Reader Case Study: Salud, Dinero, Amor!

Caroline and her husband Rodrigo are living a rent-free life as house-sitters in the Southwestern United States. However, Rodrigo is from Argentina and the couple would love to live closer to his family–and perhaps run a hostel or bed and breakfast. Come offer your advice to help them along their journey!

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.

Case Studies are updated by participants (at the end of the post) several months after the Case is featured. You all requested an easier way to track Case Study updates and I have heard your pleas :)! I’ve created this page, which lists and links to all of the updated Case Studies.

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.

Come Hang Out With Me In NYC!

Ok this is not at all related, but I am SO EXCITED to share that I’ll be speaking at The Financial Gym (134 W. 25th St., New York, NY) on Thursday, May 2nd from 6-8pm. The event is FREE and, naturally, boxed wine + snacks will be served. Space is limited and so you need to RSVP here in order to reserve your spot.

Shannon McLay (Founder and CEO of The Financial Gym, friend of mine, all-around excellent person) and I will discuss financial independence, other money-related topics, and likely quite a few topics that aren’t related to money at all… Then I’ll do a Q&A! Did I mention there’ll be wine?! I hope to see you there!!

If you can’t make the event, you can watch via The Financial Gym’s Facebook LIVE starting at 6:30pm on May 2nd. The Financial Gym is a personal financial services company that takes a fitness-inspired approach to their clients’ finances. By working one-on-one with a Certified Financial Trainer, each client learns to make smarter money decisions.

April is financial literacy month and The Financial Gym is hosting FREE educational events every single night this month. If you’re interested in working with a trainer at the Gym, Frugalwoods readers can sign-up for a free introductory phone call here and save 20% on a Gym membership.

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

Caroline’s Story

Hi Frugalwoods! I’m Caroline, I’m 28 years old, and in December I married my 27-year-old husband Rodrigo, who is from Argentina. We have a long and romantic history of meeting in Mexico and him crossing four borders to be with me… but that’s a different story. Right now, we need to work on our finances!

Caroline & Rodrigo

I titled this “Salud, dinero, amor” because in many Spanish speaking countries, when you sneeze you are “blessed” with salud for the first sneeze, dinero for the second, and amor if you sneeze three times. The idea is you get “health,” “money,” and “love.” Well, I feel blessed that I have my health and my love, but my wealth is an area I need to work on! Let me fill you in…

For many years, I had the mentality of working extremely hard for a short period of time, and then spending ALL of my money on traveling. I’ve worked as a waitress in countless restaurants, taught skiing, been a raft guide, a wilderness therapy guide, worked on organic farms, in bike shops, at crepe stands, hostels in the middle of the jungle… you name it, there’s a good chance I did it.

It was SUPER fun to have all of these experiences, but right now I feel a bit panicked because I have very little money saved up. Two and a half years ago I bought a one-way ticket to Central America with the goal of learning Spanish. That I did, and along the way I met Rodrigo. We moved to the US in the summer of 2017, and got married last year.

Caroline & Rodrigo’s Rent-Free Lifestyle

We currently live in a small town in the Southwest, where we have a huge tourist influx in the spring and the fall. Property values have shot up because many people buy second homes here, and most of the jobs here are low-paying and seasonal. However, we don’t pay rent–we’re house-sitters! We miraculously managed to find house-sitting gigs when we lived in Nicaragua and here in the US, and so we haven’t paid rent in two years! We’ve also lived out of our van for some chunks of time, but that was pretty challenging. I am very grateful for our house-sitting situation, but I don’t want it to be our forever situation. For now this gig is indefinite, assuming the owner doesn’t experience a huge lifestyle change. The owner doesn’t live in our town and for the foreseeable future we have the security of living here rent-free.

Caroline & Rodrigo’s Wedding

Caroline & Rodrigo’s wedding

I am really proud that we spent just $1,300 on our wedding in December. This included my dress, all the food, the marriage license, the officiant, decorations, etc…

We scaled it back from the original plan of over 100 guests and a giant Argentinian asado to an intimate affair, with only eight people in attendance.

It was the best decision and I am so happy we didn’t financially overextend ourselves. We had a fantastic time and it was a beautiful outdoor wedding!

Caroline’s Job

I spent several years working seasonal jobs in our tourist town, but have finally found a year-round position as a social worker at a small non-profit. We primarily serve Spanish-speaking clients and I love being able to speak Spanish every day. Unfortunately, this job doesn’t pay a lot and there isn’t much room for growth or a higher salary.

However, for now I’m stoked to be here and am learning new skills every day! I also have the opportunity to become a certified medical interpreter, for free, while I work here. I’m a few days away from completing a year at this job, which is the longest I’ve stayed at a job since… ever? It feels great to reach this milestone and to realize that I do have the ability to buckle down and work a more traditional job. However, I don’t see myself staying in this job forever.

The Green Elephant in the Room

We recently filed the paperwork to adjust Rodrigo’s status, but he currently doesn’t have permission to work in the US. The application for his green card cost over $2,000, so we have our fingers and toes crossed that everything goes quickly and he gets his work permission in the next few months! However, there’s no guaranteed timeline for this process. So, for now, we’re living on my income.

Rodrigo keeps himself busy by volunteering as a Spanish teacher, serving as a mentor, keeping the house in order, and working on projects. He is very talented in both woodworking and mechanics, and is thinking he’d like to work in one of those fields once he is legally able to. In his home country, Rodrigo studied and worked in real estate. He isn’t interested in pursuing this in the US, however. He has worked as a manager at hostels and restaurants, a guide for adventure tourism, and as a tennis coach. He is athletic, great with people, a wonderful teacher, and a quick thinker. I’m excited to see what direction he ends up going in career-wise!

Differing Financial Viewpoints

Caroline biking

While I adore my husband, we have some very big differences in how we view finances. Argentina has been in an economic crisis for most of Rodrigo’s life, and as a result, he doesn’t have much faith in financial institutions. For him, cash is king.

Although I understand where he’s coming from, I feel like time is passing quickly and we need to start saving more. I need help from you all however, because I don’t feel like I know what to do! I read Mrs. Frugalwoods’ book, which led me to the blog, and both have helped me begin looking critically at our finances.

The Importance Of Healthy Living

I’ve suffered from migraines for about 15 years, and recently started seeing a naturopath. Since I’ve been taking her tinctures and avoiding gluten, my migraines have almost entirely disappeared! This is an expense I am NOT willing to cut, because it has improved my quality of life dramatically. Because I am not a high earner and my husband is not working, my health insurance is only $6.54 per month, and my prescriptions are about $20 every 3 months. I am infinitely grateful for this!

Last year I asked my employer to sponsor a wellness program for my co-workers and me, and our board approved it, giving us $40 a month to spend at the gym/on fitness classes. I also do a work-trade at my Crossfit gym, thereby saving $85 a month, or $1,020 per year.

What Caroline and Rodrigo Spend Money On

  1. Outdoor activities. We’re both outdoor junkies and love to go snowboarding, mountain biking, hot-springing, and hiking. A lot of these activities are free, but some of them (snowboarding, for example) can be quite expensive.
  2. Travel. Rodrigo’s family lives in South America and we try to visit them when possible. We also love to explore and have been to eight different countries together. Our last visit was to Argentina and we want to get back there again as soon as possible.
  3. Food. We go dumpster diving and I can sometimes score food donations from my work, but we still end up spending a lot of money on food. We cook from scratch at home–homemade hummus, crockpot dried beans, baked goods, etc–but we still spend A LOT on food. I am gluten-free, so I occasionally splurge on GF options for myself. We also may have a bit of a late night burrito problem…

Where Caroline and Rodrigo Want To Be In 10 Years

  • Careers: Perhaps owning and working at a hostel in a Central or South American country.
    • That’s the one dream we generally come back to, probably because we’re such nomads at heart and love interacting with people. We’re both bilingual and gregarious, so this feels like a great fit for us.
    • I also would like to be teaching Pilates and maybe Crossfit to Spanish speakers.
  • Finances: Although I’m not focused on being super rich, I’ve spent enough years depleting my savings and then feeling panicked that I’m no longer interested in living that way.
    • I would like to convince Rodrigo that putting our money into wise investments could pay off in the future.
    • I’d like to be able to travel without being stressed about money, and not feel entirely terrified thinking about someday retiring.
    • I would love to be able to own a house, most likely in a different country, where the pace of life is slower and the cost of buying is cheaper!
  • Lifestyle: We’re both very active and love moving our bodies.
    • Living near nature is a requirement and I hope we’re still surfing, snowboarding, and mountain biking!
    • I would love to live closer to Rodrigo’s family; they’re extremely close-knit and I know he misses them a lot.
    • For now, I don’t see us moving to live near my family in Indiana–they are healthy and it’s much easier for them to travel than Rodrigo’s family.
    • The economic crisis in Argentina makes it pretty much impossible for Rodrigo’s family to travel for leisure. Rodrigo has three siblings and a HUGE family in Argentina, so I don’t envision us needing to care for his parents in the future, but it’s impossible to say that with certainty.
    • Regarding having kids: for now, we’re not interested. We like our independence and freedom!

Caroline and Rodrigo’s Finances

Net Income

Item Amount Notes
Caroline’s monthly take-home pay $1,430 After taxes and monthly $400 pre-tax SIMPLE IRA contribution
Annual total: $17,160

Expenses

Item Amount Notes
Groceries $400 Even with dumpster diving and getting donated food we’re spending a lot here.
Gasoline for car $200 I usually bike to work. We only really spend money on gas when we travel
Traveling $200 We usually couchsurf, camp, or stay with friends/family when we travel. However, this is still a huge chunk of change.
Eating out $150 Fluctuates a bit, but we generally eat out for special occasions (birthdays, anniversaries) and when we’re traveling
Snowboarding/outdoor activities $150 Again, an average. I know we need to cut down on this.
Miscellaneous Trainings/Classes $50 I went to Mexico for intensive Spanish classes, and have signed up for a Pilates training. More trainings and classes are likely to come in the future.
Gifts $40 Christmas and birthday presents for immediate family.
Rodrigo’s cell phone $40 Through Verizon
Car Insurance $30 We pay for 6 months at a time
Alternative Medicine $20 Vitamins, tinctures, consultations. Not willing to eliminate this.
Health insurance and prescriptions $15 We have really low cost insurance right now
Household supplies $15 Toothpaste, toilet paper, etc.
Spotify $10 We split this cost and enjoy it
Clothes $10 We only buy clothes when we REALLY need them, and usually shop second hand.
Caroline’s cell phone $9 I’m still on the family plan and I pay my dad $100 per year.
Haircuts $5 I go twice a year and it is affordable. I really enjoy this “pampering.” Rodrigo cuts his hair at home.
Rent (including all utilities) $0 House-sitting for the win!
Total monthly spending: $1,344
Total annual spending: $16,128 No wonder we can’t save anything!

Assets

Item Amount Notes
Caroline’s Saving Account $7,213 This is our emergency fund. In the past, I would deplete my savings in order to travel. I’m now trying to think long-term about this money.
Rodrigo’s Cash $5,000 Locked away; also an emergency fund of sorts.
Caroline’s SIMPLE IRA (through employer) $2,180 I’m putting $400/month (pre-tax) into this account because it helps keep my health insurance low and my employer matches up to 3%. I just started it last year.
Savings Bonds $1,600 My grandparents bought these for me. I am not sure what to do with them. They have all matured.
Total: $15,993

Car

Vehicle Valued At Notes
2004 Nissan Quest Minivan $2,000 A hand-me-down from my mom, this van has been my trusty companion for many years. I’m not sure how much life is left in it though…

Debt: $0

Life Insurance

I have whole life-adjustable life insurance. I honestly don’t understand it very well, and my dad is paying the $500 yearly premium as a Christmas present. He says it has a good return rate and I can borrow from it without penalty in the future. Thoughts?

Caroline’s Questions for You:

  1. How do I convince my husband to believe in financial institutions? I don’t want to have to save all on my own, but at this point, I am because he simply will not. Once he’s earning money, I want to make sure we’re putting some of it away.
  2. How do we plan our finances when there’s a good chance we’ll be living in another country for a good chunk of the year once Rodrigo gets his green card? Ultimately I’d like to get my citizenship in Argentina as well. I want to make sure we don’t get slammed or penalized if we ever have to quickly switch over our savings for a quick move.
  3. How do I trim our spending? It seems OUTRAGEOUS how much we spend every month, and we’re not even paying rent! I can’t fathom getting by without that benefit, and it makes me terrified about ever moving because I don’t see how we could survive if we were paying that too!
  4. What are the most important things I/we need to do NOW in order to feel more stable in our finances?
  5. Can anyone offer advice about affordable, effective birth control options? We currently use condoms as they seem to be the least expensive, but I’m curious to hear what other couples find cost effective.

Mrs. Frugalwoods’ Recommendations

Caroline & Rodrigo

Wow. Caroline and Rodrigo are doing an AMAZING job. I’m shocked that Caroline doesn’t think so!!! Their income is just barely above the government established poverty line for a household of two people and they are making it work quite well! Their free rent and utilities are major contributing factors to their success and I commend them for finding such an excellent house-sitting gig.

