Reader Case Study: Should We Buy An Optometry Practice?

Sarah and Jonathan are thinking about buying and running an optometry practice together–she the optometrist, he the office manager. But can they make it work financially and for their two young kids?

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. Visit this page to find links to all 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.

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

Sarah’s Story

Hello Frugalwoods!  I’m Sarah, a 38-year-old mother, wife, optometrist, and artist. My husband Jonathan and I live in a small town in southern New Hampshire with our eight-year-old son and four-year-old daughter. Jonathan works in financial services, mostly from home, although he sometimes has to commute into the main office in Boston, MA.

Sarah’s Career

Beach rocks and shells painted by Sarah

I am good at optometry, and I do it to pay the bills, but I what I really love to do is paint and write. In particular, I write picture books (none published yet, but I have published a few magazine articles with more coming out). My schedule at present is that I work six hours of optometry in the mornings with part of the afternoons off for appointments, household work, and my art hobbies.

While I don’t dream of optometry, I do dream of owning my own optometry business. And the optometry practice I work for just so happens to be for sale. Sort of. The current owner (my boss) and I have discussed me buying it although he’s a bit murky on when exactly he’ll be ready to sell.

I’m interested in pursuing this because I like to be in charge. I like the idea of taking a couple hours off whenever I want to either write or watch my kids play whatever sport they get into. My husband LOVES the people management side of his current job (hiring/firing, staff interaction, running the staff) and so I think we complement each other in that respect. If we did buy this practice, Jonathan would quit his job to become the practice manager.

The Daycare Situation

Sarah at a writer’s conference in LA

Our son, who is in third grade, goes to before-school care and after-school care and spends the summers with relatives. Our four-year-old daughter goes to all-day daycare year round. I know we could save a buck by having her go to part-time daycare somewhere else, but this is the best daycare I’ve found (and I’ve done a lot of looking, and my kids have suffered by trying alternatives – one woman shut my daughter in the other room to cry by herself as a baby and I only found out about it because my then four-year-old was so verbose).

Our current awesome daycare–which I found by blood, sweat and tears–requires you to pay a flat rate, regardless of when you drop off your kids and when you pick them up.

One of the reasons for all of this daycare is that we don’t have very much family support and lack the “community” you supposedly need to raise kids. Jonathan and I are also introverts and don’t interact much with the community. The exception is my uncle who is wonderful and very helpful. He often comes to help when the kids are sick and we both need to work (Several notes on this: 1. Except when the kids really want Mommy or Daddy; 2. I don’t get any paid time off; 3. Kids in daycare/school statistically get sick every other week during the winter months!!!).

The Food Situation

Less coffee = $46,000!!!

Oh, did I mention that we’re gluten-free?  My son and I are both sensitive to gluten, so we keep gluten out of the household, which makes our grocery bill creep up. The problem is that I don’t enjoy baking gluten free. Cooking I like when I have time! The savings are in the fact that we don’t eat out a lot (probably once every three months). OH! and maybe I DO go to Wendy’s once a month when I forget my lunch! I have nearly quit Starbucks, thanks to Frugalwoods.

I calculated that, given my age and how much coffee I used to buy at Starbucks, by drastically cutting down I’ll save $46,000 by age 65 – What?! – I invested the $65 a month I’m NOT spending on coffee in VTSAX through Vanguard instead of pouring it down the drain on coffee. Go, me! Thanks, Frugalwoods!

But should I be paying down debt with this money instead? I don’t know! How to know?? Where should I put “extra” money: debt repayment, investments, towards buying an optometry practice!? But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Hobbies

Given free time, we like to walk and collect sea glass on the beach (and dig really intricate holes for the waves to fill!), hike (haven’t done much of that lately as the 4-year-old is difficult to carry and balks at walking), travel (if we can!), walk around the neighborhood (my husband and I faithfully do an hour walk-and-talk every Wednesday morning, as I go into work late since it’s my private practice day), play, sing (my 4-year-old), read (my 8-year-old and me), see friends, write, and paint.

Another Baby? Maybe?

The other big question looming over us right now is whether or not we want to have a third child. I’m super undecided about this and I know my window for conceiving without intervention is likely closing (I’m 38). I feel like we need to make a decision on this soon!

The Best And The Worst

The best part of my current job is that I have a couple hours off most afternoons (as well as Wednesday mornings). I use this time to pursue my passion of  writing and painting picture books. I just won a three-month writing mentorship with a fabulous and prolific children’s book writer in Australia and am totally loving it!

Sarah and Jonathan’s adorable daughter

Something I really don’t like is that in my current position, I travel to nursing homes all over southern New Hampshire to provide eye care. Maybe I should drive a Prius… but, I have A LOT of equipment (7 cases of it!) that I bring with me, AND we each need two car seats in our cars. My Subaru Crosstrek is barely big enough to hold all that equipment and the two car seats.

I like that I’m kind of my own boss as my boss lives in Florida and I only see him four times a year. I’d like to actually be my own boss, though. I’m sick of traveling so much for work and if I bought the practice, I’d no longer need to be on the road. Wouldn’t the time spent traveling equate to the time spent running a business (located a mere 10 minutes away from my home)?

Jon needs a car too–even though he works from home most days–because our schedules don’t align enough to share a car. Plus, he works in Boston on the “bad” days – where he leaves the house at 6:30am and doesn’t come home until 10pm. His current car–a 2008 Toyota Prius–is in dire need of replacement.

I would say that, overall, the worst part of our current routine is that my husband works his butt off and never has a free moment to himself.  He really wants to manage my optometry practice (which I haven’t bought yet… ) and have better hours and more time for the kids.

Where Sarah and Jonathan Want To Be In Ten Years:

Finances:

  • We’d like to be debt-free!
  • We’d like to be on the tail end of paying off the private practice if we go that route
  • OH and we’d like to be in much better shape for retirement!

Lifestyle:

  • We’d like to have visited 5 new countries (“new” as in we haven’t been to them before)
  • Be in excellent shape and still exercising
  • I’d like to have published at least my first picture book and several magazine articles and still be writing and painting
  • Jon would like to have at least some free time
  • We want the kids to be happy
  • We want to still be married!

Career:

  • Either thriving as private practice owners (but hiring out some of the doctor hours so I don’t work myself to death like some docs do) or for Jon to have a better paying job with fewer hours (hard in his field of finance; he’d probably have to change careers to achieve this).
  • I’d like to continue my side gig of writing picture books, which hopefully will get published!

Sarah and Jonathan’s Finances

Net Income

Item Amount Notes
Sarah’s net income $6,450 After 401K, taxes, short and long-term disability deductions
Jonathan’s net income $4,433 After taxes, 401K and health insurance deductions
Monthly subtotal: $10,883
Annual total: $130,596

Expenses

Item Amount Notes
Mortgage $1,795 30-year fixed-rate mortgage at 3.75%. This is the minimum monthly payment. The outstanding balance is $198,435.
Jonathan’s Student Loan Payment $1,300
Daycare $1,150 For our four-year-old
Sarah’s Student Loan Payment $1,115
Groceries $1,000 Includes household supplies and all gluten-free food (due to necessity, not desire)
Braces / Mouth Appliance payment $387 Balance to be put on credit card in November
Optometry licensing and insurance $368 Malpractice, licensing, continuing education, other necessary credentialing
Sarah’s Subaru Crosstrek car loan payment $366
Sarah gasoline for car $300 I drive very far most days to work, covering a vast area of NH with the nursing homes I service
Utilities: Electric $277 Includes heat, AC; everything here is electric (we have a broken wood stove downstairs)
Vacation Savings $200
Chiropractic care $200 Insurance not accepted
Karate $192 A splurge for my son and I to do together. Our goal is to reach black belt and we have about two years left!
House Savings $175
Babysitters $175
Jonathan gasoline for car $150
Rainy day savings $150
Cream for Thyroid Condition $150
Fun money $125
Travel (Jon’s contribution) $125 Vacations, business trips
Two cell phones $120 Through AT&T
Hair, nails, waxing $103
Car Insurance $182
Therapy/Counseling $92 Individual therapy for Sarah and Jonathan plus couples’ therapy
Inspection, oil changes, car parts $84
Amazon and Prime memberships $80
Donations to church $80
Eating Out $72
Prescription Medications $70
Nonprescription Supplements $70
Internet $63
Medical co-payments $55
Sarah’s photo/Shutterfly habit $50
Craft and art supplies $45 Mostly for Sarah’s painting hobby
Pest removal services $40
Trash disposal $39
Christmas and Gifts $35
Kid College Savings $25
To save for Trust $25 We want to open a trust someday for our kids
Clothing $25
Starbucks $20 This is WAAAAY down from $60 after we took the Frugalwoods Uber Frugal Month Challenge!!
Shoes $20
AOA PAC contribution $17 For the American Optometric Association Political Action Committee
NH EZ-pass $15 For highway tolls
Writer’s membership to SCBWI $12.5 For Sarah
Photoshop subscription $12.5
Subway travel in Boston $10 Jonathan works in Boston when not working from home
Taxes on the cars $10
AAA (car breakdown service) $10
School fundraisers, etc. $5
Maintaining Sarah’s writers website $5
iTunes subscription $2.99
Monthly subtotal: $11,195
Annual total: $134,340

Assets

Item Amount Notes
Jonathan’s 401k $54,309 At Fidelity
Sarah’s 401k $28,727
Jonathan’s 401k $20,402 At BNY Mellon
Primary Checking Account $11,567 All of our checking and savings accounts are at Citizens Bank and earn almost no interest.
Sarah’s Savings Account $9,070
Secondary (Shared) Checking Account $6,320
Sarah’s Roth IRA $6,271 At TD Ameritrade
Home Improvements $3,690 For things we WANT to do to the house, but that aren’t needed
Vacation Fund $3,124
Roth IRA $3,109 Invested in VTSAX at Vanguard
House Fund (for emergency, required repairs) $2,195 For things like if the roof caved in
Sarah’s Savings Account $1,106 Earmarked for the Kids’ College
Jon’s Savings Account #2 $325
Jon’s Savings Account #1 $300
Saving for a Ride-On Mower $212 We’d like to buy a ride-on mower, this is our savings towards that goal.
Total: $150,727

Debts

Item Amount Owed Interest Rate and Notes
Sarah’s Student Loan $126,373 5.34%; we pay about $100 over the minimum every month
Jonathan’s Student Loan $64,117 4.39%; we pay about $300 over the minimum every month
Sarah’s Car Loan $9,900 2.59%; we pay the monthly minimum
Sarah’s Dental Device Loan $9,500 17%; we pay a little more than the monthly minimum
Credit Card $4,500 18%; we pay the monthly minimum
Total: $214,390

Vehicles

Car Valued at Mileage Paid off?
2008 Toyota Prius (Jonathan’s car) $250 235,000 Yes
2015 Subaru Crosstrek (Sarah’s car) $12,500 93,000 No, we owe $9,900 on this car

Sarah’s Questions For You:

  1. How should we get out of debt (especially the student loan debt)?
  2. Can we afford to have another kid before I turn 40 (I’m 38)?
    • Daycare is expensive and our jobs are cost-prohibitive for NOT having daycare.
  3. How can we save better for retirement?
    • We love (maybe above all other activities??) traveling and exploring different cultures and different climates. We want to travel for the rest of our lives, including into retirement.
  4. How should we go about getting a car for my husband?
    • His current car has 235,000 miles on it, many lights on the dashboard, and the back is held together with duct tape…
  5. Should I buy the optometry practice?
    • It costs approximately $375,000. My boss’s salary was about $170,000 last year and he works 4.5 days a week.

Mrs. Frugalwoods’ Advice

A painting by Sarah

Sarah did an excellent job pulling all of this together for her Case Study and I congratulate her for getting this done while working and parenting two kids!

Knowing your income (net, not gross!), your expenses (every month, not just one month!), your debts (with interest rates!), and your assets is step #1 in any financial improvement exercise.

Way to go, Sarah!!!! Let’s dive into her questions:

Sarah’s Question #1: How should we get out of debt (especially the student loan debt)?

I want to focus on the interest rates of their debt. Sarah and Jonathan are prioritizing their largest dollar amount debts (their student loans) by paying extra on those every month, but I’m going to suggest a different approach. I suggest they prioritize paying off their debts according to the interest rates, not according to the dollar amount of the debt. Why? Because the worst kind of debt is high interest rate debt.

Here’s a spreadsheet of their debts, sorted by interest rate:

Item Amount Owed Interest Rate and Notes
Credit Card $4,500 18%; we pay the monthly minimum
Sarah’s Dental Device Loan $9,500 17%; we pay a little more than the monthly minimum
Sarah’s Student Loan $126,373 5.34%; we pay about $100 over the minimum every month
Jonathan’s Student Loan $64,117 4.39%; we pay about $300 over the minimum every month
Sarah’s Car Loan $9,900 2.59%; we pay the monthly minimum
Total: $214,390

If you’re assessing your full financial picture and creating a debt repayment plan, focus on the interest rate(s) associated with your debt(s). This is where you’re really losing money.

Sarah & Jonathan’s son

My biggest concern is Sarah and Jonathan’s credit card debt, which has a whopping 18% interest rate. In light of the compounding amounts of money they’re losing on this every month, I highly recommend they buckle down and pay this off as fast as possible. Next on the debt repayment chopping block should be the dental device debt with a 17% interest rate.

