Mary and John live in a coastal town in northern Massachusetts with their one-year-old daughter. Mary wants a more flexible career that would allow her to spend more time with their daughter. John recently transitioned to freelancing and the couple is trying to figure out how to account for his variable income. Additionally, they’d love to get out of the one-bedroom apartment they rent and into their own home. Read my disclosures here.

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 folks 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. Other disclosures here.

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

Mary’s Story

Mary and John’s daughter

Hi, Frugalwoods! My name is Mary, I’m 31 years old, and I’m the marketing manager at a book publishing house. My husband John is 35 and he’s a freelance graphic designer. We rent a one-bedroom apartment in the downtown area of a beautiful coastal town in northern Massachusetts along with our sweet one-year old daughter. John and I met after we graduated from college—he attended an art school here on the North Shore and I went to a nearby liberal arts school.

John’s background is in fine arts and we both really enjoy the local art culture. We love hiking, going to the beach, and walking around our cute town. On the weekends, you can find us going to our favorite café for doughnuts, hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, swimming in the ocean (ok swimming is a strong word… I’m happy if I get thigh-deep in that frigid water), or hanging out with friends and family.

We’ve been married for four years now and, since the birth of our daughter, we’ve been re-evaluating our lives and contemplating the future more seriously. This is where you all come in! We’d love realistic advice on what’s feasible and wise, specifically regarding our careers and housing situation.

Mary’s Career

I’m the marketing manager at a publishing house and I’ve been here for almost ten years (I got this job the summer after I graduated from college!). While it’s not the highest-paying job for this type of work in our area, I have wonderful co-workers and a great boss. And because we’re a small team, there’s a lot of variety that keep things interesting. On any given day, you’ll find me writing back cover copy for our books, designing print advertisements, planning out details for shows and conferences, working one-on-one with authors, managing the production of our catalogs, or overseeing photo shoots (and that was just today!). There are a lot of things I like about my job, but there’s also a lot that I question. Since I’m on a small team, it can get stressful and I often feel a lot of pressure.

Zucchini from their community garden plot last summer.

Deep down, I’m not that passionate about marketing, and I frequently dream about a career change to something I’m more interested in. I’ve always loved gardening and the outdoors, so I often toy with the idea of moving into landscape design, horticulture, or land conservation/ management. But the daunting thought of going back to school and starting fresh in a completely new career always makes me stall…

However this year, there’s been a new impetus for thinking about a career change: our daughter! Simply put, I’m having a really tough time juggling a demanding career and a baby. Sending our daughter to daycare every day still makes me feel pretty emotional, and I hate that I have limited time with her. In the mornings and evenings I’m trying to squeeze in as much time with her as I can, which often leaves me stressed and grasping to play catch-up with my other duties. My work has been suffering as a result.

In recent months, I’ve been more seriously considering a career change. We can’t afford for me to stop working, but I wonder about finding a job with either: a) more flexible hours/remote work or b) a school schedule, so that I can at least be home in the summers and on school vacations. John and I would love to have more children, and the thought of working full-time all year long while they’re young makes me really sad. I’d love to find a work situation that affords me the ability to be home more. Another consideration is that since John is now a freelancer, our family’s health and dental insurance is through my employer.

John’s Career

John doing a charcoal drawing

Enough about me, let’s talk about my husband: John is incredibly creative and hard working. Post-college he spent many years working as an art curator at various art galleries and also on his own paintings. In addition to curating and painting, he worked as an artist for Whole Foods for several years.

Since we got married, he decided that graphic design is a more lucrative and stable career for a family man, so he put himself through school over the last couple years, taking evening classes at Mass Art (this pulled from our savings quite a bit, but we didn’t go into debt).

He spent the last year working full-time as a graphic designer at a large company in Boston, but it was just on a contract basis. His contract ended this summer, and at the advice of friends and colleagues in the industry, he decided to switch to freelance work (where he has the potential to earn quite a bit more).

As of last month he is self-employed, working as a freelance graphic designer. He loves working from home as it affords him more time with our daughter and less time commuting. However, the first month’s pay is not what we thought it would be, so we’re a bit worried now.

We realize it’ll take time to build a client base, but just in case, he’s also on the hunt for a salaried position where he’d have regular hours, pay, and benefits.

The Upsides: Loving Where They Live and NO Debt!

Mary and John’s adorable town

We are having an absolute BLAST with our baby girl. The best part of my day is coming home in the evening to spend time together as a family. And we’re never at a loss for fun things to do in our area.

There are always nature trails to explore nearby, the ocean to run in, easy access to a fun downtown, and trivia nights with friends at the local bar. We feel so lucky to live here and we’re within an hour’s drive to most of my family, which is great. Plus, we’re only 45 minutes from Boston!

Even though our finances are incredibly strained right now, we’re thrilled to be officially debt-free. We owe that to Frugalwoods for kicking our savings into high gear to pay off our student loans before our baby was born!

The Downsides: A One-Bedroom Apartment and Inflexible Schedules

The most challenging thing for us right now is me working full-time at a job with no schedule flexibility. It’s really hard on me emotionally to send our daughter to daycare. With our desire for more children, this situation makes me even more upset. For my husband, not having a stable salaried job is difficult for him. He feels a lot of pressure to work above and beyond regular hours because he’s not sure what next week or next month will bring. It’s the downside of working freelance.

Backpacking in Washington state before baby

Something else that we have a hard time with—and I recognize this comes from a privileged place—is living in a one-bedroom apartment without any yard or outdoor space. I’ve always loved being outside and I adore gardening. I would very much like to pass that along to my daughter. Currently we have to drive to get to trails or a park, and while we love our town, we’re ready to trade it for a place of our own with freedom to roam. Or at least, a place to sit outside in the grass whenever we want.

We’re also out-growing our current apartment. Right now, all three of us share a bedroom. Soon we’ll have to convert our living room into a bedroom for our daughter, but that will mean significantly less living space for us so we’re stalling. We feel like it’s time for a slightly larger space, especially with our plans to grow our family.

Where Mary and John Want To Be in Ten Years:

  • Finances:
    • Before our daughter was born, we were excellent at saving and barely spent any money. Over the last year, we’ve become very lax! Especially in the food arena because… well first of all, breastfeeding is no joke. I feel like I have the appetite of a linebacker. And with limited time with my daughter, I’ve been spending a lot less time in the kitchen this year! So we definitely need to reign this in.
    • In 10 years, we’d like to still be debt-free, except for a mortgage. We’d both like to be on track for retirement savings, and have the recommended amount in our savings account.
  • Lifestyle:
    • In 10 years, I’d love to own a house with some property and land to garden in.
    • Hopefully we’ll have 2 or 3 kids, and ideally we’ll still live within an hour’s drive of family and close friends in this area.
  • Career:
    • John would love to be somewhere stable on salary, at a job that he can see himself staying at for the long term, possibly until retirement. He’s tired of the job hustle, so he’d love to be settled with an established company that he enjoys.
    • I would love to be doing something that I enjoy that has flexible hours so that I can be around for my children more.

Mary and John’s Finances


Item Amount Notes
Mary’s Net Income $2,688 Mary’s net salary, minus health and dental insurance, 401k contributions, FSA contributions, charitable donations, and taxes.
John’s Net Income $1,887 After taxes. This represents John’s first month as a freelancer, so this is lower than he’s used to making. Freelancing is off to a bit of a slow start. We hope that as he connects with more clients, his income will grow.
Mary’s Annual Bonus $208 Year-end bonus
Monthly subtotal: $4,783 Again, this is based off of John’s first month doing freelance work. We hope this will pick up steam!
Annual total: $57,396


Item Amount Notes
Daycare $1,460 5 days a week. We’ve shopped around, this is one of the best and most affordable in our area.
Rent $1,200 This is really good for our area.
Groceries $550 Includes household supplies like toilet paper, diapers, toothpaste, detergent, etc.
Eating Out/Restaurants/Coffee shops $314 We’ve really let this slip since our baby was born! Both working full time, plus extra tired = more eating out and less food prep being done at home
Car expenses $145 Gas plus routine car-related expenses
Internet & Cable $144 Comcast bundle (we’ve tried calling and un-bundling to get rid of cable, but they tell us it will be the same price regardless)
Vacation/Travel Expenses $127 Visits to John’s family in Ohio. We have a Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card that we’ve been racking up travel rewards points on (affiliate link).
Clothing $100
Medical $100 Copays and prescriptions
Home goods $92 Miscellaneous home-related purchases from paint to pillows
Mary’s car insurance $92 Through Liberty Mutual
John’s car insurance $73 Through Geico
Cell phone service $62 Consumer Cellular for both of us
Gifts $54 Christmas and anniversary gifts
Utility Bills: gas (for the stove) and electricity $42 Our landlord pays for heat
Personal Care $24 Makeup, body oils, etc.
Alcohol $20 Wine and beer
Salon $20 Hair cuts
Entertainment $12 Movies and art shows/museums
Monthly subtotal: $4,631 This is very illuminating. And embarrassing.
Annual total: $55,572 Trying not to have a heart attack…


Item Amount Notes Interest Rate and Bank
Savings Account 1 $17,158 This is our emergency fund & future “house downpayment” fund Through Synchrony Bank, earns 2.12% interest
Mary’s 401k $11,320 Started contributing in 2017. Through Fidelity
Mary’s Profit Sharing Plan $10,500 100% company funded, and I’m 100% vested
John’s 401k $7,000 From his previous employer. Through Fidelity
Savings Account 2 $5,000 This is Mary’s “Car Emergency” fund; it’s earmarked for car-related expenses and payments. I’m currently saving up to buy a used car. TD Bank
Mary’s Checking $1,500 Typically only keep enough in here for bills, rent, etc. TD Bank
Baby’s 529 College Fund $500 Started in Summer 2018 Through TD Bank
Mary’s FSA Fund $500 Flexible Spending Account through Mary’s work. For out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. Contribute set amount each paycheck automatically, pre-tax
John’s Checking $400 Typically only keep enough in here for bills, etc. Citizens Bank
Total: $53,878


Vehicle Make, Model, Year Valued at Mileage
Toyota Yaris 2010 $2,000 122,000
Mazda3 Hatchback 2005 $1,500 153,000
Total: $3,500 Both cars are paid off!!

Debts: $0

Mary’s Questions For You:

Mary on an evening walk on the beach in her town when she was pregnant

Frugalwoods Friends, we would love to hear your advice!

  1. Is now a bad time for me to consider a new career?
    • With my husband’s new foray into freelance work, our finances are incredibly strained right now. His take-home pay is lower than we anticipated, and while that’s only his first month, we have no choice but to build our budget around it until he acquires more clients (or gets a salaried job).
    • With this in mind, is it bad timing for me to explore alternative career options? Our baby girl is growing so fast, I feel like I should start working toward something now. I’m just not exactly sure what that something should be.
  2. How can I find a more flexible career/working hours?
    • Given my experience in the book world, maybe I should think about becoming a librarian? If I could get a job in the public school system, that would allow me more time with my daughter during the summer months.
    • The only problem is, I’m not sure I’m all that interested in being a librarian. On the other hand, the careers I dream about (landscape design, horticulture, viniculture) wouldn’t necessarily afford me any additional time with my daughter or future children.
    • What other job recommendations do you have for someone who wants more flexible hours/school hours?
  3. In addition to my possible career switch, is it feasible to tackle saving for a house?
    • With our current job situation, is there any way we can handle this financially?
    • One thought I’ve had is pausing my 401k contributions until we have enough money saved up. Is that wise?
    • If we really want to buy a house in the near future, should I suck it up with my current job, and keep at it?
  4. How can we save more money?
    • I have to admit, before doing this financial audit for the Case Study, I had no idea we were spending so much money. This has been a huge eye-opener and, combined with John’s new (smaller) take-home pay, I think we need to take a hard look at what we’re spending just to stay above water.

Mrs. Frugalwoods’ Recommendations

Well done, Mary and John! I LOVE that they hustled to pay off their student loan debt before their daughter was born. I LOVE that they prioritized creating an emergency fund and retirement savings. I LOVE that they drive older, paid-off cars. I LOVE that they’re renting a one-bedroom apartment in order to save money. I LOVE that they love where they live.

And I LOVE that they’re taking the time and mental energy to consider what they want in life. It’s hard to be introspective when you’re working full-time and parenting a baby and just trying to get through the day. I commend Mary and John for carving out the space to be thoughtful about their future and about what they want their lives to look like. Many, many congrats on doing so well and getting so far!

Mary’s Questions

I think Mary is essentially grappling with these three questions:

  1. How can she find a job with more flexible hours to allow more time with her daughter?
  2. Is freelancing the right fit for John?
  3. Where does buying a house fit into all this?

Should Mary and John Swap Places?

As I read through her Case, it struck me that Mary and John seem to want to switch places. Mary has a stable career with a great salary and benefits. John has a flexible schedule. To me, the most illustrative statement is where Mary identified they’d like to be in ten years:

John would love to be somewhere stable on salary, at a job that he can see himself staying at for the long term, possibly until retirement. He’s tired of the job hustle, so he’d love to be settled with an established company that he enjoys. I would love to be doing something that I enjoy that has flexible hours so that I can be around for my children more.

It sounds like they have one another’s dream jobs, it’s just that the wrong person is matched to the wrong job. If this ten year goal is what they truly want, then I think changes are in order. However, since they have a family to support, those changes will need to be incremental. Let’s figure it out together.

John’s Freelancing

First of all, John made a great income in his first month of freelancing! Plenty of freelancers make negative dollars in their first months–or years–of self-employment. The fact that John made money (and not a small amount of it) is a great sign. I would also note that one month does not constitute enough data to determine whether or not freelancing will be financially viable for John. It’ll take a lot longer for him to establish a client base and determine how lucrative–and tenable–this work is for him. However, one month is long enough for John to determine that he does not enjoy freelancing.

John camping

If he doesn’t like the hustle and the administrative aspects of freelancing, then he should accelerate his search for a salaried position. There’s no reason to grind away at freelancing if it makes him frustrated and anxious. Not worth it!

In terms of timing, I encourage John to consider that the job market is great right now. If John thinks he wants a salaried position, he should find it now. There’s never a guarantee that a good job market will remain good and, if it were to tank in a few months/years, that could make John’s job search more challenging. Since they live relatively close to Boston (and perhaps can use the commuter rail?), I imagine there’s a robust job market available to him. Alternately, if John does think the freelance life is for him, he should give it some time to see how his income shakes out. One thing I’ll offer ironclad advice on is…

Don’t Both Become Freelancers

John enjoying the ocean

Plenty of couples are dual freelancers, but it requires agility and quite a bit more in savings than Mary and John have. At present, Mary and John are living almost paycheck to paycheck, which can quickly become dangerous with fluctuating freelance income. Freelance invoices aren’t always paid on time, contracts don’t always go through, and work often isn’t paid for ahead of time. Freelancing can mean several months of no money followed by large infusions of cash all at once.