The fact that they don’t have debt, do have an emergency fund AND have retirement savings is phenomenal. I’ve seen many, many folks with much higher incomes in much more precarious financial positions. Congrats, Caroline and Rodrigo! Stop berating yourselves and celebrate how very well you’re doing!!!

The Obvious: Income Needs To Increase

While there are some things Caroline and Rodrigo can do to save more, the real issue for them is their low income. In the absence of earning more money, there’s not a whole lot they can do to change their financial situation. I’ll address all of this in greater detail, but I want to start off with a recognition that without more money coming in, there’s not much to work with terms of saving and investing. That being said, they’re doing an incredible job of saving and investing with what they do have!

Now let’s tackle Caroline’s questions.

Question #1: How do I convince my husband to believe in financial institutions?

Caroline finds herself in a challenging and unique situation with Rodrigo’s experience of the Argentinian economy. I can understand where Rodrigo’s fears stem from since Argentina has been on a roller coaster of inflation and currency depreciation. His concerns about the Argentinian economy are well-founded and I wouldn’t advise Caroline and Rodrigo to invest in Argentinian securities. That being said, since Caroline is a US citizen, the couple has access to arguably the best (or some of the best) investment vehicles in the world.

Inflation: Argentina’s Main Problem

I am (obviously) not an economics expert or an Argentinian politics expert, but it’s my understand that what has caused the most harm to average Argentinians boils down primarily to inflation. Hence, if Rodrigo is concerned about the possibility of inflation reducing his buying power, then the worst thing to do is keep money in cash because inflation decreases the value of cash.

According to the US Department of Labor:

Inflation can be defined as the overall general upward price movement of goods and services in an economy.

If inflation goes up 10%, for example, then the value of your cash goes down by 10%. Some people would argue that if you fear inflation you should invest in hard goods, such as gold. But in most cases, this isn’t a good idea. The way I like to think about inflation is that by investing in the stock market or real estate, you’re investing in a hard good. When you invest in the US stock market, you’re buying a piece of a company’s future profits. When you buy real estate, you’re buying future rental profits.

Caroline & Rodrigo

When inflation happens, then in theory, the earnings from those companies and/or those rental properties will also increase, which means you’re hedging against inflation. As inflation goes up, your investments rise commensurately (unlike cash, which decreases in value).

The trick is that you need to be sufficiently diversified so that a downturn doesn’t also cause all of your hard goods to deflate in value. This means you want to invest in a broad range of things, which you can–in my opinion–achieve through a total market index fund in the US. A total market index fund (aka a low-fee index fund) is a well diversified asset that should keep up with inflation in most, though not all, circumstances.

If you fear inflation, then it’s actually better to keep your money invested in a well-diversified portfolio of assets that stands to keep up with inflation.

In addition to a diversified asset pool (such as a total market index fund), holding fixed-rate debt, such as a mortgage, is another way to hedge against inflation. Inflation is when money becomes less valuable and a mortgage is denominated in the dollars you originally paid for the house and so, over time, as inflation increases (which generally happens), the money you’re using to pay off your mortgage is “cheaper.” I’m not saying that Caroline and Rodrigo should rush out and buy a house, but this is something for them to keep in mind for the future.

Why I Trust US Financial Institutions: FDIC Insurance

Most banks in the US are backed by FDIC insurance. According to the FDIC’s helpful website FAQs section:

The FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) is an independent agency of the United States government that protects you against the loss of your insured deposits if an FDIC-insured bank or savings association fails. FDIC insurance is backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government.

Hooray! What this means is that if an FDIC-insured bank fails, the government will pay you your money (up to $250K per institution). Hence, even if an individual financial institution collapses, within the US you’re protected by the backstop of the US government. And if the US government collapses, it’s likely nowhere in the world will be safe from the ensuing apocalyptic doom since financial markets are all interdependent and interwoven.

At that point, cash will be worthless, investments will be worthless, savings accounts will be worthless, and it won’t matter anyway because there won’t be anything left to buy. Not to sound overly apocalyptic, but if you take this to its logical conclusion, it’s unlikely most of us would survive this sort of cataclysm anyway. Except perhaps for those folks with basements full of guns, ammunition, and antibiotics (which is not me, for the record). I’m sort of joking, but I’m also not really joking. The point is that FDIC-insured banks in the US aren’t going to experience a run on the banks that prevent people from getting their money.

The Problem With Cash

In my opinion, there are several problems with keeping your assets in actual, physical cash.

1) Cash can be stolen or catch on fire.

Since cash is a tangible, material object, it’s a lot easier for it to be stolen, lost, or otherwise meet an untimely demise, such as in a house fire. I imagine Rodrigo has his cash in a locked, fire-proof box, but I’m just pointing out the obvious danger of relying on a physical possession. Statistically, it’s more likely that your house will be robbed and your money stolen than the FDIC not honoring their obligations.

2) Opportunity costs.

Caroline & Rodrigo

There are opportunity costs to keeping money in cash form. Namely, you’re missing out on the potential investment returns you’d enjoy if your money was instead invested in the stock market or even just an interest-generating savings account. This is where understanding the value of compound interest is key.

Caroline already knows this, which is why she’s asking the question. I encourage her to talk with Rodrigo about compounding interest and her concerns for their future if they don’t invest their money. This post might offer some helpful talking points.

3) Cash is not a good hedge against inflation.

As discussed above, inflation decreases the value of your cash.

Compromise On A Middle Ground: Set A Limit For Rodrigo’s Cash

While Caroline and I are against keeping money in cash, I intuit it’ll be difficult–if not impossible–to fully convince someone who has lived through repeated economic instability that financial institutions will protect his wealth. If Rodrigo is set on keeping money in cash form, then perhaps he and Caroline can carve out a compromise. They could identify the dollar amount that Rodrigo feels he needs to keep in cash and agree that everything above that dollar amount needs to be either invested or, at the very least, put into an interest-bearing savings account at a bank.

Rodrigo already has a healthy amount in cash ($5,000) and I encourage Caroline to discuss with him what dollar amount he feels is sufficient for their cash reserves. This could be the best way to address his concerns about financial institutions and Caroline’s concerns about the losses they’re experiencing by not investing their money. While Rodrigo has a legitimate fear at stake here, so does Caroline.

Question #2: How do we plan our finances when there’s a good chance we’ll be living in another country for a good chunk of the year once Rodrigo gets his green card? Ultimately I’d like to get my citizenship in Argentina as well.

As we all know, I am not an ex-pat expert, but fortunately, a lot of Frugalwoods readers are, so please chime in! Additionally, last month’s Case Study from a French/American couple offered quite a bit of universally applicable advice for multi-nationality families and couples.

From a financial perspective, I encourage Caroline to utilize her US citizenship to keep her money in US financial institutions, which again, are backed by the FDIC. From my admittedly limited understanding, I believe it will be easier for Caroline to open up such accounts while they’re still living in the US.

Longterm Goal Of Owning A Bed-and-Breakfast?

I want to deviate from Caroline’s questions to address what she identifies as one of their longterm goals: moving to South America and starting a hostel/bed-and-breakfast. I agree with her that it sounds like she and Rodrigo would be wonderful at this. They both have experience in the hospitality field, they’re both bi-lingual, and they love people. Sounds ideal! I think that at this point, Caroline and Rodrigo should sit down and determine if this is really and truly their ultimate goal.

Soul Searching

Only Caroline and Rodrigo can determine whether or not this is their ultimate dream, but here are a few considerations to ponder:

  • Caroline & Rodrigo

    Caroline mentioned repeatedly that they are nomads and love to travel. I worry that owning a business could clip their wings and tie them down to one place. When starting a business, you can’t really leave it alone for very long and you also likely don’t have the funds to travel. In the future, when the business is humming along, I can imagine they’d have more time and money for travel, but being business owners entails a full-time allocation of your most precious resources: time and money.

  • They’d have to stick with it for a long time in order to break even and to eventually generate a profit. Similar to my first concern, Caroline noted that she’s been at her job for a year and that it’s the longest she’s ever worked somewhere. Starting a business is a lengthy affair and so it’ll be important for them to consider if they truly want to do the same work in the same place for many years.
  • Pursuant to the above discussion of Argentina’s economy, I don’t know if it’s a wise financial decision to invest so heavily in a property/business in Argentina. On the flip side, if the business primarily caters to foreign tourists, then it might be more durable than other Argentinian-based enterprises. This is really outside my scope of knowledge, but it’s something for Caroline and Rodrigo to research.
  • Would Caroline be allowed to work in Argentina? She mentioned getting her Argentinian citizenship, so this may be a moot point, but just figured I’d bring it up.

If Yes:

If Caroline and Rodrigo decide that owning a hostel/bed-and-breakfast in Argentina is their ultimate dream, then I think we can outline a fairly straightforward financial plan for them:

  • Figure out how to earn more money in order to save up enough to have the capital to start a business. While they can stand to trim around the edges of their spending a teeny tiny bit, it’s really about earning more.
  • I recommend they work in the US, save their money, and use the power of US currency to buy a property/business in Argentina.
  • Once they are earning more money, it likely won’t make sense to invest in the stock market because they’ll be utilizing that money to purchase a property in Argentina. Investing in the stock market is a longterm proposition and it usually doesn’t make sense to invest money you envision needing to use in the next, oh, five years or so.
  • Given that, Caroline should continue saving for retirement through her employer-sponsored account and the rest of their money can go into a high interest bearing (FDIC-insured) savings account.

If No:

If Caroline and Rodrigo decide that owning a hostel/bed-and-breakfast in Argentina is NOT their ultimate dream, then their financial plan is a bit more flexible and open to interpretation.

I think these three steps remain the same no matter what they decide:

  • Earn more money
  • Work in the US, save in the US, and use the power of US currency to buy a property in South America/travel/etc
  • Continue saving into Caroline’s employer-sponsored retirement account

After that, their options are quite open and quite dependent on what they want to do with their lives. Perhaps pursuing location-independent work, where they likely wouldn’t make all that much money, but would have the ability to travel as much as they wanted. Or perhaps they’d be able to find a house-sitting gig here in the states for half of the year and down in Argentina for the other half of the year. Since they are amazingly adept at finding these arrangements, that could be an ideal way to fund a dual-country lifestyle. Caroline and Rodrigo have the ability to live on very little per year and so they might find that through location independent work, coupled with rent-free house-sitting, they have the flexibility to travel and live near both families at different times each year.

To help them think through these options, let’s do a review of where they are in the scheme of managing their money.

Asset Allocation and Money Management 101

Below are the basic money management steps I advise just about everyone to follow. I’ve made notes of how Caroline and Rodrigo are performing on each step and, spoiler alert, they’re crushing it.

  1. Track your expenses religiously. Know exactly what you’re spending every month. If you’re not tracking your spending, you can sign-up for the free service Personal Capital, which is what I use and recommend for expense tracking (affiliate link).
    • Caroline and Rodrigo are already doing this. Hooray!
  2. Caroline & Rodrigo’s wedding

    Pay off high interest debt. List all of your debts in a spreadsheet and sort by interest rate. Prioritize paying them off in order of highest interest rate first.

    • Caroline and Rodrigo don’t have any debt. Hooray!
  3. Build an emergency fund. An emergency fund should be kept in an easily-accessible bank account, such as a checking or savings account, NOT in investments, retirement funds, or cars/houses/expensive china. An emergency fund is money you can access immediately in an emergency. I recommend saving three to six months’ worth of expenses (meaning three to six months worth of what you spend every month, which is why it’s important to do #1: track your expenses).
    • Caroline and Rodrigo are actually overboard on savings in this area. They have a combined $12,213 in savings, which at their current rate of spending, would cover them for nine months.
  4. Contribute to retirement accounts. Especially if your employer matches your contributions, putting money into a 401k or 403b is a no-brainer. Here’s more on why: 401ks Are Your Friend: Demystifying Personal Finance Part 3.
    • Caroline is already doing this, but Rodrigo is not. Once Rodrigo is allowed to work in the US, he should begin saving for retirement as well.
  5. Start investing! Investing in the stock market is how you grow your wealth. Without this crucial step, you won’t reap the advantages of compounding interest and you’re unlikely to build your net worth in a meaningful way. I personally invest in low-fee total market index funds through the brokerage of Fidelity. Vanguard offers a similar product. You can do this yourself (it’s just like any other form of online banking) and there are more details here: For the Love of Frugal Hound, Manage Your Money Yourself! (by following The Simple Path to Wealth).
    • Caroline and Rodrigo aren’t doing this yet but, as I noted above, this is dependent on both Rodrigo’s comfort level with investing and whether or not they plan to purchase a property/business in the near term.
  6. Explore other options for investing in order to achieve diversification. After completing steps 1-5, you should continue investing in your low-fee index funds (and rebalancing them) on a regular basis (I recommend automating this process) and you can also start to look around for diversification options. This might include, for example, real estate. Mr. FW and I rent out our home in Cambridge, MA for a profit. Renting a property can be a fabulous financial decision and it can also be an absolutely abysmal one. It depends on many factors, including the rate of return you’d receive. For more on renting out properties, I recommend the site BiggerPockets, which discusses real estate investing.
    • Again, this’ll be dependent upon what Caroline and Rodrigo identify as their longterm goal and priority.
  7. Analyze your income. Concurrent with all of this should be an analysis of your net income (that means the dollar amount you bring home every month, minus taxes and any other withholdings). In some cases, the best route to financial stability will be to increase your income while also lowering your expenses. Income is the crucial second piece to this equation and, the more you make, the more you can save. That’s a solid math fact.
    • Caroline is keenly aware of this element.