I commend Sarah and Jonathan for paying down their debt every month, but I encourage them to start saving at a higher rate in order to throw more money at debt repayment. With their current income level, they should be able to wipe out their two highest interest debts in short order. Here’s how:

A Review of Sarah and Jonathan’s Expenses

This is where Sarah and Jonathan can really move the needle and have a major impact on their overall financial health.

A flower Sarah & Jonathan grew from seed

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

All that said, we’re in a bit of a pants-on-fire situation here. Sarah and Jonathan spend more money than they make (they make $10,883/month and they spend $11,195/month). This is not tenable. The wonderful news is that, with their excellent incomes, they can right this ship pretty quickly!

While I encourage people to identify their highest and best priorities and spend in service of those priorities, not everything can be a priority. Sarah and Jonathan need to discuss what matters most to them and what they can eliminate. Otherwise, they will continue slipping farther and farther into debt.

Sarah already demonstrated her awesome ability to slash an expense with her fabulous reduction in her Starbucks spending!!! I was SO EXCITED to read that she’d calculated how much she’d save by age 65 (a whopping $46k) and I encourage her to bring that mindset to the rest of their spending. I know Sarah already took my free 31-day Uber Frugal Month Challenge and I encourage them to take it again together as a couple.

Below is a spreadsheet outlining a cut-to-the-bone spending plan for Sarah and Jonathan. I realize the cuts I’m proposing will not be easy to make and will require lifestyle changes. My job is to identify areas where they might be able to save, but only they can decide what level of savings is right for them and which things they want to prioritize:

Item Current Amount Mrs. FW’s Notes Proposed New Amount Amount Saved
Mortgage $1,795 Fixed expense; no change $1,795 $0
Jonathan’s Student Loan Payment $1,300 Per my above discussion about paying their debt off according to interest rate, I suggest they only pay the required minimum monthly payment on their student loans (which is $1,000 on this loan). $1,000 $300
Daycare $1,150 Fixed expense; no change.

However, since their youngest is four, I’m assuming this is either the last or the second-to-last year of daycare? Yay!

$1,150 $0
Sarah’s Student Loan Payment $1,115 Per my above discussion about paying their debt off according to interest rate, I suggest they only pay the required minimum monthly payment on their student loans (which is $1,015 on this loan). $1,015 $100
Groceries $1,000 I know that the gluten-free items are more expensive, but I encourage them to find ways to bring this amount down (if possible).

A few ideas:
-Get a bread machine and bake gluten-free breads (I got my machine for $5 at a yard sale)
Batch cook in bulk and freeze leftovers
-Prep lunches ahead of time
-Since Jonathan mostly works from home, perhaps he could turn on a crockpot/defrost/mind the stove

$700 $300
Braces / Mouth Appliance payment $387 The goal will be to eliminate this debt repayment to free up this money to go towards their lower interest rate student loan and car loan debts $387 $0
Optometry licensing and insurance $368 I’m going to assume this is a mandatory expense that can’t be reduced $368 $0
Sarah’s Subaru Crosstrek car loan payment $366 Continue paying the minimum required monthly payment as this interest rate is relatively low (2.59%) $366 $0
Sarah gasoline for car $300 Is there any chance Sarah could use the Prius on her long driving days (provided Jonathan isn’t driving to Boston that day)? This would save a ton on gas every month! $100 $200
Utilities: Electric $277 Sarah noted that everything they have is electric, but this still seems high to me. I encourage them to do an energy audit and look into whether or not their state offers a free energy audit inspection.

Alternately, they can do one themselves using a kilowatt meter (affiliate link).

$277 $0
Vacation Savings $200 I suggest putting this on hold while they pay off their high interest debt $0 $200
Chiropractic care $200 Is there any chance there’s a different provider who does accept insurance? I’ll leave as is for now, but I encourage more research. $200 $0
Karate (for Sarah and her son) $192 I hate to remove this line item, so I encourage Sarah and Jonathan to seriously consider cutting deeper in other areas in order to preserve the expenses that matter most to them. $192 $0
House Savings $175 I suggest putting this on hold while they pay off their high interest debt $0 $175
Babysitters $175 I suggest putting this on hold while they pay off their high interest debt $0 $175
Jonathan gasoline for car $150 I assume most of this is for his commutes to Boston? Does his employer offer any reimbursement for mileage? I’ll leave as is, but definitely worth exploring. $150 $0
Rainy day savings $150 I suggest putting this on hold while they pay off their high interest debt.

The proverbial rainy day is here in the form of their debt.

$0 $150
Cream for Thyroid Condition $150 I assume this isn’t covered by insurance? Are there any other options that might be covered? $150 $0
Fun money $125 I suggest putting this on hold while they pay off their high interest debt $0 $125
Travel (Jon’s contribution) $125 If this is for Jonathan’s business trips, why isn’t he receiving reimbursement from his employer? That seems really strange to me and I encourage him to bring it up with his manager/HR.

Any trips that aren’t for business should be put on hold while the debt is being paid off.

$0 $125
Two cell phones through AT&T $120 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 $98
Hair, nails, waxing $103 I suggest putting this on hold while they pay off their high interest debt.

Sarah can insource all of this and, while I realize it’s probably not ideal for her to do so, It’s a matter of life or debt over here.

$0 $103
Car Insurance $182 This seems high to me. I suggest they shop around to see if there’s anything cheaper. $182 $0
Therapy/Counseling $92 I consider this a priority, so I’ll leave it as is. $92 $0
Inspection, oil changes, car parts $84 Fixed expense; no change $84 $0
Amazon and Prime memberships $80 I suggest putting this on hold while they pay off their high interest debt $0 $80
Donations to church $80 Two options:
1) Put on hold while they pay off their debt and find other ways to contribute to their church (such as through time and talent).2) Continue the donations and look to cut deeper in another category.
$0 $80
Eating Out $72 I suggest putting this on hold while they pay off their high interest debt $0 $72
Prescription Medications $70 Fixed expense; no change $70 $0
Nonprescription Supplements $70 I suggest exploring cheaper options, or, if it’s a priority, looking to reduce spending in another category. $0 $70
Internet $63 Fixed expense; no change $63 $0
Medical co-payments $55 Fixed expense; no change $55 $0
Sarah’s photo/Shutterfly habit $50 I suggest putting this on hold while they pay off their debt $0 $50
Craft and art supplies $45 I suggest putting this on hold while they pay off their debt $0 $45
Pest removal services $40 This seems high to be an every month expense? Wondering what pests we’re talking about and if it could be done any cheaper (with ant bait, mouse traps, etc)? $0 $40
Trash disposal $39 I assume this can’t be reduced? $39 $0
Christmas and Gifts $35 $420 per year on Christmas and all other gifts isn’t astronomical, but it is a discretionary expense. If there are ways to reduce this, I encourage it.

Check out last year’s frugal holiday gift guide for ideas.

$25 $10
Kid College Savings $25 I suggest putting this on hold while they pay off their debt.

Kids can take out loans for college; parents cannot take out loans for retirement (and their debt won’t go away just because they retire). This is a “put your own oxygen mask on first” situation.

$0 $25
To save for Trust $25 See above notes. $0 $25
Clothing $25 Clothes-buying ban for the whole family (as much a possible since I know sometimes you absolutely have to buy stuff for your kids).

Here’s my post on how to source cheap kids’ clothes.

$0 $25
Starbucks $20 I suggest putting this on hold while they pay off their debt $0 $20
Shoes $20 I suggest putting this on hold while they pay off their debt $0 $20
AOA PAC contribution $17 I assume this is mandatory? $17 $0
NH EZ-pass $15 Fixed expense; no change $15 $0
Writer’s membership to SCBWI $12.50 I suggest putting this on hold while they pay off their debt $0 $12.50
Photoshop subscription $12.50 I suggest putting this on hold while they pay off their debt $0 $12.50
Subway travel in Boston for Jonathan’s work $10 Same question as above: Why isn’t Jonathan’s employer reimbursing all costs related to his business travel? $0 $10
Taxes on the cars $10 Fixed expense; no change $10 $0
AAA (car breakdown service) $10 Fixed expense; no change $10 $0
School fundraisers, etc. $5 This is pretty nominal, so if it’s a priority, it could stay. $5 $0
Maintaining Sarah’s writers website $5 This is pretty nominal, so if it’s a priority, it could stay. $5 $0
iTunes subscription $2.99 This is pretty nominal, so if it’s a priority, it could stay. $2.99 $0
Monthly subtotal: $11,195 Proposed new monthly subtotal: $8,547 $2,648
Annual total: 134,340 Proposed new annual total: $102,564 $31,776

While Sarah and Jonathan might see these reductions as deprivations, I encourage them to focus on how quickly they could pay down their debts if they adhered to the above plan. Rather than deprivation, this represents the freedom to slay their debts and finally be out from under owing money to other people!

If they start saving $2,648 per month, here’s how I recommend utilizing that cash:

  1. Put every last cent towards the $4,500 in credit card debt (which has an 18% interest rate). That’ll take LESS THAN TWO MONTHS to pay off (1.7 months to be exact). Wow!
  2. After the credit card debt is paid off, put every last cent towards the debt with the next highest interest rate: the $9,500 dental device at 17%. This’ll take a mere 3.5 months to pay off!!
  3. Now, 5.2 months later, it’s late April 2020 and Sarah and Jonathan have paid off their two highest interest debts! HOORAY!!! They better write to me with an update so we can all toast them!
  4. Sarah and Jonathan are now left with the following three debts:
Item Amount Owed Interest Rate and Notes
Sarah’s Student Loan $126,373 5.34%; we pay about $100 over the minimum every month
Jonathan’s Student Loan $64,117 4.39%; we pay about $300 over the minimum every month
Sarah’s Car Loan $9,900 2.59%; we pay the monthly minimum
Total: $200,390

While I’ve sorted these debts by interest rate, the interest rates are all relatively similar and so I propose that Sarah and Jonathan consider paying off their car loan next because it’s the smallest dollar amount and will enable them to maintain momentum in abolishing their debt. Plus, since they no longer have monthly payments on either the credit card or the dental device, they have another $387 per month to put towards these debts.

If they put the full $3,035 into paying off their car loan, they’ll have the car fully paid off in just 3.2 months. Fabulous!!!!!!! It’s now approximately August 2020 and Sarah and Jonathan have paid off their credit card, their car, and their dental loan. This is everything except for their…

5. Student Loans

One of Sarah’s ten-year goals is to be debt-free and, if they focus their efforts, this is totally possible. A big boon will come in the form of no more $1,150/month daycare payments. Since their youngest is four, I assume she’ll be out of daycare in fall 2020, which just so happens to coincide with when they’ll have paid off all of their other debts!

They’ll have the following to throw at their student loans:

$2,648 per month (reduced spending)

$1,150 per month (daycare)

$387 per month (dental device loan payment)

+ $366 per month (car loan payment

$4,551 total per month

Since Sarah’s student loan has a slightly higher interest rate, I’d prioritize paying hers off first, while continuing to pay the monthly required amount on Jonathan’s.

If they maintain the above limits on their spending, they can pay off the entirety of Sarah’s student loan ($126,373) in just over two years (27.7 months to be exact)!!!! HOORAY!!!

Ok, it’s now December 2022 and all that’s left is Jonathan’s student loan! Adding in the $1,015 they’re no longer paying towards Sarah’s student loan, they can funnel a staggering $5,566 into paying off his student loan every month. Based on that, they’ll have his student loan of $64,117 paid off in under a year (11.5 months). This means that:

Sarah and Jonathan could be debt free by November 2023!

Sarah and Jonathan have the ability to pay off $214,390 in debt in just four years!!!

This is not perfect math because it assumes that their income levels remain static and doesn’t account for inflation. However, it’s a rough guideline that shows them how very quickly they can pay off their debt if they’re willing to dramatically reduce their spending.

No More Credit Cards

Given their current credit card debt, I’m inclined to advise Sarah and Jonathan to stop using credit cards altogether. The easiest way to avoid credit card debt is to not have any credit cards.

Sarah’s Question #2: Can we afford to have another kid before I turn 40 (I’m 38)?

A view from one of Sarah & Jonathan’s trips

I think this depends on how important having a third child is to Sarah and Jonathan. If it is their highest priority, then yes, they can absolutely make it happen. However, at their current level of income and expenses, having another baby would put them another $1,150 per month in debt (assuming their current daycare has an opening and charges the same amount for infants).

Since they’re already in the red every month, adding another daycare bill right now would make them insolvent.

However, if they waited to have a baby until their four-year-old is out of daycare, that line item could remain static in their monthly spending. But, that would mean the daycare money wouldn’t be freed up for debt repayment. That’s ok though as it just means their horizon for paying off their student loans would be longer.

Here’s the math assuming another five years of daycare at $1,150 per month (for simplicity, I’ve kept the daycare cost the same, although of course it’s more likely that it’ll increase):

  • $1,150 x 12 months = $13,800
  • $13,800 x 5 years = $69,000

Sarah’s Question #3: How should we go about getting a car for my husband?

Sarah on a hike

My short answer is: don’t.