This is fine if you have the liquidity to float yourself for months (or years) at a time, but not so fine if you’re dependent upon your monthly income to pay your bills. Because of the mercurial nature of freelance income, I advise Mary and John to first figure out what John wants to do vis-a-vis freelancing before Mary takes a leap into a more flexible career.

Further, the family’s benefits are through Mary’s job. When considering dual freelancing (or reduced work hours that don’t qualify her for benefits), they should do the calculations to game out what they could expect to pay for healthcare through the Affordable Care Act.

Dual freelancing (or one person freelancing and one person working part-time) is feasible, but I recommend they first save up at least a year’s worth of living expenses to buffer them from potential zero income months and potentially higher healthcare costs.

Another factor to consider with freelancing/part-time work is that they’d need to start saving into independent retirement accounts. There are several options for this (solo 401k, Roth IRA, IRA, and SEP IRA) and it wouldn’t be a big deal to select one and start saving. It’s easy to stop saving for retirement when you’re freelancing because your employer is no longer automatically withholding your monthly 401k/403b contribution, but you’re still going to retire some day and you’ll still want savings!

Mary’s Desire for Flexible Work Hours

Mary’s homemade sourdough

I keenly feel Mary’s articulation of wanting more balance and flexibility, particularly while her baby is young. I wish there was a magic bullet, or a perfect career for every parent craving flexibility, but of course, there’s not. What there are, however, are lots of options.

A note of caution: part-time or flexible hours usually come with part-time or flexible pay, which is to say, either not a lot of pay or very irregular pay. And of course, no healthcare or retirement or FSA benefits. But, these jobs can give you back your most precious resource: your time.

I know Mary has considered becoming a librarian for the possibility of working school hours, but she also articulated that she’s not sure she’s all that interested in the career. Since I imagine it might require a master’s degree in Library Science, it’s tough to see a viable return on the time and money she’d need to invest in pursuing that degree.

If Mary is serious about working in the public school system, I highly recommend she take a look at the jobs her local district is advertising. What qualifications are needed for a school librarian? What about a reading assistant? Or a teacher’s aide? How about substitute teaching? I wouldn’t pursue a degree program without first identifying exactly which job she’d be qualified for and exactly how much she could expect to be paid.

I also note that school hours for staff don’t necessarily align exactly with school hours for kids. On the other hand, having the same vacations and summers as your kids would be a tremendous boon from both the perspective of spending time with your kids and the perspective of not scrambling for childcare during all of those days off (not to mention that school lets out a lot earlier than work and so you’ve got to cobble together after-school care and sometimes before-school care too).

Mary’s happy place: Outside with a good book.

All that to say, Mary’s idea of working at a school is spot on in terms of allowing more time with her kids and alleviating the challenges of finding childcare around a school schedule. The more flexible she is in terms of what job she does and how much money she needs to make, the easier it’ll be for her to find a position. She already has a BA, so she very well may be qualified for more positions than she realizes. However, it’s almost certain these positions would represent a significant pay cut from her current salary.

Beyond working in a school, there are loads of other part-time/flexible jobs out there and I hope readers will offer their thoughts  because I know a lot of you work them! I’m always reticent to recommend my own part-time/flexible career as a writer because it took me years to actually earn any money. I wrote for free for several years before ever getting paid. And even then, I wasn’t paid very much. Now that I’ve been at it for five years, I do earn an income, but it’s not a consistent or stable income–it fluctuates monthly and it’s calibrated on how many hours I put in. I write because I love to write, not because it’s a stable source of money.

I think it’ll be crucial for Mary to make that distinction: does she want to do something she loves to do? Or does she want to do something that’ll give her the flexible, part-time schedule she craves? I want there to be a way for her to do both–and there very well might be–but if there’s not, then I think it’ll be illuminating for Mary to decide which is more important to her right now. And there’s no right or wrong answer to that.

I’ll spitball a few ideas for Mary:

  1. Work as a nanny and care for another child at home along with her own daughter. This wouldn’t pay as much as her current job but it would eliminate their monthly daycare cost, which would decrease their monthly outlay by $1,460.
  2. Explore becoming a dental hygienist. This is an in-demand career that often offers flexible hours and good pay.
  3. Work from home as a customer service representative. A lot of companies outsource their customer service and allow folks to work from home and on diverse schedules.

I’ll be honest here: I do not know anything about Mary’s dream jobs (landscape design, horticulture, or viniculture), but none of them sound particularly part-time. However, I wonder if they’re seasonal? Would it be possible for her to work spring to fall and have the winters off? Would that provide the type of balance she’s looking for? Would their daughter’s daycare allow them to enroll and un-enroll her depending on the season? Similar to the research I suggest with regards to public school jobs, it can’t hurt for Mary to scope out jobs in these fields and see what qualifications they require, how much they pay, and what seasons/hours are expected.

Alternatively, if Mary instead worked a job just to work a job, but had the summers off, could she scratch that horticulture itch by working in a community garden with her kid(s)? Could she volunteer at a farm with the kid(s) when they’re not in school? In other words, is there a way to incorporate these activities into her life without making them her day job?

Saving For A House

Mary and John want to buy a house. I totally get that and I’m impressed they’ve made it work with a baby in a one-bedroom apartment for this long. Woohoo! However. As Mary sagely articulated, this is one too many goals right now. Either they want to save for a house OR Mary wants to find a part-time/flexible job that pays less. Either they want to save for a house OR John wants to continue freelancing with the attendant freedom and lower pay that it entails.

Since they’re living nearly paycheck-to-paycheck at present, there’s just not a lot of room here without: 1) increasing their incomes; 2) decreasing their spending (which we’ll get to in a moment).

This is really a question of what’s more important to them: career flexibility or a house? There’s no right or wrong answer. If Mary and John decide that more than anything they want to buy a house, the fastest route to making that happen is as follows:

  1. Mary stays at her current job
  2. John finds a higher paying salaried position
  3. They save up a downpayment like frugal fiends
Evening walk in their cute town

Perhaps they do these three things for a few years, buy a house, and then take a step back to reassess Mary’s career.

To Mary’s question on pausing 401k contributions to save up for a house, I say no. In my (admittedly harsh) opinion, if you have to stop saving for retirement in order to save for a house, you can’t afford that house. Buying a house is not a necessity. I would argue that saving for retirement is. Not everyone will agree with me on this hardline approach, but I think it’s dangerous to stop saving for your longterm future.

Mary and John’s Expenses

Backpacking in Washington state before baby

I am so glad Mary asked about their spending because her story resonates with me. Before kids? She and John were frugal mavens, saving money and paying off debt like a boss. After a kid? The good old habits start to slip. This was my experience. My spending increased after my kids were born and it has yet to stabilize or return to our pre-kid lows.

It’s just a result of the seismic changes kids bring to life. So don’t beat yourself up, Mary! It’s all good and it’s all very expected and normal and you’re in good company. I think it’s awesome Mary identified this increase in their spending and it’s commendable that she’s asking for help. I want to highlight what Mary said about their spending:

I have to admit, before doing this financial audit for the Case Study, I had no idea we were spending so much money. This has been a huge eye-opener and, combined with John’s new (smaller) take-home pay, I think we need to take a hard look at what we’re spending just to stay above water.

I can’t tell you how many people report this to me after either participating in a Case Study or taking my Uber Frugal Month Challenge. I myself am shocked at my own spending every month when I share my expenses here on Frugalwoods. I’m always like, WHO spent all this money?!? WHO took my credit card and bought candy corn!!!??? Oh right, it was me… so yeah, tracking your spending is the first step to a financially fulfilling and stable life. You cannot set goals without knowing the basics of your income and your expenses. If you’re not tracking your spending, I use and recommend the free expense tracker from Personal Capital (affiliate link).

In every Case Study, I point out that what you choose to 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.

Savings Accounts Side Note

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

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

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

I think it’s also important to question if your savings rate will help you to achieve your long-term goals. My job is to identify areas where you might be able to save, but only you can decide what level of savings is right for you. If you’re struggling with where to save more and how to map out a long-term financial plan, I encourage you to take my free 31-day Uber Frugal Month Challenge.

Whether Mary and John choose to reduce their spending depends on:

  1. If they want to buy a house.
  2. If John wants to continue freelancing.
  3. If Mary wants to change careers to work less and hence, earn less.

If Mary and John want to do all three of these things, reducing their monthly spending is mandatory.

In the spreadsheet below, I’ve identified areas of discretionary spending in order to illustrate how much they could save:

Item Current Amount Mrs. FW’s Notes Proposed New Amount Amount Saved
Daycare $1,460 Fixed cost; no change unless Mary elects to watch another child(ren) at home along with her own daughter, in which case this would drop to $0. $1,460 $0
Rent $1,200 Fixed cost; no change $1,200 $0
Groceries $550 Looks good to me since it also includes their household and baby supplies. $550 $0
Eating Out/Restaurants/Coffee shops $314 This is an area where I know Mary and John know they have room to save …. $0 $314
Car expenses $145 Since John is now working from home, I wonder if there’s an opportunity to save more on gas? I’ll leave it as is for now, but it’s something for Mary and John to explore if his freelancing work continues. $145 $0
Internet & Cable $144 Mary said she tried to unbundle and Comcast resisted, but I strongly urge her to try again.

When we lived in the Boston area, we paid $59.95 to Comcast for internet only. I realize that was several years ago, but it provides a frame of reference.

If Comcast won’t unbundle, then Mary and John should consider canceling their service altogether and signing up anew as internet-only customers.

$70 $74
Vacation/Travel Expenses $127 Since this is for visits to John’s family in Ohio, it’s tough to cut. This really goes back to the overarching question of how badly they want to buy a house.

If that’s their primary goal this year, I think they should have a frank conversation with John’s family about the fact that they need to save for a house and can’t travel.

This doesn’t mean they’ll never travel again, just that they’re prioritizing a downpayment right now.

$0 $127
Clothing $100 Depending on how hardcore frugal they want to be, enacting a clothes-buying ban is an option.

For reference, I have several posts on how to source cheap/free used/hand-me-down baby clothes.

$0 $100
Medical $100 Fixed cost; no change $100 $0
Home goods $92  This goes back to the overarching question of how badly they want to buy a house. If that’s their primary goal, this should be eliminated. $0 $92
Mary’s car insurance (through Liberty Mutual) $92 I’m wondering why Mary and John have their car insurance through two different providers? I wonder if they might get a discount if they bundled them with the same company? Worth exploring! $92 $0
John’s car insurance (through Geico) $73 See notes above. $73 $0
Cell phone service $62 Time to convert to the wonderful, money-saving world of MVNOs (companies that re-sell wireless service at deep discounts).

I pay $10.65/month with the MVNO Ting, which re-sells T-Mobile and Sprint service (affiliate link). MVNOs are the TJ Maxx of the cell phone service world–it’s the same service, just a whole lot cheaper. Here’s my full post on MVNOs.

$22 $40
Gifts $54 If they want to buy a house–and that is their highest and best priority–then they need to cut out everything extraneous in order to reach that goal. $0 $54
Utility Bills: gas (for the stove) and electricity. Our landlord pays for heat. $42 This is awesome! Mary and John have a great deal with their landlord paying for their heat! $42 $0
Personal Care $24 For this expense, and all the below expenses, my comment echoes what I said above: if they want to buy a house–and that is their highest and best priority–then they need to cut out everything extraneous in order to reach that goal. $0 $24
Alcohol $20 See notes above. $0 $20
Salon $20 See notes above. $0 $20
Entertainment $12 See notes above. $0 $12
Current monthly subtotal: $4,631 Proposed new monthly subtotal: $3,754 $877
Current annual total: $55,572 Proposed new annual total: $45,048 $10,524

At present, Mary and John’s monthly income is $4,783 and their monthly spending is $4,631, giving them a monthly savings of $152. I realize this is likely to change due to John’s variable freelance income, but as Mary noted, we have to work with the numbers we have.

John in their community garden plot

If they decide to enact all of the above proposed savings, they’d save $1,029 per month, which is $12,348 a year.

Of course the other end of this equation is to increase their incomes, which coupled with reduced spending, would allow them to save even more.

Quick note: One expense I didn’t see that I highly recommend Mary and John get is renter’s insurance. This is typically inexpensive (in the range of $10-$20 per month) and very worth it.

Asset Allocation and Money Management 101

In addition to an expense review, I’ve started including an overall asset allocation review in most Reader Case Studies to help folks track where they are. Below are the basic money management steps I advise just about everyone to follow. I’ve made notes of where Mary and John are on each step and where they can focus more attention.

  1. Track your expenses religiously. Know exactly what you’re spending every month. If you’re not tracking your spending, you can sign-up for the free service Personal Capital, which is what I use and recommend for expense tracking (affiliate link). If you’d like to know more about how Personal Capital works, check out my full review.
  2. Pay off high interest debt. List all of your debts in a spreadsheet and sort by interest rate. Prioritize paying them off in order of highest interest rate first.
    • Mary and John are done with this! Many congrats on paying off their student loans!!!!
  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).
    • Mary and John currently spend $4,631/month, which means they should target an emergency fund in the range of $13,893 (three months of spending) to $27,786 (six months worth).
    • They are spot on as their emergency fund is at $17,158. Well done!
  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.
    • Mary gets a gold star for contributing to her company’s 401k plan.
    • If John continues freelancing, he should set up some sort of retirement account. Options include: IRA, Roth IRASEP IRA or One-Participant 401(k) (often called a solo 401k). The latter are retirement accounts geared specifically towards people who are self-employed.
  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).
    • Mary and John aren’t quite here yet, which is totally fine. Whether or not they start investing (beyond their retirement accounts) depends on the buying-a-house question.
    • If they plan to buy a home in the near future (say, in the next five years), it’ll likely make the most sense for them to keep their money liquid in an interest-earning checking/savings account.
    • You don’t want to invest money you’re going to need in the near future. Investing is a long-term proposition.
  6. Explore other options for investing in order to achieve diversification. After completing steps 1-5, you should continue investing in your low-fee index funds (and rebalancing them) on a regular basis (I recommend automating this process) and you can also start to look around for diversification options. This might include, for example, real estate. Mr. FW and I rent out our home in Cambridge, MA for a profit. Renting a property can be a fabulous financial decision and it can also be an absolutely abysmal one. It depends on many factors, including the rate of return you’d receive. For more on renting out properties, I recommend the site BiggerPockets, which discusses real estate investing.
  7. Analyze your income. Concurrent with all of this should be an analysis of your net income (that means the dollar amount you bring home every month, minus taxes and any other withholdings). In some cases, the best route to financial stability will be to increase your income while also lowering your expenses. Income is the crucial second piece to this equation and, the more you make, the more you can save. That’s a solid math fact.