Question #3: How do I trim our spending?

Caroline noted:

It seems OUTRAGEOUS how much we spend every month, and we’re not even paying rent! I can’t fathom getting by without that benefit, and it makes me terrified about ever moving because I don’t see how we could survive if we were paying that too!

First of all, I do not think their spending is outrageous. I think it’s pretty normal and pretty frugal at that. Caroline is correct that if they were paying rent and utilities, they’d be sunk. But, the good news is that they’re not! The other piece of good news is that Caroline and Rodrigo have proven their ability to live on one salary–and a small salary at that. Once Rodrigo is legally able to work and their income increases, they’ll be able to funnel his entire salary into savings. Woohoo!!!! That’ll accelerate their ability to move to Argentina and purchase a home/business/property IF that’s what they decide to do.

Caroline & Rodrigo

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 Caroline and Rodrigo:

  • Groceries + Eating Out = $550. This is not outrageous, but it is an area where they could save more. $400/month on groceries isn’t bad at all, but the $150/month on eating out might be an area to focus on for savings.
  • Gasoline for car + Traveling = $400. This seems like a lot since they’re not using the car for a daily commute. I’m wondering if there might be efficiencies to realize here. Primarily, I’m wondering if Caroline has considered getting a credit card to utilize for travel rewards points. Since she and Rodrigo are so responsible with their money, it seems like using a travel rewards card could yield a lot of bonuses for them. Here’s my full post on responsible credit card usage and here’s a list of travel rewards cards to compare (affiliate link).
  • Snowboarding + Outdoor Activities = $150. Again, not at all outrageous, but it is a discretionary expense. However, the whole point of managing your money well is having the ability to spend money on the things you love doing. So from that perspective, this expense might stay put.
  • Rodrigo’s Cell Phone = $40. Ok this is an easy one! Rodrigo should switch to an MVNO provider where his monthly bill should be in the range of $14-$20 per month. Popular MVNOs to research include: BOOM, Ting, Mint, and Republic Wireless.

As I noted above, there’s not all that much room in their budget to cut spending. The real area of emphasis for them should be on increasing their income.

Question #4: What are the most important things I/we need to do NOW in order to feel more stable in our finances?

Honestly, I think Caroline and Rodrigo are in about as good a position as possible given their single, low income. Other than trimming a tad on their expenses, the real focus should be on Rodrigo finding a good job once his paperwork comes through. The second goal should be identifying what they want to do longterm so that they can begin to save/invest their money appropriately.

Question #5: Can anyone offer advice about affordable, effective birth control options?

I love this question! It’s a great one for us to analyze and something I’m sure many frugal couples grapple with. Since Caroline noted that they have decent health insurance right now, that’s where I’d start with researching options. I suggest she and Rodrigo comb through her benefits to determine if any of the following are covered, or covered in part, by her insurance:

  • IUD: I am pretty sure that all insurances are required by law to cover IUDs in full. Caroline should check with her insurance, but I think she should be able to get an IUD for free.
    • I have a Mirena IUD and it’s my third. I had one prior to having kids, in between my two kids, and now after having children. I absolutely love it and it works really well for me.
  • Vasectomy: I realize this might be too drastic, but Caroline noted that they don’t want children and so this could be the easiest, cheapest longterm solution.
  • Oral contraceptives.

Depending on what her insurance offers, it’s possible any of the above could be free or very inexpensive. Caroline said they’re currently using condoms, which I have to imagine are more expensive than a semi-permanent option (such as an IUD, which is good for five years) or a permanent option (such as a vasectomy).

Summary Advice

  1. Take a deep breath and realize that they are in excellent financial shape and that they’ve proven their ability to live frugally.
  2. Prioritize finding a well-paid position for Rodrigo the minute his paperwork comes through.
  3. Have conversations about FDIC insurance, compound interest, and the value of saving in a savings account and investing in the US stock market. Identify a way to balance Rodrigo’s suspicion of financial institutions with Caroline’s fear of not investing.
  4. Determine what their longterm goal is.
  5. Whether or not the longterm goal is to move to Argentina, I suggest they work hard and save while still in the US in order to deploy their capital as they wish in the future. This is the time for them to build up a reserve of funds.
  6. Look into leveraging Caroline’s US citizenship to take advantage of some of the excellent investment vehicles available in the US, such as low-fee total market index funds.

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

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

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153 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    One word of caution on the cellphone: in rural areas of the western U.S., MVNO coverage is often much worse than the major carriers. Based on the pictures I can take a pretty good guess about where Caroline and Rodrigo live and I can personally attest that Ting and StraightTalk do not have very good coverage in the area.

    • Tara says:

      that is beause in the SW, Verizon is the only carrier that works as Verizon bought AllTel in the late aughts which covered much of that area of US. So if you want an MVNO that works in the Mountain Time zone area, you want an MVNO that uses Verizon. US Mobile has a Verizon version that I would recommend.

    • Caroline says:

      This is true…even with my Verizon it is pretty hit and miss.

  2. Bex says:

    IUD! Look into it! I have a Mirena IUD – I paid $0 for it, pretty sure insurance is required to cover it – and I have LOVED it. There are a lot of horror stories about IUDs on the interwebs, which I’m glad I didn’t read ahead of time, because I think it works nicely for many many people. Added bonus: haven’t had a period since it was put in, several years ago, which has improved my life dramatically. Insertion was no biggie for me. Lasts for 5-7 years.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Same! I love my Mirena

      • Jbur says:

        I third the Mirena IUD! Currently I’m pregnant, but using it even for short term (1-2 years) in between pregnancies is preferable over condoms or pills.

    • Caroline says:

      This is a definite possibility for us! Thanks for the input!

      • Kate says:

        I LOVE MY MIRENA. I had to say it! I am also a doctor and most of the family doctors and OBs that I know have them.

    • Leigh says:

      I also am a fan of the IUD. I prefer non-hormonal birth control so I have the Paragard, a copper IUD. I had it first for just over a year between pregnancies. I had it removed when I was ready for baby #2 and was pregnant within a month, so I know it worked well. Then I got another one in after I had baby #2. Both times it was completely covered by my not-very-good health insurance so hopefully it is covered for you, too. It is so, so easy once it’s in and gives me peace of mind. I do get my period regularly since it does not impact my hormones.

    • Amelia Shannon says:

      YES! Mirena IUD is fantastic!

    • Jen says:

      Another recommendation for an IUD – like Leigh i have a copper coil (in the UK so costs etc won’t be relevant for you) and i love it. I did find it uncomfortable to have put in and had some occasional tenderness afterwards for a short time (like 2 months), but i’ve found it amazing not to have to think about birth control for the last five years. If there’s a chance you might want children in the future, some sources recommend non-hormonal methods (such as a copper IUD) as they supposedly impact less on your hormonal balance so fertility returns to normal immediately. I have no experience of this yet as we have yet to start a family and i’m still on my first IUD, but that’s what i was told and why i chose a copper one. It does mean still having periods though!
      Also, kind of related is the topic of menstrual hygeine products – this may be something Caroline already uses, but reusable pads/a menstrual cup are a one-off cost that will mean never (or much less frequently) having to spend on disposable products. I was sceptical, but switched to a mooncup a couple of years ago and it’s definitely paid for itself as i’ve only bought one pack of tampons since (when i was disorganised and forgot to take it on holiday). It is a little more effort but i definitely find it worthwhile.

  3. Hanna gneiting says:

    I think I may have one great solution! I was a hiking and cycling guide for many years for a luxury international travel company that could probably hire both of them. They have offices in Berkeley, France and Canada and I traveled the world saving so much $. I worked many winters in Argentina and they need more spanish speakers. If you are hired as a married couple they will honor that and try and have you lead trips together. I met my husband cycling in the Pyrenees doing this job. It was a dream. No overhead expenses as all is paid and mostly earn cash tips. I miss it very much. I left to have kids and “settle down”. They could do this for 5 years and just put away the $ and then move and have their dream of opening a hostel. It’s called Backroads (trio leader position) and it’s a very difficult hiring process but I would be more than happy to talk to them about it if they look it up and they seem like they would be well
    Suited for it!!!!

    • Caroline says:

      Wow!! This sounds AMAZING! I am going to do some research on it!

      • Hanna says:

        Caroline yes please reach out I can refer you too if you are very interested (that helps a lot). I had no idea it was a career choice until I stumbled upon it. The lifestyle it provides is truly like no other!!

  4. Zoe says:

    I would suggest they look into food benefits- called SNAP I believe. This season of life it looks like money is very tight and there are a few programs that can assist with that. I would also look into your community and see if there are other low-income services you can utilize. Most places have a food pantry.

    • Julie says:

      Unfortunately there’s been proposals to deny green cards to people who have taken SNAP benefits. While nothing has passed, it’s a sign of how the government feels about immigration.

      • Whitney says:

        Yes I agree Julie, if Rodrigo is trying to get status in the US, applying for food stamps is not advisable. Food pantries though could be a good option.

    • Caroline says:

      Unfortunately, we are not eligible for SNAP because we are in immigration proceedings. The food pantry is not a bad idea, however! Hopefully our garden churns out a lot of fresh veggies for us this year as well!

      • Paula says:

        For three years I volunteered both at the local food bank and at the local distribution of government commodities. There are lots of these programs. I volunteered with TFAP–Temporary Food Assistance Program, although it wasn’t really temporary. But you may not want to get involved with a government program now, as you mentioned. Please check out all local food pantry programs though. Here’s one way you might work it to your advantage. Robert might be able to volunteer at a good one. Such a program always needs a strong man around to carry food down the steps and to the cars for those ill or elderly clients who need help. It is also common when filling the bags before opening the doors to make sure any volunteer who is also on the program has a good bag filled first. We always rewarded the men who helped us in this way.

      • calliope says:

        Not to be paranoid, but good people keep getting rejected for visas and adjustments of status due to concern they might become a “public charge.” This has increased significantly in the last year: https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2019-04-15/denials-of-us-immigrant-visas-skyrocket-after-little-heralded-rule-change. Some of these applicants even have jobs lined up.

        If you and hubby want to stay here, I would consider getting a higher paying job and paying rent. I know you say you “aren’t interested in citizenship right now” but permanent residence comes with a lot of restrictions and is pretty easy to lose- just something to think about, especially if you travel .

        Best of luck, and great job.

  5. H says:

    In relation to birth control, I can wholeheartedly recommend fertility awareness. For the cost of the book “taking charge of your fertility” by Weschler and a good thermometer, you can track your cycle and know exactly when you are or are not fertile. I react badly to every hormonal birth control I have tried, and this cuts the cost of using condoms so I only need them when I am fertile, not all month. It also helps if you should ever change your mind and decide that kids are for you. A friend of mine was stressing after coming off hormonal birth control as she wasn’t getting pregnant. Using fertility awareness she found out that she hadn’t started ovulating again yet, so managed to relax. She got pregnant on her first ovulatory cycle as a result. It changed my entire approach to birth control.

    • Karianne says:

      I second this ^^^ . Also a great thing to learn/be aware about, considering you may not always live where the birth control and medical support that works for you now, will be available.

    • C says:

      Yes, yes yes! I came to the comments just to say something like this. Especially if/since you’re in a monogamous married relationship, fertility-awareness based methods (FABMs) are essentially free and so enlightening learning about how your body works. No hormones or doctors necessary. Taking Charge of Your Fertility is a great resource, and so are in-person classes. My husband and I used this method (specifically the sympto-thermal method) to successfully postpone pregnancy for two years then conceive within three cycles when we were ready.

    • shannon says:

      Another vote for looking into fertility awareness. Depending on your exact approach, it is very inexpensive or free. Pregnancy prevention is at IUD effectiveness levels if used properly. This is great if you have artificial hormone sensitivity or are not interested in altering your natural cycles. The Fertility Friday podcast has great info, and I’d recommend reading Taking Charge of Your Fertility (Weschler) for more info.

    • frenchmama says:

      I would downvote this one, personally. The daily stress of using this method (I tried it once for 2 months) definitely outweighs the perceived benefit of it being “free” for me.

      Then again, my fertile period during my cycles is longer than average (confirmed by two OBs, to boot!), so it’s just riskier overall for me.

    • mary in Maryland says:

      Cheapest effective birth control is a diaphragm used every time. And one lasts for about five years.

    • Sarah says:

      Um, maybe as a back up to another birth control (like condoms), but this is not one area I would scrimp!

  6. Debby says:

    I love the conversation about affordable birth control!! It’s my understanding that in the US, due to legislation in previous years, many health insurance companies provide oral contraceptives for free (no co-payment for the pills). Also, keep in mind that if you experience side effects on the pill, there are actually many different types, so you can work with your doctor to find one that works best for you. This process took me about 5 years but was seriously worth it. Additionally, you can save even more money by taking the pill continuously instead of skipping one week every three weeks (after checking with your doctor, of course). This way, you never have a period and don’t have to spend money on pads or tampons. For myself, my periods were bad enough that I was missing one or two days of work every month and now that I am on continuous birth control, I don’t miss work, I don’t pay for the pills, and I don’t pay for pads! Huge frugal win and lifestyle improvements.