My longer answer is that a 2008 Prius is not an old car and it’s a well-made, fabulous machine. As the owner of a 2010 Prius, I am a tad biased. But in all seriousness, Toyota made a good car with the Prius and I don’t see a 2008 (even with 235k miles) as requiring wholesale replacement. I highly recommend they take it to their local mechanic (not the dealership) and have its ailments diagnosed. Assuming it doesn’t require $1M in repairs, get it repaired and continue driving it for another five to ten years.

Sarah and Jonathan made a smart choice in buying this car and, with maintenance and repairs, it should continue running for years to come. Plus, they cannot afford to buy a car right now.

When the time comes to finally replace the Prius, I strongly recommend they save up the cash to buy a used car so that they can continue their goal of remaining debt-free. More about why I suggest buying older, higher-mileage used cars here and here.

Sarah’s Question #4: How can we save better for retirement?

Another great question! This depends on how quickly they can pay off their debts. It appears from Sarah’s notes that she and Jonathan are contributing to their employer-sponsored 401k plans, which is fantastic and deserves a resounding A+. What I’m not clear on is whether or not their employers offer matches and whether or not they’re each contributing enough to take advantage of these matches. Sarah and Jonathan should check on this to ensure they’re each contributing enough to qualify for their employer matches.

I suggest they continue contributing to their 401ks while paying off debt. Once all of their debt is discharged, I recommend they consider maxing out their annual 401k contributions to catch up on retirement savings. Sarah is correct that they’re a bit behind in retirement savings, given that they’re almost 40. “Maxing out” means contributing the maximum amount allowed by the IRS, which in 2019 is $19,000 per year, per person.

Sarah’s Question #5: Should I buy the optometry practice?

Finally, we come to the pièce de résistance and the reason Sarah wrote to me in the first place! Sarah, I apologize for how long it’s taken me to get to this question, however, my answer is predicated on all of the above. Until and unless Sarah and Jonathan can get their debt paid down, their spending reduced, and their finances sorted, I wouldn’t advise they consider such a massive purchase and change to their incomes and lifestyle.

Sarah took this picture of NYC, as seen from Central Park

There’s a double danger here if Jonathan quits his job to manage the practice. Suddenly, their entire household income hinges on the same business. They lose the diversification (and thus reduced risk) of having two different employers. At present, if there was a major economic downturn and one of them was laid off, the other would likely retain their job–at least for awhile.

Conversely, if they both work for the optometry practice, they lose this risk reduction buffer. If the optometry practice goes south, their entire household income is in jeopardy. This isn’t to say they shouldn’t do it, just that doing so represents a double danger.

My top line advice here is that if they’re serious about buying the practice, they need to engage an attorney or law firm specializing in the purchase and negotiation of a small business (and ideally, a medical practice). This will be well worth the cost to determine if the purchase is possible and if it’s a good deal. I do not have the expertise (or the information) to offer advice beyond that.

Sarah & Jonathan’s daughter getting ready for a day at the beach

Factors for Sarah and Jonathan to explore with a lawyer:

  • $375K for a business seems suspiciously inexpensive. What would they actually get for that dollar amount? Does it include:
    • Office space (or is it leased?)
    • Clients?
    • Fixtures and equipment?
  • Staffing:
    • Is there currently an office manager for the practice? If not, how will paying Jonathan as the office manager impact the bottom line?
    • What impact will hiring other doctors (to take on hours) have on the bottom line?

Further, if Jonathan quits his job, what would they do for healthcare? Can the practice provide it (again, would this eat into the bottom line)? Jonathan currently has a 401k with his job–can the practice afford to fund 401ks for both Sarah and Jonathan (and other employees)? Additionally, if Sarah and Jonathan do want to have a third child, how will the practice be managed during parental leave? Would the practice be able to afford a maternity and/or a paternity leave for Sarah and/or Jonathan?

I’m also not convinced that running a business together is going to equal fewer work hours and less stress for Jonathan. It might in the long run, but it seems like it would be a whole lot of work at the beginning. I encourage them to do a lot of research to get a better sense of what to expect here.

Overall Asset Allocation

I want to address the many and wonderful bank accounts Sarah and Jonathan have. In a word: simplify. They have tons of different accounts earmarked for different things, which isn’t bad, but which muddies the waters and could be one of the reasons why they’re in debt. In general, it doesn’t make sense to save for vacations or a ride-on mower while you’re paying off high interest debt.

To get a better handle on how much money they have in each account type, I made the following charts:

College savings:

Item Amount Account Type
Sarah’s Savings Account (Earmarked for the Kids’ College) $1,106 College
TOTAL COLLEGE: $1,106

Retirement:

Item Amount Account Type
Jonathan’s 401k $54,309 Retirement
Sarah’s 401k $28,727 Retirement
Jonathan’s 401k $20,402 Retirement
Sarah’s Roth IRA $6,271 Retirement
Roth IRA $3,109 Retirement
TOTAL RETIREMENT: $112,818

Cash (savings and checking accounts):

Item Amount Account Type
Sarah’s Savings Account $9,070 Savings
Home Improvements $3,690 Savings
Vacation Fund $3,124 Savings
House Fund (for emergency, required repairs) $2,195 Savings
Jon’s Savings Account #2 $325 Savings
Jon’s Savings Account #1 $300 Savings
Saving for a Ride-On Mower $212 Savings
Primary Checking Account $11,567 Checking
Secondary (Shared) Checking Account $6,320 Checking
TOTAL CASH: $36,803

If it were me, I would consolidate the nine checking and savings account into just two: one for checking and one for savings. I also recommend Sarah move all of their cash into a high-interest savings account since they have a hefty chunk of change sitting in there earning nothing!

Speaking of this hefty chunk of change, let’s outline what to do with it:

1) Set aside an emergency fund. 

All of this cash essentially serves as their emergency fund now, which is fine. Without an emergency fund to handle the unforeseen–but entirely predictable–“emergencies” of life, such as a car breakdown, a roof repair, or a job loss, you’re at constant risk of sliding even further into debt. An emergency fund serves as your buffer against financial catastrophe and is a mandatory part of everyone’s finances. Yes, everyone!

From one of Sarah & Jonathan’s hikes

An emergency fund is typically three to six months’ worth of your expenses held in an easily accessible checking or savings account. At their current rate of spending ($11,195 per month), that would be $33,585 to $67,170. However, if Sarah and Jonathan are able to decrease their monthly spending through the savings I outlined above, they can save a smaller  emergency fund. The less you spend, the less you need to save.

If they’re able to spend less every month–and thus require a smaller emergency fund–I recommend they put any leftover cash into debt repayment. As I outlined above, with each debt they pay off, their monthly expenses will reduce. And with each reduction in expenses, they’ll have more money to put towards debt repayment, which will reduce their monthly expenses… you see where I’m going with this. Just as debt begets debt, savings beget savings. Sarah and Jonathan are on the right track and they have the ability to be in excellent financial shape very soon!

Summary:

  1. Review the spending cuts I suggested (I’ll email you spreadsheet) and decide what’s tenable. Eliminate as much spending as possible in order to:
  2. Pay off your debts in order of interest rate, with the goal of being debt-free by November 2023!
  3. Continue saving at a high rate and combine the savings of no more daycare + each eliminated monthly debt repayment to pay off all of your debts.
  4. Continue contributing to your 401ks while paying off debt. Once all of the debt is discharged, start maxing out your annual 401k contributions to catch up on retirement savings.
  5. Take the Prius to a mechanic and–barring something crazy expensive (as in, more expensive than a new car)–get it fixed and keep driving it.
  6. Find an attorney–or a firm–specializing in small business purchases (medical practices ideally) and get their advice on the viability of the optometry practice.
  7. Spend time discussing the priority level of having a third child and decide what you’re willing to give up in order to make that happen.

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

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

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136 Responses

  1. Hello Frugalwoods followers! Sarah here!!! I am so excited (and a little nervous??) to share my story with you. Thank you, Liz, for this wonderful opportunity! I hope that I will learn some sage tips from all of you. Sometimes it’s hard to see answers that are right in front of you when you’re in the thick of things, and maybe that will prove true with me? I don’t know! I welcome all of your comments. Thank you for participating!! I may be slow in responding… but I intend to read each and all of your comments over the next few days. Thank you thank you thank you!!!! 🙂 And thank you again, Liz, for this tremendous world of possibilities you are helping me uncover! Woooo-hoooo to taking financial control of my life!!!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      You are so welcome, Sarah! I’m so happy to have you as a Case Study–your positivity is infectious and I’m so excited for your future!

      • Robert says:

        Mrs. FW, thank you for creating these case studies. Based on the number of comments, you have something really special here. If I may ask, why you do not include the primary home’s asset and debt value in your case studies?

        • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

          Thank you, Robert! That’s a great question. I go back and forth every month on how I want to record mortgages because, in my mind, it’s not a black and white answer. In this post, I included all details about their mortgage in the first line of their expenses. In general, I’m of the opinion that a home you live in is not really an asset–unless you sell it, in which case you need to live somewhere, which likely means those funds are now appropriated to your new residence. Of course, a rental can be an asset, but that assumes ownership of two homes (a primary and an investment). I certainly could include the mortgage in both the debt and asset columns, but I’m very, very cautious about counting a primary residence as an asset (again, it’s a very illiquid asset and you’ve got to live somewhere). I know this is convoluted, so I’m open to suggestions/ideas on how to best represent mortgages in the case studies! Thanks for your insights!

  2. Ps – I have printed off Liz’s advice and will read it between patients today. Comments, questions, and more thanks to follow!!!

  3. Jab says:

    Great advice! I would definitely hold off on the optometrist practice at this point given the debt to income ratio. It could end up costing more or having hidden costs (like so many things) when all is said and done. No need to rush until more financially stable or debt free. There’ll be other opportunities. I was also surprised that there was no coverage for Sarah’s work travel. I’d be a bit more radical and put the savings (or a good chunk of it 2K) for cosmetic home improvements and vacations towards debt and crush that cc debt right away. These are luxuries that should not be considered at this moment. Think staycations or short inexpensive trips. The family could also consider small ways to create passive income (e.g., selling art/craft on Etsy). Good luck!

  4. Monty says:

    Nice study –

    First thing I noticed was the complexity of their accounts – but they do have available liquid assets to clear out the two high interest debts right now. All the bank statements coming monthly maybe extensive!
    My suggestion would be to liquidate the savings and pay off the debts today. It really does not help them to pay extra on their student loans when they need to pay off the consumer debt that was at a higher interest rate. Good rec’s from Mrs FW there on how to handle.

    Definitely handle your own student loans first without worrying about your kid’s educations down the line. If you were able to manage with loans- they will too. But you’ve got a present issue- let the future issue figure it self out in the future. But with that said- your planning needs to be now to get yourself free from the debt.

    If you eliminate your debt payments/expenses – you’ll be be good on even just Sarah’s income. Drop your expenses as much as you can, and keep going through it with a fine tooth comb. Remain focused on paying off debt and look to increase your income somehow.

    Jonathan should look to see if the 401k from previous employer is charging high fees – if so – should look to rollover into either current 401k for simplicity or to a new IRA. I would personally just move over to an IRA myself.

    In the same position – I would not bother with buying the business: Two main reasons: 1. you’re going further into the debt – when you’ve already have a mountain of debt between your house and your student loans. 2. Income diversification as Mrs FW mentioned – too risky.

    As for having a child – check with Jonathan’s work plan to see if you could put childcare savings account which is not taxed. Another child would also be $2000 tax credit as well- if you adjust your withholding levels you’ll not have to wait till April 15th for your refund.

    • Roose says:

      I agree!! Take those savings and knock the high interest loans off today! You don’t even have to touch your retirement accounts in order to do it, and it gives you some more flexibility in how to move forward

      • Kate says:

        Yeah. Can you accept you’re not going away for vacation this year, take the vacation fund, and knock out most of the credit card? I also do best having different places for different savings and have found Smarty Pig really helpful for this. It’s high yield (1.75 I think) and super easy to make different “goal” accounts while all the money is on one online space. I don’t have any financial stake in it but you might find it works for you!

  5. Jab says:

    Great advice, Liz! I would definitely hold off on buying the optometrist practice given the current debt to income ratio. It seems unwise due to unforeseen and hidden issues in property and business ownership that could lead to this being a more expensive or burdensome purchase than originally considered. I’m surprised Sarah is not reimbursed for the $300 she spends on gas for work (maybe I missed this?). $1000 seems pretty steep for a grocery bill. Look into health food blogs that offer tips for cutting costs in this area. It’s really fantastic that there’s a healthy savings account(s). However, I would be more radical towards crushing debt and would take what’s been saved for cosmetic home improvements and vacations to immediately pay off those first two debts. For the next few years, consider very inexpensive vacations or staycations until debt free. Finally, wondering if Sarah and Jon can consider avenues for passive income (e.g., selling of arts and crafts, etc). Best of luck!

    • Sarah says:

      Love the idea of selling arts and crafts and writing!

      • Margaret says:

        You’re in a bit of a debt emergency and selling arts and crafts is very, very hard. My mother did it for about a decade and it kept us from the poorhouse when I was growing up. The pay is very low. Think under ten an hour, usually.

        You’re a doctor. Surely you’re qualified to do something more lucrative as a side hustle. Chart reviews for insurance companies? Moonlighting? Covering for other docs in the area who want to take a sick day or extend their practice hours? You can probably make 5-10 times as much per hour leveraging your medical training on the side.