The Many Accounts Of Mary And John

One question I have is why Mary and John have four different checking accounts at three different banks? It’s not bad to do this, but to me, it’s confusing. Here’s the rundown:

Item Amount Notes Interest/Bank
Savings Account 1 $17,158 This is our emergency fund & future “house downpayment” fund Through Synchrony Bank, earns 2.12% interest
Savings Account 2 $5,000 This is Mary’s “Car Emergency” fund; it’s earmarked for car-related expenses and payments. I’m currently saving up to buy a used car. TD Bank
Mary’s Checking $1,500 Typically only keep enough in here for bills, rent, etc. TD Bank
John’s Checking $400 Typically only keep enough in here for bills, etc. Citizens Bank
Total: $24,058
Going for a walk in their coastal area.

I commend them for having the bulk of their cash in a high-interest savings account, but I question why the rest of their money is elsewhere? If it were me, I’d consolidate into that one account in order to streamline and earn interest. This is really just a personal preference though. At the very least, I suggest Mary move her “car emergency fund” into a high-interest earning account.

Additionally, while I love that they are thinking ahead and opened a 529 college savings plan for their daughter, the cold hard truth is that they need to prioritize saving for their retirement above saving for college. You can take out loans for college, but you cannot take out loans for retirement.

Credit Card Strategy

Mary and John wisely have a Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card they’ve been carefully using to accrue travel rewards points (affiliate link). Way to go! I’m a proponent of responsible and strategic credit card use.

Since Mary and John are able to pay this card off every month, they’re earning points for a future vacation just by buying the stuff they were going to buy anyway. Nicely done! For more on my credit card strategy, check out The Frugalwoods Guide to a Simple, Yet Rewarding, Credit Card Experience. I also wrote this guide on how to find the best credit card for you.


In a lot of ways, Mary and John’s Case Study is an analysis of time versus money. They are doing an excellent job, but they will need to make some tough choices regarding what matters most to them. It’s not possible for them to do all the things they want to right now, but with time and focused prioritization, they should be able to make it all happen. I am rooting for them and I know they’re going to be awesome!

Here’s my brief summary of advice to Mary and John:

  1. Determine if John wants to remain a freelancer.
    • If not, he should prioritize getting a salaried job now while the economy is in great shape.
  2. Decide how important it is to them to buy a house.
    • If it’s their top goal, Mary needs to stay at her current job and John needs to earn more.
    • They also need to enact the savings I outlined above.
  3. Based on the results of #1 and #2, Mary should assess her possible career change.
    • How much does she need to earn?
    • How important is it that she find fulfilling work that she loves?
    • Is she willing to work a potentially less satisfying, lower-paying job in order to allow more time with her daughter?

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

Would you like your own case study to appear here on Frugalwoods? Email me ( your brief story and we’ll talk. User Generated Content Disclosure: Reader comments and responses are not provided or commissioned by Frugalwoods or its advertisers. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by advertisers. It is not the advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Update from Mary on 2/17/20:

First of all I want to extend a huge thank you to Mrs. Frugalwoods and the Frugalwoods nation for all the great advice you gave! Participating in this case study was very enriching, as it helped us hone in on what we really want. As you readers may remember, one of the biggest questions I was dealing with at the time of the case study involved my work, and wanting to be home with my baby girl. Well, I am so happy to report that we figured out a great solution, and it’s not what I expected!

At the time of our case study, my husband had just launched his own freelance graphic design business. Since then he’s been doing very well with it, and because he works for himself, he can essentially work at any time of day that he chooses. So after a couple of months of this work under his belt, we made the decision to pull our daughter out of daycare two days a week, so she can stay home with daddy those days! Since he’s watching her two days a week, he then works in the evenings and on the weekends to make up the difference. This has honestly been such a life-changing move. My husband loves having the extra time with her, and our daughter is much happier having the extra time at home as well! We noticed that immediately she is not sad about going to daycare any more, probably because it’s only three days a week now. Additionally, keeping her home these two days means that we are saving a whopping $600 a month! Yes, you read that right. I immediately set up an automatic payment to funnel those savings directly into our savings account.

So while I am not the one staying home with our daughter (which was my dream), I noticed that I am so much happier now knowing that she’s home with us more than she is at daycare. This extra family time has made all the difference for us. 

Now what about my career dilemma? Through the process of participating in the case study and reading everyone’s helpful advice, I realized that I really shouldn’t leave my current line of work. I’m in a marketing/communications role, and I’ve been doing this for ten years. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that going back to school at this time, or starting fresh in a new career is just not for me right now. Instead I’m committed to building my current skills even more, and I’m pursuing a similar role at a new company–possibly a place with options to work remote occasionally, or a place that is more supportive of parents hours.

We’ve also been cutting back our spending where we can, although I have to admit I haven’t been tracking it very diligently lately, so I don’t have specific numbers to report. (Sorry for all you frugal financial voyeurs!) But with the incredible daycare savings, we’re making great progress on our finances. We’re still debt-free, and are looking forward to our frugal family vacation to France in June–which we’re paying for almost entirely with credit card points we’ve been saving up! Woo!

So thanks again for the encouragement everyone. And happy frugaling!


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  1. One suggestion I have for Mary, since she has a BA, is to teach English online! It requires an internet connection and usually a BA degree, not a whole lot of experience. It had flex hours (you make your own), so it can even be an additional gig if money is needed more one month, then less another, etc…. Here is the company I work for (and my referral link, I’d also be happy to coach Mary for the interviews if she wants/needs):
    The name is VIPKID, there’s also DADA and a bunch of other companies it’s possible to work for!

    Anyway it’s an idea. It’s what I’ve been doing for a few years on the side, and it’s also totally possible to make it your full time job (although no benefits, no 401K etc).

      1. TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) is a big business. My niece has an English Writing BA and she went to Japan for a couple years to teach, she had full benefits – you can do it online though and probably make as much as you are now, but you might not be getting any benefits. I think the job you have have now Mary sounds exciting and you are not bored doing the same thing all the time.

  2. Mary, have you actually scoped out a flexible or work-from-home arrangement with your employer? If nothing else, perhaps you could telecommute once a week or something. (I always call it telecommuting. If you say “work from home,” everyone thinks you’re going to do laundry and run errands all day!)
    I caution ANYONE who wants to work in the school system that summers are not necessarily guaranteed time off! I was a writing specialist and had to attend professional development days, plus earn my master’s to become “highly qualified.” Most of this work took place in the summer.
    I agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods. Don’t feel like you HAVE to buy a house! Renting is a viable option. (I live on the North Shore, too, so I understand your dilemma!)
    Good luck to you and your lovely family!

    1. Re: telecommuting – other than commute time, that won’t really impact Mary’s time spent with her daughter. Most companies require you to have childcare (that isn’t you) if you’re working from home, because watching a one-year-old isn’t conducive to full-time productivity. But it could have other time-related bonuses, such as the ability to throw a load of laundry in or start a crock pot for dinner during your lunch break, that would result in a net gain of quality time with the family. Worth looking into!

    2. Thanks for the suggestions Kate! These are great points. Sadly my employer does not allow any remote work. I’ve asked already. (I really wish they would! Even just saving the time commuting would allow me an extra hour at home with our daughter.) And thanks for the cautionary advice regarding the school schedule. That’s good to know.
      The whole rent vs. buy dilemma is a tough one. I know we don’t HAVE to buy, and there are so many upsides to renting. We’ve really enjoyed it. But sadly we are outgrowing our one-bedroom, and I can’t find any rentals that are even close to what we’re paying now! I think that we’ve been in our current apartment so long that the market around us has increased, and now we’re a little stuck.

      1. We lived in a 1-bedroom for ( years with one kid while my husband was earning his PhD. We would have loved to have more space but we managed just fine. Long term it helped us manage our finances, save money, and also when my job ended and his school was done we were able to leave the area with ease. You both are at the point of big changes in your careers; there is a chance you might find yourself needing to move to pursue new opportunities. It is not a bad idea to stay light right now. I also second Mrs Frugalwoods advice on college savings! If you look into it, Roth or HSA might be better place to put any spare money you have, if you qualify.

      2. I just wanted to comment that it’s totally possible to live in a 1-bedroom apartment with kids for a longer period of time. Don’t feel that you *have* to move just because you have a child. Sure, it’s not ideal, but it can work. My husband and I have two kids (5 and 2-years old) who share the bedroom. My husband and I sleep on a fold-out couch in the lounge room (where our two cats also sleep. ;). It’s very cosy, but it works for now. We are saving for a down payment, so we are just making it work! It also helps that I am a minimalist and get rid of stuff as soon as I realise it’s not being used.
        Here’s a blog I found inspiring about a family in Vancouver who do the same:

    3. Yup, you took the words or of my mouth re: school system! Teachers do NOT get summers off! Been there, done that. With constant changes to curriculum requirements and the insane burden of admin work, I would never advise anyone to go into it unless they are prepared to work 10 hour+ days and weekends for the first few years. There’s a reason most people who leave teaching do so within the first five years! It is one of the worst myths out there that teaching is a family-friendly position because it isn’t and hasn’t been for at least 15-20 years. It upsets me greatly that young people, especially women, are sold the idea that k-12 teaching will give them extra time with their future children and is just one reason I flipped to teaching private lessons only, then got out entirely into a wfh position.

      Rant over. That said, substitute teachers are needed and that can be a great option. Little to no prep work to eat up your free time with your children and a great way to test the waters and try out teaching different subjects and/or find a position in the teaching system that actually does have flexibility. Or, maybe you will love it and think I’m crazy for advising you against it, who knows! 🙂

      1. Definitely a myth about having more time when teaching. We once had an attorney take a job in our school because she wanted to spend more time with her children. She quit after 2 weeks because she said she now had less time with them. 🙁

      2. Hi frenchmama, thanks for your cautionary note! That’s really interesting. I think it must also depend on the school, the district, and the subject being taught? Both my parents are teachers (as well as my sister and several of my best friends…), and I have to say that when I was a child I LOVED that my mom was a teacher, and that she had extra time to spend with us in the summers and on school vacations. She was the first one to encourage me to look into it, as she loved the family friendly hours. But I know how hard it can be as well, and that it must be vastly different for different people. Definitely worth thinking more about–thank you!!

        1. I second the comments from frenchteacher and Thia. I would never work in the public schools again. The changes that have occurred in the last 10 years or so (since the No Child Left Behind legislation) have made it virtually impossible to have any work/life balance. My good friend is still teaching at the K-8 school I left 10 years ago to go into private education. She works 9-10 hours a day, and weekends and could still do “more”. She has fur babies and doesn’t even like to leave them that long! On the housing side, I would also add that home upkeep will take up a LOT of your time, energy and money. We have an older home and frequently long for the days when we were renting and had the park as our yard. 🙂 Best wishes to you on this part of your life journey.

        2. Hey Mary, As Susan and Thia have mentioned, with changes to legislation, it’s simply not the case that teaching is family-friendly in most districts for most teachers because of the heavy burden of tracking and reporting required for each student, plus the relatively recent phenomenon of parents wanting up-to-the minute info via internet/email/etc about their kids. Additionally, with school districts typically cutting budgets more and more, the aides and other professionals who used to take charge of monitoring halls and recess and school pickup/dropoff often have been cut, requiring teachers to take on these additional duties.

          Every teacher I student-taught with came in on the weekends to do extra grading or did so from home, many from 5am-10am or late at night. Once you add in the expectation for junior teachers to pick up extra coaching duties because they are lower on the totem pole and often having “last pick” of the subjects and grades they will teach, it is a job that will have you working 50-70 hour weeks, minimum, for the first 2-5 years just to get the work done and this is even more true for a more subjective subject like English! You also have to be present at school for set amounts of time before and after lessons are done for constant availability to meet with students and parents, so you don’t get to arrive and leave with the school bell (which is what used to make teaching family-friendly once your children were all in school).

          For example, take grading: English teachers (like I was!), for a writing task, will spend between 5-15 mins reading through every essay assignment and giving a grade. Often, said grade must have a “rubric” to explain and justify the grade on a scale of points–not a bad thing and it holds us to higher standards, but it is another addition to the grading mountain. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Your curriculum: you’ll be making changes every single year, not just to improve what could be better but to meet major changes to curriculum standards that many/most states have adopted. You need to hand in your lesson plans weeks in advance. Gone are the days when you could write a few notes to yourself about what you’ll be doing for the week once you have a few years’ teaching under your belt and “know” your lessons. All lessons must be written out and annotated, listing the state curriculum requirements that each meets. For your IEP students, you have to fill out daily, weekly, and/or monthly reports on how they are doing, plus how you are meeting each of their individualized education plans with adjustments to each lesson. Even subjects whose lesson plans used to be rather “set it and forget it”, like math and hard sciences, have seen sweeping changes in what methods must be taught, adding mountains to what they have to do!

          That said, if you must teach, do teach math or science if you have the capability (and desire) and are certified. Math and science teachers are in high demand and often make the highest salaries in the district because they are the most difficult to find. You can also usually find a job in any district you choose, whereas language, history, PE, arts, and music teachers have to often take jobs where they can get them, sometimes a long commute from where they actually live, or travel around to multiple schools in the district (foreign langauge, arts, music, and PE…) to get a full day’s work in because of budget cuts.

          These are the factors that led me to leave teaching. And I loved teaching! I just had to admit that, in its current state, it didn’t love me back. But, like I said previously, go into the classrooms, observe what’s going on in your preferred subject’s classrooms, and ask teachers in your preferred subject matter what it’s like in their district to be a teacher.

          1. Frenchmama, where do you live where you have to annotate lessons and have them written out??? I’m in Washington, and we don’t have to do that. All our curriculum (elementary) is largely aligned with the standards already, though we do have to fill in some gaps. Not sure if other areas do this, but we get an hour and a half early release every Friday for professional development or planning, depending on the week.
            Also, Washington state funds the bulk of everyone’s salaries, so the variation between districts in pay is only a few thousand dollars a year. We are all on basically the same pay scale, so science and math teachers make the same as everyone else. For reference, (because I hate when people won’t talk about salaries) I have a masters and 3 years experience, and I’m making about $70K/yr. My husband has 10 yrs, a masters, and is making about $90K in a different district. He teaches science, but doesn’t get any bonus for that.

      3. I am a certified teacher but I currently (past 7 years) work as a teaching assistant and I LOVE IT!! The pay is not great, but the hours can’t be beat, I am a union employee, I get excellent health benefits, AND I have a pension program! After I had kids I realized teaching really wasn’t the career for me for many reasons stated above, but I do like working in the school and have school hours, school breaks off and summer vacation off. If you can live on less, I highly recommend it.a

    4. Good tip about using the term telecommuting. I work 33 hours a week with one day in the office and the equivalent of 3 at home. I am going to start using this term!