    • E says:

      +1 this – I haven’t had to pay anything for oral contraceptives since that part of the Affordable Care Act went into effect

    • AW says:

      Yes, with the affordable care act contraceptives should be free of charge through your health insurance (some employers have religious based exemptions). I’m also on the pill and there is no additional cost with my insurance. I also take the pill continuously, but for 3 months at a time and then have a period. Also, I use Thinx so no cost for tampons/ pads 🙂

  7. Laura says:

    Regarding birth control: A hormonal IUD, which releases a small amount of progesterone into the uterus has a very low failure rate – on the order of less than 1 pregnancy per 100 women per year. There are a variety of brands now available which are approved for anywhere between 3 and 5 years. These typically have the pleasant side effect of resulting in shorter and lighter periods. Condoms by contrast typically have a failure rate in studies on the order of 15 or more pregnancies per 100 women per year. For women who want to avoid hormonal medications but still have highly effective long term contraception, copper IUDs (under the brand name ParaGard) have similar effectiveness to hormonal IUDs but are entirely hormone free. They would only be contraindicated for women with Wilson’s disease, a condition of abnormal copper accumulation, and women with certain uterine abnormalities. These may be her best bet, if she finds this is suitable after discussion with her doctor, as copper IUDs are approved for 10 years of continuous use! Any ACA compliant plan requires that contraception be covered at no charge, but there are still a few grandfathered in plans left over from the old days, so she should check her plan documents, and when in doubt, call. Also OCPs (contraceptive pills) are a very good option for many women, however they do have a failure rate of closer to 3-10 pregnancies per 100 women per year based on typical use and research study data. Unfortunately a method that relies on taking a medication at the same time each and every day is prone to more failures. The Nexplanon, which is a 3 year implant in the arm, also has a comparable failure rate to IUDs, ie very low, and is approved for 3 years. This can be a good option for some who doesn’t like the idea of an implant in her uterus. She should make sure to make an appointment with an OB/GYN who is able to provide all these options – most are, but some clinics/health systems don’t allow their doctors to provide one or more of these options due to pharmacy agreements and due to the cost of the devices, rarely a physician will not have received training on inserting a particular device that has been approved since they left residency, and some clinics may require that patient’s order the device in advance to ensure coverage which can delay insertion by up to 4-6 weeks. Hope this helps!

    • Tara says:

      I will add about IUD’s–I have a friend who got a copper IUD and she had difficulty with it because they do have a tendency to be larger (no hormones though). However, not all people have this problem, another friend of mine has it and it works great. She did have three kids first though, so I don’t know if the copper IUD works better for a woman who has had a child first.

      I was offered the Liletta, which is a hormonal IUD (and smaller than the copper version). It was created to be a cheaper version for ladies without great health insurance (mine was still free) and I’m sort of the testing group for it as I got it shortly after FDA approval. Back in 2016 when I got it, it only had 3 year approval but it’s since been extended to 5 years officially by the FDA and it appears it’ll soon have 7 year approval, so I definitely recommend it as I’ve had no side-affects and it’s done what it’s supposed to!

      I’m 100% behind IUDs as I am terrible at taking daily medicine and my body didn’t do well with the high doses of hormones from oral pills. I also have a lot of friends who like me had a baby, and then because they didn’t have a doctor who was proactive about birth control (mine in my 6 week after-birth check up was like ‘Let’s talk birth control!’ as soon as he came in the room, lol!), had another kid shortly after, which was fine for the parents, but was sooner than they wanted. IUDs are definitely a lot more fail-safe. 🙂

      As far as the arm implants and/or high dose hormone shots from the doctor–I have heard anecdotally from a lot of women who have had issues with those, so be sure and check all research before committing to anything. Good luck!

      • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

        I actually had my Mirena IUD inserted immediately following Littlewoods’ birth–the OB did it right there in the delivery room! It was a great synthesis of health care and I was so glad that the hospital offered–and encouraged–the practice.

        • Ashley E says:

          One word of caution about mirena IUD or any IUD. Make sure your uterus is not inverted or tilted backward. Before I gave birth a midwife mentioned in passing that I had a tilted uterus – who knew! I decided to go the IUD route after the birth of my first and had mine inserted 6 weeks post-partum. Insertion hurt like a SOB – I nearly jumped off the table. The next month I experienced excruciating pain – especially while nursing. At my month follow-up appointment ultrasound confirmed perforation and migration of the IUD – floating around down by my colon. I underwent minimally invasive surgery (with general anesthesia) and ended up having to take a PTO day and paying $800 out of pocket to cover the cost of surgery. I was not a happy camper. So, the safest/cheapest option is vasectomy all the way – especially if you both know you do not want kids. I fully advocate for birth control and women’s choice; however, I also advocate for men taking on more of the decision-making/responsibility/burden of this massive life choice.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you for this wealth of knowledge, Laura! I so appreciate you sharing this.

    • Caroline says:

      Thank you for the input on all of the BC options…I have a bit of a fear of getting an IUD inserted…I’ve gone a bit too deep into the interweb horror stories…but it is true that a lot of people really love them as an option! I should do some more research.

    • Stacey says:

      I had a copper IUD and it was horrible. My periods were so bad that I would bleed through a Super Plus tampon backed up by an extra-long super overnight pad within three hours. Like, I would put the tampon on the ledge outside the shower so I could insert it as soon as the shower was over and then put on my pre-padded undies as soon as I got out of the shower. If I didn’t do this, I would bleed all over my clean body and the bathroom. Then get dressed, get my kids fed and off to daycare, drive the 20 minutes to work… and a couple of times I had to drive right back home to change my pants because I had already bled through everything and onto the seat of my car. It was really demoralizing, and I spent a lot of money on pads and tampons, because I had to wear two at a time and change them every two hours. And my periods lasted forever- usually 10-15 days. Generally the super heavy flow was only 2-3 days of that, though.

      Some women report accidentally pulling out their IUD with the suction of something like a Diva Cup, so to be safe you should probably use pads and tampons when using an IUD.

      If I were to get an IUD again, I would try the Mirena. I had trouble with hormone-based pills, the patch, and the Nuvaring, and swore off hormonal BC. But my husband got a vasectomy, so YAY! Now I don’t have to worry about BC at all! I could not run to the OB/GYN fast enough to get my IUD out the day his results came back clear of sperm. The only advantage I can think of, of the copper IUD over the Mirena is that it lasts longer – 10 years instead of 5.

      Costs… my IUD was free to put in, in 2017. When I had it removed, my doctor prescribed some BC pills because insurance codes removal differently from replacement. I would have had to pay for the removal procedure if she hadn’t prescribed pills. But I never filled the prescription. My husband’s responsibility for the vasectomy was about $650 in late 2018. When I had pills (2001-2013), name brand was about $50/month and generic was about $15. The changing landscape of insurance will affect these costs, but under Obamacare prevention of pregnancy is intended to be $0 for women.

      • Leigh says:

        I use a divacup and have the copper IUD. I had read stories on the internet about potential problems using both together, too, so I asked my midwife before going with that option and she was surprised and said that I didn’t need to worry about that. I’m careful to break the suction before pulling the cup out and check my IUD strings regularly just to be safe but I have had it for a couple of years in conjunction with using the cup and and have not had a problem.

        The advantage to me of the copper over the hormonal IUD is in not having my hormones modified. I feel more natural.

        I find the combo of the two (IUD and menstruation cup) to be wonderfully life-simplifying and cost-saving when dealing with my reproductive system business — in other words, frugal! But I understand that different bodies react in different ways and I’m glad for Stacy’s sake that she doesn’t need to deal with the IUD anymore.

        • Stacey says:

          That’s great, Leigh! I’m so glad the copper IUD is working for you! My OB said she didn’t have any data about the divacup/IUD combo so I should err on the side of caution (she has an extremely evidence-based style). I felt good about the hormone-free aspect of copper too – I was just really disappointed to find myself at the extreme end of the side effects. I do recognize it was an extreme response. On the plus side, I felt nothing when they placed it and removed it. It was like “that was it?!?!”

        • Anonymous says:

          I love the two as well. I was on synthetic hormones most of my pregnancy, so afterwards I really wanted non-hormonal bc to normalise things. Love love love that I don’t have to remember to take anything or buy anything. And I’ve found divacup made my cramps a lot better than when I was using tampons.

  8. Vera says:

    Hello there! Long time reader, first time poster. This one touches home, well… literally… because I’m an Argentinian living in the US, and married to a US citizen so I know 100% were Rodrigo is coming from and his fears.

    * “Cash is king”: in addition to inflation (which is a big problem, imagine a 50% price increase a year and your salary maybe just adjusting 20-30% if you are lucky, and always behind in time, the the biggest problem is trust in the institutions, not just banks. Banks didn’t return the deposits that people had in their accounts, they basically gave them a different currency and in less amount, losing in the exchange.

    While that scenario is highly unlikely to occur in US, I get his fear. The recommendation in this case is diversification and low risk. Instead of having the cash sitting in a savings account (or in plain cash), investing in the total stock market or total bond market could be a wise decision. Go with bond if you are extremely fearful. Bonds will give you low return but less risk and volatility. A combination of both is what our family did.

    * Green Card: I’m in the last stretch of the process, as I’ve already applied for US citizenship. Please don’t minimize this – both in time, costs and consequences. Each “stage” costs 2000 on average, more if you hire an attorney to help you manage the case. Once you get your work permit (i-765), you’re still in in limbo until you get your green card. This can take 1-2 years at a minimum with the current wait times. The work permit will allow you to work, at least that’s a pro. While you have a green card or citizenship process open, you should NOT go out of the country. And if you do, minimize the time outside. It could seriously affect your status if you are in this temporary limbo category. 2 years after the 1st green card through marriage is granted, you have to renew it. Another $1000 and 1-2 years. Again limbo. And 3 years after that date, you can apply for citizenship. If you are going to travel outside the US for more than 6 months in any of that timeframe, you can have your request denied, even smaller trips can affect the status. PLEASE ask your lawyer.

    * Moving to Argentina: Most of my family still live in Argentina, and while they have a middle class comfortable style (in comparison with the average there), it’s still very brutal, with inflation, uncertainty, economic and political crisis ever couple years. This was the main reason I’ve moved out. While family, culture and roots are important, the constant fear/anxiety/unexpected mode is extremely draining. If you are considering moving there, my best recommendation would be to try to have income not necessarily tied to the local economy, and possible, the assets OUTSIDE the country. Think a US account and you doing widthraws locally.

    Buying a local business there could be tricky. Maybe making your own business, on the service industry, with low cost down would be the better option. Properties are a no-no, mainly because the law/judicial system is different and if you have a problem with your tenant, it may be extremely hard to evict. There are harder protections for landlords, the system is complicated. If you do want to buy a property there, maybe renting it as an AirBnB could make sense.

    * Planning for the future: now vs. then. You’re both still young and the future is full of options and scenarios. My only two cents here is to really see all of them and think values and priorities. What is really important. Most options are not 100% definitive, you can change your mind and start over and do something different but depending on the path, it may be costly and harder. Considering your current finances, I’d recommend you sit and talk, try to maximize the income as much as possible – usually the i765/work permit only takes 3-6 months to be sent over – and minimize expenses (you’re doing very good on that area anyway!). With your current careers, a 401k (usually employer matched) may not be the most obvious, but an IRA or just some plain investing in index funds could be your easier path.

    Anyway, good luck! Reach out if you have any questions or if there’s anything I can do to help.

    • Caroline says:

      Wow, what an insightful response! I relate to so much of it. Thank you for sharing. I would love to hear more of your story…maybe just chat. There are some major cultural differences between Argentinos y estado unidenses, and while a lot of the time it is wonderful sometimes I want someone to share experiences with. If you ever want to chat further, my email is qmasur12@gmail.com. Gracias por tu respuesta!

  9. Katie says:

    They may want to explore tubal ligation vs vasectomy. When we were exploring permanent birth control, my health insurance covered my tubal in full but would only cover my husband’s vasectomy partially. On a side note, I’m really impressed with this couple and their ability to live frugally and debt free!

  10. Beck says:

    I can’t recommend IUDs highly enough! Insurance in the US is required to cover them for free, and they last for 3-12 years depending on the type — so you could get one now and then not need to worry about refilling prescriptions while traveling/living abroad/etc.

  11. Leigh S. says:

    Re: birth control: Look into the symptothermal method/fertility tracking. There’s a learning curve, but it’s as effective as other types of birth control, but with no medical side effects. I use it for religious reasons, but you could always use condoms during fertile or questionably fertile times of your cycle. I’ve used it for 15 years and maybe spent $25 on thermometers & batteries. Great for my wallet, the environment, my health and my marriage!