  6. Wendy says:

    Hello – my advice:
    Sarah actually wants to reduce the hours and not drive off with the equipment and visit the nursing homes. How much of the income of the practice is generated by these trips? If this income is lost – is the practice then profitable? The experience is also – if you are the owner, you usually don’t work less – but much more – but that’s exactly what Sarah doesn’t want.

    Why is Sarah not reimbursed for the gas or is able to use a company car for these job related trips? Or are these reimbursments part of her salary?

    Where do you grocery shopping – do you have ALDI within a reasonable distance – I know they have a lot of glutenfree choices for a much better price than other shops. If not I highly recommend a bread machine too. If you want to try baking without a bread machine there are many easy recipes for gluten-free breads and cakes available. (For example “Failsafe recipes by Jamie Oliver” or glutenfreebaking.com)

  7. Chrissy says:

    In Personal Capital you can map out different scenarios as far as income and purchases. I’m not sure how flexible it is but it would show the 10% percentile and median results financially with different decisions – i.e. John changing careers to be more local (less money but closer?) plus you buying the practice in a bit. I also know personal capital (likely) doesn’t require you to link your accounts with passwords – you could put in static $ amounts and utilize their retirement planning tools. I find PC helpful for planning out my potential change to a part time or lower stress job in the future.

  8. Mary says:

    Hi Sarah!

    Can totally relate to your GF grocery predicament. Our whole house is GF as well! I have found some resources helpful such as Fed & Fit Cassie Joy Garcias Cook Once, Eat All Week (or even just her blog) that goes through cost effective meal planning gluten free. I typically dont buy the special ingredients to cut down cost some more and was able to get the cookbook on kindle during a sale. Additionally, I discovered the only gf flour mix I personally love is Bob Redmills 1 for 1 GF flour, which has opened up GF baking for me. Its carried at most of my local grocery stores, with the best deal in my area being at Sprouts. I love making easy yogurt based doughs with it such as GF on A Shoestrings Weight Watchers Pizza Crust (recommend adding oregano, garlic, and butter to crust) and I’m actually able to make pizzas for the family for only a couple dollars a pizza night!

    Additionally, have you considered a $0 fee, 0% balance transfer credit card offer? I know the wiseness of the this decision is probably dependent on your credit scores being able to handle a new card and your ability to commit to paying off the debt during the 0% window among other factors, but when credit card debt was a must for us in the wake of an emergency, taking one of these offers really helped us be able to pay it off since we could just focus on the debt itself and not accumulating interest.

    Good luck!

  9. MizzzC says:

    Definitely look into mileage reimbursement for both parties here. If the husband’s Prius is really going to fall apart then maybe look into carpooling options.

  10. Cindy says:

    I’m in a hurry this morning, but feel compelled to comment on your idea. Please excuse me if i sound abrupt. These are my thoughts , being a former business owner. 1. Your stress WILL increase. 2. If your business gets busy, you will probably communicate with your manager/husband at home at night. The kids will get less attention and be aware of any business disagreements. 3. Your employees will resent when the boss takes an afternoon off. 4. You will work twice as hard as any employee. 5. When you take a vacation, you will worry about what will await you on your return. 6. Your children will be raised almost entirely by others. 7. The buck will stop with you, and won’t always be pleasant. My husband and I worked well together for the 9 years we did it. Not everyone is so lucky. I wish you a happy , content future.

    • SArah says:

      ooooo good points, thanks 🙂

    • Kaitlyn K says:

      I think these are very overgeneralized comments about running your own business. I take vacations all the time without worrying because I have great staff. I only work one day a week in my business and my staff support it. My kids are raised by my husband and I. My husband and I talk about work anyways at home – updating each other, etc. So talking about business doesn’t change that much. It also teaches our children how we have to work for money and what that looks like.

      It is tiring and hard work to run a business but it is also tiring and hard work to work for someone. It just depends on what works best for you and your family and the business.

      Good boundaries are important for everyone. Not just business owners.

  11. KnoxPatch says:

    Sarah! What I particularly like about your case study is that you’ve already made the big course correction by questioning your financial situation, identifying the spends, and potential solutions. The Starbucks “tax” is a great example. Well done you!

    We have two adult daughters and although we wanted another, we were late bloomers having our second child at 38 (me) and 40. Looking back 23 years later, we made the right choice to stop at two kids. They’ve had a lot of advantages: our time and attention, lots of travel, and have graduated college debt free, to name a few. Were we younger when we married, then yes, there would have been a third child but we are so grateful for the two we have.

    My parents had retail gift stores (whole bean coffees, cards, mugs, French cookware, European candies, incense, stickers, plants) so I do have perspective to share here: I’d occasionally- okay, more like constantly – have customers say, ‘Oh, I’ve always dreamed of having a little gift store like this!’ What they didn’t see: 24/7/365 responsibility. A dock strike right before the Christmas season during which a third to half of retail gift income is made and no new stock. Employee scheduling, cash registers that don’t work, was the door locked? Did we make the right merchandizing decisions? Oh so many Liability. Arguments at the kitchen table. Exhaustion. Marital and extended family stress. Market squeezes from competitors.

    Unsurprisingly, I opted for a regular, professional job with a paycheck direct-deposited every two weeks and excellent health/retirement benefits plus okay pay. It wasn’t perfect but it allowed me to fulfill the needs and a whole lot of wants. With all it’s warts, office drama, some boredom, and some serious highlights, I’d make the same decision again, given our situation. My husband and I regret not having met each other sooner but again, we are so grateful for the life we cobbled together (frugally!).

    I hope my experience helps. Mrs. Frugalwoods has done a stellar job of analyzing where you can be financially in a very few years. Continue to consciously question and make the decisions that are right for YOUR family, and the very best to you all!

    • Leslie says:

      Another thing to consider: She said she isn’t even passionate about her work. So I’m not sure I would want to buy a practice if I were not passionate about the job anyway.

  12. Rachel S says:

    Hi Sarah,

    Great job putting everything together. That is no small task. As far as going into business with your husband, there are several excellent books that you can read to help you consider the impact (beyond just financial). The publishing titles by NOLO are particularly thorough and excellent reads. I’m currently reading the “Women’s Small Business Start-Up Kit.” But there are many other resources that maybe even more relevant to your particular situation. First, you should try to find somebody that has done something similar in your field and give them a thorough interview. Use LinkedIn, word-of-mouth and even Goggle to find leads for who to contact. Next, attend a few workshops or seminars about owning a small business. Attend them with your husband if you can. And interview the current owner about all of his financials, business plan, etc. Don’t just assume you know how the business works just because you know the daily operations. That is just one piece of the whole puzzle. When you get all your financials in order, you will have a better idea if that is a journey you want to pursue, either with your current practice, or maybe even a whole new or different one.

    Good luck!

  13. Rachel Ray says:

    What about selling the house? A bold move, but depending on how much equity you have and how far that could go in reducing your debts, it could prove transformative. Additionally, renting a house or apartment might offer the chance to reduce overall housing expenses and free up even more money to repay debt. If this is your dream house, I understand the value of staying put, but if not, it’s worth exploring the idea.

  14. Lynn says:

    Regarding this optometry practice, as an outsider looking in, the only upside seems to be a fairly hands-off boss. You have crappy pay relative to your training/student debt load, lots of uncompensated time on the road and no benefits. Would purchasing the practice ameliorate any of this, or just add to your debt load? Can you join a corporate practice with an office, actual benefits and higher salary, or is this normal for the profession? Would purchasing the practice change this equation at all? If not, start job hunting. I realize that good bosses are hard to come by, and certainly that needs to factor in, but as far as I can tell, that’s the only upside to your current job.

    What are your husband’s employment prospects like aside from his current job or running the practice if you purchased it? Working from home is a great perk, but I recommend keeping his options open, especially if he has the prospect of a good salary increase. Could either of you take advantage of a job that has loan forgiveness as part of the benefits package (you – VA clinic, transition to public health; him – county/state government finance or budget job)? Even with a decrease in pay, you might come out ahead given the enormity of your student loan balances. It’s worth a look.

    Next, gluten free doesn’t have to mean specialty gluten-free products. Beans and rice are gluten free. Lots of curries/Indian food is. Taco night is another easy one. No gluten in potatoes, fruit, vegetables, spices. Yes, if you want to replicate typical “American” fare and lots of bread/baked goods, you might end up getting sucked down the specialty food rabbit hole, but it’s not necessary. Heck, beef stew and potatoes are about as American as you can get and don’t need any wheat products to be really tasty. You didn’t mention if you eat meat (or if you did, I missed it). If you do, that’s another easy place to cut back. Many recipes are just as good when you up the veggies and halve the meat. Cooking vegetarian a few times per week can make a dent, too.

    There is a lot of stuff you can cut, but you’re going to have to make it a family effort.
    I’m on team “live-like-a-student”, because for me personally, being that far in debt would be so much more stressful than doing without a lot of your budget line items. Your cost/benefit may be different, but there’s a lot to cut (*Disclaimer – I’ve never made even half of your HHI, so many of your expenses, I can’t necessarily relate to, but can say if you’ve never had them, you don’t miss it!).

    • Annie says:

      This was my reaction after reading this case study: a less-stressful move would be for both husband and wife to find better jobs. A lot of what they’re trying to solve for could be found in positions that pay better/have more flexibility and/or less drive time. I have parents and stepparents that both own businesses. They can NEVER travel, not for significant amounts of time. At the end of the day, all the responsibilities are yours, as the owners.

      • RG says:

        I agree. I also wonder if a lot of the family’s spending is a reaction to feeling stressed and time pressured. It’s harder to meal plan and batch cook if you’re time poor and feeling stressed, and you may feel you ‘deserve’ more than beans and rice (which are gf). It seems like these jobs are costing the family a lot – forget the daycare, that I don’t quibble because a happy kid matters, but the unpaid mileage seems crazy to me, and paying for the equipment themselves, the long commute to Boston… surely one or both of them could change jobs? Or negotiate a higher salary, either directly and/or with mileage reimbursement (including wear and tear on the car, or a company vehicle), or working fewer hours for same pay perhaps in order to make some frugal lifestyle changes.

        • Sarah says:

          Good points Annie and RG. Jon hates his work right now but loves being mostly work from home… still…

          • Monty says:

            Perhaps for Jon to look for that new job, and once he gets an offer he likes – to dangle that in front of his employer – I’d be willing to stay for $x more – otherwise i’ll leave…

  15. Marina Breed says:

    Sarah – thank you for asking your question and laying out all of your finances! I think Mrs. FW has some great advice and considerations to keep in mind, I’d just caution the part where kid expenses will go down after daycare is over. Yes, daycare is very expensive (I have two in full time daycare at $3,400 a month so I get it!) but I hear time and time again that kids’ activities, aftercare and summer camps, not to mention their desires to have clothes and things, still take a lot of money. Just something to keep in mind when factoring in how much you can save in the future. And of course adding a third child will be more expensive and money is certainly not the only consideration there, but it is a consideration nonetheless.

    I agree with Mrs. FW and everyone else who has commented so far to keep your job and keep your husband’s job separate from yours. I’d recommend that once your debts are paid off, he look for something less stressful with better hours, but not go into business together. Having a less stressful job in the future is a great goal that will hopefully encourage both of you to save a little more and pay off those debts.Good luck!

  16. Julie says:

    My husband and I have both been self-employed for 25 years and are now nearing retirement. However, we started out debt free (except for a low mortgage) with retirement savings and a nice buffer of rainy-day savings. We remain debt-free with only mortgage debt, still keep 6 months of living expenses in liquid savings and our retirement account has grown. We stay that way by driving cars for 20 years, taking no vacations (sad), buying at thrift stores and sales (including stocking up with good deals at grocery stores) and in general living pretty thriftily.

    I 150% agree that owning your own business is very time consuming. If the main goal is “more freedom,” I gently suggest this isn’t the way. If it looks promising financially, then talk with other business owners—a similar business would be best— and investigate how much time they spend working each week. There are more things than you can even think of that will consume your time. Plus worry and stress. Count on a lot of both.

    Make sure you and your husband can communicate as co-workers, though I’m not sure how to go about testing this! My husband and I get along great as husband and wife, but for some odd reason have a hard time communicating when we are working on a project together. Seems we have non-complimentary “employee” communication styles.

    Do either of you value the relationships you have with current co-workers? This will disappear.

    I love being self-employed, but the freedom to be your own boss comes with many trade-offs. I know for a fact that we would be better off financially if I had stayed in the corporate world while my husband remained self-employed. I encourage you to look long and hard at the downsides and seek information from others doing what you are considering doing.

  17. Shelby says:

    Cindy is correct – owning a business will technically allow you flexibility but it will also permeate every area of your life. Your focus will be on the business. Forget about being creative with art/hobbies anytime soon: you’ll throw all your creativity at your business. I’m doing it right now and – I love it but that’s the reality.

    I would recommend you make buying a business a 5 year goal and revisit the idea after you implement Mrs FW suggestions. You may miss out on this opportunity but the lack of income diversification and the needs of your young family make it too precarious a move right now in my opinion. You’ve got lots going for you; stay the course!