  3. If Mary is serious about a career change, I think she should look into healthcare. I’m a nurse and my husband and I worked several different schedules to keep our kids out of full time day care. While nursing is not for everyone, there are many jobs available in a hospital, some don’t even require a degree. Also, since a hospital runs 24 hours a day many of the jobs have flexible or alternative hours. Hospitals usually have great health insurance as well. The company I work for now offers free healthcare if you use one of their facilities and have their insurance. This would be a great savings in the event there is another baby. Good luck Mary and John, I know you’re making the right decisions when you put your family first.

    1. I second this! I changed careers in my 30’s to become a medical social worker. I have many options for per diem work, including at hospitals and in crisis assessment. I’ve cut back my per diem work because I’ve become very burned out lately, but I have the option to pick it up again when I need the money or have more space in my life. Healthcare as an industry is only going to be expanding, not contracting.

      1. Holla fellow Social Worker! I don’t do Medical Social Work anymore (I’m in clinical social work in private practice) but it’s great! Every hospital, nursing home, rehab, and clinic seems to need PRN social workers, so it’s easy to pick up shifts and the pay is pretty good.

  4. Hello! I too keenly feel the desire to have a part time flexible job. I am a librarian and I have often wished I could be a school librarian, but at least in the state I live in you need a teaching degree AND a masters in Library Science, so be sure to check out the requirements. I had a part time job as a librarian, which was great. I had to switch to a full time job for two years, but was able to convince my new employer to let me drop down to part time, with a very flexible schedule, which allowed us to go back down to part time daycare. It is indeed a trade off of time versus money and I wanted more time with my three kids. If I had made a decision to stay home when any one of them was born, I think watching other kids for income could have been a good idea, but when I looked at my salary, it never seemed financially worth it to completely give it up. Have you tried asking your current employer for less hours and/or a flexible work schedule? If you’ve asked, consider asking again. Let them know you’re contemplating a career change to get what you want. At this point in my life, having a job with a flexible part time schedule is more important to me than doing something I absolutely love. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate my job, but the schedule and hours are the best part for me to be able to work and be a mom. Good luck! You are doing great!

    1. Hi Kari, thanks so much for this comment and encouragement! I have asked my employer in the past, and they don’t allow flexible hours or remote work. But you’re right, perhaps it’s worth asking again. I’ll definitely consider doing that. Because I think you’re right–I’m realizing more and more that I would prefer a slightly more flexible schedule (with more time at home) than have a fulfilling career. At least for this stage i’m in!

      1. I second this. If you have been there ten years, then you are valuable to them. They need to know that a pay bump, telecommuting, or an hour change needs to be on the table. Trust me when I tell you that we ladies need to be willing to say what we need; nobody will give it to us (and the men tend to have no problem asking.). Good luck. You are worth it.

  5. While you save for a house, make sure that you consider the maintenance costs of homeownership. I really disliked owning a home because while the mortgage payment was similar to what we’d pay in rent, the maintenance expenses just really added up. We ended up selling and going back to renting, which has been a much less stressful experience.

    The more money you can pull out to save for retirement the better because you have so many years for compounding to make a difference now. It can also really help reduce taxes. I’m not sure how you are planning for taxes with the freelance income, but if you continue with the freelance work, make sure you have seen a tax professional to do tax planning so you don’t end up with a huge tax bill you were not expecting to get.

    1. I just passed my first year of home ownership and I really feel this. Not only is my mortgage more than the amazing rent deal I scored, but the maintenance for the nice big yard my dog loves is a lot. And I haven’t even begun to address things like the windows from the 70s that make it impossible to keep my home below 80 during summer afternoons, the heat that began to malfunction right as it started getting warmer (so I could put it off til next month or so), etc. It’s definitely a labor of love and money and a project that’s never finished. I understand the appeal and, with kids and dogs and a love of gardening, almost a necessity. Just be prepared – even without an HOA, it will definitely not be cheaper!

      1. I think this depends on location and rental/real estate market, too – I’ve owned homes in two larger cities in the midwest, and both times the mortgage+insurance+taxes AND maintenance was leagues cheaper than rent by several hundred dollars per month (even when comparing to smaller rentals). But there’s definitely a cost in terms of time and energy, that’s for sure.

        1. For the sake of comparison, I live in a nice suburb of Sacramento. Rent for a 1BR is generally $1300-$1500/mo; I got a steal for $1115 because when I moved in, I was under the income cutoff of something like $62k(!!!). My house (in the same nice suburb but an older part with smaller houses) was $355k, so definitely more per month for me. I suppose the mortgage might be about on par for someone who moved from a more expensive 1BR or a bigger apartment.

          Maintenance will hopefully be cheaper from here on out (other than major projects like windows) because I’ve acquired most of the things I need to do it. I’m sure that first year or two are the most expensive as you gather yard stuff and tools, accidentally kill the plants you aren’t used to taking care of, complete initial DIYs, etc. But boy, it was sure nice when my apartment complex paid to get me new energy-efficient windows that lowered my energy bill at no cost to me.

    2. My husband and I recently became renters again. We moved to a more expensive state (Colorado) from a lower cost of living city in the Midwest. We were homeowners for several years and realized just how expensive it was to be homeowners. I could write a book on all of the costs of homeownership but I’ll spare everyone. 😉

      Even though our rent here in Colorado is about the same as our former mortgage payment, our expenses are much lower. My husband did the math and for the two years we lived in our most recent home, it was costing us between $500-800 more per month to live there (this figure is on top of our mortgage payment). In addition, our former home was 3000 square feet and was expensive to heat/cool/generally maintain. We now live in a 1200 square foot, 2-bedroom apartment and love it. Even when we do buy again, we will a similar size to our apartment. Another unexpected benefit to living in an apartment – it’s prevented us from becoming pack rats and makes us really evaluate if an item is a “need” or a “want.”

    3. Just wanted to counter these points with a plug for homeownership, especially with kids. After renting for several years, we bought a house 4 years ago when our kids were 1 and 4. It has been so much better for us. We were happily renting but our landlord decided he wanted to move back into that house so he gave us 60 days to move. We lucked out in being able to buy a house, but I would say those 60 days were among the most stressful times of my life. And I know several people who have had a similar experience. I never want to be in a position again where someone can tell me I need to move in 60 days. The public elementary school my kids attend has a relatively small catchment area and rentals are hard to find so if we had to move, it would likely mean my kids would have to change schools. If it was just myself and my husband it might be different, but I want stability for my kids at this stage in life. There is a maintenance cost in terms of money and time, but overall we are not spending that much more than rent (especially with yearly rent increases) and we like being able to do what we want with the place (vs the landlord doing only the minimum maintenance). We are also lucky that the real estate market in our area has gone up in the past 4 years so our home has a lot of equity in it. We are not selling in the near future so the market could go back down but as of now we have come out financially way better than renting.

  6. If Mary decides to prioritize flexible hours but not necessarily a new career like landscape design, there are many work from home situations for a good marketing person with Mary’s background and experience. I have been working in marketing part time from home for a technology company for almost a decade since I had my first child. She might also significantly increase her salary by finding another job in marketing. While there’s a lot to be said for loving your boss and your co-workers, it strikes me that the added stress and relatively low pay may not be worth it at this stage in her life. She could increase salary easily by 50% (and potentially more) by looking for a role with a larger company where she could wear fewer hats. If you’re going to work at a job that’s not your passion anyway, maximize the value of what you do now. There’s no cost to trying something new in your current field before making a big change, especially since this is the only place you’ve worked since college.

    1. This is a really great point Missy, thank you so much for chiming in! If I can continue to use my education and experience, that would be ideal, you’re right.

  7. This is a great case study! I have to admit, really envious about being debt free- go you guys! I look forward to hearing how you change things in future and I’ll be cheering for you to get that house!

  8. What struck me is that Mary said that her current job is “not the highest-paying job for this type of work in our area” but she stays because she likes her boss/coworkers. That’s understandable, but given that they want to buy a house, I would think that applying to some of those better-paying similar jobs would be a good first step. Job-hopping is usually the best way to get a substantial raise, and even if she wants to stay at her company, she could use a job offer elsewhere to negotiate a raise at her current employer. She might even find a company that would not only pay her better but perhaps allow more flexibility like regular work from home days.

    1. I worked in Marketing/PR/Advertising for several years. I’ve been very strategic about the types of jobs I’ve taken and in this field, you do have to tend to job hop in order to make a competitive salary. For example, I started out at an advertising/PR agency and the pay was very low. I moved on to a large hospital network a few years later and increased my salary by 50%. From there, I moved on a Fortune 100 company where I’ve been for the last several years and have telecommuted full-time for the past four years. Luckily, my company is very much an advocate for telecommuting. Also, my salary is much, much better in this environment. I would highly encourage Mary to look at larger companies for telecommuting options. Regarding childcare, I know my company requires parents to have a strict childcare arrangement in place and you can be fired if you’re caught caring for your child on the clock. I actually had a former coworker who didn’t have an arrangement in place, was caught and disciplined, and she eventually left the company to be a SAHM.

      I’m not a parent yet but hope to be in the next year or so. I’ve tried to set myself up, to make as much as I can and plan for the future financially while I’m child-free and have the energy and time. I’ve had so many friends of mine who have gone through similar situations to Mary so I completely sympathize.

      There is no easy solution. In my opinion, companies and organizations need to do more to enable working mothers to stay in the workplace (if they choose). There is a real opportunity here to reshape the culture.

      1. Thank you for highlighting this: “In my opinion, companies and organizations need to do more to enable working mothers to stay in the workplace (if they choose). There is a real opportunity here to reshape the culture.” Yes yes yes!!!!

    2. Thank you Olivia, I appreciate that sage advice! It’s definitely something I’ve been thinking about over the last few weeks…wish me luck 🙂

  9. Quick note on the 529–you can claim up a deduction on up to $2000/ year on MA state taxes for 529 investments in a MEFA U.Fund Account, managed by Fidelity. It has to be in that specific account, but it is worth it for the tax benefit if they chose to continue contributing to the 529. I am also a MA resident and just found out about this last year. Good luck to your family!

    1. Also note that this tax deduction is a limited time – it is currently only available until 2021 (2017-2021). As it’s unknown whether this tax benefit will be kept beyond that date, I would suggest that it is worthwhile to continue funding the 529 and taking advantage of this deduction at this point.

  10. If one of you works as a ranger/park guide for a state or national park, your housing onsite is free! And, one of you can afford to stay home FT (or, work from home). Jobs usually start $35-$45k annually, but you wouldn’t be paying for a mortgage or childcare. You’d be fulfilling other buckets, too: nature, steady job with benefits and pension, etc.

  11. Hi Mary – I am also a marketing manager but live on the west coast. What stands out to me as FW mentioned is your family living paycheck to paycheck and if you can solve for that, you and John could both have more options. Even though you are thinking about a career change while you want more flexible hours, would you be open to remaining a part time remote marketing manager for a Boston-based technology company? In today’s job market there might be a lot of part time and/or contracting 1 year jobs that pay more than what you’re making full time now. Your salary feels low for the work that you’re doing and could be due to the size of your company and how long you’ve been there. You can make a large salary jump by finding something new. A 1 year contract might give you the flexibility to pursue some different careers once you’ve had some time to pursue them a bit more. Good luck!

    1. Thanks dvs, I would definitely be open to options like that, so I appreciate these great ideas! Will look into it more…Thanks so much.

  12. A friend of mine who loves gardening started her own landscaping business when she had her kids. She would strap her baby to her back and get to work! Or else, she would do it when her husband or parents could watch the kids, the plants didn’t care which day they were weeded and she could make her own hours and take as much or as little work as she wanted. I think caring for someone else’s child is also a fabulous idea. If you can find a good waitressing gig and work just a couple of nights a week, you’d be surprised at how in very few hours you have just made the equivalent your salary-minus day care while your husband watches the baby at night. Not glamorous, but neither is spending half your salary on day care. All this would, of course, require your husband to get that full time job with benefits. I would also highly recommend purchasing a two-family house if you are able to buy, rental income is so helpful! And, yes, dealing with an emergency at an inconvenient time is annoying, but signing a lease that is the equivalent income of a part-time job that you almost never have to show up to is not!

  13. I was a school librarian in private schools for four years, two of them in Massachusetts. I do have an MLIS, but you don’t need certification for private schools (and I don’t have it). With Mary’s background in book publishing, she MIGHT be able to get a job as a school librarian without a full MLIS at a private school, especially if she works with children’s/YA books. I don’t know how many private schools are in the area they live though. Plus — it’s not a job I recommend you pursue if you don’t think you’d enjoy it. Working in schools can actually be quite stressful. I have recently returned to school to train to do something I’m more interested in.

  14. Mrs. Frugalwoods-
    I love all of your info-but please stop recommending people become a dental hygienist for the flexibility! I have been practicing for 21 years and it can be a very unforgiving schedule. You are booked 6-8months in advance (try getting a vacation or day off for school functions…) Don’t even mention sick kids-it is very stressful calling your boss knowing there is a days worth of patients waiting for you. Before and aftercare-nightmare-days can be long. Licensing has also been in the process of changing as well, Mary has a BA but would still need prereq science courses and 2-3 years of clinicals and classwork. Fortunately I did all of this before having children-can’t even imagine trying to balance that schedule with kids-again patients waiting for you. Finally-having to peel a child off of you at daycare and race to work to get prepared for the day of patients (go through charts, stock room, etc…) is not for the faint of heart. I do love dental hygiene and have managed to find a rare gem of per diem in my old office (1-2 days/month) and a part-time gig in a nursing facility-no benefits but flexible.

    1. I work in a dental office, not as a hygienist, and agree somewhat on your comments about the hygiene career. The educational requirements have greatly increased over the years and, at least on the West Coast, classes are very limited as far as number of students enrolled each year. Pay ranges from $45-70 per hour, and days off can be very flexible depending on the office, but medical insurance coverage is not provided generally. Dental care on the other hand is probably better than the insurance coverage at another job. And, perhaps surprisingly to many, but dental hygiene is a very physically demanding job with many experiencing problems with their necks, backs and hands. It can be a very rewarding career and I know some who work 2 days per week and others 5, depending on their current life situation; but there is a lot of preparation to get to that point.