  12. FrugalCat says:

    I see this is turning into a thread about contraception. A topic near and dear to my childfree heart. First off, condoms are not expensive. You only pay for what you use. Is there anything less frugal than taking a pill every day (paying for a 28 pill pack) when you aren’t having intercourse every day? (Side note, hopefully you are having lots of great sex, as it is a very frugal leisure activity). Buy condoms at the supermarket, or Target, or Wal-Mart. They will be half the price of drugstores. I never trusted the free condoms clinics or nightclubs gave out. My college health center sold a box of 12 for $1 or $2 back in the 90’s. I also scored a huge deal on eBay for some Canadian condoms back in the day. If you are positive you don’t want kids, look into the Essure procedure. It’s basically a non surgical procedure for your Fallopian tubes. It should be covered by insurance. CAUTION: many women have had issues with this procedure to the point that it may be taken off the market. Make sure you are not allergic to the materials used for the devices before they are placed in your body (ask your doctor to tape them to the skin on your inner arm with surgical tape and wear them for 2 days). I had the procedure back in 2003 and could not be happier with it. Never had any problems since.

  13. Jen says:

    I never kept any cash in my house save for what was in my wallet until I attended an emergency prep meeting at my office. The man in charge of emergency prep for the office was in NYC for 9/11 and pointed out that some areas lost power for a while & if something happened how many would be able to buy groceries or anything without using their credit/debit card. He recommended keeping 1 month worth of expenses in cash in your house (not utilities or mortgage but gas & food). I put some cash aside in my house & thought nothing of it until a major surprise storm came through the following year knocking out power to many including gas stations when I was desperately low on gas. I found a gas station with pumps that worked but they didn’t have the ability to process cards. I was the only person able to purchase gas. Made me a believer.

    • Caroline says:

      Super interesting point here Jen! Thanks for sharing.

    • Paula says:

      Yes, we always keep a few hundred in cash on us and the gas tanks close to full, because you just never know. If you should need to evacuate for any reason, if the power is down, only those gas stations with generators will be able to sell gas.

    • Leigh says:

      This is a great point. Maybe there’s a need for a future reader suggestions piece on frugal emergency preparedness/household safety?

    • Ness says:

      I just read this and made a note of your cash idea and then the water stopped in my home and garden in Australia one hour later!! Now we have no water at all, and someone else commented about having spare food and water. So, credit to you. I had already made a note of your cash idea! xx

      • Paula says:

        I realize they would want to limit how much they store in someone elses house, but in general, I’ve always bought everything when on sale and kept a big pantry full of food and supplies, and a small amount of water, too. Not because I”m a crazy survivalist prepper, because I’m not. But because buying each thing when it is cheapest and avoiding paying full price gives you a supply that is invaluable in case of lost work, illness, transportation problems, unexpected company, etc. And if you have plenty, you have something to share if you hear of someone in need without having to spend money.

  14. Linda says:

    Caroline and Rodrigo need to look very carefully into spending large periods of time overseas once he has his green card. He could easily lose it if he cannot prove the USA is his residence, so I would advise getting US citizenship as soon as he qualifies which is currently 3 years of continuous US residence from the date of their marriage.

    • Anne says:

      It is 3 years of marriage and within that time you need to have been physically inside the US for more than half of the days.

    • Caroline says:

      Thanks for the input. Right now, citizenship isn’t something we necessarily want to explore…but it is a possibility! The biggest goal right now is the Green Card! Once we get that, a big weight will be off of our shoulders.

      • mumbles says:

        Can I ask why you don’t want to explore citizenship? A green card isn’t terribly permanent these days, and residence is VERY easy to lose if the holder spends any time at all outside the US.

      • Anonymous says:

        I want to reiterate this point. Someone with a Green card cannot stay longer than a 6-9 months stretch outside the country. There are special permits one can apply and get for a two year stretch of absence. This can be done twice (total of 4 years with two applications). Nothing more. Please check this out before Rodrigo decide to leave the country for longer stretches after obtaining the Green card. It might be very hard to get a Green card for a second time if it is lost due to lack of residence. Personally, this was my reason for getting (dual) citizenship. So I can stay long time wherever I want and be able to return to either country. Dual citizenship in Rodrigo’s case will depend on Argentinian law about it. But most countries allow dual when the reason is due to marriage. Check this out.
        I agree Green card is what is crucial now. But take care not to loose it when he gets it.

  15. Baylee says:

    Liz, how brave you are to post such a politically charged case study this month. Of course without a green card Rodrigo cannot work, and it appears he is following US law. Rodrigo sounds like the type immigrant the US would welcome. He seems willing to integrate into our society, and live and work according to US immigration law. Financially, my thought is to kill the travel budget. No one needs to travel or pay for outdoor activities, and it is so expensive. Caroline could find a better paying job with benefits. I’m not sure where she is getting 6 months of car insurance for $30, but good for her. Then it is the usual stop eating out, cut your own hair, etc., etc. Liz, your earlier posts from say 2014-2016 should benefit them greatly on how to live frugally. Again, with the current immigration climate what it is, I would definitely live as frugally as possible. You don’t know what the future holds for Rodrigo in the US, and Caroline may need to hire an attorney to preserve Rodrigo’s residential status. You just don’t know. All the best to them both.

    • Anne says:

      This. Adjustment of status is much harder to get than it used to be. It will likely take longer than you think and could involve needing to hire a lawyer or temporarily relocate overseas. Definitely consider cutting back on some of the unnecessary expenses (eating out, snowboarding, travel, courses) while you are in limbo.

      • Caroline says:

        Baylee and Anne–thanks for your thoughts. It is definitely a stressful moment not only for us, but for MANY people in the US. I am glad you can recognize that Rodrigo is a good man who would be a benefit to have in the US. We can only hope USCIS agrees with us!

  16. Cindy in the South says:

    Our health department gives free birth control pills to women who are patients there. Anyone can apply to be a patient. I do not know if it is the same for your state or not, but I would think so. I think you are doing a great job with your expenses.

    • Allison says:

      A lot of health departments also give out free condoms, if you decide you want to continue using them as your method of birth control.

  17. Andrew LaFountain says:

    A way they could cut their snow boarding expense is to get a part time job at the resort. That should get them free lift passes and help improve the income side of the equation.

    • Caroline says:

      Hey, great idea! I spent two winters working at a ski resort in Colorado and if he gets his permission to work by this winter, there is a very strong possibility we will pursue this idea!

  18. Elise says:

    Wow- I am very impressed by how frugally Caroline and Rodrigo live!

    Regarding Caroline’s first question, I think they key is baby steps. She and Rodrigo shouldn’t invest everything they have immediately into the stock market right now, because there is a good chance it could take a downturn. This would only further decrease his trust. Instead, I would suggest starting with an FDIC insured certificate of deposit (CD). The rates are relatively good right now, higher than inflation at least, and there is no question about getting the money back. Rates are currently around 2.7% for a one year CD. It can be a one year experiment. So once he gets the money back, and sees the money grow with interest, he will probably become less wary of other types of investments. Experience is the best teacher in these situations.

    As far as earning more income, why not give Spanish lessons? That kind of tutoring is a great source of extra income. My fiance started out doing English tutoring years ago, and has become a millionaire because of years of tutoring in addition to his regular job. You can set your own hours and do it anywhere.

    I’ll be curious to know how everything works out for Caroline and Rodrigo. Wishing you both the best!

    Elise

    • Caroline says:

      You’re right about the baby steps! I think the idea of the CD is a great one. I will start doing a bit of research and see how to get started on that. Any recommendations on any particular financial institutions to start with for a CD? The Spanish lessons are a fabulous idea as well! I will suggest it to Rodrigo!

      • Brittany says:

        Online banks like Ally generally have the best rates. One thing to consider- you can find FDIC insured high yield savings accounts at online banks that have rates close to CDs without the restrictions. I keep my emergency fund in a CIT Bank account that earns 2.45% APY. It’s nominally less than CD rates, but worth the tradeoff to me to have the option of accessing it at any time without penalty.

      • Elise says:

        Glad you’re trying the Spanish lessons! For CDs we use Synchrony, an on-line bank that is very easy to use and offers 2.8% for a one-year CD. However, there are also plenty of other options at similar rates. If you want to use a “Brand Name” that Rodrigo is more familiar with just for comfort level, I believe Goldman Sachs currently has a CD that pays about 2.7% for one year.

  19. MEM says:

    I agree they should look into SNAP benefits – that’s what they are for – to supplement what is currently a barely above poverty level income. I’m old enough to be their mother and I would hate the idea of them Dumpster Diving – rat poison and all kinds of dangerous things are in there. Please consider taking advantage of these “transitional assistance benefits” until Rodrigo gets his Green Card and/or you can increase your income.

  20. Amanda says:

    First, these photos are gorgeous! Maybe working for a company like backroads could help them boost their income while also providing housing, meals and utilize their skills and experience. Not to mention allow them to travel. As tour guides they could indulge in snowboarding, mountain biking etc. Being bilingual would be a huge help. Backroads and similar companies have tours all over the world so I don’t think you necessarily need US citizenship. *dream job*

    • Caroline says:

      Thank you! We live in a gorgeous place! That is a great idea! Gosh, I just want him to get his permission to work so we can pursue jobs like that together!

  21. Abby says:

    A natural, more effective than birth control, free route is natural family planning. There are many techniques that can be used, with some of the top being sympto-thermal, Creighton, and Marquette. It is a beautiful way for the couple to grow in virtue and mutual respect toward each other!

    https://familydoctor.org/natural-family-planning/

  22. Heidi S says:

    First of all, I’m super impressed they have that much saved on your small income.

    For Birth Control, I’m suprised noone has mentioned Nuvaring. My insurance fully covers it (I think many do) and it’s once a month contraceptive you insert rather than remembering a daily pill.

    For gluten free budget recipes- check out Gluten Free on a Shoestring! It has some of my favorite recipes!! I’ve been making the banana oatmeal “cookies” for breakfast and they’re so good.

  23. Catherine says:

    I got birth control through an app during a weird in-between doctors/insurance time in my life! It only has birth control pills and the ring, but if you can’t get to a doctor, it is a great solution. (It also has PrEP for people who use that.)

    There are several apps out there, but I used Nurx. I answered questions and they prescribed and had it sent to my house. It was very inexpensive. Some insurances will even cover it, but if you don’t have insurance or have shoddy insurance, it can be amazing. I paid 15 bucks per pack and they mailed it to my house. I honestly do not know what I would have done if I had not had access to that app during that chaotic time!

    Note: they can only do this in a few states, so you’ll have to make sure you are in one of those states.

  24. gary fischer says:

    waaay to go on the IRA – keep that up. The car-related expenses are doubtful and I don’t see any allocation for maintenance. I’d love to know more about paying $15/month for health insurance – seems too good to be true or provide anything useful. Day-to-day cash & emergency funds are best stored in low-interest FDIC-insured bank accounts. Agree that you need some cash in your living quarters in case of storms, electrical outages, etc. You also need water and non-perishable food for the same reasons. Once they leave the house-sitting arrangements, their costs will increase b/c they’ll likely have to pay for utilities. Hope they’ve enjoyed their freedom and mobility so far – it could end soon if/when they make changes to their living situation.

    • Caroline says:

      Hey Gary! Thanks! I’m super happy to be contributing to the IRA. It is doubtful that the van will last much longer, but for now with me driving only once or twice a week, it is low cost. My gas has gone down drastically since the weather warmed up and I can now bike to work every day. The health insurance is also one of the blessings of my super low income–it really is that cheap! We are definitely enjoying our freedom and mobility, and trying to take advantage of it while we are blessed with it.

  25. Leslie says:

    I’m sure there will be objections to this suggestion, but I think Rodrigo should give occasional Spanish lessons or hire out for cash, doing painting gigs or whatever he can. The U.S. needs outsider workers constantly. Is he allowed to get a temporary work visa while applying for green card? The restaurant my daughter works at is almost entirely staffed by “interns” from the Philippines .

    • Christine says:

      This is extremely dangerous advice. He has a path to legal immigration. If the US government EVER found out that he worked “under the table” they can not only deport him, but ban him from ever being accepted to being a permanent resident. It’s called material misrepresentation and is there for life. So even if he becomes a US citizen and it was proven in 10 years that he lied on his immigration forms about working in the US, they could strip him of his citizenship. This can and does happen.

      I know that you probably just don’t know any better, but please don’t offer immigration advice that you don’t know the full outcomes- it can seriously hurt someone’s future.

  26. Christine says:

    Tell Rodrigo welcome to the US! I went through the immigration process with my husband from K-1 fiance visa to citizenship. First thing’s first- you do NOT need a lawyer, unless he or you have a complicated background like criminal history. There are guides that tell you step-by-step how to fill out the forms and a forum where you can ask questions on visajourney.com . I did not pay a single dime to a lawyer, who to be honest, just has a paralegal fill out the forms and then charges you lots of money to do what you can do yourself. Hopefully you applied for an EAD (work authorization) at the same time you applied for AOS- it’s free and you usually get the EAD within a few months- per visajourney, they are processing EAD apps from December, so about a 4 month wait.

    How are you meeting the minimum income requirements? It says your take home salary is $17k, but what is your before tax income? Minimum threshold is about $21k, unless you have co-sponsor through someone like your parents.

    If Rodrigo’s goal is to get US citizenship, be VERY careful about how much time he spends out of the country during the 3 years he is a permanent resident, as if you spend too much time outside, at best his clock for eligibility would be reset, at worst, the green card could be taken away and you would have to re-start the process. It’s best not to spend too much time outside the US until he gets citizenship, if that is his goal.

