy go. I’ll look into that today.

  25. Marie, I am just like you in terms of spending on adult children and grandchildren and the desire to travel more. We also have debt and minimal savings. I had to decide that I am a better mother and grandmother when I can take care of myself and my husband financially without my children ever having to worry about us. It also sets a great example for them, to max their own retirement savings so they can take care of themselves in retirement. All of that to say, I understand where you’re coming from, and I hope you take the FW advice to get your future self financially sound so you’re always able to bless your family.

    1. Tracy,

      Thank you so much for your comment and you are so correct. I realize that by being over generous with my kids (they don’t ask me to be, I just am).that I set the example for them to do the same with my grandchildren. That is probably not the best thing to do for anyone.

  26. I would second Mrs. FW thoughts on not starting a blog unless it’s something that you enjoy. Unless you are super on top of it, likely full time, and able to pay for a myriad of services to promote it, it takes a really long time to build a following and make money. After a year of blogging, I’ve made a whopping $38. Luckily, I enjoy it and it’s a passion project. I think the VA side hustle could be a great avenue to bring in more income, though, and certainly worth more research.

    1. Hi Bec,

      Thank you for your comment. I am seeing the wisdom about not pursuing a blog. I don’t think I’d be so passionate about it that I’d be willing to put all that time in. The VA side hustle would be a better return on my time and skills. 🙂

  27. First I’m incredibly impressed with how Marie has managed some tough times. And her housing expenses are particularly well controlled. She sounds like an incredibly generous and upbeat woman.

    I want to address the issue of going back to school. First some research questions: How long would it take her to complete these degrees on a part time basis? She could be half way to retirement by the time she finishes. And while it is unfair and illegal, don’t discount age discrimination when she wants to get that first job with her new degree. It gets more and more difficult to land a new job after the age of 50. That doesn’t mean it will happen to her but she should consider this issue.

    How much extra could she make? She might find that the entry level position for her new field pays the same or even less than her current job. In the long run it could pay off but her long run is less than a 30 year old. She should also consider how the time spent pursuing this degree would impact time to spend with her grandchildren and do the travel she enjoys. I would recommend talking to a range of people about job prospects, pay prospects, etc. these should be people with the degree she is considering and employers who hire people with that degree My instinct is that she’d do better finding a side hustle than pursuing this but I don’t know this field.

    1. Hi Chris,

      Thank you for your comment. I’m leaning towards possibly getting a Project Management certification as that may make more sense so that I can free up my time for a side hustle. Being without a husband and having grown kids means that I have a lot of time at my disposal so it makes sense to make the most of it while still having some fun (the inexpensive kind).

  28. Marie, you seem like such an incredible person – I’m sure you’re an amazing mom and grandma! I know a lot of people have mentioned this already, but I just want to share the perspective as an adult grandchild. I have two step-grandmas living (from both my mom and dad’s spouses). Both women didn’t earn a lot throughout their lifetime, they were divorced or their husband passed away early, and I assume that they didn’t save a lot of money.

    One has a yet-to-be diagnosed form of dementia, has totaled her (leased) car this year, and will likely need long term care for her dementia and at some point for health issues. (She’s healthy now, but isn’t taking good care of herself because of the dementia). She lives in an apartment alone, and has for close to 18 years. She needs to move to somewhere less expensive, with fewer stairs, but the options available for her needs are all more expensive – and moving in with her daughter who lives in their town isn’t on the table now. Her two daughters are aware that they’ll probably need to pay for a lot of her care in the coming decades. (And it probably will be decades – her sister has been in a home with Alzheimers for a really long time).

    The other grandma spends money as soon as she gets it. For about 15 years, she lived in a townhome my parents bought her, and they helped with other expenses as well. She’s now in an apartment as they’re needing to cut back because they’re approaching retirement age. That’s 20+ years of support so far.

    These conversations are incredibly challenging, and I’ve seen the burden (emotional, mental, financial) that this places on adult children that are your age. Having the conversation now about needing to cut back in order to not need to ask them for constant support will help see that you’re thinking about their long-term well-being as well. It’s also a good idea to start having conversations about how you’d like to handle medical issues now, rather than later. It’s so much easier to adapt at a younger age than it is to do it when you’re forced to.

    Another example – my incredibly social and amazing grandma went blind two years before she passed away, and she outlived most of her friends in town. It was heartbreaking to see her lonely and isolated because of her eyesight, and I always thought that if she’d moved earlier she might have been able to enjoy some of those later years in a retirement community surrounded by new friends, instead of being alone. I also think you’re doing a great thing by having a roommate because that does provide that community and guards against isolation – which I’ve seen as a huge issue for all of my grandmas as they aged.

    1. Rachel,

      Thank you for sharing your story about your two step-grandmas. It solidifies my intention to change my financial future so that I’m not a burden to my children and at the same time making sure I’m taking the best care of my future self.

    2. What Rachel said above is exactly what I wanted to convey to Marie. I am INCREDIBLY grateful to my MIL for having taken care of her finances so that my husband and I will never have to worry about it. She’s said many times over that it’s brought her peace about her future.

  29. This case study was particularly interesting to me because I live in NC as well. Marie, I see you mentioned upthread that you live about two hours from Triangle. I used to as well, but recently moved into the surrounding area, and had to adjust my budget for nearly everything up just a bit: even gas and groceries get substantially more expensive the closer you get to the Triangle!

    It looks like you’re paying as much in rent where you are as you’d pay if you were 30 minutes outside of Raleigh/Durham. When we moved to the area two years ago we paid $900 for a two bedroom “upscale” loft apartment. After actually living here and getting a chance know the area better, we moved ten minutes down the road and pay $700 for a place that’s just as nice, but much larger (with a bonus room!) and not so close to downtown. I know you said you’re happy where you are, but if you do ever want to really tighten down the spending it might be worth researching housing options again. I have a few friends here who are getting to the age where they qualify for senior housing subsidiaries, and from their research they really urge people to take advantage of that and get on the list as soon as you can.

    And about groceries: are you in one of the areas with a new Lidl? That really helped drive grocery costs down for us. We shopped primarily at Aldi and used Harris Teeter to fill in the gaps, but with the new Lidl’s coming to the Triangle our grocery costs are going down even more. We spend about $250 a month for the two of us: more if we host a lot of dinner guests in a month. I researched getting a Costco membership once I had a baby to help save on diapers, but the cost of groceries was substantially more than sticking to Aldi and Lidl. Those stores have really expanded their organic options if that’s something that you want.

    I look forward to an update from you in the future, and good luck with your savings!

    1. Hi Rose — Greetings from Winston-Salem! 🙂

      I do have a Lidl nearby and will need to go check it out. I do go to Aldi’s when I can. I agree I need to stop going to Costco. I always think I’m spending less by buying in bulk but I can see that that really doesn’t make sense in my situation.

      1. Oh, Winston-Salem is my favorite city in NC! Have you gone to Pilot Mountain or Hanging Rock state parks with the grandkids yet? They’re relatively close and absolutely gorgeous, and only cost the gas it takes to get there. Have fun getting to know the city! It has so many cozy spots.

        1. Hi Rose,

          I haven’t yet and will put those on my list! With just a tank of gas and a picnic lunch, these will be great day trips to plan for.

          1. Second Aldi. Where I live now I have to use Costco, but when I lived closer to an Aldi, I dropped the Costco membership and my grocery bill was $100 lower per month.

            Also, for work travel, my husband saves a lot of money by planning meals and doing a grocery shopping trip day one, and then eating homemade-ish food for the duration of the travel. His last trip he made $700 that way. Sometimes he has to eat with the team, but not always.

            Good luck!

  30. Yes, yes, yes to getting in waiting lists for subsidized housing. $350k is an audacious goal from where Marie is starting, but in the big scheme is still not a lot of money.

    The thing that strikes me most about Marie’s spending is that it appears she has a driving need to be liked by others, to her own detriment. Delving into the why of that would make achieving her goals, via the steps outlined by Mrs. FW, much more achievable.

    As an older woman who never earned more than an AA, yet always managed to get and succeed at professional jobs, I say the older you get, the more experience counts over education. The jobs she aspires to do not require specific degrees or certifications. Face it, we both made choices (or had life make them for us) that got us to where we are today. Embrace that and go forward with confidence.