  18. Rose says:

    Jonathan should see if there are other WFH jobs in his field. I work in finance and can work anywhere in the US for my company but I am not compensated or reimbursed for travel to my home office. It is a perk of the job to WFH and I am responsible for getting to the office when I need to. I live an hour away but I have a coworker who has to commute 2-3 hours when she goes to the office, on her own dime. I suspect this is his situation. Many people in Boston live in NH and commute which is a drag.

  19. Miriam Kearney says:

    Debt sucks. If you want to work less then the only path is to reduce your overhead – otherwise you need to look at how many hours you have to work just to pay off debt. And if there is no plan to avoid debt in the future this will be a constant. for instance – have you stopped using the credit card?

    I was in private practise as a counsellor for a great deal of my working life; translation no RRSP (Canadian equivalent of 401K but not as good). So at retirement what saved me was that my husband had a pension from his employer. Had we both been entrepreneurs I wonder where I would be today (he died 10 years ago and I have been receiving his pension since then).

    As someone else said – owning your own business is “sexy”. The appeal of being your own boss has caused many people who weren’t suited or couldn’t afford to become entrepreneurs and lose lots of money. Be sure you want the responsibility for other people’s (your staff) and be sure you understand the costs of running the business including keeping equipment up to date. If writing other creative pursuits are really important to you then run, do not walk away from the idea of becoming the owner or you’ll never have an opportunity to do so. ..

    But Kudos on being so up front and clear about your finances. Follow even some of FW’s suggestions and you will have the dream life you want.

    • Sarah says:

      hmmm… I think you’re right. I want to be a creative and try as I might to NOT be one… to be a doctor…well, I CAN do the doctor thing, but I NEED my creative fix

  20. Turia says:

    Great case study- lots of interesting things to think about. I was struck by the fact that the family is under water every month according to their expenses and income spreadsheets- is this where the credit card debt is coming from? I’d also be inclined to take some of the various savings and use it to pay off the credit card debt at least. Clear it right now- today – and then you can feel like you’ve taken a substantial step in moving forward. Then decide how much of Mrs. FW’s advice you’re willing to follow to prioritize the debt repayments.

    I’m curious about the child care issue. Sarah mentioned that her older child is in before/after school care, but I didn’t see a line expense for it, unless it was the ‘babysitters’ expense, in which case that’s a non-negotiable that can’t be cut like Mrs. FW recommended. I also assume that when you stop paying for daycare for your youngest (and I empathize so much with how expensive really good care is), she’ll also need the before/after care as well and that this will be an additional expense. It’s not a big point, but the realities of the situation might require some tweaking of the numbers Mrs. FW was using.

    We have a great optometrist near our house. His business hours look like they allow him to drop his kids off at school in the morning, but there’s no way he’s able to pick them up in the afternoons, and a couple times a week he’s open into the evenings. If this is typical (and I have no idea whether it is or not), this doesn’t look like a family-friendly option if you’re both working in the clinic full-time. I think there are many wise comments above about the pitfalls of running your own business (and running a business where both partners rely on it).

    A super minor point, but don’t try to buy a used bread machine if you have gluten issues. You need to buy a new one to make sure it hasn’t been contaminated. Sometimes trying to save a few dollars leads to larger problems.

    I know you were writing to ask about whether to buy the practice, but I think the much bigger (and more immediate) issue is to get a handle on your spending, get out of debt, and buy yourself some financial breathing room to see what you really want/need out of your lives. Good luck!

  21. Is it possible to pay more debt before taking the leap?

  22. Stacy Dill says:

    Hi Sarah,
    Here’s what I think: first, Mrs. FW’s advice about paying down debt is spot on and must be primary. Then, it seems to be a decision at least in the medium term ( ten years?) between two choices: having another baby or opening your own practice. The advice about contacting an attorney is also very important. You don’t have to buy this practice though. You could plan medium term to open your own or work for another perhaps larger practice. As far as your husband ‘s career, the big source of discontent as well as some expense is his commute to Boston. Perhaps he could renegotiate his situation with his employer, side-gig in consulting (perhaps assisting other small businesses) that could lead to his own self- employment ? Also, do you guys have life insurance? Is it only through employment?

  23. Jen says:

    As the owner of a medical practice I would wholeheartedly agree with what the other commenters are saying. Running a practice, managing employees, and being available 24/7 is exhausting. After 10 years of running a practice while raising two small children (now 12 and 5) I have transitioned to a virtual telemedicine model from home and I am finally free! No matter how much you love what you do, you cannot get back the time away from your kids that running a business will take away from you.

    I also really want to echo what Liz said, if (when) there’s another recession and you are both depending on income from your practice that is a hairy situation to be in. Is optometry always covered? Is it a discretionary expense that people would hold off on and wait out until the recession passed? Would you still be able to maintain your current profit rate?

    Also, the other big thing that I would mention is that if you really want to be your own business owner, why do you need to buy someone else’s practice? Why not start your own? That’s what I did. I looked into buying practices, but it made more sense to start my own. What are you getting for that 375k?

    I hope this doesn’t sounds harsh, I just want to be helpful and see you succeed and reach your goals and not burn out!

  24. Leslie says:

    Another thing to consider: She said she isn’t even passionate about her work. So I’m not sure I would want to buy a practice if I were not passionate about the job anyway.

  25. Monica says:

    Great job of putting everything together Sarah! You nada your husband have a great take home salary and I think with the suggested changes you should be able to do all that you want. I wanted to chime in to agree with others that the food budget is unusually high! I have two teens boys, live just outside of Boston and spend less than $500 a month – shopping at Aldi, Costco, Stop and Shop and the local farm stand. Also, $55 a month for copayments sound like there are an unusually high number of trips to doctor offices, and $140 a month for medications seems exorbitant for people so young (unless there are specific medical issues), especially the supplements! That is almost $200 a month spent on medical things for a young family, so I might take a close look at that. I am in the medical field and can say that most people really don’t need supplements if you eat a healthy diet!

  26. You can definitely eat gluten free, healthfully, and cheaply. I’ve been GF for well over a decade (Celiac) and I’m probably the cheapest person in our family to feed.

    The key is to avoid gluten-free bread type products. I learned this because, back in the day, gluten free bread was awful so I just learned to live without it. Same with pasta, baked goods, pretty much anything that has wheat, rye, barley, and oats was out. So what do you eat? Like an Asian person.

    Lots of stir fry, curry dishes (Thai or Indian are almost always safe, especially if you make them from scratch), quinoa Buddha bowls with roasted veggies and thinly sliced meats, meatballs, or whatever you want to throw in them, lettuce wraps (larb salad is a very nice Thai dish). Lots of ethnic African, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European foods are gluten free as well. West African peanut soup, fluffy teff breads, falafel… Lost of breakfast-y foods like eggs are great, and who doesn’t love brinner?

    It can be a very fun culinary experiment to do gluten free cheaply; you just have to get away from the standard bread-based American diet. My 4 year old will eat most of the above foods as well, so the kid can absolutely join you (and it’s great for them to learn to cook a variety of types of foods anyway!

    • Cara says:

      Same here, regarding gf. I feed a family of four for around €400 a month (around $440). Though the price of groceries in the States seems to have skyrocketed since we moved to Europe.

      • Allison B says:

        Jackie is spot on about how my family has made the GF thing work on a budget! Replacing every baked good (bread, bagels, cookies) in the american diet with GF versions is insanely expensive and we just don’t do it much. There are no small children in my family, so you’ll have to work their preferences into the mix, but some ideas we rely heavily on… Breakfast is generally veggie and cheese omelettes or oatmeal (now that they have GF oats in the US!) with fruit. Chex is cheap and most flavors are gluten free if I recall correctly. Lunch is a cold salad with fruits, veg, and sometimes nuts, other protein on top or on the side- examples cheese, chicken, or tuna salad or chicken salad or egg salad. And dinner is filled with different curries, soups, and stews featuring vegetables, meat in moderation and potato, rice, or quinoa as our carbohydrate sources. GF cookies and cakes are special occasion only and require personal labor or expensive to make/get the good ones. This might be a lot harder for some people than it was for us, to give up sweets to this degree. But a piece of a good quality chocolate bar has been a great replacement for shitty cookies. Good luck and definitely check out Aldis if there is one nearby!

  27. Rachel Vaughn says:

    Hi Sarah!

    The biggest thing that stood out to me was that you said you weren’t passionate about optometry but did it for money. Owning a business takes you further down the path of what you’ve identified as not a priority. Also, the increased responsibilities of being a business owner will probably leave less time to spend on getting published & pursuing your artistic passions.

    Could you also explore working for another practice that doesn’t require so much travel? And/or could your husband look for a job that doesn’t have such long hours/commuting? If he thinks that he’d be happy as an office manager, he could change careers without you having to buy the practice.

    It sounds like you have a rich, fulfilling life right now – but also a lot going on! I would recommend reading Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less for how to create more mental freedom to enjoy the life you have!

  28. Moira J Gillis Gray says:

    I have a couple of comments for you. (1) Savers is a great place to buy clothes for extra cheap (2) I saved about $300 every two months by embracing my grays. Hey, if guys can go gray, so can we gals! (3) My husband uses Zenni for all of his glasses. I think it’s the wave of the future for many people and I wonder how that would impact your business in about 5-10 years. (4) As a new business owner, you’d be putting in a lot of hours, probably more. (5) If you pay $192 for two people to do Karate every month, that’s FANTASTIC. We live in Tewksbury and it’s about $500 for two kids (including testing) so we had to quit. (6) We had a lot of equity in our house so we ended up getting a really low interest equity line which I used to pay off a couple of really high percentage rate loans. I just put more $$ down on the equity loan per month than they pull out for payment. Would be interesting to find out what Mrs. F thinks about this idea. (7) I own a PriusV which fits almost as much stuff in it as my old Subaru Forrester did. Worth a look-see.

  29. Nan says:

    Thanks to this couple for sharing all their info!
    I did notice that the couple’s mortgage ($198,435 outstanding balance) isn’t included in Mrs. FW’s summary of their debts, nor is it (I don’t think) factored into her statement about Sarah and Jonathan’s ability to be “debt free” by November 2023.
    I totally agree that their other debts are more of a priority in the short term, and hopefully they have lots of equity in the home, but I still think this debt should also be figured into any long-term planning about buying a medical practice, changing jobs, etc..
    Thanks to Mrs. FW, Sarah and Jonathan for another great case study–seeing a snapshot of others’ situations always makes me reflect on my own.

  30. Robert says:

    Fascinating case study – thank you for sharing Sarah. I think all of the recommendations Liz gave regarding paying down your debt are good so I won’t add to that.

    I was a small business owner for 10 years in MA just south of NH border and I have many friends who are also entrepreneurs. Their are pros and cons to owning your own business, but I would say the stress isn’t any greater or less than being an employee – it’s just different. For example as an employee you don’t think about making payroll but that will become an everyday stress as the owner. Two weeks goes by in the blink of an eye and instead of looking forward to your paycheck you’re cutting the checks and sometimes there’s not enough cash in the account so guess who doesn’t get paid?

    On the flip side owning your own business can be incredibly rewarding and lucrative. For example if you were able to pay yourself the current owners compensation of $170k you would have plenty to make debt payments on the business and have your other debt paid off in no time. The business debt is what we consider good debt because other people (your customers) are paying that off. Your current debt is considered bad debt because you are paying that off.

    But in a bad year you might have to fund the business to stay afloat and you need to be prepared for that. Most small businesses fail because they run out of cash.

    You mentioned that the owner lives in FL but works 4 days a week – is he generating revenue for the business and will you lose that revenue if you buy the business?

    Some more questions about the business are how much cash flow has it historically generated year over year? Is it stable and recession proof? How will you finance the business – is the owner willing to finance some or all? What assets are there in the business – this is what a bank will want to see if you’re going to try to get a bank loan and they will want you to put 20% down at a minimum so you’d have to think about where that $75k is going to come from. The bank will also want your husband to keep working outside the business to provide income and diversification, but he can always move over to the business down the road.

    Bottom line is we need to know more about the business to determine if it would make sense for you to purchase. I’m semi local to you so if I can help in any way perhaps you can get my email from Liz and reach out.

    • Anne says:

      I would caution looking at buying the practice at getting to “take” that 170k a year that your boss currently makes in salary. Instead it is 170k a year to do all of what your boss does, minus the cost of hiring someone to take over the medical work that you would want/need to take off your plate with the additional work of running the practice. And if there is currently no office manager to lay off, that is then 170k-cost of new doctor for both of you. After taxes and benefits, likely less than you two are currently making.

      Of course, these numbers are assuming that the business pays a steady income, which is by no means guaranteed. And doesn’t consider the nuances of what the business’s profit/loss situation, assets, and risk really look like. Have you seen the books? Without seeing at least the Budget for the last few years it is very tough to have an idea of how viable an investment this is.

      If you are able to take a look at the Budget, it may be possible to look at different ways of structuring this to make it work for you. How much of the revenue and expense is from private practice vs care in nursing homes, and what is the funding source for the latter (and potential risk for reimbursement changes).

      Succession planning for the owner can also look different from a straight sale. They could split the business (private practice vs nursing home) and sell both separately or sell one and retain the other. If the owner is looking to step back from the day-to-day but isn’t opposed to keeping the risk (and 375k isn’t a huge payout they are hoping for), they could be opening to structuring you handling private practice and management, hiring another doctor to do the nursing home travel work, and the owner keeping dividends or consulting fees (but at a lower rate than 170k) but being mostly retired.