    Keep in mind also that if you live overseas, you are still required to file US income taxes for the rest of your life. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll pay anything because the US has a tax treaty with most countries so that there isn’t double tax. But if Rodrigo becomes a citizen, he will have to file for the rest of his life, just like you are required to file for the rest of your life, unless you give up your citizenship. Generally it’s NBD for most people, but a consideration for people who make millions of dollars, which probably wouldn’t happen here.

    I don’t see that anyone discussed the whole life thing that your dad is doing for you. It’s a gigantic waste of money. See if your dad will get you term life insurance instead. I mean…it’s his money, but he is spending so much for so little benefit. It’s a relic leftover from decades ago that is basically now scamming people out of tons of money. Here’s a link to Dave Ramsey explaining it in layman’s terms: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4lnaZJKGvU

    • Caroline says:

      Hello Christine. You caught a lot of things in your response! So, I don’t meet the minimum income. My mother does though so she is is sponsor. We realize that we can’t be outside of the US for more than 6 months once he gets the green card, and honestly probably would keep it closer to 4 or 5 IF we decide to travel. Thank you for reminding us of that though, it’s a very real thing! Also, THANK YOU for your thoughts on the whole life insurance. I keep asking him to switch it to something else but he is set on it. I will show him that video and ask if he can funnel that money into my IRA for example, if he wants to continue gifting that money. It doesn’t make sense to me and I would love to see it go into something that is more appropriate for me.

      • Lyna says:

        I second Christine’s recommendation to watch the Dave Ramsey video. Dave also could help her explain to Rodrigo why investing beyond an easy-to-access emergency fund is important to your long-term financial health. Explore at daveramsey.com.

      • Christine says:

        to add onto the life insurance- remind your dad about the purpose of life insurance. It’s for helping dependents left behind and the cost of burial. You may not even need life insurance, if you decide never to have kids. As long as Rodrigo is able to work, your unexpected death wouldn’t leave him in the dust (well, it would emotionally of course, but not financially).

        Depending on if you have chronic health conditions, per Dr. Google, you can get 20 year term life insurance for $100k for only $10 per month. That would give Rodrigo some $$ to bury you and spend a couple of years adjusting without having to work.

        Once you become more financially stable and have more investments, you could make the argument not to have life insurance at all, based on the above….you would be considered “self-insured” at that point.

  27. Casey says:

    I’d like to chime in about the Pilates training. Before I had kids, I was really into Pilates and found it (along with Crossfit) to be some of the most expensive exercise you can do. I mean, I LOVE it, but the cost-benefit on becoming a certified instructor didn’t pan out financially, in my opinion.

    To make any significant money teaching Pilates, you need to become comprehensively certified. Just getting certified to teach Mat won’t bring in the money. Getting comprehensively certified is EXPENSIVE. There’s the training fees, the textbooks, and then there’s the studio time. Many studios give you a discounted rate if you are part of their training program, but I didn’t find any programs that let you just drop by and practice for free. Getting comprehensively trained is much like getting an Associate’s Degree, and can cost as much or more. Mrs. Frugalwoods recommended pursing a location-independent career, and I don’t think Pilates instruction fits that bill. You would need to be an employee at a studio or own your own equipment. I bought a used Reformer for my home for $1000 five years ago, and at the time that was a screaming deal. I had to do a bit of reconditioning and buy a new set of springs for it – it was a fixer-upper. And then if you own a giant reformer… you can’t really be moving around much. If you wanted to be an itinerant instructor, you’d have to take time to build your brand. Most instructors I know that teach Pilates full time earn a solid middle class salary. Not upper middle class. It’s physical work and most don’t have the energy to teach a full 40 hours a week. Just some thoughts to chew on. Pilates has changed my life for the better, so I completely understand wanting to know more about it and put more energy into it. I got a mat certification through Power Pilates but when I looked at comprehensive certification, it made much less sense than continuing in my job as an engineer. It’s entirely possible your calculation is different, but I just thought I would share my experience with it.

    • Mia J says:

      Ditto Ditto Ditto except for me it is Yoga! This can be a side gig to provide supplemental cash and maybe a free membership somewhere but I would choose the financially sound decision to choose one of your skill sets and provide a stable income for you and your family. You are doing great saving. Let me encourage you to continue to save for the future. I prefer ROTH IRA’s and this allows you the option of saving for retirement and if you need it, you could get to it but only the contribution not the earnings. Some other points to consider! Blessings and Namaste!

  28. Cara says:

    If Caroline has health issues of any sort, I’d think the last thing she’d need is artificial hormones. What about a diaphragm or cervical cap? I used my diaphragm actively for 20 years, with success.

    I didn’t have the patience to do the fertility awareness, but I know others who did and were enthusiastic.

  29. Jen says:

    I don’t know that I have much to offer that hasn’t already been said, but wanted to touch on a couple of things.

    First, on the birth control, I second the Nuvoring suggestion. I thought with the ACA birth control was free through all insurance, but I may very well be wrong. My Nuvoring is covered for free through my workplace insurance. On the tubal ligation front, because of your age, if you decide to discuss any type of sterilization procedure with your doctor, be prepared for the very real possibility that you may get shamed or even refused. I don’t have personal experience, but have heard from people that do that this is a frequent occurrence for women only, who are told they may “change their mind” down the road. Not trying to sway you either way, just wanted you to be aware that could be a possibility.

    To answer you question about starting with CDs, Ally bank always has a very competitive rate on their no-penalty 11 month CD. Those may be an even easier sell to Rodrigo since you can withdraw your money at any time with no penalty. The trade off is a slightly lower rate than if you invested in a CD with an early withdrawal penalty or a longer timeframe, but since you are looking for ways to help Rodrigo get more comfortable this could do the trick. I keep the money I have saved for a house down payment in those CDs because right now I’m just waiting for the right house to come along and have no idea whether that will be in 2 months or 2 years.

    Lastly, I just want to wholeheartedly reiterate what Ms. Frugalwoods said about the excellent job you are doing. To have no debt at your age, have an emergency savings, be so aware of financial issues, and being doing things like a work exchange for Crossfit and getting your company to start a gym program, you deserve a huge kudos!

    Oh, one other cell phone option to consider – if you don’t use a lot of data, Google Fi can be quite inexpensive. Their phone service also just works when you travel internationally (no paying for SIM cards or travel plans, you literally step off of the plan and it works). You will pay for calls when you’re international, but there are no extra fees for data you use. I had been using a Verizon prepaid plan and was reluctant to switch to another service because of the excellent coverage, but their $10/day travel plan is outrageous so I switched before my trip to Slovenia this fall and was thrilled with how it worked when I traveled. You pay a flat $20/month for unlimited calls and text and then just pay for actual data costs at $10/Gb. But you don’t pay in whole numbers if that makes sense, so if you use 0.4 Gb, your bill that month will be $24. Charges for data are also capped at 6 Gb, meaning that if you use more than 6 Gb you won’t be charged more, your bill will be capped at $80/month so it may also be a good option for folks who use a ton of data. You are limited in phone choices, but I was able to get a new Moto X4 for $250 when I signed up. Swappa is also a good option for buying used phones at a more reasonable price. I had a good experience with my prior phone purchase there.

  30. Diane says:

    Hi Caroline, I was impressed by all you’re doing with your income. You are both talented and creative people. My one comment is not to let your finances determine your birth control – you have to find one that’s a good fit your you. Even if you can get birth control pills for free, for example, you should not use them if they cause mental or physical health issues. Keep looking until you find the right combination of cost and good for your health. Best wishes to you both.

    • Caroline says:

      Hi Diane, this is a great point you make! I have been on the pill before and did NOT like how it made me feel. IUD might be our best bet but it still makes me kind of nervous. Thank you for your kind wishes!

  31. Ashley says:

    I would look at cutting some of those costs, if it can be done without drastically reducing quality of life. We are a 2 adult household. We spend roughly $400 on groceries each month. Our groceries include mostly whole foods but we still splurge on junk food or fancy items here and there. Basically, I buy what I want. I feel like we could reduce our grocery spending if we really wanted – but I don’t keep myself on a tight leash there. I would also recommend cutting down the eating out expense. Once again, we aren’t keeping ourselves on a tight leash with eating out, but we don’t even spend $150 per month on that category. Another item is her husband’s cell phone. If service is good with another option like Mint, Ting, Metro, etc., they should definitely look into that. I switched from Verizon last year at $100 per month (Yikes!) to Mint at $25 per month. When I renew with Mint, I’ll go with an even cheaper plan. Obviously these are all suggestions and they can do whatever they please, but my first thoughts would be to rope in the spending on the categories I’ve mentioned here.

    • Caroline says:

      Ashley–thanks for your input. I think we really do need to switch up our phones, its just something we’ve put off for a long time. This is a good motivator for finally doing it!

  32. I agree that their spending is pretty frugal, so she shouldn’t beat herself up so much about it. Unfortunately, I doubt they can trim much on the groceries since she has special dietary restrictions. But yeah, meals out could be nixed if they’re not a source of major enjoyment.

    I’m personally on oral contraception, and one of the ones I tried had a $0 copay, so that’s definitely one to look into. But much less hassle is certainly an IUD. My friend looooooves hers, and it’s not even one with hormones. (If you’re concerned about adding hormones to your body, then there are non-hormonal IUDs out there. Downside: No effect on periods the way you can get with Mirena and other hormone IUDs.)

    • Stacey says:

      My OB told me that the hormones in Mirena and other hormonal IUDs only stay in the uterus and don’t affect you systemically the way the pill/patch/ring do. I wouldn’t say the copper IUD has “no effect on periods” – if it has an effect, it makes them worse.

  33. Rachel says:

    I wanted to add that my husband and I are also going through the green card process right now- he’s from Spain. I know that Mrs. Frugalwoods commented that you have a high emergency fund, but I think you need to keep that for now until the residence situation becomes more clear. I know for us, we have spent almost $3000 (total, application fee, travel for biometrics, doctors visits, etc). If anything were to happen to with the application, you may well need several thousand to reapply, or to travel to an interview location, or file another supplemental. I also didn’t see a line item for “paperwork” in your monthly budget, so keep that in mind as you navigate these tricky waters!

    As far as BC, I had paragard (the copper iud) it was free, non-hormonal, and I had no problems with insertion. I did have heavier periods, so I used more sanitary items than previously, but I still saved a ton on codoms! I also started using a cup with after awhile, and that cut down on costs significantly. I had it removed in November because my husband and I were ready to start expanding our family, and we got pregnant in March! So all around, I’m a big fan.

    I also want to commend you on living so well, and so fully, on such a small salary. Right now we also are living on a single salary (ironically enough my husband is working with a J-1 visa, while I’m unemployed), and his salary is roughly double what you make, and we are not doing nearly so well. So pat yourself on the back, and good luck with increasing your income and the green card process and all of your life plans!!

    • Caroline says:

      Hi Rachel! How far along are you with the green card process? We submitted two months ago and it feels like it has been forever! I agree with you, that “paperwork” should be a part of our budget, especially because travel does add up.

      Congratulations on getting pregnant, thats awesome! Thanks for the compliment, sometimes it really helps to get a different perspective. Cheers and best luck to you both!

  34. Paula says:

    I’ve replied elsewhere to some specific issues, but have a few other thoughts. First, you have made a huge step in the right direction by not allowing yourselves to go into debt, especially what one financial advisor calls “stupid debt”–credit card balances from month to month over unnecessary stuff. You actually admit to part of your problem early in your story, having spent so much on travel. This comes down to what is more important to you, living in the moment and having experiences, or financial security. Trust me, having experiences will only take you so far. We are 66 and 70. My husband has had Parkinson’s Disease for twelve years. Our home was paid for free and clear before he had to quit work. We’ve never traveled much. Our home is modest. He gave up working in an artistic field he loved to work 34 years in a factory that paid high wages and good benefits, including pension, 401k match, and wonderful health insurance, which he ended up needing for serious illnesses. We live in a pretty rural state, near lots of green space, where the cost of living is relatively low. Nothing that we could have done for recreation would have helped when we got to this age the way having a paid for home, some savings and investments, and no debt has. The very idea of being retired and still having to make a mortgage or pay rent frightens me to death. And I’ve seen people with sweet situations where housing was included with their job grow complacent and not buy a home until retirement, then have to pay a lot more to buy one, when they could have been building equity for many years while paying a lot less. Maybe you could check out a library book for your husband that explains compound interest over time, the pension guaranty program, FDIC, etc. I second the recommendation of Vanguard. We’ve used them for decades and they have almost no fees, and funds available with low risk. When peoples’ 401k’s were losing a lot of money during the recession of 2008, we lost almost nothing.
    I’ve rambled, but being debt free and already trying to save, you’re ahead of many your age. Good luck to you.

    • Caroline says:

      Hi Paula, thank you for your insight. That is the hard part right, of making financial decisions…not being able to see the future! I hope and pray we make wise decisions in order to live a happy, healthy, and grateful life. I’m going to start doing research on Vanguard right now! Thanks for your final compliment and good wishes as well…it means a lot! Have a great day and thanks again for your helpful and kind words.

  35. Margann34 says:

    Another vote for fertility based awareness. It is free, effective and empowering with no physical side effects. I think every woman should at least understand how their natural cycle works and what our bodies can tells us about our fertility. It is valuable knowledge even if you decide it is not the method for you! I have successfully used the sympto-thermal method for 16 years.