    Finally, she should learn about low-cost investing, a la jlcollinsnh’s famous Stock Series. Paying an advisor and/or being too conservative will not get Marie to her goals. Start by resolving to march into HR today, literally or via the internet, and restarting the 401k to get the full match. Typically, take-home pay is barely changed at 6%, due to the reduction in taxes. Do it. And direct it to the cheapest equity funds the employer provides.

    Best of luck to you, Marie.

    1. Dicey,

      Thank you so much for your very honest comment. I don’t think my spending is due to the need to being liked, I just love to see others happy but I agree it needs to change. I’ve already, as of about an hour ago, changed my 401k contribution back to 6%. 🙂

      I agree that experience is a great counterpart to education and that confidence is key.

  31. Great job Mrs FW, you tackled just about everything! But what about that vacation time? Yes you get 75% back BUT if Marie values her time and her vacation potential or if she starts doing virtual assisting I have to wonder if she would free up time plus be getting paid that full dollar amount on those vacation hours?

    1. Yes or what if she used this time to spend more time with her grandkids? It’s her time to be paid 100% for! 🙂

  32. Great advice from Mrs. FW and everyone else! What struck me most about Marie’s scenario is how much money is being tithed or spent on her family. Plain and simple, that should stop now. She must take care of herself first, others later down the road once her financial goals are met. Kudos to you Marie for getting your 401k contribution going again at 6%! My younger sister is in much the same boat you are with wanting to spend, spend, spend on her only grandchild, to her own financial detriment. And she doesn’t see that it’s a problem. I’m so glad you do and are willing to change. One thing not mentioned anywhere that I hope you’ve already taken care of, is to make sure you have a Will, Living Will, and Health Care Power of Attorney. Having your wishes in writing is always a good thing. I’m a native North Carolinian and happy to have you in our state!

    1. Hi Kim!

      Awww…thank you. I love my new adopted state so much. I do have a Will so that is taken care of. I agree, my giving needs to change and so I am looking for ways to give of my time instead.

  33. Congratulations on doing all the work to figure out exactly where you’re at. Awesome advice all around. The one thing I’ll add is that I encourage you to keep giving, at least a small percentage of the $400 you give now. Maybe $40 or even $25? I admire you for being so generous, and I think it’s a muscle worth flexing.
    Good luck to you!

  34. Hi Marie,

    Thank you for sharing your story and seeking advice!

    First, I don’t know that you should return to school for the degree and second Mrs. FW’s idea of speaking to HR, etc. to determine what, if any, return you could expect to see on this investment. Considering your relatively short timeline to your projected retirement age, I think both the time and financial investment isn’t likely to be worth it. As someone who changed careers and taking classes while working full-time, school ate up nearly all my free time, so please take that into consideration since you seem to be such a dedicated grandma (lucky family you have!). I’d focus on the definite income of a side hustle as opposed to the school. Plus, the side hustle could eventually replace your full-time job should you find the need to retire sooner than your expected date of retirement. And, it’s location independent, since you like to travel.

    As for buying a house, it sounds like you have a great situation, so why change that? My question here, though, is would you and your roommate consider renting out the third room upon occasion on AirBnB or something to help decrease your monthly rent? This would help free up some more income for saving or traveling. I also second the idea of subletting your room when traveling or eventually moving in with your children under the right circumstances and agreement.

    While I completely commend your generosity, I agree you’re far too generous for your own good at this point. I LOVE that you want to help others, but it’s literally costing you your future and financial stability. So, I second Mrs. FW’s suggestion to volunteer instead of giving away $400 per month to charities. That’s money that should go into your 401k to ensure you’re not the one seeking charity later. I’m all for giving, but I always say we can’t help others if we can’t help ourselves first. With little to no retirement savings, you will not be able to continue these generous donations anyway. Additionally, once you’ve fully funded your retirement and are retired, you’ll have plenty of time to volunteer at organizations that you support. That will also act as a free activity for you too.

    Gifts for your grandchildren are nice, but how many do they really need? My guess is that most will wind up as donations once they outgrow them, so please limit these. If you really find that you want to give them gifts, join your local Buy Nothing Project (as I’ve learned from Mrs. FW’s blog) and maybe select a few items from there for your grandkids. Additionally, this could be a potential site for you to pick up some professional clothing as well, so please keep that in mind as you continue cutting costs.

    Mrs. FW has done a great job of outlining potential cost-cutting solutions, so I hope you implement these suggestions sooner than later, so that you’re looking forward to a bright and cheery retirement! I wish you the best! And please realize that there’s I have left from my grandparents, all of whom are now deceased, but I have some wonderful memories. We don’t ever talk about, “Hey, remember that stuffed bear Grammy gave me?” We talk about, “Remember how delicious her cooking was?” or the hilarious things she used to say or do. We talk about her garden, how immaculate her house was, or how happy she was to see us. I remember playing in her backyard during the summer and how she let me sit in front of the TV and eat my peanut butter sandwich. Those memories are far more invaluable than any material item she ever gave me, though I’m sure I asked for material items as a kid. Oh, but what I do have from her and will likely never get rid of is a book of poems. She supported my love of literature!

    Again, best wishes to you!

    1. I forgot to mention that by cutting the $400 of donations every month, you could pay off your credit card bill in just under 3 months!

      Also, as a single person with no grandkids, I can easily spend less than $200 per month on groceries by cooking a lot and not purchasing processed foods. I don’t have grandchildren, so maybe that plays a role too, but I agree that you do not need Costco for one person. That sounds like it could amount to a lot of waste, both materially and financially. Find a local cheap produce place and shop around to maybe Aldi’s, Walmart, or Target for dried goods like oatmeal or dried beans.

      1. Thank you for your comment, Katie. You are so right about memories being so much better than material items. When my beloved grandmother died, all that we grandkids wanted were a pair of cheap “lucky” earrings that she used to always wear on family bingo night. They were basically worthless but so rich in great memories. I need to remember this when it comes to my grandkids.

    2. You are absolutely correct…I need to start taking care of myself financially and instead give through volunteering my time instead.

  35. OK, I agree with some things here, but have a few notions that you may want to consider: First, do what I did when I was only slightly younger than you are now: Look for a government job. I had worked for a city for 4.5 years so was familiar with the PERS system, and where I was living there were no other government jobs available. I left that job because when I talked to the mayor about another job that was coming open that I could easily handle and paid more, I was told that I didn’t really want that job because it was a man’s job. Six months later I was gone. That sort of thing was legal in those days and in fact the news papers had two help wanted sections: Help wanted, male; and Help wanted, female. Thigs have changed. I messed around with the private sector and dealing with my two kids, and spending 6 years saving for a down payment on a house and then fixed up that house after work and on weekends and sold it a few years later for twice the amount I paid for it. So what has this got to do with a government job?

    Government jobs have fixed pensions and most also have 401k’s available. State agencies all have some kind of PERS program, schools have STERS, the federal government has a fixed pension program also. I knew this, so I sold my house, moved to the State Capital, snagged a junk job to buy the groceries, bought a small condo with my house profits, and started to research which place had the best pay and benefits. For me it turned out to be the publicly owned electric company. For us older single divorced gals with kids all these things matter (a lot). It doesn’t matter how much you love your current job (or not), it’s just a way to pay the rent so look for the best opportunity you can find. The beauty of the internet right now is that all this stuff is public information and you can find it on the internet without the running around to various personnel offices as I had to do to get the info back in the day. It took three years for “my job” opened up and I used some fancy sounding titles on three different business cards (which were actually worthless – get one from your current employer or order some yourself). Most folks with these jobs stick around for years so it may take a while to find something. But keep looking. From looking at your numbers you are going to be in trouble when you retire if you don’t consider this option. I traveled a lot when I was working there due to my job so I had plenty of mileage to get to Europe and other places. Also did the check out anything in the area of interest when there if possible as you are currently doing.

    Save your mileage to go to Paris, etc. It doesn’t have to be this year. You can’t afford it until you get your financial life in order If your daughter can afford to go, you should not be paying any of the kids expenses. That’s her job. You should not be paying any of the kids expenses in any event. You have to take care of you.

    I assume the whole life insurance policy is paid by the company. You need to do some research here. Call the insurance company (not your employer’s human resources people) and find out what the cash out value is. Also, is the policy transferrable to you. Or, is it set up so that it only pays off if you die while still working there. Is the policy set up so that if you leave or retire the company collects the cash value and cancels the policy. If the latter is the case, cash it out before you leave directly with the insurance company. You need to know if there is any way you can get anything from this policy. If not, and you stay there, your kids will get something out of it that you are paying for in reduced wages.