      I’ve worked with small businesses looking at succession planning before, and would be happy to discuss with you offline if you are interested in some broad advice on the situation.

  31. Katherine says:

    I absolutely loved this post. Case Studies are my favorite! Thank you, Sarah, for sharing with us!!

    However, as a gluten-sensitive person myself (with some crossreactivities), I have to ask – what do you order at Wendy’s?? I didn’t know they had any safe options!

  32. Dorothy Young says:

    I recommend Sarah think long and hard about her employment.

    First, why no paid vacation? Why no company vehicle for her extensive travel? Why no serious commitment from her boss about when or even if he’ll sell his business? It sounds like her situation is problematic in several areas; I suggest Sarah do some research into her total compensation package and negotiate for better compensation and/or look elsewhere.

    Second, I agree 100% with those who’ve said Sarah’s view of owning ones own practice is unrealistic. Rather than spending LESS time on her work she’s likely to spend more time. For instance it sounds like she plans to immediately stop the travel/retirement community portion of the practice, yet it sounds like that area may be a lucrative one.

    Lastly, Mrs. F is right: I worry about friends where both members of the couple work for the same Fortune 10 company, let alone where both work in the same very small business.

    In any case, I wish you the best in your journey.

    • I agree. I ddin’t read all of the comments so someone else might have mentioned this but as a health professional (APRN), I haven’t seen a situation where the employer doesn’t pay license, continuing ed, travel etc. This has been my experience even in a privately owned small practice and definitely in a large corporation. As a professional of your caliber, I would expect all of those benefits plus 401K matching and a health insurance policy for your family. I even receive student loan repayment. I think productivity bonuses are pretty standard for providers as well. Have you checked in with any fellow optometrists to see what kind of compensation is typical?Je

  33. David says:

    Spider sense is tingling. Dear Sarah, certainly hats off to you for taking the first step to addressing your finances – getting everything reconciled on paper (and by paper I mean a spreadsheet of course). What struck me as I read through your post, FW’s reply and the comments that have been posted so far is that it may be worthwhile to reflect on a more fundamental level. By that I mean, the mindset you and your husband have on money may need some updating.

    Brass tacks your spending more each month than you make and you’re in considerable debt, and that debt profile has.. grown over the past year… and you’re considering adding to that debt profile (new business acquisition)? As you’re a member of this community you no doubt understand the evils of credit card debt so then the question I would be asking myself if I were you would be “Why did I let myself get into credit card debt in the first place?” Life or death and other absolutely critical expenses not withstanding getting to a point where you’re getting into credit card debt is a bit of a red flag in my book.

    I have a good friend, and she has struggled with her weight for most of her adult life. Or stated more accurately she’s comfortable with her weight but her husband is not and so she struggles to get in better shape to ward off his criticisms. After nearly a decade of weight loss followed by regaining of said weight, umpteen numbers of bikini challenges, Orange Theory classes and the like… she’s more or less where she started. When we talk on the topic we often end up talking extensively about this or that exercise routine, different diet solutions (whole 30, paleo, low-carb, eating whole, how unfair the world is that her husbands genetic makeup is superior to hers – at least when it comes to weight management), and the nitty gritty of all the lifestyle bits that impact weight and how to optimize them. These discussions are missing the point. The real crux of the issue isn’t her lack of knowledge about what needs to be done – it’s that she doesn’t have a strong why of her own. The underlying motivation/drive for her to make this huge effort is simply avoidance of ridicule/emotional pain via her hubby.

    I feel the specific suggestions by FW and this community can be likened to those details I discuss with my friend about how to lose weight/be healthier. They’re great, don’t get me wrong, but if you haven’t worked out whatever underlying issues that led you down a path of more and more debt, you’ll likely just end up back where you started or worse no matter how many tips you follow.

    If you maintain an unhealthy perspective on finance/money then there are no amount of suggestions that will free you from perpetual debt. If that is the case you’ll probably need to find a strong why/motivation and do some restructuring on your outlook on money. I don’t know you or your background so please don’t take anything I’m saying to heart I’m merely putting this out there just in case it’s useful for you to hear. For all I know you’re a frugal master at heart that’s just navigating a difficult time period in your life. If you’re not however, and an objective reflection of your spending habits throughout your adult life shows a trend of increased debt accumulation, perhaps doing some work on your interior might be prudent. Best of luck to you and your young family!

    P.S. – Shop at Costco – I love Costco 😀

    • Susan says:

      This is an interesting comment! Do you know of any resources to identify one’s underlying mindset / motives?

      • David Ho says:

        I’m far and away from an authority on the topic. I actually think consuming FWs content is a great start.

        Although focused on frugality I find the process of honestly grappling with your personal finances inevitably forces you to look inward and build a better understanding of yourself and the figurative elephant you’re trying to pilot (reference to The Happiness Hypothesis – positive psychology book – not a bad read).

        Be honest. Lose your ego. Look deep. Test. Plan. Do. Forgive Yourself.

        -Accept Reality- Stop being upset/complaining/ that the sky is blue and/or blaming the blueness for your problems – it is what it is – accept the reality of things and focus on what action you can take.

        Specifically on motivation – starting with a few Google searches will serve you better than listening to my anecdotal rant 🙂

    • Sarah says:

      David! I am NOT a frugal master. Thanks for your advice. I think I spend because of a fundamental unhappiness…. and I need to be honest with myself and get better. I’m almost there. Hence the tackling money thing now. Too bad I wasn’t there in my 20s! Thanks for the kick in the pants!

      • E says:

        I really liked this comment and comparison — probably the best outcome will result from going after the root cause and then the benefits of the “healthy [frugal] lifestyle” will fall into place.

      • KnoxPatch says:

        But you’re there now. Honestly, David’s comments articulate what I was thinking but I danced around the heart of it. Again, congrats for being brave enough to put yourself out there and consider positive changes for you and your family!

      • Stacy Dill says:

        I agree, Sarah. I think it is true for both you and your husband. You have identified that you need to make changes in career and lifestyle; just keep brainstorming how along with putting Mrs. FW’s financial advice into action.

      • Effie says:

        Hi Sarah,
        I just wanted to say that I understand the need to spend to make life ok. Young kids plus 2 full-time parents is extremely tough. Prekids we were frugal people but after kids are expenses exceeded our income this was partly from daycare costs and partly spending to cope with the juggle of kids and work. When I started funnelling my creativity into improving our economic situation rather than buying things/time to make me feel like I was achieving/creating something I felt a lot better about myself and we cut our spending.

        For example could you see if you get the same buzz from art and writing in a way that saves money not spends it? I embraced cooking and baking as a creative process which saves my family a ton of cash, gives ‘me time’ (no kids are in the kitchen when I batch cook) and a great sense of satisfaction. This example of course may not work for you but if you could channel your creativity into something productive not costly it would be a great way to help your debt situation.

        Liz wrote a great article about this called ‘frugal substitution’ I think.

        Also you might benefit from the UK website Money Saving Expert Debt Free Wannabes forum- which is a social media supportive community for people in Debt.

    • Rachel says:

      This advice about determining the underlying motivation is great! I thought the same thing myself.

  34. Caryatis says:

    The obvious point that Mrs Frugalwoods missed is that their marriage is in trouble—people don’t go into couples therapy when everything is fine. ***Jon should absolutely not quit his job to work for his wife if there’s a real chance the marriage won’t last.*** Also, no more babies until the marriage problems are resolved! They should be on rock-solid birth control at this stage. And yes, save a lot more, but the financial problems are secondary for this couple.

    • Jess says:

      That’s not accurate. Many healthy couples are in counseling to REMAIN healthy, not because something is wrong. It’s like going to the dentist every 6 months – preventative, not because your teeth are ready to fall out of your head. This attitude stigmatizes mental health care. Props to Sarah and Jonathan for taking care of themselves and their marriage!

      • Kat says:

        Jess– I agree w/ you that tons of healthy couples are in counseling, and should be.
        My red flag about their marriage was that Sarah listed remain married in her goals. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it but if my husband and I were to make 10 year goals, staying married would be a given and mine would perhaps be something like “Spend more alone time hiking or traveling etc.” The fact that it is a goal leads me to believe there is/has been an issue. Either way, counseling is a great choice.

    • Valerie says:

      Caryatis, I have to respectfully disagree. I think it dangerous to assume and perpetuate the lie that couples’ therapy is only for troubled marriages. And that, “people don’t go into couples therapy when everything is fine.” Many couples go when there is trouble, but more people should take advantage of the resource to help resolve issues every marriage has. This marriage may be one of the couples who are proactive about their marriage because they want to be closer.

      Couples’ therapy, with a fantastic therapist, can make a good marriage great, and a great marriage fantastic. Marriage involves two different people who are on a journey together. Both persons come with baggage and different expectations for the relationship. An outside mediator can help immensely. Even if we have good communication and are attentive to the needs of our spouses, there will be times when a mediator can be a great benefit.

      I think it’s even harder for a introverted couple like Sarah and her husband who both work full-time jobs which require extensive travel, care for two children, and have a large debt load. Even if they had the most amazing marriage, a tough and exhausting schedule like this would beg even the most virtuous friendship to reach out for help. Sarah mentioned they don’t have a large community to support their family. I see their therapist as a support that they need, in part, because their support system is wanting and they have every full lives. If I wasn’t a stay at home mother and we didn’t have a solid church community with many married families reaching out in friendship, a pastor who takes time for both of us, and both of our immediate families a 15 minute drive from our home, I would reach out for help via a therapist, too!

      My husband and began with solid marriage and we chose to go to couples’ counseling early in our marriage. Not because our marriage was “in trouble” but because we wanted a strong marriage. We continue to whenever we feel it will be helpful because we choose each other and we will take advantage of any help we can get. I love couples’ counseling and my husband also benefits from individual therapy. I think every marriage would benefit from the care an excellent therapist could offer.

      Sarah I want to encourage your marriage and I am so proud of you for making a financial and time commitment for therapy. What a prudent, wise, and loving decision for your husband, your children and yourself! I am a fan of 98% of what Mrs. Frugalwoods’ suggestions to cut from your spending, it seems impossible, but it could be something you do together and support each other. That being said, I would not cut the babysitting line. I think it’s crucial for you and your husband to continue to make time for each other. Especially given your busy work schedules and your small support system. I love your standing Wednesday date walk.

      Children are a beautiful gift and any future child would be lucky to have parents who are as attentive to their mental health as they are to their physical (and soon, financial) health. Best of luck to you!

  35. LJ says:

    I worked in eyecare for about 10 years. I would suspect, based on the price of the practice, that the price doesn’t include any equipment, or the location. Our practice recently closed, and so much of it had to do with how much it cost to purchase and maintain the equipment while keeping exam prices competitive with retail health. That’s outside the cost of maintaining a lab or source for lenses, and attempting any kind of competitive pricing for eyewear, especially as so many people turn to online glasses companies (a rant for another day). Optometry practices are notoriously expensive to maintain. I would not purchase one.

  36. Lindsey says:

    2 Random Thoughts: If your husband loves the office side of things, could he seek an Office Manager/Supervisor type job close to home and to test if he does in fact like being in charge (and what that would look like)? (Speaking from an Office Manager- it’s a lot of logistics and trivial/catch all work on top of staffing. I really enjoy my work, but I’m glad I’m not the final say.)

    If art and writing are your passion, owning your own business will likely take a lot of time away from that pursuit, at least initially and maybe for much longer than you’d like. Perhaps consider your debt suggestions here (I love them all) and then pursue a side hustle/career from your passions while maintaining a steady income from a business that is not solely on your shoulders.

    I also like the suggestions of paying off debt and then re-assessing the next step business wise.

  37. Kris says:

    Oh my this has a whole lot going on,
    1–$70/month for prescriptions seems high. Have you tried GoodRx? It provides coupon codes for prescriptions. Also it’s free, just search your Rx name on the site and bring the code to the pharmacy. I actually decided not to enroll in my company’s prescription plan at $50/month because it has worked so well for us. Obviously YMMV but definitely check it out!!
    2–I agree w/ all above about taking some of the cash and nixing that cc debt immediately. There is a ton of discretionary spending here, all w/ different names: Rainy Day, Gifts, Vacation, Clothing, Shoes, Hair/Nails, Starbucks. This all needs to be combined into NON ESSENTIAL.
    3–I’m also confused about Sarah’s gasoline expenses, why are these not reimbursed? I understand a previous poster’s explanation about why Jonathan’s may not be reimbursed due to his choice to WFH, but why not Sarah’s?
    4–Meals focused around veggies and proteins would be cheaper, eliminate any GF issues, and be healthier.
    For what it’s worth, I’m firmly in camp DO NOT BUY. You don’t love what you do, why would you commit yourself financially to something you don’t love? The notion that owning a business will bring less stress is concerning, it almost certainly will not. The notion that owning a business will give you more freedom is also concerning, it almost certainly will not. Is there a reason other employers haven’t been investigated(perhaps just not shared here)? If you do decide to buy a business, talk w/ other small business owners first (& not just the guy selling you his!!!).

    Best of luck!