  15. Hi Mary, thank you for sharing 😁 it’s nice to read your case because I’m in a similar situation and it’s been hard on me for the past year. I have a daughter who’s 1.5 years old and working in a job I’m not really in love with. I actually graduated as a Master in Arts History but never managed to find a job related to my degree. So now I’m working as a back-office assistant for 32 hours a week. I’ve looked into a career change but that would require for me to take a pay cut for three years to retrain and we can’t afford it. We are currently saving up to buy a house in a more rural area since city living is to loud for me. So I decided to wait on a career change and go for the house first because that is my biggest priority. I realised it would take up too much energy trying to achieve it all at once. Especially being a mom 😉 so thank you for sharing your story, it makes me feel less alone. Good luck to you and your family!

    1. Hi Lena, thanks for sharing–Sounds like we’re in very similar life stages! Thanks for the encouragement, we can do this 🙂

  16. Hi Mary – I am also a marketing manager (for a technology company on the west coast), so your description of your career being something you aren’t totally passionate about resonates so much with me :). But, what immediately stood out to me is your family living almost paycheck to paycheck (but debt-free and with some savings!!). As FW often touts, having financial security will offer you more options and freedom later. I wonder if you can prioritize your finances now, you can explore more career options later.. As FW suggests, John can immediately look for full-time graphic designer jobs at a steady (Boston-based?) firm that offers family healthcare benefits through his employer. You may also be able to set your sights on a part-time marketing manager job that will give you your current full-time salary. Your salary for marketing feels low to me, but might have to do with the industry and size of company. I know plenty of Boston or NY-based companies that hire part-time 1 year remote contracts that pay very well. Try getting in touch with a recruiting agency who work directly with these types of companies. This won’t be forever, just enough to give you some financial freedom to make some more moves that suit your lifestyle.

  17. I think there is great advice here so far! I really liked this post because a lot about it is similar to my family’s position.

    Personally I would encourage Mary to consider a new job, still in marketing, at a higher salary and at a larger company, if possible (I have no idea the job market in her region).

    Mary, I am expecting our first/only in December. When we made the decision to start a family I knew my job would have to go. The stress and time was astronomical. I was unsure what kinds of salary I would get, but after reviewing the market I found I could move to a larger company, still doing what I do, with a slightly higher salary but more importantly much better benefits and way, way less stress and very minimal overtime. I feel confident that while I plan to return to work 8 weeks after baby is born (my spouse will be a full time stay at home dad) that I won’t be burnt out from work and will be able to enjoy my at-home time with my family.

    I would say, given your very young child and your desire to have more, find a job that supports your ability to be present at home and gives you a good balance. Look for satisfaction in the mission of the job later on in your life. Does my current job do good things for people? Absolutely. Am I deeply passionate about it? Nope. And that’s OK. Because I have the freedom and space to be passionate about other things outside of work here and my employer respects that.

    Alternately, if your husband finds a full time job with healthcare I would look for a part time job that’s not at the same times your husband works. When our baby is born and my husband becomes a stay at home dad, he will still be doing some part time work on some nights and evenings that he’s arranged with a friend. As he was the lower earner in our family (he takes home about what you take home monthly, net, based on the case study), what he’ll be bringing home going forward is basically the difference of his current salary net the daycare costs (also estimated to be about what you’re paying now). I think this will provide a lot less stress on us. And both your family and our family has enough cash saved up, as well as enough places on our monthly expenses to cut, that if that part time work ends up not paying as much or isn’t working out it’ll be OK.

    1. Hi KN, thanks for your advice and encouragement. I really appreciate hearing your story! This part really resonated with me, “find a job that supports your ability to be present at home and gives you a good balance. Look for satisfaction in the mission of the job later on in your life. Does my current job do good things for people? Absolutely. Am I deeply passionate about it? Nope. And that’s OK. Because I have the freedom and space to be passionate about other things outside of work here and my employer respects that…”

  18. Whether or not you decide to buy, what about looking for a different rental in the meantime that includes what you need and want, maybe a little out of town, where it might be cheaper to get something bigger than in your current area and have outdoor space?

  19. My suggestion is for Mary regarding the potential career change. Before leaping, I encourage you to think through in more detail what you love, dislike, derive energy from and get stressed about in your current role. And think about it from several different perspectives:

    1) The subject matter of your job: books (it seems like you love this)
    2) The broad activity: marketing
    3) The sub-activities in marketing: communications, sales, customer relations, writing, strategy, etc
    4) The daily / weekly activities and the flow of the day: meetings, writing, telephone calls, email correspondence, travel?, budgeting, reporting etc
    5) The company (its values, its location, the physical space)
    6) Your management chain (the people who report to you and who you report to, and who they report to etc)
    7) Your network at work

    Track these elements for a couple of months to figure out what gives you energy / pleasure / satisfaction, and what depletes you, stresses you, bores you etc. This will help you hone in on a new role. For example, you might find that it’s not “marketing” per se that you dislike but certain parts of your daily or weekly routine, or even your current co-worker/manager pool. Or you might find that you don’t like “sales” but you do love communications, so you might want to pivot into an HR-related or education-related communications role (or investor relations or PR).

    You might end up discovering that there is a lot you love about your existing employer and role, and only a few things that bother you. In that case, if you trust your manager and the company has shown itself capable of being flexible, consider asking your manager if there are some things you can change about your existing job. For example, if you love the communications side of your job but hate the “sales” aspect, maybe you could take on more of the former and less of the latter. It could involve shifting into mentoring more junior people on the communications side or another management aspect of that role. Or vice-versa.

    And regarding your concern about being away from your daughter so much, consider speaking to your manager about working remotely one day a week (for starters).

    You also might want to check out Jenny Blake’s book Pivot from the library:

    1. Thank you so much, frogoutofwater! This is great advice…Do you want to be my personal career coach? 😉 haha.
      But honestly, these are really great questions. I will definitely think about my role with those different perspectives in mind, as a personal assessment. I really appreciate this!

  20. There should be some savings to grab related to auto and renters policies.
    – Why do you use 2 insurance companies? Two cars and renters insurance with one company should produce some savings.
    – Are you carrying collision and comprehensive coverage on those cars? If the values are as low as indicated, virtually any accident claim will total either one of those cars. By the time your deductible (say $500) is subtracted, the insurance company will not write you much of a check.

    1. That’s what I was going to suggest too! It seems like they probably have full coverage and most likely don’t need it plus they should both use the same company and get a multi-car discount.

  21. Great Advice—-

    To Mary’s question on pausing 401k contributions to save up for a house, I say no. In my (admittedly harsh) opinion, if you have to stop saving for retirement in order to save for a house, you can’t afford that house. Buying a house is not a necessity. I would argue that saving for retirement is. Not everyone will agree with me on this hardline approach, but I think it’s dangerous to stop saving for your longterm future.

    1. Agreed! I’m a designer at a tech company (my office even has a branch in Boston) and designers make on the low end at least 70k/year whereas I have been there five years and make over 100k. Plus, tech companies are usually very laid back about working from home AND at least in my case it’s a 9-5 job. I can count on one hand the times I’ve had to stay past 5 (occasionally I catch up in the evening from home though).

  22. Mary, I’m haven’t read all the comments so I apologize if I am restating another’s thought. With your experience in marketing have you thought about teaching at your local college or University. This would give more flexibility and possibly the health care coverage your family needs. I think your husband might think about that as well. He could certainly teach a class and run his freelance business.

    1. I teach classes online for several community colleges and like it- but there are a lot of misconceptions. Adjunct work does not come with benefits, and full time teaching jobs at community colleges are usually very competitive. You usually have to have at least a Master’s degree to teach as well in the subject that you are going to teach, although some places will accept 18 hours of graduate credit in your subject.

  23. Hi Mary! I hear Montessori Schools are often in need of teachers and some will even pay for your Montessori training. When working with the littles (0-3y.o.), the work day ends around noon which would give you time with your daughter. Also, I have experience working on organic farms and saw how parents could spend all day with their children, homeschooling and farming. You can farm on as little as an acre. A green house can produce a lot! Maybe you will find yourself behind a booth at a farmer’s market in the future? Granted, farming is not high paying but it would afford you what you love and time with your daughter if done on a small scale. Only you know what is right for you and your family. Good luck!

  24. Congrats on being debt free! Lots of exciting possibilities in your future. A few random thoughts…

    From the perspective of a stay at home mom who doesn’t work, you may find some value in working part-time while also raising your child/future children. I’ve always thought it would be nice to strike a balance between spending time with my children and engaging my mind in a different, non-child rearing way but have yet to figure out how to do this! If you choose to go the part-time work route, I’d echo what someone mentioned above about teaching English online. I haven’t done it but have heard if you do it through the right companies, you can earn about $20 an hour. And the times for teaching are usually outside of typical US working hours since many of the English language learners are in Asia and many time zones ahead, so that shouldn’t cause you to need additional childcare for the times you work. You could also consider becoming a freelance copy editor (I think that is the term?) and work from home. I know Mrs. FW suggested not having you both freelance at once, but I’d imagine since Massachusetts has been requiring health insurance and has had a marketplace for longer than the ACA has been around, they may have more stable rates and generally a lower chance of the state health insurance marketplace going under.

    Has your husband looked at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem for salaried positions?

    Regarding cell phone and cable/internet, we (in Northern New England) use Comcast and pay $39.99 a month for just internet (was $29.99 the first year). We also have our cell phones through Xfinity Mobile and pay about $14 a month. They use Verizon’s network. This price is data dependent, but we’re always on WiFi and don’t use much data. That could drive your costs down! Also consider buying your own router and modem to avoid rental charges.

    Best of luck with whatever you decide to do. Looking forward to the update!

  25. UGHH Comcast! I find this expense so frustrating. It’s so expensive, and costs go up every year along with all these new fees (sports broadcast fee!! what?) But I haven’t figured out a cheaper alternative. We have internet, tv, and land line bundled. Every once in a while I try to finagle things to a cheaper number, but Comcast purposely makes the bundle cost the most affordable (dropping a land line gets you nothing). I threaten to cancel my subscription in order to try to get a lower rate, and Comcast always calls my bluff… our cable is used for sports, and I mainly watch shows that aren’t available on Netflix.

    Has anyone found a great alternative to Comcast where you can watch sports, local news, and Bravo?

    1. I would definitely dig into various tv-like streaming options if you haven’t looked recently. I know that directv, playstation, and sling all have some sports channels. You have to watch the subscription+internet costs, but it might result in savings.

      Sports was definitely a challenge for us when we looked into going without cable. My boyfriend is an alumn of a west-cost state school, and is really into watching all the sports (seriously, football, basketball (mens and womens), softball, track, etc., etc., etc.). We live on the east coast though, so even with cable, we had a hard time getting the games we wanted to watch. For a while we just “borrowed” his grandma’s west-coast cable log in for games, but the streaming options got better so now we use one of those.

      My boyfriend helped his parents, who live in the mountain-west region, set up tv-like streaming too. They ended up going with a different streaming service from us because the “channels” offered in their state were different from the ones we can get where we live (I imagine that this is due to various exclusivity deals that the channels have with cable providers).

  26. Re: landscape designer/horticulturist

    I have a 4-year degree in Horticulture with a concentration in Landscape Design (and spent a few years in the Landscape Architecture program). In my experience, if you have a job with a landscape company/larger garden center or nursery, you need to be a very good sales person. That was my down fall, I could design a great landscape but I hate being sold to so I wouldn’t “push” people to follow through.

    A garden center/nursery job that has you as their tree & shrub gal or perennial gal would be more stable, but not as well paying (and you might not have many hours in Jan-Feb). The horticulture field does not pay well unless you’re on commission as a designer and are a serious go-getter.

    Many community colleges have 2-year horticulture degrees that would help you get a foot in the door of the nurseries, and aren’t as time consuming/costly as a 4-year degree.

    I love working with plants, but I looking back I didn’t pick the best major to get a stable, decent paying job in. Of course, this was back in the late 80s-90s, when things looked better! 😀

  27. – Can your husband get a regular full time job, and then do his freelancing on the side? Put the regular paychecks into your budget, and use the freelancing money to save more quickly for the house.
    – I would separate your house down payment savings from your emergency fund. You will still need the emergency fund after you buy a house. Those are 2 completely different purposes, I wouldn’t want to co-mingle them. Having those numbers separate makes it more clear how much you actually have for each purpose.
    – Are there any 2 bedroom apartments around you? Even though it would be more than you are currently paying, it may still be less than you would be paying for the house. Home ownership is not always the best option. I have seriously considered going back to renting.

  28. Hello, as a mom myself, I can see the desire to be with your kids, but as a child of working parents my whole life, I also know from experience that if you want to be there for your kids as they age, it’s better to be working when they’re younger and then stop working or work part-time when they’re older and they’re more involved in activities and sports. Especially since as parents you still need to increase your retirement savings a bit… I know things could change health wise for anyone, so there’s no right or wrong answer to this, but I also don’t want to be a burden to my kids as a retiree so my husband and I are now increasing our retirement savings dramatically for this reason. This also helps us out so in case our employment statuses change down the line (either due to choice or lay-offs), we will have the retirement savings already, so we will be ok if we can’t continue to save at our current rates or even save at all.

    Also, don’t give up your health benefits if you want to have more kids. Unless your current health insurance is terrible, having kids without employee paid health insurance is bananas. My son was in the NICU for 2.5 weeks and I know his bill probably came close to the middle to high 6 figures (Before insurance bargained them down after 13 months of fighting to $50,000).

    As far as your husband’s career goes, I recommend building his freelance work but to continue applying to jobs. If he can then get the health benefits, then I could see you easily moving to part-time. Also, has he looked at non-profits? Larger ones generally need a Communications Director or related position who has experience with graphics design, so it’s a way to get health benefits and a mostly stable check (so long as finances for the organization are in good standing and most respectable non-profits are).

    I second the health-care career option, if it’s at all an interest to you, as nursing is always in demand and can offer you career flexibility, especially if you go the per diem route. It can also be stressful (and depressing I imagine) so I know it’s not for everyone. In my area (outside Philadelphia), there are two respectable universities (one private (Villanova), one state (Westchester University)) that offer post-baccalaureate programs for nursing for those who already have bachelor’s degrees. The Westchester U. only requires around 18 pre-reqs (plus a few labs) that you either did in your undergrad, or do at a community college before applying into the program. Most of the pre-reqs (outside of the labs) were classes that local community colleges offered remotely and at a very reasonable cost. And if accepted into their 18-month program at WU, while you could not work while in the full-time program, it currently costs around $25,000 for the full program, and has great job placement rates afterwards (so if you could keep housing costs down, you would just need loans for school). My point to all of this, is that if you’re really looking to increase your income, there are programs like these in every state if it interests you. I think the same thing exists for dental hygienists as well. Other health care industries in demand are physical and occupational therapy and physician’s assistants. Again, these are all roles that may require a lot of hard work to get into, so you don’t want to sacrifice if it’s not a field that interests you, especially if after all the money/work, you realize you hate it. The nursing is something that really interests me, but currently, things are ok at work so I’m waiting and saving. And the plus to nursing also is no matter where you go, even internationally, you can generally get work.