    Over time rental rates will go up. You can’t count on being able to afford the rent in 18 or so years. If you have read any of my posts in other cases, you will find a lot of information in one of them on how to buy a house. Now is not the time for you, but if you can swing it having a paid off house in retirement is a god send. Yes the taxes will go up, and there is maintenance, but you don’t need a big house or a big yard, and if you have a paid off house it is cheaper than rent.

    Whatever you decide, I wish you all the best. I did it, so can you.

    1. I got a govt job at 47. I lost it because of cuts during the Great Recession at 52, but, six months later I moved to another area in the same state about two hours away, and, because of my previous govt job, I got another govt job that paid well. Counting both jobs, I have now been working for the govt for almost 12 years. I will have a pension and social security. I agree with you totally, it was worth the agony I went through. I also bought a very cheap house in a small, rural town for $25,000. I have to drive a little, but I pay, obviously, much less than rent and I have only had to do one major repair (2,000 metal roof).

  36. This is what I’d tell my twin sister, who’s in pretty much Marie’s situation:

    1/ House? Not yet; settle on expense and income changes, and clear the debts. Defer the question for a year, when the debts should already be gone.

    2/ AA then BA? Research whether that’s worthwhile to you where you are, or where you want to be soon. Virtual assistant work “on the side” seems an easy trial run for bumping up income. Consider other “side hustles” too — several blogs show how their writer do it, eg Financial Panther. Also a good question to table for a year.

    3/ What’s worked for me, and seems to be working for my sister, is a fixed period of something ‘extreme’ with a definite aim. How about a twelve-month mental shift for one category: “charity” became “preventing myself from needing charity”. That would open up $4800 during 2019 to rebuild the emergency fund, without changing anything else.

    4/ Finite period of focused work. My older daughter is in her junior year at college, and part of her ongoing success is her awareness that intense work during her school terms will pay off. She’s already seen that the harder she works now, the easier the follow-on (tougher!) work will be. That’s rubbing off on my middle-school daughter too.

    1. Hi Joseph,

      Thank you for your comment. I agree with you on everything and like the focused fixed period of something extreme with a definite aim. I’m going to definitely do that.

      I love what you wrote about your daughter. I tell my 10 year old grandson all the time: “hard first, easy later.” Boy, oh boy, do I wish I had learned that lesson ages ago!

  37. CFP here, and one thought on life insurance- 100% agree with Frugalwoods assessment that if Marie doesn’t have dependents why does she have this life insurance- make sure your kids are your beneficiaries on your various retirement accounts and scrap it. However, a clarifying point- life insurance isn’t only for breadwinners! We have a big ol’ policy on my husband as he is the primary breadwinner right now. However, I am mostly home with a our 1 year old and I need life insurance too!! If I were to die now it would be financially devastating for my husband to cover $2,000/month+ (San Francisco, hi!) in childcare in addition to our mortgage. Caregivers may not be earning money but replacing the financial value they add in a household is far from free. Also, think about the caregiver’s future lost earnings if part of the plan was for them to go back to work eventually.

    Love the post otherwise, great points all around- esp. RE: homeownership. Just cause a house is cheap doesn’t mean you should get one. If that’s how things worked I’d go buy the entire contents of my nearest dollar store.

    1. Hi Diana,

      Good decision to get the life insurance especially as a SAHM since it’s hard to replace the value of that role. I have sent in the paperwork to cancel my separate life insurance policy! I’ll keep the one through work and I agree somewhat about the house. I guess my concern is rents rising up as I get older but on the other hand, not being tied to a house gives me more options. It’s an interesting dilemma, for sure.

      1. Rising rents as you get older is totally valid! And I mean I’m in SF it would be really really hard to not to get excited about real estate with prices that low- (and it’s nice to pick the paint colors and all that) I love the idea that others have brought up of buying something cheap, renting out the second or third bedrooms, and stabilizing your housing cost that way with built-in house sitters as you travel. The truth of it is, there is risk any way you slice it you just have to decide which type of risk you are most comfortable with.

        1. So very true and renting out rooms is certainly an option to keep costs low. And perhaps that is part of the struggle I have with deciding to purchase a home or not…I’m from the SF bay area (South San Francisco) and the real estate are just WOW compared to NC.. 🙂

    2. Yes this – stay at home/lesser earning parents need cover too. Calculate the cost of childcare and future lost income and make sure that’s covered.

    3. I agree with Diana and RG about life insurance! I didn’t delve into the specifics in this post since it wasn’t relevant for Marie’s circumstances, but I’m very glad you brought it up :)! For anyone wondering about their life insurance needs, the site Policy Genius allows you to input your info and compare policies for free (that’s an affiliate link).

  38. Incredible advice from Mrs. Frugalwoods! Marie, you have a big, kind heart for your generosity and good works! By reducing spending in the areas recommended it certainly does not change your love for your family!

    Everyone has shared some great feedback already. I second (and third) the thoughts of not buying a house, not going back to school, and focusing on cutting expenses at this point in time.

    Travel has most certainly been food for my soul throughout my life. If there is one place I do some extra discretionary spending, it is here! Perhaps you can reduce spending on family and channel a much smaller fraction for experiences. As a child, some of my favorite memories were frugal trips to the National Parks and simple road trips into America’s wilderness regions. Canoeing in the Everglades and seeing Mount Rushmore were joyous times I will never forget. Perhaps there are beautiful places nearby in NC to share with your family, Marie!

    Enjoy this wonderful new year ahead!

    1. Hi Tara,

      I will definitely be making the changes Mrs. FW suggested and will be taking some day trips to explore this beautiful state. I would love to give my grandkids some of the same type of memories that you had as a child.

  39. I lived in North Carolina for almost 5 years in the early 2000s and it is indeed a wonderful place to be! So much to see that is free, and it has mountains, and the ocean, rivers, etc that provide so many free recreational activities! I agree you should not be paying for life insurance, and if you can cash a policy in you can pay off some bills. No need for life insurance if you do not have dependents. I don’t think going to college would be worth the expense to get a better salary. I also don’t think buying a house at this point is a great idea either when you can rent for a much cheaper amount. I’m a few years older than you and I think you have plenty of years ahead of you and saving for travel is a great idea. I agree you shouldn’t pay for the grandkids lessons, unless that is counted as a Christmas or birthday present, and even then it is rather pricey. Paying off the credit card before before the 0% expires is something to concentrate on. Cancel the warehouse membership when it expires. A single person doesn’t need to buy in bulk, and you can find most of the same things in smaller size and actually save money shopping at Walmart or getting items on sale at HT or Food Lion. I encourage you to start saving in your 401(k) again as that is the most painless way to go about it. You really never miss it. Good luck!

    1. Thanks Pauline. This is great advice. This has been so eye-opening to realize that I can give in so many beautiful and meaningful ways to my family/charity while spending very little. Any stuff I purchase will not last but the memories will.

      I agree — no more Costco shopping and I’ve sent in the paperwork to cancel the personal life insurance. I’ll keep the one through my company and it’s very, very inexpensive.

        1. thanks for sharing your story – I’m sure so many Frugalwood readers can identify with what’s going on in your life

          1. Thanks Pauline! I hope it reminds people to start investing, living frugally early but if they haven’t, there’s no better time than the present. They just have to dig deep and make the changes necessary while still making sure they are having fun — just the frugal kind!

      1. Do any of your adult children have a Costco membership? I believe Costco allows a shared family membership. Or just put your items in the same cart as son, settle accounts at home. Could split Jumbo Box o’ Yummies with family 80/20 for a win/win!

        1. you GUYS there is the greatest Costco hack that no one talks about- gift cards! My MIL likes Costco but it’s just her and she really doesn’t need to go more than 2x/year. I let her know when I’m going and if she wants me to I buy her a $100 gift card and she writes me a check. They let you use the gift card in lieu of a membership- if you go over your gift card amount you have to use debit not credit but that’s not really a big deal.

  40. I definitely feel you on the generosity — I struggle with this too! Sounds like your love language is gifts. I would do some research on love languages and try out a different love language (time, service, words, touch) other than gifts each month. I could see some of the financial commitments to the grandchildren being difficult to drop; perhaps giving your kids a certain amount of notice that you can’t continue would be appropriate, like the end of the season, end of the school year, etc. That way they can plan and you can fulfill your commitment, if you feel it’s necessary.