  38. Laura says:

    Hi Sarah – if you’re interested in running your own business, what about growing your art into an online business? You keep the security of your optometry job (or a better job) while seeing the pros and cons of your own business and it sounds like the painting & writing is where your interests lie. I’d suggest looking into what you need to do legally to set it up, or maybe go through Etsy; keep excellent records and a separate bank account for the art business; and any profits at all go back into growing that/covering costs. Also, totally in agreement with everyone that your debt is a fire to put out first and foremost, and especially agree with David’s comment of 11/6 at 12:21 pm EST. Good luck! I’d love to hear in ~6 months how you’re doing.

    • David says:

      I know Costco is the best right! :-DDDD

    • EJ says:

      This is such a good idea!! I love the idea of Sarah trying to pursue art or writing as her own side hustle. I think it would be a lot more fun than running the optometry office and a lot less of a headache. Etsy could be a great way to start.

      I also think that Sarah at least looking into other optometry offices could be a good idea. It does seem like her salary is low and she doesn’t have as many benefits as I would expect for her career. Looking can’t hurt! Best of luck, Sarah!

  39. Elise says:

    Hi Sarah! Thanks so much for sharing your story with us. I always learn so much reading about how others manage and contemplate their finances.

    Two things stood out to me. First, I was struck that you open by saying that you do optometry to pay the bills, but ultimately it is not your true love. Personally, I would be very hesitant to dive into business ownership with this caveat at the forefront of my thinking. While it’s certainly not a requirement to love the business you own, I do think that having a certain level of passion for it may help when addressing any challenges or stressful situations that arise. Buying a business is a big, possibly lifetime commitment!

    Second, like several other readers, I am a bit shocked by some of the benefits and reimbursements your employer is not offering you. I work in a healthcare setting with optometrists, and all employees are reimbursed for things like work-related travel. I know you said you live in a small town – is this employer one of the only options? Could you bargain for a better benefits package, or investigate other options?

    Wishing you all the best!

    • Sarah says:

      Clarification: I get some money for miles traveled and tolls. Thanks. I know… shocking that Optometry isn’t my passion… trust me when I say that I take care of my patients though… I love taking care of people, I just happen to work with their eyes!!!

      • I made a longer comment but I don’t think it saved. My recommendation is to check with fellow optometrists and make sure your compensation is competitive. 401k matching? Student loan repayment? Health insurance/dental etc. Sounds like your boss is getting a sweet deal.

  40. Robert says:

    I’m surprised there’s so many comments about Sarah finding another employer that pays more or reimburses for mileage or provides other benefits. By her net income Sarah’s gross salary is somewhere in the ballpark of $150K (guesstimate) which is a very good income and likely not easy for a small business owner to pay or to easily replace. Do optometrists typically make more than this?

    In any case this story is less about what they make and more about what they spend.

    Can anyone answer why FW never includes the home in the asset and liability column?

    • CiCi says:

      I was wondering that myself (though I didn’t realize this was always the case). There’s a 30-year mortgage and we see the monthly amount but not the total mortgage. Seems really relevant.

    • EJ says:

      Robert, could you tell me how you got $150k? I was someone who suggested looking at other jobs but I was thinking her gross salary was much lower! Agreed that this is also about what they spend, though.

      • Robert says:

        I started by comparing her take home pay after 401k, taxes, and other deductions and my take home pay with similar deductions and knowing how much I make, I made a guesstimate. I checked my guesstimate with an online take-home pay calculator and it looked like the same ballpark.

  41. Lindsay says:

    Sarah, thanks for sharing your life and situation with us. I always enjoy reading and reflecting on these case studies.

    You’ve gotten many interesting pieces of advice. A couple of things that might be worth looking into:
    With the plan to pay off high-interest debt first, student loans will temporarily take a back seat. You might consider looking into refinancing since interest rates have gone down and most places will offer rates under 4%. It might not be a priority for you but we found it helpful. Took an hour or so of online forms and finding the right documents to refinance my husband’s student loans and will save thousands of dollars over the term of the loan.

    Consider checking where there might be overlap. For example, our credit card offers roadside assistance so we don’t have to have AAA to have comparable services. Some professional organizations also offer deals so perhaps check with yours.

    It can be hard to give up things like tithing to the church when paying down debt. Does your church do fundraising like a silent auction? You might be able to give in a way that combines your love of the arts and books. I can imagine that raffling off an art class by you, or an artwork, or a children’s book personalized with a child’s name might be a valuable way to contribute even if not strictly monetarily. Assuming you could use some of your existing supplies, this might be helpful to continue doing your passion projects and still give back.

    Could you find a local network to swap services? For example, some local families have a babysitting swap where you’d babysit for a couple hours for someone in return for them babysitting your kids for a couple of hours on a different day. This would also give you a chance to have some kid-free time to make and sell art if you choose to do that.
    Wishing you well as you continue on this journey.

  42. Sarah says:

    Sarah here: I’ve read Liz’s great advice and I think this is my plan:
    1. Refinance the house to pay off the credit card and my dental mess.
    2. Take the January uber frugal month as a couple with Jonathan.
    3. CUT payment to Jon’s student debt by $300/month (and my student payment by $100/month)
    4. Consolidate and take over the finances in a clean, neat way.
    5. Discuss with Jonathan on SAturday what we can eliminate paying.
    6. Do NOT buy the practice for now. May miss out for later, but oh well.
    7. Keep writing and painting!!!
    8. Put daycare expenses once paid off towards debt.
    9. Check out “batch cook in bulk and freeze leftovers.”
    10. CLEAN Jon’s prius so Sarah can use… Oh, but I can’t…. I can’t fit all of my equipment in that car… but MAYBE I can if I try…?
    11. Check for a free energy audit from my state.
    12. Divy up the to do tasks with Jonathan.
    13. Check for other chiropractic care.
    14. STOP rainy day and other savings while we pay off our high interest debt.
    15. Go over all of Liz’s other suggestions on Saturday during our “free date.” and plan accordingly.
    16. Look into MVNOs! With “Ting” and “Here’s my full post.” on Saturday.
    17. Stop buying so many clothes and shoes. DUH
    18. Get rid of pest services in favor of mouse traps and spraying for the bees and ants.
    19. Maybe stop giving presents period, in favor of homemade cards only??
    20. NO more kids college savings.
    21. NO more trust savings.
    22. With money saved, AFTER making sure income is more than spendings, put all rest towards debt.
    23. Look into Jon’s employer reimbursing job related expenses.
    24. Hold off on having another kid. I can get baby fixes elsewhere!!! We have two healthy beautiful ones already!
    [WE are meeting the match for Jon’s employer and I have no match, btw]
    25. Try to find a high interest savings account.
    26. Fix the Prius.
    If I haven’t personally gotten back to you, I’m sorry… I am trying to respond to everyone in due time… I WILL read everyone’s comments at the very least and KNOW that I appreciate all that you say!!!
    Thank you!!!

    • Meredith says:

      Good job! I’m very impressed with your openness to suggestions and the way you are taking the recommendations to heart. I bet you can fit all of your equipment in the Prius with some streamlining! I LOVE a challenge like this and really wish I could see what you have to have and the space you have to fit it in. My recommendations are to look carefully at your packaging (are all of the cases packed to optimize space?), make sure you don’t have unnecessary things eating up room in the car, figure out what configuration of seating maximizes the space and approach it as though this is your only option. You can do it!

    • Anne says:

      Handmade cards would make a wonderful gift. Or a painting, those beautiful painted rocks for kids or a small set of greeting cards that feature your artwork. Plus, you sign the work or include your website info and it is a form of marketing for your artwork – for cards it is marketing that reaches the person you gift it to and everyone they send it to 🙂

      Wealthfront and personal capital both have higher interest savings accounts (only about 1.5-1.8% though), but keep enough in checking for small emergencies because it takes 2-3 days to transfer money out.

      With some of these smaller discretionary savings accounts (vacations, lawnmower, kids education , etc) why not pull the money out to pay off the credit card debt immediately, and rebuild once you are moving on to the Low-interest debt? You are currently paying over $200/month in interest on just the credit card and dental device debt, so it would be a significant boost to pay it off quickly.

    • Wendy says:

      These are already many plans to improve the financial situation.
      I think you are an artist, certainly there are a lot of suppies in the studio that can easily be used to make very personal gifts that bring a lot of joy.

    • Stacy Dill says:

      Sarah, please carefully consider/ reconsider your plan to pay off debts by refinancing your house. You need a lifestyle change first and to consider carefully how the debt grew in the first place. Refinancing the mortgage will have fees involved. Be careful about what the actual interest rate will be. To maintain the frugal philosophy you will also need to plan to pay down extra on the mortgage when all other high interest debts are discharged. I would suggest even before student loans are paid off. You will also need a “ key man” life policy on the business should you buy or start one and I would suggest some life insurance for both of you- independent of any employer.

    • Michele says:

      I totally agree with everything Sarah just wrote.

    • KN says:

      Sarah after reading this blog post and your responses I really think you will get a LOT out of the uber frugal month. I loved it and it helped narrow down my “why”.

      I just made all but the stuffed bell peppers from this freezer meals post on another site and I am pretty sure a lot of them are gluten free (besides the lasagna and meatballs) https://pinchofyum.com/freezer-meals and the cost of ingredients was quite low–I did make a point to get the lowest prices I could find on the meat.

  43. Kim says:

    Sarah, Kudos to you for getting all this info together and wanting to have a secure financial future! I’ve read through Mrs FW’s suggestions (excellent), all the comments, and lastly your comment 11/6/19 at 3:17 p.m. outlining what you’ll be implementing. My former husband was an optometrist. When he left optometry school, he consolidated all his loans into one offered by the federal government at that time. It may still exist? It was a very low interest rate and in the event of his death, it would pay off his loan. We also had a really good life insurance policy, which I don’t see mentioned in your post. I am so very thankful we did this because he died just 10 years after graduation. Without the student loan payoff and the life insurance, there’s no way I could have kept our house and paid the bills on just my nurses salary. I know it kind of gets a bad rap, but he was a Walmart optometrist. He was his own boss but did have to adhere to a certain number of hours. Walmart of course provided the physical space and other necessary employees. Perhaps you could look into something similar with Walmart, Sams or Costco? I just think that if optometry isn’t your passion you probably shouldn’t buy an optometric practice. If you’re near a large medical center, sometimes they employ optometrists in their ophthalmology centers, and that would likely give you regular hours and really good benefits. As a self-employed OD, my husband had no health insurance and was covered under my policy. I second the suggestion of the “Cook Once, Eat All Week” cookbook. “The Minimal Mom” on YouTube reviews it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZ2IuXruiy8&t=10s. Wishing you all the best!

  44. Lindsay says:

    If you don’t want to give up store-bought gluten-free bread products, Trader Joe’s has some slightly cheaper options. My cousin’s family is GF, and she purchased a bread maker and doesn’t have to spend much time with fussy baking. Additionally, she’s taught her 9 y/o twins to use it, and now they are responsible for baking bread twice a week as part of their chores. They both told me all about it last time I saw them (they’re very proud), and the GF cranberry nut bread I tried was delicious.

    I agree that you first prioritize aggressively paying down your debt. After that, I personally would prioritize a new job for your husband, with less travel (maybe fully remote, or at least paid travel), benefits, and perhaps better pay. It’s challenging to find highly-paid, low-travel remote positions, but they do exist – I recently got one. The search definitely took time. I found that most good options either weren’t posted online at all (word of mouth/recruiter only) or weren’t listed as fully remote. I would think your husband would be a particularly attractive candidate, as he has a proven history of successful remote work.

  45. Clara says:

    So interesting. As a former owner/ partner of a family practice I would say you have both more flexibility and more responsibility. If you did it with a partner optometrist it might be more doable. Also, I had 3 kids while in my private practice. My partners really stepped up but my income dropped dramatically during maternity leave. If you go for a 3rd baby, do it when you have a maternity leave policy and you are not the boss! Good luck.

  46. Angela says:

    Hi Sarah,

    I’m also gluten free and just wanted to chime in. I personally find GF bread maker bread to be disgusting, especially if it’s not totally fresh out of the bread maker. I live in New Zealand though, so there might be more palatable options in the US! Anyway, I’d do some research before getting a bread maker.

    I keep costs down by only buying GF sandwich bread and the odd bag of GF flour or pasta, and just cooking and baking things that are naturally gluten free.

  47. Emmy says:

    We just had a big issue here in Oklahoma, many private-practice optometrists unhappy because a law was passed in May allowing optometry to be practiced in a retail environment. Many see that as the beginning of the end of the stand-alone optometrist, in favor of the ‘doc-in-a-retail-box’ approach. I sure wouldn’t buy into a practice here; it would be interesting to know how things work in NH.

  48. Jen says:

    Hi Sarah, thanks for sharing your financial goals here on Frugalwoods!

    One thing that I really love about Frugalwoods and the community here is the focus on helping people define what it is that really matters to them and finding ways to make their money work WITH them towards their goals, not against them. The balance between passions and pragmatism is what keeps me coming back here and reading comments and posts whenever I can!

    With this in mind, it seems like your family has so many good things going for it- lucrative careers, good health, high income, and exciting hobbies. There will always be something exciting right over the horizon, but I find it helpful to focus as much attention as possible on all of the great things that you have available to you already. My concern for you is that the amount of debt that you currently find yourselves in could (if it hasn’t already) become a burden that may eventually make it hard to enjoy the things that matter most to you. One thing that really stood out to me was when you wrote, “We love (maybe above all other activities??) traveling and exploring different cultures and different climates. We want to travel for the rest of our lives, including into retirement.” This will never become a reality if you can’t find a way to make your daily choices align with your long term goals. Nearing 40 is a great time to take a very honest look at your lives and how you want to use your money to improve your life, not limit it.