  36. Tara R says:

    I get it- I worked the seasonal lifestyle for 12 years and enjoyed it thoroughly through my 20s. Having shoulder seasons, and time in between to travel was the best!

    BC- Justisse Method
    Another vote for fertility awareness! So empowering to learn how your own body works, and to get in better tune with it. It cuts down on condom use and I love that I’m not altering my body in any way.

    Online bank- CIT Bank for Savings Builder saving account

    Low cost index funds- Vanguard
    As Mrs. Frugalwoods mentioned, we invest in low cost, total market index funds. We can’t say enough great things about the service at Vanguard.

    I love your wedding photos- your photographer captured you both beautifully! Whatever you decide, I know you’ll make a difference in the lives of each other and those through your work.

  37. MamaMinou says:

    Thank you for a great case study!
    My spousal situation is similar in that my husband is also very, very suspicious, frightened and downright morally opposed to investing in “the market “. In order to preserve harmony, we have reached the conclusion that we have different approaches to a shared future. So, I save as much as possible in low cost index funds, and he pays down the mortgage. Or would be OK with contributions to a cash cushion, or CD ladder. If you want to open a B & B, building up a down payment could be helpful. We went through a lot of stress before I realized that our two approaches could be complementary….
    And, when he realized that I saved us 2k in taxes by maxing out his IRA last year on his behalf, he agreed to put the 2k into this year’s IRA! 🙂

  38. The pictures you’ve got are downright gorgeous and makes me think that a photography side hustle is well possible if the pictures were taken by either of you?
    In terms of lowering groceries bill, have you tried batch cooking or scheduling days where you eat simpler meals (yummy bean curry with rice and so on) and then days where you cook more adventurously?

  39. Jubilantjill says:

    Great job, Caroline, on living well on such a low income. I had a very similar work history throughout my 20s, and a huge love for travel and adventure. I probably had 20 jobs during that decade always saving up for a few months then galavanting off for rock climbing till the money ran out. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything.
    I want to suggest you go back to school for a more lucrative degree while you’re a bit more bound to the US while waiting on your husband’s green card/possible citizenship. Specifically, I suggest you look into nursing. My boyfriend, now husband, suggested we do this in our late 20s and my initial response was “no way!” But now, I consider it to be the smartest thing I’ve ever done to allow me to live an adventurous, financially stress-free lifestyle. Becoming an RN is a 2 year associates degree. Almost every town has a hospital and needs RNs. The absolute minimum you’d make in CA (yay unions!) is $30/hr, but likely you’d start closer to $40/hr and easily work your way up to $60-80 if you work in a city. Other states vary in what they pay, but I don’t think you’d ever be under $20/hr even in somewhere like rural Mississippi!
    MOST hospital RNs work 12 hour shifts so a full workweek is 3 days. Stack those and you have two 8 day mini-vacations per month. After a couple years of experience you can take travel assignments which are typically 13 weeks. Or pursue more non-traditional work schedules. My husband and I currently work summers in California and spend the rest of the year in Spain. There are also opportunities to work from home with tele-medicine, but I don’t want to work full-time.

    Most of the RNs I know are skiers or climbers. They chose nursing, like me, because of the lifestyle it provides, but something I didn’t consider beforehand if how truly satisfying the work can be. It’s amazing to be able to help people on a day to day basis instead of just making money for a soulless corporation. Base on your current social work job it sounds like this might be important to you too. And being Spanish bilingual is a huge advantage and often commands a higher wage.
    Being an RN has tremendous job flexibility and lots of opportunities for further education like becoming a nurse anesthetist or nurse practitioner if you ever want to change things up. If you don’t have a college degree you’ll qualify for Pell grants which can fully cover tuition at most community colleges. It’s a 2 year commitment, but as close to a sure thing finance-wise as you’ll find in higher education. Let me know if you want more info.
    Best of luck!

    • Katie says:

      Hi-

      I’d love some more info! I’ve been working full-time for the past 4 years and 9-5 grind is making me miserable. I’d love to have more flexibility but I don’t want to compromise on pay. Would you mind emailing me? I’d love to learn more about your experience.

      My email is mcckath@gmail.com

    • Caroline says:

      Dang! This is a FABULOUS idea. Seriously! Oh my gosh…my brain is kind of exploding right now…Gotta go start doing research RIGHT NOW!

    • Caroline says:

      Hi Jill! This idea has got me so excited. Would you be willing to talk more with me? My email is qmasur12@gmail.com . I would love to pick your brain a bit!

    • frenchmama says:

      Just replying to say that this is a fantastic idea! I have several friends who also have similar nursing jobs/lifestyle (EU-based, though, not US). It’s a job that will always open doors for you.

      If hospitals aren’t your jam, a couple of people I know are part of a “home health” nurse network (paid for by our national insurance), travelling around their cities, usually by bike, to provide health care. This can easily be adjusted to full-time/part-time/”pool” (aka, filling in when others are sick or unavailable). It’s not easy work, but you do get the aspect of building up carer relationships long-term rather than the quick turnover in a hospital, which they both prefer. (They also like to joke that they’re Jenny Lee and Trixie from “Call the Midwife”–hard work, but very rewarding 😉 )

      Being bi- or tri-lingual is a huge asset, as Jill mentioned, and will easily allow you to negotiate for a higher starting salary and/or signing bonus. A bilingual nurse friend of mine in the US got a huge, five-digit signing bonus from her hospital. They were that desperate for qualified bilingual nurses!

    • Anne says:

      I worked at a Nursing school for years(though I am not a nurse) and I literally tell EVERYONE I know to consider nursing. There are literally countless options and different education entry levels to the occupation however I would strongly recommend a bachelors degree as many large employers are moving toward that being a minimum entry to practice. Either way there options include: travel nursing, bedside nursing, school nursing, nursing research, teaching, political advocacy, the list goes on! I specifically worked with nurse researchers and the work that they do is amazing. PhD Nursing programs are typically fully funded(no tuition + a stipend) and because there is a HUGE nursing shortage in the US there is an almost guaranteed position as a faculty member.

    • Ann Thierauf says:

      As an RN I fully agree. I am very glad I became a nurse though I did not go into it for the money. There are so many areas of nursing to choose from and your language skills would be a big plus.
      Develop skills in a specialty area after you graduate and join a travel nurse agency. That would allow you to accept 3 month assignments all over the country, free accommodation is part of the deal and the salary is excellent. Good luck

  40. Caroline Bowman says:

    Very interesting case study, they are an amazing couple! Just to say I fondly imagined condoms were a valid means of birth control and I now have a 3rd child. Of course condoms ARE valid as birth and disease-prevention tools, but my gynae laughingly told me that over the long term, as in, with 1 partner in say a marriage or longer relationship, they have a quite dramatic failure rate. People get sloppy basically, is his unscientific take on the matter. I swore and still swear left, right and centre that we weren’t and there were no obvious breaks or slips and yet, here is my 3rd son.

    Get an IUD or get him to have the snip. Really. If you don’t want children in the foreseeable future, then do something more… umbrella-like to prevent pregnancy. Truly. Condoms are fantastic in new relationships or in-between times at various stages, or as a back-up measure. For long term, not so much! Who knew?

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      “Just to say I fondly imagined condoms were a valid means of birth control and I now have a 3rd child.” Oh wow! And yep. I must say, I know QUITE a few couples who have, shall we say, more children than they intended based on using condoms or breast feeding or other methods for birth control… not to be a fear monger, but I’m with Caroline on having (more) ironclad birth control unless you’re ok with an ooooops.

      • Margann34 says:

        I know at least 2 who got pregnant while on the pill and one who got pregnant after getting an IUD. Every method has a failure rate.

    • Martha Crone says:

      This. Please. I am (was, now post-menopause) ridiculously fertile, and my second child was conceived while we were using 2 barrier methods (condom + “sponge” in 1993, since pulled from market for failure rates) while full-time breastfeeding. I hadn’t even had a period yet.; it must have been my first post-pregnancy ovulation. Yep. The girls, now adults, are 15 months apart. We were a stable loving family & wanted to keep the pregnancy despite the shock, but it had some pretty serious career consequences for me. Psychologically, it took me a while to get over the shock of the pregnancy.

      My 26 year-old daughter (my little oopsie!) now has a hormonal IUD! In case she inherited the crazy family fertility. We jokingly say my husband’s sperm must be highly evolved and resistant to spermicide.

      By the way, I tried the sympto-thermal stuff for awhile but it was hard enough finding time to have sex with two babies in the house, much less saying “no” during the time I feel most horny (ovulation). It was a big NO method for us.

  41. RosalieFE says:

    Just wanted to chime in with the chorus of people saying you’re doing a great job. Also, offer solidarity on having a spouse from a country where financial institutions and currency itself aren’t very reliable. My wife spent her childhood in a post-Soviet country where money wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on and institutions weren’t trustworthy at all. While she has thankfully taken a lot of time to educate herself about personal finance in the US and is mostly on board with the idea of building up our savings and investments, none of her family members has so much as a savings account, and they all rely on us to bail them out when they get into trouble with money. And they keep wads of cash in places where they could get lost or destroyed. It is maddening, even though I do get where they’re coming from. While of course keeping cash is counter-productive if you’re worried about inflation, etc., people in countries with those issues are smart to hoard stable, foreign currency like US dollars. So, for everyone who’s saying this is a bad idea (obv it is, on some level), it isn’t entirely wrong for someone coming from a place like that.

    Oh and as an attorney, I’d say one job idea for you would be to become an immigration paralegal or just a bilingual paralegal in any type of law firm. Especially with your social work background, you’d probably be great at helping people in this way. You could try finding work with a small firm or solo attorney to get it onto your resume, then reach out to bigger places (rather than going to a paralegal training program, which I think is generally not really necessary).

  42. FrancyPantsChiChi says:

    Not sure if this is legal *if not please disregard* but is there any kind of informal “work” Rodrigo or even Caroline could do part time to boost their income? For instance, I make about $500/month extra cat-sitting. Maybe baby-sitting, walking dogs, etc.? I also go to focus groups, sell clothes on Poshmark, etc. to make about 10% extra income to add to my student loan payments.

    • Bri says:

      I wondered about this too. Just in terms of this type of thing could be technically Caroline’s income, but could take advantage of Rodrigo being at home in order to keep an eye on the pets that they’re sitting, for example.

  43. shay says:

    Tracfone is another good option for cheap cell phone plans. I lively in rural VT and is the only other carrier besides Verizon that gets very reliable service here (I tried Boost Mobile and Republic Wireless as well). Often times, you can bring your own phone too, I used an old Verizon phone from a friend.
    I also recommend an IUD – personally, I prefer the Paraguard b/c it has no hormones and it can be left in for up to 12 years. I have had it in for almost 10 years now and no issues. It is the only highly effective long term non-hormonal birth control.
    I also recommend a DivaCup or similar reusable cup for menstruation. I have had mine for a couple years and it is SO convenient and I have saved so much money and eliminated so much waste.

  44. Katie Camel says:

    I think Mrs. Frugalwoods has done a great job analyzing this fascinating couple’s situation and has offered great advice. As a nurse who sometimes works with birth control methods, I’d suggest taking advantage of your health insurance and 1) getting the Mirena (it’s great, though not a guarantee), and 2) getting the vasectomy. Vasectomies can be performed with local anesthetic, meaning you do not need general anesthesia or even sedation. It’s performed on an out-patient basis and usually takes about 15 minutes for the procedure. The other option is for Caroline to get a laparoscopic removal of her tubes, which is more involved and will require general anesthesia. I’m not sure how much her insurance would cover of this procedure. However, while this method is nearly 100%, we recently had a patient who became pregnant AFTER having this procedure. Again, nothing is 100%.

    So, I’d probably opt for them each to have something: Rodrigo: vasectomy, Caroline: Mirena or removal of fallopian tubes. Due to their nomadic situation, I’d probably opt for the surgical procedure if necessary, since the Mirena will need to be replaced at some point. And it can also dislodge or puncture the uterus or surrounding anatomy. Were this to happen in a third world country with minimal access to health care, you’d be in danger.

    Good luck you two! I think you’re rocking it! Keep saving! I’d reduce the food outside the home to cut expenses, but I think you’re doing well overall. I mean, you dumpster dive AND live in a home for FREE! We should all be so lucky! Keep up the great work!

    • Caroline says:

      Thanks Katie! These are all great suggestions! We have definitely been cutting down on food expenses lately….lots and lots of oatmeal, rice and beans, lentils…the basics. I am feeling motivated by all of these great responses! Thanks for the great vibes!!

    • marmot says:

      FYI- “laparascopic removal of the tubes” isn’t a provided as a form of contraception; it’s performed to remove an ectopic pregnancy. There is indeed a tubal ligation, which is as described, but the tubes are not removed, just ligated, hence the name.