    Lastly, I COMPLETELY hear you on the “don’t feel like cooking” part of life as a working mom of a very active 3.5 year old who needs my attention every waking moment I am home, lol. I literally can’t do much cooking during the week now. And oftentimes, I don’t have the energy or desire to cook on the weekends because cleaning or laundry or something else happens. My solution to this is convenience foods. I know not everyone agrees with this (as I know it’s , but it’s cheaper to keep frozen chicken pasta meals (like Chicken Voila or the Bertoli Chicken Pastas) available for reasonable prices at places like BJ’s/Costco , than to eat take out from a restaurant. Heck, you can even keep frozen American-Chinese style foods in your freezer and still have your Chinese nights (we do have a rice cooker for the rice). I no longer even have the desire to make my egg-bakes for breakfasts anymore because I hate the prep and clean-up. So I now even buy the frozen Jimmy D’Lites egg cups which aren’t too unhealthy, and stop me from getting a fast food breakfast sandwhich when I’m running late in the morning for work! So even if you spend a little bit more on your groceries each month, if it saves you a) wasted food/produce you never cook and b) from eating out when you don’t feel like cooking, you definitely come out ahead financially buying frozen meals like lasagnas, pasta dishes, meatballs, frozen veggies, etc.

    Good luck with everything as you move ahead!

  29. I’d think seriously regarding cutting travel to spend time with family, no matter how much of a priority buying a home is. We all think we have lots of years to spend time and visit with family members, but the fact is … sometimes we don’t. And you don’t get that time back. And weigh that against the amount that it truly saves. Good luck!

  30. Mary,
    Assuming you can save some money according to Mrs. Frugalwoods suggestions… Are you able to cut your work to 32 hours a week? Then you’d have more time with baby while she’s young, and hopefully you can keep your family’s medial benefits.

    Or/And… can hubby get a full-time job and freelance on the side at home? If so, perhaps his full-time job could provide benefits for the family and then you could work even less than 32 hours at your current job. More time with baby for you and more time to branch-out into a new career for you.

  31. I know teaching sounds appealing for working well with family life – but just to throw this out there, when I was teaching 3rd grade (given, it was an extended day charter school with hours from 7:15-4) – I was typically in the building from 6:30 – 5pm (leaving at 5 was the absolute earliest). More veteran teachers arrived and left closer to school hours, but it takes a few years (at least) to get there. I had to commit at least one weekend day to prep. I’ve gone to grad school (two different degrees) and worked at four other different jobs, and teaching was, by far, the most time-demanding job I had.

  32. Don’t know if you live close enough but if you are serious about teaching New Hampshire has a lot of alternative routes to get certified. I am actually looking into it now for Library Media. I currently work at a public library and the hours are semi-retail. You will probably have to take classes online once you start but it’s not terrible and they give you time. My husband is an assistant principal. They are always hiring alternate route here.

  33. Comments from a librarian! (Work in a public library and by and large really do like my job). If you are mainly interested in becoming a school librarian, without an MLS pickings will be slim. Public libraries often have part time openings, and there are interesting jobs that don’t require the Masters, but your career options will be more limited. I went back to school at 50 to get my graduate degree (very welcoming profession for midlife career changers) BUT pay is very modest (often lower than public school teachers). My advice would be to only consider it if you think you would love it.

  34. Hi Mary, if you don’t mind being unconventional, and your furniture/space allows, consider putting your daughter in the bedroom and using your living space as a bedroom for you and John. Your evenings are probably occupied with noisy things- doing dishes/running the dishwasher, catching up with your husband, the occasional film- that might disturb your daughter’s sleep anyway. This might mean a return to your college futon sofa days- buying one, if you have to, still probably costs less than moving and a rent increase? (Maybe store your bed? Got a friend with a garage or attic?) this set up could buy you another year or two in what sounds like a good rental situation otherwise. So you can save and plan and search for what’s next. Best of luck!

    1. Hi Cara, it’s funny you suggest this…it’s exactly what we’ve done this past week! Baby girl is sleeping comfy cozy in our bedroom, and John and I have been sleeping in the living room on an air mattress. Oh the things we do for our kids 😉

  35. Mrs. Frugalwoods has navigated some excellent avenues and offered great advice! I would second some of the above and add as well,

    -Instant Pot: amazing resource for meal prepping/bulk meals
    -Bundle insurance
    -Do not cut retirement contributions but cut spending to fund house (beauty of compounding)
    -Brush up the resume now and apply for marketing gigs with a larger company & teleworking option few x/wk
    -Cash envelope system works wonders when a stricter budget is a goal (a short break from travel rewards never hurt anyone)

    Congratulations on your hard work of no debt, and your beautiful baby girl! Whatever you decide, you’re already half-way there with your awesome dreams and aspirations!

  36. So I think Liz has good intentions, but she and Nate have spent their entire time as parents in a situation where their earned income is basically gravy, and totally unnecessary to fund their ongoing expenses. Combined with both of them having extremely family friendly, flexible jobs that leave them with a lot of free time to tend to family/frugal concerns, I don’t think they fully understand the reality of busy working parents who are dependent on their paychecks to meet ongoing commitments. I don’t think this advice is going to be popular, but here goes:

    1. You should stay in the one bedroom apartment for longer, and emotionally adjust to that fact. We have three kids four and under sleeping in our bedroom and will soon have a fourth, so I get that’s really hard to be staring down the barrel of years of crowding, but it’s the best bet you’ve got for achieving financial escape velocity from the situation you’re in. Some things we’ve found helpful: we got rid of all our dressers and replaced them with bookshelves, which are a more efficient use of space. We replaced our changing table with a tray that mounts on the crib. We have personally found it better to keep the bedroom dark and cavelike and leave everyone asleep in there, while the adults have the run of the remainder of the apartment at night. For what it’s worth, my kids are totally unfazed by the sleeping and space situation. I throw stuff out with enthusiasm.

    2. You are very strapped, mostly due to totally reasonable and hard to cut expenses like daycare and rent and running cars so you can get to and from work. Unfortunately, nobody is selling daycare vouchers at 30% off at Costco. While frugality is helpful, you’re not going to cut your way to prosperity. You need to insource as much domestic labor as possible, and if that means sometimes dinner is sliced cheese and crackers and fruit because you lack the werewithal to cook, that’s ok. Last night my kids had cheddar, blackberries and tomatoes for supper. Serve it on paper plates if you have to; it’s cheaper than eating out.

    But what you both really need to do is MAKE MORE MONEY. Your husband needs to be looking for a full time salaried job and freelance work on the side, and he’s going to need to keep that freelancing up once he gets a full time job. You need to see what you can pick up in terms of freelance on top of your day job. Given that your employer seems very inflexible, it might be worth looking into what’s available in terms of jobs that are more lucrative in pay/benefits or more flexible for you.

    Basically, if either of you are awake, you need to be doing hands on childcare/chores or working. This is very doable (I was working full time and part time, as was my husband, as we saved the down payment for our apartment, and he still is), but it is really hard and really exhausting. It helps to lower your housekeeping standards. Nobody is going to die if you serve frozen pizza and the toddler watches Daniel Tiger a little. Or a lot. If you throw a lot of effort at this problem, you will be in a vastly better situation a few years from now.

    I would table any major career decisions for a few years until you’re on a more solid financial footing, as I think you may find your attitude changing as your income grows and children get more expensive with age. It gets harder to find used items as kids grow and wear sizes longer. They start wanting expensive stuff like sports and you’ll want to provide them. Sometimes your child needs therapy not covered by insurance, or allergy shots, or math tutoring, or any number of totally reasonable and frighteningly expensive things. Children need eyewear and orthodontia and all sorts of other expensive stuff that you can’t just finesse with a trip to Goodwill and a positive attitude. Don’t make a decision now that you will regret when your baby is in middle school.

    I also suspect that a long term clothing and household goods budget of $0 is not viable. Eventually your shoes get holes. You need to maintain a certain degree of professionalism in your work attire. My husband can not be taken seriously in pants that are frayed and faded from black to gray. Children suddenly grow a shoe size overnight and it’s January and the only thing the thrift store has in their size are sandals (true story). Bedsheets get giant holes from laundering. My stove is dying and if I repair it, it’s going to cost 5 months of your current household spending and it’ll be more to replace it. My dishwasher and dryer are also on the fritz at the moment (this is not uncommon for homeowners, btw, and isn’t included in your mortgage).

    This is really really hard, but we’re doing it, can you can do. And it’s the reason we can afford to have 3, soon to be 4, children in NYC. We’re exhausted all the time, but we almost own our apartment free and clear, we’re on track to have a house in the city in a few years, the kids have college funds, and things are working out. It’s hard, but doable. I don’t mean to be harsh. I think you’re in an extremely fixable situation, but it’s going to be a bit of a hard road out for the next few years.

      1. I’m not casting aspersions on her. I think she gives good advice and has blind spots. Everyone does. But the reality is that Liz has Nate have never been in a situation remotely similar to that of the parents in this case study. Two working parents with an infant and very little disposable income are in a fundamentally different position than she is.

    1. I don’t think that if I were intending to have 4 children (or even 2), that I would deliberately have them all sharing a bedroom with my husband and I. For a very short time, like a few months or something, sure, fine, but to my mind, personal space gets to be important. No one sleeps well with a screaming new born in the same room.The case study details a couple who have one child so far and would like another, but want more space before then. 6 people in 1 room would almost certainly not work for them.

      For me, being constantly exhausted to the extent of routinely eating berries and crackers for dinner, would not work either. ”But I didn’t die” is not something I would want to regularly associate with what I provide as dinner for my kids. I happen to have 3 kids of varying ages, so I totally get how expensive they frequently are.

      I do think the OP could look to getting a higher salary / more flexible role, and your husband absolutely does need to prioritise finding a salaried job with some benefits. He can continue to do some freelancing of course, and grow his freelancing and maybe one day he can make that his sole income, but if you want to buy a home and spend more time with your child and any future kids, simply earning more is going to be the key, along with reducing the outgoings using many of the suggestions Liz has made.

      I do think this comment came off as sarcastic and unnecessarily disparaging. Of course we all have different life experiences and it’s fine to point out areas that Liz may not have considered. The bottom line of earning more is important, as Liz clearly points out, but basically ridiculing her very significant cost-saving suggestions as being essentially ignorant was unnecessary. Small changes do add up, even if imperfectly applied.

    2. All great points I think we can all learn from!

      Margaret, well done to you and your husband for making lifestyle choices that have clearly helped you get a financial leg up on your family’s future, especially living in expensive NYC.

  37. First of all, congratulations on the baby and paying off your student debt before her arrival! Well done! As someone who career changed in my late 20s-early 30s as a single, childfree woman, I’d like to suggest thoroughly researching all your options prior to making a decision. I almost started a MLIS (information & library science degree) because I loved volunteering in the library as a kid and still loved books. Before applying, I spoke with several librarians at my public library, then I joined a librarians meet-up group, where I asked a bunch of questions. Once I spoke with the meet-up group participants, I knew it wasn’t for me. That’s not to suggest it won’t be for you, but more a suggestion to access as many resources about a field of interest before pursuing it. I did something similar before deciding upon my career change into nursing.

    Changing careers was not easy, especially for those within my nursing program who had kids, but it is doable. But that’s another concern for you if you want to spend more time currently with your daughter and if daycare costs are also a concern.

    Lastly, as someone who worked as a freelancer, I know how hard it is to not have a reliable income or benefits. It makes more sense at this point for your husband to secure a full-time, salaried position, especially given his long-term goals and current status of the market. Fortunately, I secured a full-time, salaried position just in the nick of time, because Lehman Brothers collapsed not long after I stopped freelancing. The market is currently fantastic, but who knows for how long? The sooner he secures something full-time and salaried, the closer you two are to the house, which I sense is currently the biggest goal.

    Perhaps you focus on the house now, continue cutting expenses, and find a way to house hack as well. Maybe rent out a room in your next home or find a duplex? Not sure. But I’d suggest being open to options in order to reduce your overall expenses, so that you can work fewer hours.

    Best of luck to you!

  38. I don’t think the article mentioned relocating to a different state or area that might afford a better job + lower housing costs. I know it’s great to be close to family, but it might be worth it to go somewhere that John can get a great job and your housing costs are low enough for you to quit and stay home. I don’t know where might be, but I’d bet it exists. The Midwest often has areas that are lower cost of living, and you could possibly be closer to John’s family.

    We’ve lived far away from family for five years now, and have two small children. Sometimes it’s hard, but it’s honestly not that bad. We like the independence. And I love staying home full time with my babies. It’s such a gift to spend time with them. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever done in my life, but I wouldn’t trade it for a paycheck of any size.

  39. I am SO grateful to read this case study. I feel like we are in the SAME situation, Mary! I have a four month old daughter and I am heartbroken dropping her off at daycare every day. Everyone said it would get easier but that just hasn’t been the case for me. You and I have the same goal – a job with more flexibility to allow us to spend more time with our babies. We too want multiple children, which, as you said, makes this situation that much harder and the drive to find something more flexible that much greater. My husband cannot find a higher paying job because we unfortunately have to rely on the public student loan forgiveness plan which we are PRAYING is still around in a few years to get his debt paid off – he attended an expensive law school and his debt is just astronomical.. the highest paying job in his field in our area wouldn’t be able to cover his debt (it’s pretty bad…) so he’s working in public service. I am the ‘breadwinner’ so I just don’t have the luxury to not work at all. We love where we live and it’s affordable so we differ in that way but gosh, reading this just felt so therapeutic for me. I hope we are both able to find a solution where we can save for retirement AND stay home with our babies, at least in some capacity. I wish we could chat further about this – it’s just really nice to find someone who feels the same.

    I know this doesn’t provide you with any advice but I just wanted to let you know you are not alone in your situation! I’m right there with ya.

    1. Hi Dani, thanks for your sweet note! It’s nice to hear from others in a similar life stage and situation. I’m so sorry you’re also having a hard time with daycare drop off 🙁 What career field do you work in? I hope you’re able to find a way to some flexibility some day as well! We can do this.

  40. Have you considered John being the stay-at-home parent? Your daycare costs are almost as much as his pay, and with more kids in the future the scale would certainly tip towards having a stay-at-home parent. You could go down to one car and cut some costs there as well.