    I really like the suggestion of contributing to an education account instead of gifts for your grandchildren. If you go this route, and still want to give them something to unwrap at the holidays or birthdays, get creative! Since you already spend time all year on gifts, I would suggest picking out a second hand book for each grandchild and pairing it with an inexpensive candy or treat. That way you can tailor it to their age and tastes and still show a lot of thought, but it might cost only a few dollars per kid.

    Seems like souvenirs are also a place where you’re tempted to buy for the grand kids — might I suggest post cards instead? This would be less expensive, they would receive it while you’re still traveling, wouldn’t take up room in your luggage, and they can collect postcards from your travels to see where you’ve been!

    If you’d like to take the kids to Disney, definitely research the cheapest options and wait until they are all old enough. Are there other grandparents you can split the cost with? Or maybe your kids split the cost with you and you go for your birthday with all the grandchildren? Once you know how much it will cost, definitely price compare. The expenses don’t stop at the hotel and admission, the whole park is designed to sell you things. Could you take a cross country road trip for the same amount? What about a trip to DC, or the Grand Canyon? We took lots of road trips growing up because my mom didn’t like to fly, and there are lots of free memorials, road side attractions, and historic sites to visit all over the US. You may find a few options that cost the same or less than Disney, for a longer trip, and could be more worth it for your family, especially since you value education so much.

    And last, I’d like to suggest that if you start a gig or side job, you should use the income from that to fund any grand kid / community generosity. Second jobs past your 40 hours can add a lot of stress, and by keeping those funds separate from your main budget and allocating them toward something so important to you can be more motivating. The VA option as well as tutoring or arranging travel accomodations would be a great option from this. My husband and I both have pre-loadable Paypal debit cards to keep this kind of money separate from our main budget, and that might be an option for you.

    1. Hi Catalina,

      So many great ideas you shared. I love the idea especially of using any side hustle money to use toward fun pursuits. I think a trip to visit all the sights in Washington D. C. is a better option than Disneyworld. My oldest grandson, especially, loves history and museums just as much as I do.

  41. Lots of great advice here! As someone who is 62, I can tell you that home ownership quickly becomes work. We’ve had our house for many years, and while I have a husband (I’m female), he has become mostly disabled, and I do 90% of the work, while holding a full-time job. Believe me, you don’t want to be mowing the yard in NC heat, or washing windows, or replacing a leaking toilet by yourself at 70. And it’s very expensive to hire others for repairs and maintenance. Taxes, insurance, HOA fees all add up tremendously, too.
    Obviously, the gifting is a problem. Everyone else has pointed that out, and I’m sure you see it clearly now. Don’t worry, your time with the kids and grandkids is truly what’s valuable even without the presents. I only knew one of my grandmothers — she and my grandfather lived on very little, so she took me nowhere, gave tiny (like $2) presents (only at Christmas and birthdays), and paid for nothing on my school or extra-curricular activities. I loved her to death. Love is the real gift, and it sounds like you have that in abundance. And heaven help us, have you priced Disney lately? It’s outrageously expensive!
    Cut what you can as much as you can. If tithing is important to you — it is to me — then sacrifice somewhere else by cutting somewhere else if you have to, but don’t cut out your 401k or debt repayment. That’s too important.
    Ditch the life insurance, as you’ve already noted — consider funeral pre-planning and pre-paying while you are at it — but consider long-term care insurance. The older you get, the more expensive it gets.

    1. Hi JD,

      Thank you for your comment. Yes, NC heat in the summer is the worst and doing yardwork in that heat would be miserable. Love truly is the real gift and I do have that in abundance. Long-term care insurance is definitely something I will be looking into once I turn 60. I saw firsthand how quickly my grandmother’s nest egg disappeared once she was in a nursing home. Scary stuff.

  42. Well done, Marie! Re: the car. Could you keep the car you have, run it into the ground, and use a company car to supplement when you travel? Most companies offer use of a fleet vehicle or payment to rent a car. This way, you’ll also save on the wear and tear of your current car. Once it’s paid off, setting aside a sinking fund to pay cash for a $10,000 car would be ideal for the next car. I live in WI and have never had an AWD car – it comes down to good tires!

    Also, as my parents and in-laws are in their 60s and 70s, I do not expect them to pay for my child’s activities, and echo what Mrs. FW says about time – TIME! Time to go on a date, time to clean the house, time at their place so we can go on a day date. My kid just wants time with grandparents – a bike ride, making cookies, looking through photo albums or the treasure trove of one’s attic is the most enjoyed!

    1. I would also add, that if you wanted, an annual donation of $25 or $50 to a college 529 would mean the world to parents (and later your grandkids!). Something as simple as $25 or $50 is a thoughtful, impactful, meaningful contribution to the future.

    2. Hi Marlena,

      Thank you so much for your comment. I’ll definitely be discussing with my boss about renting cars for the longer trips. I like the idea of creating a sinking fund for a replacement car once my Sonata is no longer operable (hopefully in many years).

  43. We had life insurance, with the kids as beneficiaries. It became an expense we no longer wanted to carry, so we told the two adult kids they could pay the premiums since they would each be getting $150,000 when we died. One elected to pay and the other didn’t, so we changed the policy to make the one paying the sole beneficiary. The other son was fine with this.

  44. About the PTO sellback…. I think I read that time is important to Marie.
    I would sell some back but take some PTO days to do fun things with grandchildren. Lots of free fun at those ages that only costs time and effort. Do that instead of paying for lessons, etc.
    I agree, don’t buy a house. It’s a time stealer in yard upkeep alone. Spend Saturday’s with grands instead. Pour time and live into them rather than money. Go out on picnic dinners rather than taking everyone out to eat.

    I think that tithing is a personal/spiritual decision and needs to be made by Marie only.

    I agree that Costco may be a bigger distraction than a help. Lots of vegetable/beans and rice/soup/salad dinners at my house, both for health and budget.

    Most of all, keep loving on family!! Just do it with time rather than $$. (So no, don’t go back to school. That will steal these irreplaceable years with littles)

    1. Connie,

      Thank you so much for your comment. You are so right, time is way better than money. I know my family will be uber supportive about my cutting back on gifts, etc. but will absolutely love the babysitting and an occasional homecooked meal!

      1. Especially if you take PTO on random “no-school” days that parents have to scramble to cover childcare.

        1. Ooo yes! As a parent, I wholeheartedly endorse this idea. That would be an amazing gift to your kids!

  45. Hi Marie – just a couple of comments since the advice FW gave you is pretty spot on. First off, 50 is not old. The “Grandma” nomenclature had me thinking you were 75. At the young age of 50, you’ve already raised your children and they are no longer dependents. I’m 48 and have a 16, 13, and 11 year old at home with 3 large college tuitions looming so be thankful you’re past that! Once you’ve paid off your debt, beefed up your emergency account, and maxed out your 401K, I will be a bit contrarian and suggest you look at buying a house. You’re in a low cost housing area so if you can buy a single family home for $150K and put 20% down (you’ll have to save $30K, but could do that in a year with the FW saving plan), your mortgage would only be $600/month ($120K at 4% for 30 years) which is what you’re paying in rent. Since you don’t mind having a roommate, you could rent out a bedroom for $600/month and have zero mortgage, which will allow you to either pay it down faster, or use that money to invest for your retirement. If you can rent out 2 bedrooms, you could earn $1200/month. Your home could be a real asset (putting monthly income in your pocket) that you could use to travel with when you retire. Yes, there will be property taxes and upkeep, but don’t let that scare you from looking into it. Even if you never pay off the home (which is a strategy of the wealthy), I believe it will serve you better than paying rent for the rest of your life. Best of luck and thank you for putting yourself out there to share your story.