  45. Katie says:

    Perhaps one way to address Rodrigo’s wariness of financial institutions and investing in particular is to start with with one small investment in a company he knows, likes, and trusts to help him build confidence in the value and process of investing. Based on your spending report, it doesn’t seem like you shop much but during your travels, were there any brands that you frequently returned to because of their quality products, excellent customer service, etc.? Or, are there any companies whose ethics speak to you (clean energy, fair trade labor, etc.)? This would just be a way for him to get his feet wet without straying too far from what he already supports, financially or ethically. That being said, I stand by Mrs. Frugalwoods and all the responses submitted so far that a diversified portfolio is best in the long run. Hopefully, this small investment would help Rodrigo to see the value and long-term potential of investing.

  46. Paula says:

    I just now noticed that your car is old. That is really important for saving money, IMO. We’ve been married 46 years and always driven older cars. You can live without car payments, pay lower personal property tax, and save many thousands over the course of your lives. New cars are insanely expensive and start depreciating as you’re driving them off the lot. We always chose house over car, appreciating asset over depreciating asset. Keeping an older car repaired and safe to drive may not be convenient, but it is SO much more affordable than buying new.

  47. Laura says:

    Taxes- US citizens who live abroad still have to pay taxes on their foreign income in the US, I believe. (It’s a big deal for Meghan Markle) Something to look into for the future.

    • Silvana says:

      Ooh Yes, Taxes for Dual Citizens are a nightmare. I am a dual Australian Us citizen living in Australia.You have to file FBAR from Wherever you live in the world to the IRS. Some countries will prevent US Citizens living abroad from banking with them as they do not want the hassel of the declaration of funds to the IRS. Very complicated and expensive, escpecially where there is a business and property outside of the USA.

  48. Mrs. Gardener says:

    Caroline and Rodrigo,

    You are doing a great job with managing your finances. On one small income you have no debt, retirement savings and emergency funds.
    You’ve been having a lot of fun traveling. and doing different jobs. Now, as a newly married couple in your late twenties you’re thinking more about planning your future and having a strategy. That’s very normal and with no debt and the two of you willing to work together, you will have a good future.

    I wouldn’t try to force Rodrigo’s trust in financial institutions especially since he has very valid reasons NOT to trust them. I agree with earlier comments about baby steps and balancing each other. Perhaps Caroline can put more in stocks in her 401k while Rodrigo puts a small amount of savings in an FDIC insured savings account. The important thing is to work together realizing neither of you will be 100% comfortable.

    How would the two of you feel about managing properties in the US (once Rodrigo has legal permission to work)? Either apartment complexes or vacation homes? You’re already.doing this where you’re living right now. This seems less risky to me than opening a hostel in Central/South America. You could use the money you save in the US to travel to Central/South America and help Rodrigo’s family if they need it. One thing that puzzled me was that Caroline said Rodrigo loves wood working and mechanics and worked in real estate in Argentina but doesn’t want to work in real estate here. It seems a natural fit for the two of you.

    It’s great that Rodrigo is volunteering and I think Caroline getting certified as a medical translator would be a prudent side gig..

    I wouldn’t seek any permanent form of birth control while you are so young. It doesn’t sound as if you are against having children, just not ready this minute. As a frugal side note, as a CCCC (contentedly childless by chance not choice) one thing that causes me financial unease as I age is lack of children, not lack of money. Children do a lot for you!

    Finally, Caroline mentioned that she is gluten free but didn’t actually say she has celiac disease. Have you been tested for it? I’m wondering if one of the other changes you made is responsible for feeling better and not necessarily a gluten-free diet. If so, not buying gluten free foods could save some money.

    Good luck,

    Mrs. Gardener

  49. Jen says:

    Not sure how much birth control pills cost in Argentina, but for a while I was buying a year’s worth of bc in other countries or in international airports with pharmacies and it cut my bc costs a ton. Most recently I got a 1 year supply in the Dubai airport for ~$50. I know that it sounds shady, but the pills are the same and most “name brands” are easy to find inexpensively outside of the US.

  50. Ness says:

    I tried a Mirena IUD and hated it, I went to emergency and got it taken out asap. No regrets about taking it out asap.
    Caroline, you both look fit and happy, aim to stay fit, sometimes fitness is a wealth on its own, more important than any money or assets. Good luck.

  51. Sophia says:

    Good luck!

    Just a note about birth control, use natural family planning for birth control! Just use condoms until you feel comfortable with your body and cycle! Read thoroughly about birth control and all the effects on your body and hormones – I just finished this book (from the library of course!) Beyond the Pill by Dr. Jolene Brighten (https://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Pill-Program-Hormones-Dangerous/dp/0062847058). Life changer.

  52. Lindsay says:

    I’ve had the Mirena IUD for 2 years and LOVE it. I have had chronic migraines since I was 15, and actually switched to Mirena from Paragard (which I had for 4 years) on the advice of a migraine specialist. I still have very occasional migraines (1-2 per year), but it’s a huge improvement on the 2-3 per month I got with Paragard and before that, the birth control shot. I’d suggest talking to a knowledgeable doctor (or two) you trust over internet testimonials – I was nervous about IUDs too, but have had no problems other than minor cramping on the day of my Paragard insertion.

    While sympto-thermal works for some couples, I’d suggest being very honest with yourself about your commitment to it and the risk it entails. My close friend and her husband were pressured into using it, and she’s now pregnant and very unhappy about it.

  53. Jessica says:

    Any chance that Rodrigo could go on Caroline’s family cell plan?

  54. Always great to hear stories of other frugal people and get very valuable information on topics and items I may not have thought of before. Thank you for these reader case studies 🙂

  55. LongTime Frugal says:

    If the savings bonds have matured, cash them in. They are earning ZERO interest. You’ll have to pay taxes on the interest but I suspect given your income, it will little, if any, impact on your taxes. To get the maturity value of each bond:

    https://www.treasurydirect.gov/indiv/tools/tools_savingsbondcalc.htm

    This will make nice addition to your emergency fund.

    • Caroline says:

      okay, thanks for that advice! I will cash them in and then get them invested. My head is kind of swimming with all of the investment options, but with a little more research I should be able to make some decisions!

  56. Blair says:

    I LOVE that Caroline brought up the topic of birth control as part of the budget! There have been lots of conversations here about make-up, clothes, hair, and lots of other costs that tend to be higher for women, but frugal menstruation products and birth control are missing from conversation. I’ve spent tons of time researching/asking friends about this, as most women probably have, but it isn’t always easy to find info. Could there be a future post (maybe a reader suggestions one?) on this topic? Let’s break the taboo!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Yes! Let’s do it! Always feel free to suggest post ideas–it’s helpful to me to know what people are interested in. Thank you!

  57. SJF says:

    Hi Caroline! Glad you are able to see how well you’ve done from this post and comments. I wanted to chime in on birth control. I tried to get an IUD but because I have a tipped uterus,I was told it wouldn’t work. It was also painful. I’ve instead been using Nexplanon, a tiny, flexible, matchstick sized implant that goes in your arm between your bicep and tricep and provides hormonal contraception. I had the benefit of no period during the entire time my Nexplanon was in, which means no PMS, either. I think they last for 2-3 years per the package. I love it so much! I’m on my third one now. Insertion and removal are easy, nothing to worry about. Cost was zero under the ACA.

    I’m also glad some folks with immigration law experience ate chiming in. USCIS is no one to mess with, and Rodrigo’s ability to stay with you is not worth gambling on at all.

    Good luck!

  58. Rosey says:

    I’d also recommend looking into IUDs! Under the ACA, the device itself as well as the installation visit should be free. My husband and I, also childfree in our 20s, switched from condoms/withdrawal method to Paragard about 5 years ago. It took a month or two for PMS cramps to settle back down to normal, but I’ve been really happy with it. Before my appointment, I got kind of worked up after reading some internet horror stories about painful insertion/horrible side effects, but in my experience it really wasn’t that bad at all — probably similar to having a basic tooth filling in terms of unpleasantness (with an experienced obgyn…I think that helps a lot too). You could check out bedsider or iuddivas for other information/personal experiences. Best wishes to you!

  59. Clelie says:

    Ask your naturopath or local from womb to tomb midwife, traditional birth attendant about birth control. Hormonal birth control options ( like IUDs with hormones and the birth control pill) can really wreck a lot of chaos for your overall health including your mental wellbeing with long term side effects.

    Getting familiar with your cycles and tracking your fertile times is a wonderful skill to learn for the long term and can help you lower your condom use etc…

    I think the tools that are available now- special flashlights to access mucus etc.. are wonderful- so you’re not just relegated to your tracking sheet and your thermometer.

    Not sure what the situation is like in your area- but in my neck of the woods condoms are easily available for free.

    Good luck with everything.

  60. Melissa says:

    You need to work on getting your big goals to line up. You are pursuing a green card (but not citizenship) and also dreaming of living and working outside of the US. This will not work! You need to live and work in the US on a green card and if you do want to turn your dreams of going to live outside of the US again for any length of time into reality you need to hold out for his US citizenship to come through. (I know of what I speak…my husband is also from another country and we have lived both in the US and his birth country and he was a green card holder at the time of our marriage and is now a US citizen.) Traveling on a US passport is a dream and re-entering the US as a citizen is wonderful. It is still quite easy to get visas to many other countries with a US passport (and certainly far easier than it is with many other countries’ passports) and we are so glad to be done with him being quiestioned by US immigration when we re-enter the US. Your dream and desire to live overseas is a great one…but not one you can do while holding a US green card.

    • Caroline says:

      Hey Melissa…this is some good insight…sometimes I can’t help but feeling like we should have held off on starting all of this immigration because it is keeping us here. I feel stuck…we both do…sometimes I wish we had waited, so that we could still be traveling now without having to be in all of this legal stuff. Is it all worth it at the end?

  61. Rose says:

    Since you live in a big tourist town l imagine there are a lot of Airbnb sites? You might see about managing a few for owners living out of town. This also may help you decide if hostel ownership is for you. I am also going to say look and see if your experience will lateral you into a higher paying position in another organization, or if you will be better off looking for multiple gigs in town. I would also urge you to sit down and research the limitations on entry-exit/business ownership/travel visa etcetera for both Rodrigo and you in being permanent residents but not citizens in each other’s countries. I don’t know what residency requirements Rodrigo will have in order to maintain the green card. Like if you leave for 90 days or 180 days does he have to apply again? Do you always need proof of residency in US? Conversely for you to move to Argentina? Also are there any restrictions on dual passport holders( you would be surprised at how many countries have surrendership rules)

    • Caroline says:

      Hey Rose, thanks for your thoughts. These are all very good ideas…blahhh I am feeling pretty overwhelmed by all of this, honestly. This waiting game is really starting to take a toll on us.

  62. KN says:

    It sounds like you had some terrific adventures in your 20s! I deeply regret not traveling during that decade. It would have been worth the financial cost.

    I did use a Copper IUD for 18 months and it was hell on earth. I went into contractions the evening I got it but stupidly stuck it out. Horrific periods, severe pain. Never, ever again. I won’t even try mirena.

    I used the temperature and cervical fluid methods together, and had great success with that. Just used an app to track and kept a thermometer on my nightstand. That said, my periods are very consistent.

  63. Caroline says:

    Hello everyone! All of the insight is great so far…I will say, I feel like I have enough input on the birth control front now…if anyone has more concrete thoughts on the financials though I will definitely take them! I’m still not sure what to do about the life insurance for example…and my best first step for making an investment. I went and talked to a local bank about opening a CD but am not 100% sold on it. All of your input is so great and I appreciate it SO much! Thank you!

  64. Sarah says:

    Hi Caroline! Your story sounded so familiar to me, as I too spent my 20s at short-term temporary work and then met my husband when living abroad. We spent the last four years living in the US. We would have moved away sooner but we wanted the security of having citizenship settled before we left. The reason we did hold out for citizenship was the uncertainty and expense of abandoning the green card and then wanting to move back later and have to start at Stage 1 and pay all the money all over again. The immigration rules are always changing, especially right now, and we worried that if we left we wouldn’t necessarily qualify again in the future if the rules changed. Having my husband get US citizenship was a big peace of mind. Thinking long-term, I knew we didn’t want to be settled in the US but I have family and parents living there and I wanted the opportunity for both of us to be able to move back at the drop of a hat if I needed to come care for my elderly parents down the line. That’s the main reason we did it, although waiting out the four years from green card to citizenship approval felt like forever. Immigration does tie you down for a while, but to do it any other way is so expensive and difficult to navigate.

    We recently moved to the UK, where rules are also changing, and it makes me feel happy to know we have one joint citizenship so we can always live together in the US. I’m now waiting out the requirement until I can get dual citizenship like my husband, but this was the most streamlined way and within 8-9 years total we’ll have acquired both. The downside of course is filing tax returns forever and FBAR, but it’s not that bad honestly. Once a year, it’s a bit of a hassle filing another return but I would have had to do it myself anyway and we don’t need to pay the US anything due to the double taxation treaty. The main downside is we have to adhere to capital gains rules of the US, which means any property we own we have to live in for 2 years as a primary residence before selling to avoid capital gains tax.

    Anyway, wishing you both the best!

    • Caroline says:

      Hi Sarah! Thank you for your comment! CONGRATULATIONS on getting the citizenship! It really feels interminable…and we’ve only just begun! It is great to hear your story and remember that people actually do get their paperwork eventually, and that we will one day too. I think you made a super great decision on having that all settled so that you can be together in the future, no matter what. Thanks again for sharing and giving me some hope!

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