  41. This is a really tough choice. Because I will tell you what – finding a group of coworkers you like, a boss you like, in a job that is varied and challenges you, that is a really tough combo to find. It’s something to consider before taking a job hop. Because honestly, most jobs suck. I’m starting to get recruited this year and I’ve been making it clear to potential employers that it would take a lot of money to get me to leave my current job, because all those things are true of my current job as well. The only way I might consider it is if it really helps me hit my FIRE number a lot sooner. And, it didn’t say in your post, but did you ask for some kind of flexibility, or is it possible? If you can see a way it can work, you might be able to convince your employer of this as well. I’d do this first before seeking outside employment.

    Also, for one month of freelancing that’s incredible. I would definitely give it a few more months before making any decisions on it. As Ms. FW says, it takes some time to build up a client base, and that’s a huge start. I’d recommend some patience in that regard.

    I will say, I did start saving for my house first, then started by net worth building after I’d bought it. I also bought in a sweet spot: low interest rates, but low housing prices (that’s gone the other direction now with crazy home value increases in most areas). For what it’s worth.

  42. Here are my questions:
    1. Do you want to be a SAHM who earns on the side? (Options mentioned like free lancing, substitute teaching, montisori teaching, small organic farming, waitressing, working in child care) or do you want a career?
    Because it sounds to me like relationships are what guide your choices…..
    2. Can you hold for awhile and see if your husband gets a salaried job with benefits?
    3. Can you wait to figure out housing choices/location/costs after that?
    4. Meanwhile, practice decreasing those optional expenses?

  43. Another librarian chiming in. Do NOT become a librarian unless you absolutely cannot live without being one. And do not become a librarian because you love books and want a flexible schedule. Sure, those type of librarian jobs exist but it’s part time with little pay to run a one person library in a rural town – and chances are the same librarian (or even just a volunteer) has been doing it for thirty years and will continue until they drop dead at the info desk. Speaking from almost ten years of professional library experience, and several as a hiring manager, your job would be more akin to a social worker crossed with an event planner. Heck, you could even be a librarian who spends most of their time marketing. On top of that there’s cutthroat competition in the field for the few jobs out there. You’d very likely have to relocate to another state for your first position, or apply for years before finding something in your metro area. It’s just not worth it unless you love the work (which in public libraries will always include nights and weekends and covering shifts at the last minute because your institution is run on a shoestring). Every time I hired for a professional position I had over a hundred applicants from across the country to dig through. And these weren’t even prestigious cutting-edge places in desirable locations, just your regular local library. Sorry to sound harsh, but MLIS programs have been lying to career changers for years and I’d hate to see another person spend time and money chasing the fantasy of reading all day to find the reality is plunging backed up toilets and breaking up fistfights in a freezing cold building in the middle of nowhere. (Which to certain weirdos like me sounds appealing, but it’s far from the outdated stereotype!)

    1. AMEN! I’m a librarian with over 23 years of experience (9 in a public library and now 14 in a corporate setting). It is such a myth that it’s an easy profession and the basic requirement is one must enjoy reading. I love books, of course, but the information profession is so much more than that. You will need to earn your MLS – which is 2 years and will mean more student loan unless you are cash flowing it or your employer will pay for it. Then you will face a TON of competition in the market, as these are niche jobs that people get into a stay in until they die. Seriously. I highly doubt there will just be openings galore, especially in school media centers. You will more likely find part-time openings for lower paying library assistant positions (no degree required) in public libraries, where the hourly pay will vary widely based on municipal funding and you will need to do nights and some weekends most likely. I am lucky to work in a corporate library setting so I work a traditional M-F 8-4pm schedule but this is very unusual in our professional these days. Just wanted to give you a realistic look into the profession. It requires knowing how to use a myriad of research databases, conduct effective search techniques, conduct a reference interview with your patrons / customers and on and on.

  44. I fully agree with Liz, they need to prioritize to one goal and they need to increase their income. I worked as a federal civil service employee for over 30 years, made the maximum contributions to my retirement account while also being a military reservist. I spent time with my children with their sports and school activities where I could, but missed a lot of weekends as well as time I deployed. Wife worked also for the county, both had decent paychecks and retirement plans. Fast forward now, kids are grown, out of the house living their own lives. The houses are paid for and we are looking at six figure plus combined pensions. Time to visit the kids, have fun and enjoy life. We were frugal in our spending, and neither has to work until we die. Definitely fund that retirement account.

  45. Hi,
    a couple of thoughts. 1) when we were in a one bedroom with kids, we put a sofa that converted into a double bed in the lounge and this became our bedroom at night, we folded it away each morning and turned the room back into the lounge. The bedroom became kids bedroom ( yes two children) and also a play room. It worked great and allowed us to keep our rent low during the preschool years.

    2) I second the job discussion. either keep your job and ask hubby to be a mostly at home dad – maybe day care 2 days a week? Or swap and you work part time while he works full time. Or compromise. We work it that hubby works .8 or 4 days a week, and I work 10-15 hours a week. Our daughters do 3 days a week ice and I have 2 days a week with them at home which is lovely. You need to make a plan for the next 5 years or so with a plan for another baby or two. If that is your dream, then you be the one to stay home more, but do keep a foot in the world of work. maybe you job share with another working mum etc?

    3) you cant afford a house yet. But that’s ok. sort the work first and the size of your family and then look for a sensible house solution that fits with your lives then.

  46. Re: house vs 401K, you can take out an interest-free loan from your 401K to make a down payment on a house. (I think up to 50% of what’s in the 401K.) This might be a good option to have on the back burner, esp since housing prices are so high now and the market is probably due for a correction. Wait until you get a bargain! Also, re online teaching jobs, consider the pay and benefits very carefully. Most ESL teaching requires early early mornings, many don’t guarantee hours, and some pay in RMB, so when the exchange rate favors the USD (as it does now) your pay goes way down.

  47. I think Mary and John are doing so well — to be able to start their family off debt-free is a noteworthy accomplishment! And as a working mother, Mary’s pangs at being away from her daughter for so much of the day struck a chord with me and reminded me of when my own children, now in elementary school, we so little. In my experience, as my boys grew a little older they napped far less at home so there was more time to enjoy as a family. And, they formed bonds with their teachers and pre-school friends that were quite sweet to witness.
    Colleges and Universities could be a source for a salaried graphic design/art director position with some family-friendly benefits such as summer camps for school-age children on campus and college tuition assistance. Just a thought!
    Mary, have you checked out the site “remote woman”? It might be fun to pursue the marketing positions there to get a sense of the possibilities for remote work in your field.
    My last thought is that fall is a lovely time attend open houses in New England! Attending a few in your area can be a good way to get a feel for the market, help spark discussions about what you would like your future will look like, and are also free entertainment! Maybe you will decide you are better off renting for the longer-term. For my husband and me, attending open houses, coupled with the uncertainty of renting, really motivated to us to get our finances together and to move decisively once we had saved up.

  48. Avid reader, but I don’t think I ever commented once. Your story prompted me. I started as a writer/editor at a magazine. Then I went freelance for 5 years and did not make much as a magazine freelancer. Then, when my firstborn was 9 months old, I took a job as a marketing writer in a hospital because it was the early 90s, there was a recession and we were having hard times making ends meet. I made good money, but I wanted to go back home to my baby. For nearly three years, I worked full-time and plotted my life back to a freelance situation and really thought about how I’d do it. I ended up taking maternity leave with baby #2, stayed out, took parts of my old job as a freelance and developed new clients in my new field (healthcare marketing). I freelanced for more than 20 years in this niche and made a very decent living. Just 2 years ago, a client lured me with an offer I couldn’t refuse and I am back to full-time work in this last chapter of my career.

    So here’s what I think:
    1) You have to get a new job like yesterday. Mrs. FW is right, but not just for your husband. The market is strong, now is the time to strike. You, yourself, said you are underpaid. Liking your co-workers is not reason enough to stay. Meet them for lunch.

    2) If you think freelance marketing might work for you, consider taking small jobs now not in your field so there is no conflict of interest. All kinds of industries need good writers and marketers. The kind of experience you have is in great demand. In fact, I hire writers. Maybe Mrs. FW can give you my email! This would minimally give you a little more $ toward all your goals and give you a sense of how you like it. Might be hard to juggle, but might be worth a shot.

    Either way, the peeps here are right. Even if you go freelance full-time or telecommute, you have to find care for your kids. No one wants to hear your babies in the background on a phone call. Ever.

    I know it may seem like a long way off, but full-time freelance is great for working mothers of school-age kids, maybe even better than working in a school (as long as your husband gets work that carries benefits). You can truly create your schedule to mimic theirs. You have to figure out the summers, though, but bringing a college student into your home as a nanny during the summers could work.

    I dunno. I wonder if your lack of passion for your work isn’t more about adjusting to being a working mom coupled with the fact that you’ve overstayed at your present position. You have a truly marketable talent that allows for better paying full-time work and the possibility of exploring freelance work once your husband gets re-settled. I’m not sure if you should rush to pay money for other degrees or take the pay cut/dip that comes from a career switch.

  49. A couple thoughts about insurance:
    – Insure sure both cars with the same insurer to save money. You’ll also save if you bundle renters insurance with the car insurance.
    – If you have collision coverage, drop it. It’s not worth carrying on cars with such a low value. Most accidents will total the car, and you’ll get the car’s value minus your deductible…a small check.

  50. Have you thought about technical writing? Oftentimes these positions can be remote and pay equal to or higher than what you’re currently making. But I agree with the people who’ve pushed you to explore other options in the marketing field as well—I work entirely from home as a director of content strategy and know that there are other employers who allow positions like this to be telecommute. If you could get another offer, you could force your employer’s hand in terms of their flexibility. And while most employers will require full-time childcare—some will even demand it be full-time childcare outside of the home—there are some that will be more lenient with this. BUT it does seem to come with a trade-off in pay. I hate that we have to pay for this flexibility—and I do feel like it’s a gendered phenomenon—but sometimes that lower earning potential is worth it in order to have more time with our kids.

  51. Ok, this is so tough. I am feeling you as am going through similar questions in my life in regards to work and children. Can you relocate to a different area where houses are cheaper to buy? Can your husband stay at home full time? Can you cut down to one car? Can you work 4 days? Or even 5 days but with less hours? Cut down on your travel and gifts costs. People will understand. Your priority is your daughter now.

  52. Wow. I’m really impressed at what you’ve managed to do at really such a young age! Way to go! I totally agree with our blog host’s comments as to how you can achieve further savings. I’d also note that your rent is an amazingly good deal for MA and that homes are insanely expensive to buy in MA as I’m sure you know so keep this in mind.

    As for your desire to do something like landscaping/horticulture, I left a stable decent paying job in MA to start an organic farm in VT. I really pined to spend time outdoors, had majored in Agronomy, and figured I’d be able to spend more time with my young child if I did this. In truth, the growing season in New England is pretty compacted so if you are working in anything related to horticulture you will be working crazy non-stop hours during the warmer weather. I found myself working 80 hr weeks in an attempt to make the money we needed to live on(single Mom). I had to send my child to summer camp so I had the time to work non-stop. I never spent time with him when he was off from school. We never went camping anymore nor fishing. My time off when work slowed down was in the winter when he was back in school and I took on other jobs to make the money we needed. In retrospect I actually had more time with him when I worked a regular 9-5 type job in the city! I’d suggest you start feeding your need to do outdoor stuff by getting a community garden plot. You can do this with your daughter too. I did this when my son was very young; sectioned off a small piece for him with his own plants to tend.

    Prioritize saving for a home(with a yard) if this is what you want. But trying to find a flexible job for you while your husband is a freelancer probably is dicey.

    1. Hi Ani, thank you so much for this comment! I appreciate hearing your experience. It’s so easy for me to think that the grass is greener on the other side…but it’s good to hear personal experiences like this to bring reality to my daydreams. I do think that if we could eventually get to a place with a yard, some place for me to scratch my gardening itch, then perhaps that will be enough (and the 9-5 job will feel more bearable). Thanks for your insight.

  53. I think more young people should explore RELOCATION. I am from a small town in Northern Massachusetts and while it’s a great place for education it’s hard to get ahead. I wish I did this twenty years ago, I now live where my yearly taxes are equal to my monthly taxes in Massachusetts. It’s hard leaving friends be and family but not good being house poir

  54. We were in the same boat as you guys about 4 years ago, but with me (mom) as the freelance creative (in fact, I think I might’ve even attended the same art school at the same time as your husband!). Honestly, the childcare thing is the real clincher. Rent and childcare are so absurdly expensive here in eastern MA. I started my freelance business when my son was a baby and have worked part time from home so I can also be the stay at home parent to him and now, our infant daughter as well. It’s been hard, for sure, and it took about 3 years to find any amount of success in my business, but it’s possiible. If John has any inclination to being a work-at-home parent, he can do that and work during nap times and after bedtime and build up his design business. It may end up in the long run being more ideal to keep his freelance gigs mobile and not join a firm, so later on if you guys decide to move, you can and won’t lose both incomes. If you’re able to take childcare out of the equation, or decrease it significantly, that is going to make all the difference. Also, this might not need saying, but have John make sure he’s charging fair rates for his freelance work. It took me more than a couple years to realize how severely I was undercharging and that it was barely covering my time and costs. Saying no to lower-end clients and tedious design gigs is worth it in the long run, even if it feels wrong (unless you’re really struggling). I think a lot of us get trapped in this starving artist mentality, and it’s b.s., frankly. When it comes down to it, it would be optimal to have at least parent at home with the little one at least most of the day, and one or both of you will have to work your tails off to reach your goals. But it’s do-able – we were drowning financially five years ago and now are pretty comfortable, still renting but a much bigger place and not worried about little expenses, saving towards a home in 3-4 yrs.
    We are moving away from the coast soon due to the absurd cost of living in eastern MA. My husband’s friends in Missouri make half what we do and own homes that feel like a mansion to me. Even just moving to central or western ma, if you can be rural, and commute or work remotely, will be a huge load off financially.
    Lastly, the cooking thing is totally understandable, but there are ways to do it. I tend to cook up a big pot of rice in the instapot, a big thing of lentils (also instapot), roast a bunch of veg and that will last most of the week – each night I cook a meat/protein and reheat the rice/lentils/veg to go with it. We use a loca CSA and changes seasonally so we don’t get bored. I also eat the leftovers for lunch most days, it can stretch far and be pretty affordable. Every time I fall into the trap of getting snacky/convenient foods, I realize how much more expensive and wasteful it really is.
    Good luck guys, you can do it!

  55. Just wanted to chime in: I’m a remote worker at a company that generally doesn’t “do” remote work. When I had to move across the country, they tried to fire me three times in an extended game of chicken and then caved and we worked out a job I could do remotely. I’ve now been working remotely for 2 years.

    Be creative and be willing to stand your ground… Although in my case, my 10-15 years of savings helped me to stay strong. Think of how you can provide value remotely or ask for a trial period. And otherwise start looking for a job that will give you what you need, as others have said!