    1. Hello, first time visitor here. Marie, I absolutely agree with Robert that buying a house (or condo) makes sense given the low cost of housing in your area. In fact, the house could be your way to turbo charge your savings rate by renting out rooms. I would not even wait to save 20%, go with the least down payment you can get – maybe 3% which is only about $5K for a $150K house. At even 4.5% interest that would only be about $900-$1000 monthly payment including taxes & insurance. Then plan on additional housing expense of $200-$300 per month for home warranty insurance (approx $700/year) that you can renew year after year & to pay for the deductible ($75 per incident) plus other non covered items that may come up. Altogether, your housing expense may be around $1200 or so. Once you get a roommate, that could be cut in half (or if 2 roommates your housing expense may be $0 – Wow!). Your home would not only serves as a savings mechanism to build equity and net worth but it also keeps your housing costs relatively fixed & the BIG one – gives you peace of mind. Don’t underestimate the value of that. In the long run, interest rates are likely to go up & so are housing prices (population is increasing, land is fixed). IMHO, it’s very important to get a house sooner rather than later. If it were me, I would tackle saving $ for a down payment concurrent with contributing 6% to 401(k) plus paying down debt.

      On the expense side, in addition to minimizing the charity/gift categories, I would suspend all travel expenses until after you are debt free. Re: clothing allowance, why not ask your employer to cover that or chip in something for it? You never know until you ask since it’s primarily for their benefit. Also stick to discount stores like Ross or Burlington Factory or online purchases (although I personally prefer to try on most clothing). Like someone else said, you can put yourself on extreme budget for a limited time to achieve your goals sooner.

      Best wishes

  46. Marie, thank you for sharing your story. I’m close to retirement and very encouraged by your great attitude and willingness to change. Wow….you’ve already started making changes! That is amazing. I know you are going to be successful and that “future Marie” will enjoy a stress free retirement. You are setting a great example for your kids and grandkids.

    1. Thanks Pat! Doing this case study was the best decision ever because I knew I would get the best advice from Mrs. Frugalwoods and her readers.

  47. On the PTO sell-back, do you only get cash or can you convert that amount to a 401 contribution? If you can’t contribute to your 401 directly, can you increase your 401 contributions temporarily to put that amount in? That might be a way to increase your 401 contributions, even if it is 75% of your PTO value (it sounded like you have plenty of PTO).
    I returned to college to get my BA at the age of 30, and ended up never “needing” it in my career (I ended up being a benefits manager for local government in a small rural county). Going back to school full time while working will consume pretty much all your free time, which I doubt you want to do since you are so close to your family. If your job will reimburse all the costs, you might want to consider taking only one or two community college classes a semester. Consider it a basically free hobby, but should you eventually decide a degree is a good idea for your situation, you’ll have a head start.

    1. Hi Cindy,

      That is a great idea about taking any PTO funds I might receive and put them towards my 401k contributions or my IRA. I’m going to definitely consider doing this once my debt is paid off.

  48. I just moved (again) and am living in a construction zone at the moment, but I had to dash out to get some stuff for the rehab project so I couldn’t finish the above post. Liz is absolutely correct in that the term life insurance you are paying for is a waste of money. You don’t need any kind of life insurance as you have no direct dependents. I don’t have warm fuzzy feelings about the company whole life policy as most firms that offer life insurance to their employees only offer term insurance, so wot’s the story on this whole life deal as it’s more expensive than term insurance. Thus the above comments. If you leave you should cash it out as you have no direct dependents and funding your retirement is a primary goal. The question is how is it structured? As I said, no warm fuzzies. I recommend you do a bit of research on this.

    The government job pension is a substantial part of my monthly income. I can’t recommend this avenue highly for another woman who is facing the same scary possible future as you are (and I was) . You can check social security but be aware that you won’t get everything they quote. They take out for medicare (more each year it seems like) and if you are over a certain income they also add extra charges due to your income. These extra charges are added to the medicare charges. It is much harder for single divorced women to survive retirement as there is only one working income. If you were married 10 years or more and your ex made more money than you, you can attach to his social security and have a higher social security income. It won’t affect what he gets, it is just possible a better deal for you. It can get complicated if for some reason you decide to remarry. Most older couples (either divorced or widowed) don’t marry as in many cases it can mess up your social security. Talk to a professional if you need more info on this.

    I also like the idea of having a roommate if you buy a house down the road. The real estate market is so squirley at this moment in most areas that prices are leveling out and folks are reducing their prices in order to sell. It is presumed that the increase in mortgage interest payments has something to do with this.

    At the time I got ‘my job”, vesting in PERS was 5 years. Later that was raised to 20 years and I think most public (or at least PERS) programs have raised their vesting time. If that is the case, you may have to work a couple of extra years to make sure you are vested in the program. I highly recommend you check this out It made all the difference in my retirement.

    Some of these comments are out of order. So be it. I’m no good at moving stuff around in this little square. Enough gab from me and all the best in your endeavors. I know you can do it if you have the determination. Liz has great ideas and I agree with her except for the house. My mother lived in her house and so did other relatives of her generation with no serious problems. I did my fix-up and paint routine for them when the time came to sell. Your kids could do the same for you.

  49. I didn’t see this mentioned, but maybe I missed it… considering Marie’s situation seems pretty dire, would she consider renting out that third bedroom in their apartment or possibly moving into a 2 bedroom instead? Why do they need a third bedroom just for storage? I imagine this would drive some of those fixed expenses down much further.

  50. There are pros and cons to buying your own place. As a single mom I wanted to minimize maintenance & unexpected expenses, so I bought a new house 14 years ago. I’m starting to have issues (running toilet, tree fell over) and my now grown up son helps me. I bet your son would help you, too. I lived in a condo before buying and it did make for more care free living. If you don’t mind the association fee, you could consider buying a new condo.

    1. Hi Deb,

      Thank you for your comment. A condo is definitely something to consider and both my son and son-in-law wouldn’t mind helping with any repairs as they are rather handy. Something to think about for sure.

  51. Marie-
    I’d say cut out giving to charities & fund your own needs.
    Also, renting sounds cheap and no home maintenance and sociable, ie not lonely.
    Bravo about the great job.
    Do fun cheap things with grandkids, make a list of 50 fun things in a new notebook, chat with the kids about what they like doing, and refer to it when you don’t know what to do. Buy a pretty cheap notebook and write your ideas in it. Movies, walks, sleepovers, baking, games are all fun, plus cuddles and reading. Take kids to the library!
    A note for Mrs Frugalwoods- did you see the recent article about woman and estrogen and mental health? I thought of you when I read it. Cheers.

    1. Hi Ness,

      These are great ideas. I will definitely create a list of cheap things to do as a reference. We love the library and need to utilize all its offerings more frequently for sure.

    2. I am a recent watcher of the Great British Baking Show, where lots of contestants bake with their kids/grandkids or learned from their grandparent, so I was going to chime in with the baking/cooking with the grandkids. Maybe get a kid-friendly cookbook out of the library together, shop together for the ingredients (not at Costco, ha ha) and cook/bake? Also teaches the kids very important life skills. I wish my stepsons knew how to shop and cook for themselves!

      1. So true! I’m sure my grandkids would love to learn to bake. I’m going to look up some kid-friendly recipes.

        Thank you so much for your comment.

        1. By movies I meant movies at home, on TV or Netflix. Not going out to expensive movies! Popcorn and movies at home would be great, with grandma! Instead of paying for expensive classes for your grandkids, make your own home based classes, ie baking, movie watching, art, library, walking, fishing, home cafe meals, visit friends for afternoon tea, gallery visiting, free museum trips, nature trips, sleepovers. Your classes, taught by you, cost is very small. MARIE’S COLLEGE OF FUN LIFE CLASSES!

          1. Hi Ness,

            Oh, yes, movies at home are the only way to go. I I LOVE this idea of “doing life” with my grandkids. And for those areas that I’m not very experienced with (fishing!), I do have other family that would love to share their skills with the kiddos. Thank you again for the wonderful idea.

    1. It’s called Social Security and it depends on your earnings. The amount you receive monthly is based on your 3 highest wage earning years and can increase if Congress grants cost of living increases. And there are endless other possibilities regarding marriage and divorce that can change the amount you receive.

      1. Unfortunately, this is not correct. Most government pension plans work this way (top 3), but Social Security is the average earnings over 35 years and then a progressive scale of how much is paid out. Justin @ Root of Good has a good primer on this ( It is a little dense, but once you get through it, then you can go to SSA’s web page and read more (

        For stay at home parents, they are allowed to apply and draw based on their spouse’s earning record, even if they are divorced.

    2. It varies depending on the salary you earned during your career and the number of years you contributed to the program.

      1. What if you were a stay at home Mom and did not work much, only part time, once the kids grew up? What is the minimum for home based carers?

  52. I would suggest that one way of reducing the “generosity to family” issue would be to combine things and pay for some of the lessons etc as birthday and holiday gifts – for instance the dance lessons. Although as I type this I am thinking that she could gift dance lessons to a grandchild, who would be happy about that, but I am sure that therapy is not exciting as a gift for kids – so perhaps she could gift the therapy to the adult child/parent instead of the kid.

    1. Hi Monica,

      Thank you so much for your comment. The dance lessons for my granddaughter were for a birthday gift so I’ve decided to stop them once they are done and instead start taking her on more Nana & Me dates to the park, library, etc. I know she will love that just as much (or even more!). The therapy is seasonal for my autistic grandson and he LOVES being on a horse. It’s well worth the $200 for 8 weeks of lessons and I realize that that is something I would still like to contribute to but not pay for on my own.

  53. I know that you’re not interested at the moment in having a 3rd roommate in the long term, but I am wondering if it could be worth it to you to have short-term roommates, as long as your existing housemate is okay with it. When I was a young lawyer with a 2 bedroom condo, I rented out the second bedroom for two summers to law students who had summer jobs. The first year, I rented out a room for the full fourteen-week summer program, and the second year I rented out a room to someone who had a shorter, eight-week placement. I used the rent money to make a prepayment on my mortgage. This arrangement worked well for me for a number of reasons: I lived in a city that attracted a lot of students each year for summer jobs in law, finance, accounting, etc. My apartment was within walking distance of the financial district (and close to other downtown amenities). It was a split layout, so our bedrooms weren’t back to back. And as a lawyer I had connections and could easily find a responsible student who liked cats.

    But something like this still might work for you (or someone else reading this case study). In your area, is there a regular or occasional demand for relatively inexpensive short-term housing? It might be students on work terms but it could be some other situation. For example, if there is a military base, private school or university within 30-45 minutes drive, there might be times in the year where parents and other family are looking for a place to stay. You and your roommate could move out of your home temporarily and bunk in with family over a holiday or some other period when there is a peak need for accommodation. Of course, there’s AirBnBing your place but that is probably taking it to a level you’re not ready for.

    These kinds of arrangements can be more hassle than their worth but if you think there’s some demand, it could be worth exploring.

    My other suggestion is for you to consider whether you’d be interested in house-sitting (and/or petsitting) as a way to earn money and save money on travel. When Mr frogoutofwater and I lived in NYC, we had a few retired friends-of-friends who were superb house/catsitters. They got free accommodation in New York and we got free pet sitting for our longer trips. I don’t see any reference to pets in your case study so I’m not sure if you have experience taking care of companion animals, but if you do have experience with pets this is something you could develop as a side gig and then deploy it as part of a travel strategy. (And even if you’re not that into pets or don’t want that responsibility, there are some people who would be happy to have people house-sit for them.)

    1. Hi frogoutofwater,

      Thank you for your comment. I do have a lot of experience with animals although I don’t have any currently. This is a very interesting idea. I remember meeting a retired woman who had a very lucrative house-sitting/pet-sitting business. How fun that would be to combine with travel! I’ll need to think on this one as a serious contender for a side gig.

      1. Marie, there are a few websites that facilitate this. I personally have no experience with them, but they are certainly on my radar for as I get older! I’m in my late 30s. One that comes to mind is Trusted Housesitters. Do some googling on it and I am certain you’ll find others.

    2. With this constant recommendation of renting out the 3rd bedroom – please make sure that your rental lease agreement would allow for such an arrangement. Landlord may not be up for this – as its like a sub-lease situation.

  54. I too agree that buying is out of the question unless you can buy very inexpensively like less than 100,000, say 75 or 80,000, rent to 2 other people making sure that one of those persons is handy and will do the yard work and smaller maintenance jobs. Each person in the home should contribute in some way to cut expenses and maintain a nice home. Just be sure that is in a signed contract. If you can buy a home with newer metal roof would be great. Then the only expense would be removing the screws and washers and replacing them at 25 yrs of age and occasional cleaning of the metal. Most metal roofs last 50 yrs. would your roommate be willing to move with you. I think there are programs to help first time homebuyers also. Groceries can be cut to absolute miser amounts if you try hard. Beans and rice are cheap as is chicken meals and soups, etc. you may be able to cut utilities further if you try also. Wear sweats and sweaters inside in the winter. If there are no animals in the house turn the heat way down when not at home. Use the ac minimally. Use fans more. Shop at goodwill for those career clothes or better yet do not shop at all. Trust me no one will notice if you wear the same outfits twice in a week, or the same skirt paired up with different blouse, etc Change them up with a scarf bought at goodwill, etc. wash everything when you bring it home. I have read wonderful posts by others such as root of good, go curry cracker, Darrow Kirkpatrick, and the most intriguing one is Jacob who lived on so little. You do not have to adopt all of their ideas but they are inspiring to realize how much you can save by living like you have only a fraction of your current income to live on. I think this is what the frugalwoods were doing for several years also. Take care and good luck to you

    1. Hi Jean,

      Great ideas. A condo would probably work best since I don’t garden outside of container gardening on the porch. I am not going to renew my Costco membership as I do end up spending too much on bulk items. I am going to go back to shopping at Aldi’s and try the new Lidl store in town as well. I enjoy simple meals and will start creating menu plans again. Those are things I always enjoyed doing when I had the kids at home and can easily continue doing.

  55. Marie, you are so lucky to be a young grandmother, your grands will know the joy of spending time with you and all the unconditional love that you give them. You’re headed in the right direction just gathering up all of this information and facing it truthfully, so many people do not.

    Do what you love, be with who you love and life will be an adventure! I agree with so many here that say don’t buy a house and stop paying/buying for the grands. You will find the right living situation (current rent and room mate sound great) but more importantly fund your retirement and get that match! Get and stay out of debt, stay as active and as healthy as you are, good luck. The living arrangements and career moves can wait for those important things to get under control first. You’ve got this! Good Luck.

    1. Karen,

      Thank you for your very encouraging comment. I’m very excited now that I’m fully onboard with a new vision for my future.

  56. Love all the comments on here! I can not imagine being done with child rearing at 50-my baby will be an 11-year old when I’m that age! What freedom you must feel! Anyway I totally agree with Mrs. F, you can save so much money by following her advice. And you can do a Disney vacation one day-maybe provide the tickets while letting your adult children take care of hotel/airfare for the kids. I thought it was out of reach for us but my parents lent is a timeshare, we had cc points for the flights, and “Santa” brought park tickets(just used Xmas money for tickets instead of on toys we don’t have space for). Go on Disney blogs you’d get valuable advice! Take more of your pto, use those days to volunteer or watch grandkids. Id think having a special needs child is super stressful-giving your son/daughter an afternoon off from their kids to just get out of the house would be worth more than any monetary gift!! Instead of money, gift your time to loved ones and charities! I’d probably sideline education right now, get debts paid down, and build up your savings. you might find you make the perfect amount of money once you pay off your debts. I think condo living may be in your future-you can still do the roommate thing who knows you may have a significant other one day too:). Good luck you’re on your way to a fabulous life!

    1. Cindy, thank you so much for such an encouraging comment. Doing this case study was a bit scary (ok, a lot) to put myself out there but I’m so grateful for all the wonderful input. Y’all are awesome!

      I’m very excited to follow Mrs. FW’s advice and can’t wait to see how that changes my financial and personal life for the better.

  57. Marie, “I’m giving just as much, but differently !” is a good thought to keep in mind ! My internal monologue has a great influence on the way I feel about myself, so I’m very conscious about the way I phrase my actions. Positive mental dialogue keeps a smile on my face, and allows me to think of myself as a Money Wizard rather than a Miser !
    Have a wonderful, generous, exciting, joy filled life,you deserve it!! Coral

    1. Hi Coral,

      I love that phrase. You are so correct that positive mental dialogue is so important. Thank you so much for your comment.

  58. Hello from nearby Greensboro! I echo the state park suggestions and would add Stone Mountain State Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway as free day trips to your list. Also, spring and fall are festival seasons in the Triad. You can usually find a free or less than $10 festival almost every weekend during those times a year (NC folk fest is free 3 day music festival the weekend after Labor Day). I would also suggest looking into upcoming MLK day of service events to find volunteer opportunities with the grand kids. Lastly, a favorite Christmas gift for grand kids in the area can be a museum or zoo membership. The NC Zoo has a grandparent specific one and I think some of the nearby museums have similar ones.