  56. I didn’t read through all of the comments here–but I don’t know if relocation is an option. MA is just so expensive and $1200 for a one bedroom is crazy!!! If they aren’t living close to family members who may be able to help out with the baby and daycare expenses and husband is working freelance (remote?) they probably don’t need to be so location dependent. Their expenses could go way down just by moving to a low cost of living area.

  57. When I had my daughter, I left a pretty well paying job as a paralegal. I hadn’t planned on it, beforehand but I went back to work after 11 weeks and by the time she was 5 months, I was miserable. So I found a job nannying and brought her with me. After not paying for daycare, I made a little less, but not much. However, her dad had a stable teaching job and benefits, so it worked out.

    If I were you, I would stay where you are until your husband can find something stable with benefits and see if you can find something like I found. They’re out there! And if you still want to work, I think you should look around as you seem underpaid (I live on the Northshore too).

    Once you can get your income up and possibly your daycare down (I like someone’s suggestion of having your husband find steady work AND continue to freelance!), then start saving to buy and stay in that apartment. I agree that $1200 for rent is a good deal in this area (as crazy as it seems to outsiders- housing is $$$ here!)

    1. I was also here to say $1200 on 1 BR is a steal! I’m in central MA but have watched my friends on the North Shore for a few years. Your child care costs seem pretty great for the area too.

  58. I graduated with a Spanish degree and ended up teaching. Some things you should expect if you decide to pursue teaching:
    1) going back to school to gain the credentials needed to teach in your area. I was able to teach and go to school at night, but I was in a critical area. They needed a warm body and someone who had some knowledge of Spanish. You should check with your local school system
    2) I had to take the National Teachers’ Exam in general knowledge and my specialized area. I don’t know if the NTEs are still a thing, but I’m willing to bet that there’s some type of exam required by your school systems.
    3) It took me close to 4 years to build up enough teaching aids, curricula, quizzes, exams, etc. before I stopped working 14 hour days and weekends. (On the upside – I was at the forefront of the recycling/upcycling movement. There was $0 in the school’s budget or mine to purchase ready-made items.)
    4) I was single so there was no one to cover any income gap in the summer. I worked every.single.summer. that I was a teacher.
    5) Expect to teach more than what you were hired to teach. I ended up teaching Spanish, US History, reading comprehension, how to be a civilized human being (really! it was a 1/2 hour class every Monday.). I drew the line at teaching math or French.

    I made the decision to leave for 2 reasons:
    1) Colombine happened. $32k a year was not enough for me to teach and learn tactical maneuvers.
    2) It took me 3 years of going to school at night to get the necessary teaching credentials. Shortly after I finished the certification process I was informed that I needed to start on a master’s degree/continuing education immediately. In my school system teachers have to start continuing ed within 5 years of their start date…and the requirement never goes away.

    Looking away from teaching and the situation and options you have right now – I echo all the previous commenters who advised you looking for a new job. I left a company I had been with for 12 years; by walking in the door of a new company I increased my annual salary by 20%. I understand how hard it is to leave somewhere comfortable, where you get along with everyone but in today’s world, I think at the end of your 4th year in a position, you should be looking for the next position…probably at a different company.

    I know there’s a lot of talk, inspiration, thoughts in today’s world about ‘finding your passion’, ‘working in something you’re passionate about’. As far as I’m concerned we’ve been sold a rainbow’s pot of gold with this concept and I’m not saying that in a bitter way, just in a matter-of-fact way. As an almost 50 year woman who’s been working since the age of 16 (13 if you count babysitting) I’m going to offer an alternative view to the world (a very unpopular view in our current culture)…a job is a means of earning a paycheck.

    If you’re one of those people who know what they’re passionate about – that’s wonderful, but it doesn’t always lead to employment. Sometimes you have to fulfill your passion in another way such as volunteering. Employment is one of the tools you can use to work towards your passion a la Frugalwoods. Whenever I think that I’m failing myself because I’m not “following my passion”, I remember that humans have been around a really, really long time. They’ve been working for a really, really long time. I’m pretty sure most of them were working so they survived, not because it was ‘their passion’.

    If you can find a job that pays better, allows more flexibility (which is more common these days than the ‘you must be physically here’ school of thought), doesn’t cross your moral, legal, ethical boundaries, gives you some satisfaction and doesn’t drive you batcrackers crazy – you’ll be in better place to start planning for and working towards the life you want to build. And from there…well – then you may be in a position to follow your passion 😉

    Best of luck in whichever road you follow!

  59. Time with your daughter now is very special and can’t be regained later. I suggest putting off house purchase five years…it is not mandatory and many do fine financially without buying. You are still young. Once your husband finds a good job with family benefits, you will have more choices. Look around for a small two bedroom house to rent within an hour of his new job. With a back yard. Find another marketing job with more flexibility or seriously think about babysitting a toddler. Our niece did for several years happily. Made big bucks. I worked full time because I had to…we had already purchased the big house and there were fewer choices for women back then. Discuss these ideas and priorities with your husband…and best of luck!

  60. This may sound extreme, but could expedite homeownership – what about living in a (relatively large) tiny house or mobile home? Newer mobile homes are fairly economical and you probably have someone’s land that you can park on. The downsize is that both of these housing options do depreciate over time.

  61. I think you should focus your efforts on just two things: cutting back on eating out, and finding a new job. It stood out to me so much that you need a new gig but to stay in marketing/communications! I work in that area and have two young children. I work at home 1-2 days a week and it is critical to my and my family’s well-being. I also don’t need to be in the office at a set time (within reason, of course).
    You can get a higher salary AND more flexibility without too much trouble. I’m honestly sort of appalled that your current employer won’t allow working remotely or even flexible hours. That is old-fashioned and not how many employers operate nowadays. And, as others above suggested, you do not need to call it “telecommuting” so people don’t think you’re not working…. modern companies trust their employees to work at home. You can check out the group 1 Million for Work Flexibility. There’s also Flex Jobs (where you have to pay for remote job listings) and its sister site,, which has free listings. And really, many places will let you do 1-2 days a week at home—and if they won’t, don’t take the job!
    It seems like you’re making maybe $55k now? I bet you could get more pretty easily. I would focus on using your current skill set to get more $ and flexibility rather than trying to go back to school or do a major career change right now. Eating at home is easier when you have more work flexibility, too!
    Thanks for sharing your story. Best of luck to you guys!

    1. I want to second this. I have been in the workforce since 1990. It is incredibly backward and old-fashioned for a company or organization to require what I would call “creative” positions to work full-time in a cubicle five days a week. I am a writer and editor in marketing. For economic reasons, my employer encourages remote work because it means they don’t have to pay for additional office space. But I made it very clear when I started that I highly valued a flexible schedule… Even more than a raise. Fortunately, I have had both. What I am saying is, it is easy to get comfortable where you are and like the people you work with and not to explore other options. But you should push yourself to explore other options. You deserve to make what you are worth and a lot of companies understand that to compete, especially in a tight labor market, they can’t require everybody to sit in a box like gerbils in cage.

  62. Mary, you guys are doing so great! You’ve already done so many things (debt-free, saving for retirement, working full time even with a youngster) that you WILL thank yourselves for in a decade and into your senior years. Go breadwinner mama!! I just wanted to share something as a fellow breadwinning mother and financial leader of my household. (My husband also works full time, but makes less.) When my son was 1 (he’s 4 now), it was the hardest time for me professionally. I taught at a university full time, and I had a second job doing some TESL work online as an independent contractor at home after he was asleep at night. I was paying down some student loans and trying to build up our emergency fund in those years. But leaving my son with a babysitter and later at preschool/day care all day was REALLY hard for me and I felt like a bad parent. I’ve really grown through this now, and just wanted to tell you that there are so many benefits for children who attend high-quality preschool or day care. It seems hard in the moment, but you are really being such a good parent for keeping your financial house in order by working full time. The book “There is no such thing as bad weather” which is written by a Swedish mother who started raising her children in the U.S. with her American husband points out that most women in Sweden (85% I think it was) go back to work when the child is 18 months old, and Swedish day cares are open from 6:30 in the morning to 8:00 at night. It’s good for women to be at work, it’s good for children to see both of their parents involved in the community (paid or unpaid), contributing to society. It’s easy to get burned out in the U.S. as a working mother: I recommend the book “When She Makes More” by Farnoosh Torabi (and her podcast) as well as the podcast “Unruffled” by Janet Lansbury about handling those big emotions from small children. When my son was age 2 & 3 I went down to a 9-month contract and worked from home in the summers because I thought it would benefit my son, but now I’m in a much better, higher-paying 12-month position at my university and so much happier. I have more energy now. I make cookies with my son every Wednesday after preschool and we have other weekly and nightly rituals. Our bond is stronger now in my opinion. Yes, there are tough mornings at times dropping my son off, but I know that I’m investing now so that if I need to cut back on work when it really matters for him, say age 15 (which is a tough age for boys I hear) I will be better prepared to do so. He’s doing great, and I think that many workplaces are becoming more flexible and seeing the value of making work more balanced for families. Women make an important contribution to our economy — even when they are parents, how about that! I would say that my productivity actually improved dramatically after I got used to being a parent, by about year 2. I became really focused at work so that I could just play with my son at home in the evenings and weekends. You’re doing great Mary! Sounds like you are experiencing some burnout with your job. Find a higher-paying position and keep going. Your child will thank you later even if they don’t understand the fabulous contributions that you are making for your family right now!!

  63. See if Comcast has cell phone service in your area! My husband and I just switched to it and we paid $19 TOTAL last month for BOTH lines. We do have to be careful about using data, because we share less than 1 gig, but it hasn’t been a problem so far!

  64. Mary,

    My son in 2.5 and your story feels familiar to me, as it seems to for many a mama here. I am adjunct faculty and was recently offered the opportunity to get on the full-time tenure track that I always wanted. So of course I said no. I have found that I cannot be comfortable in my skin when I am away from my boy at a full-time job. And so I will stay very part-time and my husband, who work in parks maintenance, will be our breadwinner.

    From everything you wrote, it feels like you have a similar call in your heart. Some moms are built to work full-time away from the home (most of my friends happily say that they would much rather work than be at home with the kids), and some are not. I’m not, and it’s more than okay if you aren’t either (I mention it because I get a lot of strong negative reactions to my choice to be primarily at home).

    If your husband is interested in getting a traditional job, then I would suggest you follow your instincts and find some part-time work that allows you to be home with your daughter as much as your feel is appropriate. (As a former freelancer, I totally get his desire to be done with the hustle that demands time that would be more joyfully spent creating.)

    It may not be totally in line with your agricultural dreams, but one idea is local parks departments or specialty gardens. My husband works for a parks department in Washington state and they have extra-hire positions almost year-round. The pay is middling, but for people who love to be outside and work in a natural setting, it’s a great choice that can be quite flexible. In our area we also have a number of private/public partnership gardens that use part-time help, and something like that might be a good fit for you.

    Someone else already mentioned it, but is a great place to learn about living with kids in a teeny tiny space. I’ve not done it myself, but Erin makes it look doable.

  65. I just wanted to say as someone who is hoping to work part-time once I have or adopt children in the hopefully near future-I love this case study and these comments!! So many great ideas. And so many great comments about the realities of some of these jobs that we think of as part-time or family friendly.

    My husband works full time, makes a decent amount more than I do, and loves his job, so we think he should be the person to work full time. I also like the domestic tasks more and already yearn to be home more than I’m able to right now-I’m sure this will only increase as we have kids! I’m hoping my current job will let me know 2-3 days a week (I work at a renewable energy company that does industrial scale wind and solar projects) but I’m not sure there will be a position that would allow this. If not, I work for a local tutoring company on the side and I’m hoping I can take more hours there. I’ve also thought about Airbnb because we own our home and live close to a lot of attractions near the city. And now I have some other possibilities to add to my list!

    One that especially interested me was nannying. Does anyone have experience with working as a nanny and caring for another child at home along with their own child? Are there any cons that you’ve experienced with this? It seems like a great way to earn some income while avoiding the costs of daycare and staying home with your child.

    Last thing I’ll say-waiting tables is one my favorite job I’ve ever had. If you find the right group of people and the right restaurant, it can be so fun and you can make a decent amount of money. I’ve worked at two, and liked one a lot more than the other. The size of the restaurant made a big difference for me. At the smaller restaurant, we needed less staff and we ended up making more money because we got more tables per person. I became good friends with a lot of my coworkers and still keep in touch to this day. My legs also weren’t killing me from walking so much at the end of my shift. The restaurant that I didn’t like as much was huge and had a lot more servers to cover the large restaurant. We had to walk so much more over the course of the night. One of my coworkers once wore a pedometer and tracked that he had walked 13 miles in one shift. Granted, it was our busiest night and he had the farthest tables on our patio, but still. It also had a much less personal feel because of having so many staff members. One thing I would say is key is to work at a busy restaurant if you want to make a decent amount of money. Both restaurants I worked at were very popular. But I always found it interesting that I made more money at the smaller restaurant. And lastly, both were local restaurants and didn’t have as many corporate rules. I know not everyone might have busy, local restaurants where they live. If you do though, they are a great option!

  66. There are schools in my area that have a “garden” teacher. I believe it is part-time and lower-paying, but depending on how invested the school is you may be able to build up the program. You could put together a proposal and present it to the school to start a gardening program (maybe incorporate composting and conservation), the benefits to the students, community, etc. If they don’t have funding perhaps you could have a “farmers market” or “garden to fork” dinner fundraiser to get some funding. This would likely be a lot of work at the beginning, but it could lead to both the flexibility and passion about your work you are looking for.

  67. My husband does the arguing with Comcast/Xfinity. He says that if you get the Sales department, they will try to up sell and make it hard to cancel/change. But if you get the Loyalty Department, they’re much more reasonable and have better deals.

    1. I call Comcast every year to argue with them. It drives me nuts they give better deals to new customers than old ones! It usually takes at least 2-3 refusals of their offers before I find something that keeps it in what I deem as sufficiently reasonable (~$50 price point). Right now we have 60 mps, which isn’t the best price we’ve had. The best deal I got was when I had lost my job and called to cancel it – they knew I was serious and offered $30 but I needed to agree to a 1 yr contract (foolishly did not lock in the 2 year contract). We’ve contemplated switching back and forth with FIOS & Comcast to get better deals, and we’ve also heard of people that will switch the account between spouses to get the introductory deals.

      1. Totally agree. My husband calls Comcast and says, “cancel service.” That’s how you get the loyalty department and they will miraculously come up with a MUCH better deal for you. You just have to keep track of when the contract ends so that you remember to call up again and nickel and dime with them so your bill doesn’t go up. There’s ALWAYS a better deal. You just have to spend time on the phone with them which is very annoying.

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