    1. Hello neighbor! 🙂

      Thank you so much for the information. I love the idea especially of the museum/zoo membership as a gift. I know it would be put to great use! I will check out the festivals and those state parks. NC is such a beautiful state so I’m excited to start exploring with my family.

  59. Couple of things I didn’t see mentioned, since you do a lot of travel for work, travel hacking or points/miles accumulation can be really easy. I travel a lot for work and always try to stay with the same brands to maximize those points. Then use the points/miles for personal travel since that is important to you. Possibility consider specific travel brand credit cards if it makes sense and you can manage to pay it off every month. I put all of my work travel on my personal travel cards to get additional points.
    Secondly, I work as a Project Manager, so I have some experience in this area. Have you considered just getting a certification rather than a degree? In this field I would consider a certification with experience as much or more than a degree. And the certifications are usually only a few hundred dollars, once.
    Regarding the gifting for your family, one thing I’ve asked my family to give our kids is experiences. So if you want to continue paying for lessons or other extra-curriculars those could be birthday or Christmas gifts instead of trying to do both. Then the kids still get the experience and that parents house doesn’t get cluttered with stuff (not that we are going through that right now or anything 🙂
    I will echo everyone else’s comment with a no to the house. My grandmother ended up losing her house and having to move in with my uncle even after having because she couldn’t keep up with all of the additional expenses, ie: maintenance, taxes, utilities.
    Best of luck making the changes that will most benefit you in the future.

    1. On the certification, I had mentioned the CAPM to Marie because it doesn’t require a degree (unlike the PMP). Are there are other project management certifications that don’t require an AA or Bachelor’s Degree?

      Following up on Cherise’s comment, there are some online communities with lots of information resources on how to maximize miles/points accumulation so that you can travel cheaply. is one of them. BUT, when you read about what some of the members do (e.g. signing up for multiple credit cards in order to get the welcome bonuses, mileage runs, mattress runs, etc), it can be very tempting to spend money to get perks. That said, there are lots of tips to consider that don’t require you to spend money you don’t have (or should be saving for another purpose) 🙂

      1. PMP does not require a degree, she will just need more hours of leading a project (

        Secondary degree (high school diploma, associate’s degree or the global equivalent)
        7,500 hours leading and directing projects
        35 hours of project management education


        Four-year degree
        4,500 hours leading and directing projects
        35 hours of project management education

    2. Thank you, Charise!

      I love the idea of giving experiences rather than toys, etc. for birthday/Christmas. I usually give clothes (my grandkids actually love this as do their parents!), books, and one small toy for Christmas/birthday but instead I’m going to start giving them more experiences. The kids have enough stuff already but Nana-time is something you can’t put a price on. 🙂 A trip to the library is one of the their most favorite things to do and it’s free.

      I’ll look into the certification…that is a wonderful idea. And I appreciate you sharing your grandmother’s unfortunate experience. I’m so sorry she went through that.

  60. Thanks for sharing your story Marie!! I’m a San Francisco native myself and still live here so I can fully understand why you made the move to North Carolina. It’s crazy expensive over here in the Bay Area.
    I echo the recommendations Mrs. Frugalwoods provided for you and wanted to add a few more details. I think you should not pursue buying a house for now because of not just dealing with mortgage payments but also of possible costs of maintenance for the home. Unexpected issues may arise like with the water pipes, fridge not working, electrical problems etc.. And you don’t want to deal with them on top of making mortgage payments/property tax. Renting at $600/month is something you should take advantage of until you eliminate that debt and build up your net worth.
    Also with that debt, that should be your main focus on taking care of right now. Try to wiped them off so you can focus on other expenses.
    All the best Marie and please keep us updated.

    1. Hi Kris,

      Thanks so much for your comment. Even though it’s very expensive, the bay area will always be home. I especially miss it during NC summers. 😉 That’s the plan: pay off debt, build up EF and net worth and rent for now. If I do buy anything in the future, it will be a condo to keep the maintenance/upkeep costs low and also be able to pay it off before I retire. The HOA fees are very minimal here — I’ve seen some that are only $25 a month! I’m looking forward to giving an update in a few months.

  61. Marie, props to you for your transparency!

    You mention tithing, which is a term usually associated with religion, do you attend church? If so, ask your church if they offer financial counselling or mentoring (many churches do). Regardless, it could be really helpful to find someone with similar values to whom you’re regularly accountable about money.

    Personal finance is so personal, but maybe you can use some other these bigger ticket items as motivation. Like limiting yourself to one gift each per person for their birthdays and Christmas up $20 each…with an increased limit when you get out of debt. Or, delaying the trip to Paris until you’ve saved X.

    1. Alice,

      Thank you for your comment. That is a great idea about challenging myself to reach savings goals before I spend on larger ticket items like the trip to Paris. I also like the idea of spending way less for birthdays and Christmas. That doesn’t all mean that I can’t still purchase thoughtful gifts. I’m going to start reading Mrs. Frugalwoods’ articles on the subject since I know those will help me to accomplish that goal. 🙂

      1. I think those savings goals and $20 gift limits sound very good Alice. Even for the long term, $20 is fine for a gift, plus good for the environment, to consume less (tell your grandkids about lower consumption and the environment). Focus on yourself before others. Then, later, give to others, after you care for yourself.

  62. Unless your company has an automatic “get a degree, get a raise” I suggest not going back to school for a degree. I say that as a 60-something retired HR Manager. The reality is that there is age discrimination over 50. The chance of you getting a better job at a different company will be even more limited in 5 years when you complete a degree. As Mrs. Frugalwoods said working hard and doing a good job will be a better use of your time/money.

    I agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods about not getting a 3rd roommate. 3 people multiply the possible roommate problems. You’re in a good situation now so don’t rock the boat.

    1. Hi Mary – thank you for your comment. It’s sad about the age discrimination. I’m fortunate though to live in an area where older people are more respected and it does help that I don’t look my age. Another 10 years though and that may be another story so I need to plan for that unfortunately. I really do wish our society would realize the value that older workers bring to the workforce. We’re a good counterbalance for the younger workers because we have lived long enough to know what is worth spending energy on and what isn’t.

  63. If she cancels the whole life insurance, it’s possible that it has a cash value. If so, Marie, put it towards your debts and then towards your retirement investments!

    Also, please consider that you’re not getting any younger, so your chances of being able to save money are slightly reduced every year. So aim to save A LOT for as long as you can. Maybe at age 60 you’re “let go”, but if you save a lot starting now that may be okay.

    Consider postponing the charitable giving until you’ve got a minimum retirement for yourself covered. Keep track of the amount of charitable giving that you didn’t do, and make up for it later on.

  64. Super well done, Marie, on getting yourself so organised after a big move across the country.
    Liz’s advice is great and I know you will absolutely crush your debt by following her ideas. I echo many other people here – stop giving to the grandchildren. Baking with you, nature walks, movies together, spending time with you in the company of their cousins – these are real gifts to them, and beyond price.
    The big debate on house buying? I say, when your debts are eliminated and you have saved the deposit, then and only then decide. You might find a lovely new house which will give you no trouble. You can have people share it with you, and you could pay off the mortgage in jig time. And Marie, wouldn’t it be just the greatest thing to be able to leave the house to all your grandchildren, to be divided amongst them? Certainly would be better than continuing to give them gifts that they use and discard.
    Oh yes, travel. you could work for your keep in many countries, using the Worker On Organic Farms movement. Friend of mine worked with a couple in the French Alps two summers ago. She spent three weeks there and the work was only a matter of doing a little weeding and watering – in the most glorious surroundings. She said she felt she should pay the hosts for the wonderful food they prepared for each meal. I spent a month in South Central France, last summer, – I am retired – working in an arboretum/ garden. It was an indescribably beautiful place and the work was fine. It wasn’t altogether as successful as my friends sojourn, though, because the food there was truly terrible!! But it was worth it. As someone else mentioned, housesitting is another possibility.
    Yes, you can travel cheaply if you use a little ingenuity. As Coral Clark advised above, be a MONEY WIZARD – and forget about contributing to college funds. You could undermine your whole mission with that kind of spending. No, let your bequest of the house be your contribution to their finances.
    Good luck with your plans!

    1. Hi Maire,

      Thank you for your comment. Spending time in South Central France sounds amazing. Hard to believe that any place in France has terrible food but it sounds like you found it. 🙂 I agree that the debt has to be paid off and then I can decide what to do as far as possibly buying a house. For now, I’ve created a very barebones budget, reducing some of the categories that Liz set for me, so that I can funnel the rest into paying off my debt as quickly as possible. I’d love to have my 6 month emergency fund and be debt free by the end of summer. Doable? We will see but I enjoy challenging myself in order to better myself.

  65. Hello,
    I’d like to suggest a little research to see if your salary is commensurate with your years of experience.
    Seems that you considered your last raise to be scant for the increased responsibility.
    If there’s a discrepancy, ask for a fair raise.
    Good luck meeting your goals.

    1. Thank you, Tess. My employer doesn’t give raises, only market adjustments so I’d have to change my role. I’m focusing on providing excellent value that I can negotiate a new role with higher pay within the next year.

  66. I love the idea of lifelong learning! It may be helpful to really examine why you want to earn that degree, is it strictly to gain a pay bump at your current job or are you hoping a degree will open new doors and expand your horizons? I’m a big advocate of self paced distance education and would encourage you to look into this option. There are a myriad of ways to obtain college credit for cheap or free and then transfer them to an accredited college to finish up. I’m on track to finish a bachelors degree next month this way and it fit pretty easily into a busy life. You can check out for guidance, also has a freshmen year free prpgram that is awesome. Gotta love free.

  67. Hi Marie, it’s been a week since this was posted, and you’ve been flooded with all sorts of great ideas and suggestions! Just writing to let you know that we’re all rooting for you, and remind you to keep up the great work. I’ve read some of your comments about changes you’ve already made (renewing the 401K contributions for example) and I just know you’re going to keep up this awesome momentum.

    On tithing – my parents are also big on charitable giving (giving to their church, charities they support, etc) but knew they needed to make some changes. They spoke to their pastor about it, and he was 100% supportive of them hitting the pause button on tithing. He had the same advice everyone else has previously mentioned, that it was important for my parents to take care of themselves first. My parents both volunteer at church now instead of giving money (mom in the nursery and dad is an usher) which has helped them make new friends, stay invested in their church community, and save money!

    On gifts – maybe you could make gifts for your grandkids? As an example, my Nanna used to knit me scarves, and I love them so much 🙂 Whenever I wear them I think of her. Doesn’t have to be knitting, but anything you can make (or make with them) would be incredibly special.

    On the equine therapy – I’m so glad to hear your grandson connects with horses and benefits from that therapy. I don’t have any advice about it, I just think it’s lovely 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. I have done the pause on tithing and am diving into giving the gift of my time instead. So far, I’ve baked cookies, babysat several times, watched a movie (at home) with my grandson, helped a young mom with some errands and made a home-cooked meal for my son and daughter-in-law since they have a new baby. It’s been fun and so rewarding. I also did a bucket list with my oldest grandson for winter and told him that everything had to be free or very inexpensive. That kid came up with 26 things that won’t cost hardly anything. I love that he is already learning that you can have fun without spending money. 🙂

  68. Howdy! It seems like you have a good relationship with your children, so something you might consider in the future would be putting a tiny house or some thing small like that on their property. Where you could each have your own space, but share yardwork, etc. And be near the grandchildren, too. Just an idea. Keep on keeping on!

    1. What a great idea! As someone slowly starting to move towards being more minimalist, a tiny home (not too tiny) might work out nicely and less square footage to clean is a bonus. 🙂

  69. Hi Marie,
    I just wanted to add that if you do travel and wish to work at that VA side hustle, please do your research! The UK (and the USA for anyone traveling there), for example, does not allow visitors to work, even remotely, while on vacation and requires evidence of enough savings to support oneself while in the country. I’d hate for you to pay for airfare and make a statement at immigration that results in you getting put on the next plane home.

    Good luck, there are some very sound suggestions and I echo giving the gift of time to your children and grandchildren. My own children have very fond memories of the time they spent just playing with their now deceased grandparents!

    1. Excellent point! I suggest researching labor rules in any country you visit well in advance so you don’t get into trouble. A lot of the E.U. countries have very strict rules about this but so-called Third World countries (low infrastructure nations) usually do not. Plus you can live/travel quite well in those countries using very little money due to favorable exchange rates. Better yet, travel by sea—international waters remove a lot of legal restrictions. (Though check with the country whose flag flies on the ship). Many professionals I have encountered through the years take year-long or even multi-year cruises, work from the boat, and pocket the savings!)

  70. I agree with all of Mrs. Frugalwoods’ advice. Do not trade in the car—keep paying for it and then keep it until it completely dies. My husband and I earned a combined $250K a year, and yet we own a 12-year-old clunker and a 7 year-old semi-clunker—both completely paid for. Car is just transportation, no need for it to be “new” or “pretty”.

    Stop, I repeat STOP paying for the grandkids’ lessons/fun activities. That is their parents’ responsibility, not yours. The donation of your time is also far more valuable, and getting your own finances in order will make you a better grandma long-term. (Cool that you are also such a young grandma, I am 45 and have an 11-year-old and a 6-year-old!)

    I would advise against getting the AA/BA degree unless your employer can guarantee 2 things: 1) that they will pay for your tuition; and 2) that you are guaranteed a raise in salary once the degree is obtained. (And get that in writing, along with minimum guaranteed salary bump, IN ADVANCE). If you are satisfied with their answers, and AA degree is probably more cost-effective in that you can complete it in less time, and you are unlikely to get much more salary bump with a BA versus an AA, plus you are also fairly close to retirement so your ability to get full ROI on a BA is quite limited now.

    Great job on so many points, as Mrs. Frugalwoods says. I also agree a VA job would be a great way to support yourself as you travel throughout retirement, especially in low-cost countries where US dollars go very far!

    1. Add-on comment: I really enjoy reading these case studies. I don’t have the time to keep up with every post on the blog, so I tend to focus more on the case studies because I find them the most educational by far. Thanks!

  71. Super late to chime in on this wonderful case study and commentary, but I wanted to mention 2 things that I don’t think have been mentioned yet:

    1. Consider purchasing a duplex when it comes time to consider home ownership. Often you can cover (or mostly cover) the cost of the mortgage with the rent taken in from the other side, while you live in the other. You can also choose to rent out spare rooms on your side to earn extra money/pay off the mortgage more aggressively. Plus, you’d have either a roommate or a very close neighbor so that you wouldn’t have to worry about your house while traveling. Upkeep of any home can be costly, but duplexes might keep those expenses on the smaller side (with their often smaller yards, etc).

    2. I was recently reading Being Mortal by Atul Gawande – recommend for everyone! He mentioned an amazing community-based membership organization that helps seniors age in place through the creation of a services network. They need a handyman? There is one sent over by the “organization.” Village to Village Networks:
    Are membership-driven, grassroots, nonprofit organizations
    Are run by volunteers and paid staff
    Coordinate access to affordable services
    Provide volunteer services including transportation, inspiring health and wellness programs, home repairs, social and educational activities
    Offer access to vetted & discounted service providers
    Are based on the needs of your community
    Are one-stop-shopping. Villages do anything their members need to age safely and successfully in their own homes
    Positively impact isolation, interdependence, health and purpose of their individual members to reduce overall cost of care

    If there’s one in your area, perhaps this would be a frugal way in the future to maintain your home and various creature comfort. FYI for everyone else. I’m going to look into how to get involved in one.

  72. Hi Marie,

    I’m very late commenting, but I hope you’ll see this when you’re getting ready to do an update.

    Your children are so lucky to have a Mother who is planning for retirement and taking care of her finances before it is too late.

    My parents are financially stable, but my Mother-in-law has no savings, very little social security, no good job prospects, and a really unrealistic idea of her employability in her early 70s and what kind of retirement she can afford. She expects her Son to take care of her for the rest of her life, and it has been incredibly financially and emotionally difficult on our relationship.

    I think that you will find your kids do not mind the reductions in gifts and financial assistance, and will probably be a bit relieved to know you are putting a plan in place to maintain financial independence. I know I would be thrilled to hear that from my Mother in law, and I think a lot of other young people worry about whether their parents are planning financially for their retirement.

  73. As you set up your savings accounts (in their various forms) be sure to designate your beneficiaries. Also making the accounts “payable on death ” is much easier for your heirs. My MIL died at age 88 with no will, advance directives, Power of Attorney, etc. It took getting a lawyer and 1 year of time to get her estate settled- while living 100 miles from her city and my husband working full time.

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