    You seem to be in an excellent position to pay down your debt and start living a life that brings you joy but it will require letting go of some very appealing possibilities that could come between you and your goals. My suggestions would be:

    -Simplify. Take stock of all of your assets, debts, passions, and goals and come up with a short and easy way to remember WHY you are making these new financial choices. This will guide everything else.
    -Pay off your debts as soon as possible. The relief that you will feel when you have done this is unimaginable.
    -Do not buy an optometry practice
    -(this is a deeply personal choice, but here goes) Cherish and enjoy the two healthy children that you have and focus on giving them the gift of debt free parents who can care for themselves in their retirement. Adding another child could be wonderful, but it runs counter to nearly all of your financial goals.
    -Find ways to improve your current job situation through negotiation or job hunting for more appealing alternatives.

    Like I said earlier, you have so much going for you and I think that a satisfying life free from debt is easily within your reach!

  49. Allison says:

    Sarah –

    I just wanted to encourage you that this plan of debt payoff can work. My husband and I paid off 250k+ in student loans in 5 years. We made about 120k combined to start with raises putting at about 150k at the end.

    Several of the financial cut backs would be into hobbies. We found great fun exploring free, cheap and fun options in our community. Gardens, parks, community centers, libraries. Think back to some of your memories as a kid. They probably weren’t $$$. Take time and thought to create those types of experiences with your kiddos.

    The time will pass and the debt be gone!!!! Good luck!
    Allson

  50. Wendy says:

    I have one more point to make – and I don’t know how to make it sensitive. Please accept my apology in advance and simply think that I am the German who always gets to the point quickly. We are known for it….

    You have regular costs of $92 for “individual therapy for Sarah and Jonathan plus couples’ therapy”.
    Although I don’t question this amount in any way and think it’s a good thing to treat problems in time, the question is whether your marriage or you yourself are in a mental situation that can withstand the higher burdens associated with self-employment.

    How would it be for you or your marriage if the business is in trouble, your income is no longer growing, but decreasing, and you have to spend 24 hours a day with each other all at once, professionally and privately? What is it like for your marriage if your husband suddenly decides that you have to lay off an employee and you disagree?

  51. Ms Blaise says:

    nstead of saying “Stop” “No” etc in your to do list, I suggest that you figure out how to do these things on a shoestring. If you re like me you will dislike the sense of denial. So instead of “STOP buy clothes and shoes and beauty treatments”, I would put a budget ( say $50 a month) and figure out how to buy great clothes or shoes or treatments on that. I DO get my hair coloured and cut, but I do my own grooming and beauty as a trade off. I also give myself an annual figure for clothes and keep a list in my diary of what I spend and when it is gone, that’s it for the year. Much better to apply your brain to creative solutions, than your hindbrain to thinking the world has ended.

    • Bee says:

      I’ve come to the conclusion that some people are ‘ban’ people and some people are ‘limit’ people. People say “I can’t buy clothes because then I want to buy the next thing I see too!” or “I decided to buy a bagel for breakfast one day and I liked it so much that now I buy bagels all the time!”, and that must be true for them.
      I’m like you, I’m a limit/restriction person. Only do things X times per week or month. Only spend x% of my income on fun. Even just “Try to do it as little as possible”– I have that in place for eating out on my own at work, and I haven’t since March! But it’s not a full ban, or all I’d think about is not being able to go out.
      I generally can “have just one”. But I can’t stand having none.

  52. Robin says:

    I also have to maintain a gluten free diet, and I’m sympathetic to Sarah’s son having food restrictions as an 8yo- it’s tough to not be able to freely enjoy “kid food”! A few things that have helped me not feel deprived:
    1. Most gf packaged food is $3-6. Consider each choosing 1-2 items/week as a special snack, dessert, etc. I budget $35/week/person for food, and that includes a $5 “special” like bagels, a box of cereal, brownie mix, etc. You don’t enjoy gf baking, but 8 is a great age for your son to learn how to bake with a gf mix!
    2. A few frozen GF pizzas ($5/small pizza) in the freezer aren’t your cheapest option, but they’re quick, easy, and can be balanced out by less expensive dinners.
    3. The blog https://www.budgetbytes.com/ is an incredible frugal resource, and many of the recipes can be made gluten free! I use it to meal plan and balance out those pricier meals (like pizzas mentioned above) with inexpensive dinners (bean, lentil, and egg-based dishes supplemented by rice, corn tortillas and potatoes).
    4. It’s okay to not like things… I don’t like cold salads in the winter. As a gf person, I feel like I should, but I don’t. Instead, I enthusiastically eat vegetables all winter in soups and stir fries and roasted. Honestly assess if you’re throwing out food because you shop for what you feel you should eat instead of what you actually want to eat.
    5. An air popper and popcorn kernels are an ideal frugal gf snack! Also, tortilla chips and salsa. And ice cream is typically naturally gf and much more reasonably priced than a prepared gf dessert if you need to pick up a goodie.
    Best of luck!

  53. Jenni says:

    Hi! Great case study here. I am also an optometrist and had dreams of opening my own practice for all of the reasons Sarah has. The thought was it would give more time flexibility and I would be able to manage my practice the “right” way and my husband would be able to help on the weekends. This was not how it turned out. It was far more hours and stress than I had imagined. I was so grateful that I was able to sell it after my daughter was born and now am quite content as an employee.
    I am glad I owned my practice for the life experience, which is now allowing me to appreciate the ease of life as an employee. The optometry industry is changing rapidly with the advent of online retailers and lower insurance reimbursements from vision plans. Personally, my new plan is hustling as an employee and saving up as much as possible in order to be able to exit the optometric field as I anticipate the industry taking a turn for the worse over the next 20 years. With costs of optometry school rising and insurance reimbursements falling and not being able to rely on material sales income due to online sellers, I expect there to be some problems for optometrists in the future. On the one hand it’s admirable to own a private practice and try to continue optometry as it had been, but on the other hand one must consider how sustainable this is with how the industry is changing and look out for your own self-preservation interests as well. Tough decision! Good job breaking it down and thinking it through thoroughly, Sarah!

  54. Sally says:

    Sarah, you have accepted the suggestions made here with grace and I know you will think about all the wonderful advice you have been given. Your plan is great and the fact that you have written it down and share it with us is great. My only concern is that you seriously think about refinancing your house as there will be costs associated with this. It is a quick way out, but it may make more financial sense to pay it off a bit slower with other cuts in your budget. Long-term adding more mortgage payments usually does not make sense.

  55. Sarah says:

    Items below are listed in order of priority:

    Account Simplification and Debt Repayment
    1. Do not refinance the house; you can easily pay off the CC and dental device (more below)
    2. Use the Home Improvements, Vacation Fund, House Fund, Jon’s Savings Accounts #1 and #2, and Saving for a Ride-On Mower ($9,846 total) to pay off the CC debt and half of the dental device loan. Close the accounts when zeroed
    3. Pay off the remainder of the dental device loan in < 2 months per Mrs. FW’s calculations
    4. Streamline remaining savings and checking accounts per Mrs. FW’s recommendations. Place savings at CapitalOne360 Money Market or Ally Savings accounts for high interest rates (1.8% – 1.9%)
    5. Consolidate Jon’s 401ks for simplicity
    6. Attack car and student loans per Mrs. FW’s calculations

    Tax Savings
    7. I assume it’s open enrollment for Jon; max out Dependent Care FSA ($5,000) if not already
    8. Max out Medical FSA for Chiropractic care, Medical co-payments, cream for Thyroid Condition, Prescription Medications, and Supplements (eligible for reimbursement with a Doctor’s
    Note/Prescription)
    9. Investigate commuter benefits for Jon for his gasoline and his subway travel to Boston
    10. Confirm Jon is being reimbursed for all travel expenses from work and update as needed
    11. Move kid’s college savings to a 529 or Coverdell if not already
    12. Once debt is paid off, max 401ks and contribute to backdoor IRAs

    Miscellaneous
    13. Agree with the Prius / Subaru swap for the days you are driving
    14. Agree with finding a cheaper cell phone plan
    15. Poshmark or ThredUp for clothes
    16. Raise / eBates for Starbucks, Shutterfly, and Christmas gifts

    • K says:

      Agree, I am perplexed w/ the refinance idea. This seems unnecessary.

    • Thanks for the items below listed in priority… Jon and I will seriously consider all of this!!! Hard to see for ourselves when we’re in the thick of things, sometimes!!!

      • Sarah says:

        You are welcome, glad to be of help! If it is open enrollment for Jon, do make sure to check for #s 7 – 10 as the tax savings could be quite substantial for you and your family on expenses you already incur.

  56. Lcg says:

    I think the theme in her post is freedom and flexibility. Next time you are faced with buying a “thing” remind yourself that not buying a “thing” means you are buying that freedom and flexibility you crave. Won’t be the instant gratification of a PSL, but it will be so worth it!!!

  57. Christina says:

    This would be a drop in the bucket for expenses, but many car insurances offer a very cheap roadside assistance program that could replace AAA. I pay $2/ mo and the couple of times I’ve used it, I’ve found the technician came more quickly and were more competent than the ones AAA sent when I had it.
    Second the advice to not refi the mortgage to pay off debts. If you want to stop paying the high interest on the consumer debt, a low-interest or 0% credit card advance (as mentioned above) could make sense- as long as you really pay it off, but it seems like that would be quite doable.

    • KN says:

      You can also use the app HONK on your phone when you need roadside assistance. You pay as you use it. I do that instead of pay for a monthly service–but my car is pretty well maintained and I very, very rarely have to use it (I think I’ve used it twice in like 4 years).

  58. dot says:

    nice case study many facts… One point a PAC is always voluntary so that could be cut out till later on in their finance life.

  59. B says:

    Thank you, Sarah, for being so honest with us. From reading your post, I feel like you seem to have a good balance and probably want it to tip more into the writing/art side rather than the optometry. This would mean to me to hold off non buying the business. I would concentrate on paying the loans, which may give you more flexibility in being able to decrease your hours to work on your books more. I think your husband is wanting more time and flexibility. Is there any way that he can cut his hours down even 30 minutes a day? If is happier, the spending may naturally decrease. I think you are happy with your life and your kids, so I wouldn’t have a third, but I also understand how loudly the fertility clock ticks in one’s mind.

  60. Thanks again for all the fabulous comments! I finally made my way through all of then, I think!

  61. steveark says:

    One of my friends had a large optometry business with an MD and three optometrists as well as an optical dispensary. The business was over fifty years old and they just sold it. We talked a great deal about the factors involved in his decision, and he felt he had no option but to sell it to a huge corporation and sign a contract to work for them for a couple of years. As the previous commenter who was an optometrist stated the business has changed. I used to pay my friend over five hundred dollars for a pair of eyeglasses but the last two pair I bought from a lab in China were equal quality and cost about $100. Mega corps are buying up all the mom and pop optometrist shops and going with the employee model, and you will never compete with them because their scale allows them much lower pricing for equipment and eyewear. I think the chance of a mom and pop optometry business surviving are essentially zero. I would never invest in that kind of business going forward. If you could get it going and then sell it to a major chain then you might make a quick payback but that’s just fraught with risk. They might just buy out one of your competitors and drive you out of business. Just don’t do it unless you’ve got $500,000 that represents pocket change you can easily afford to lose, which isn’t you.

  62. bonnie says:

    When tempted to buy anything that, upon reflection, doesn’t move you closer toward your goal (good scissors to cut hair, for example, have saved us so much money over the past decade)… think of that saying – see all that clutter? It used to be money. And all that money? It used to be time.

  63. Ness says:

    I’d say
    1. Reduce bank accounts to 1 or 2.
    2. Pay of all debts asap with all savings. Close all excess bank accounts.
    3, No business for you now. Learn to manage your family money before a business. You need to learn to budget big time!
    4. No baby yet, have safe contraception until you are sure. Nice idea, baby number 3!
    5. Make a plan to pay down debt asap.
    How much is home equity after mortgage? Focus on that as you don’t have much cash with all the debts!
    6. Focus on a humble life until all debts paid apart from mortgage. Keep home and garden cared for, focus on home and caring for your home area, care for it, enjoying quiet time at home. Do free trips, stay with others for free, camp. .
    7. What are your favourite 10 budget things to do? Art, writing, hiking, kids, library books dvds etc, craft etc. Do that while you pay off debt, fun stuff you like. Do that all weekend.
    8. Pay down debt, especially if marriage is in a bit of stress. If you are a single Mum, your life will be better with less debt, or if married, less money stress. Single or married, debt is bad for you.
    9. Make crafty gifts only. No buying gifts til home paid off. Use your art skills for that. Fun.
    10. I live a humble life, it’s peaceful. How much do baths, cuddles, hot drinks, craft, arts, library books and dvds and simple things cost? Very little.
    11. Offload all clutter, sell it, garage sale etc. Pay off debt with money from decluttering. Think about non waste, avoid wasteful buys.
    12. Your student debts in the USA are crippling, get rid of them. Vote for better policies.
    13. Write down all debts including mortgage. Work out your assets. Be honest. Do you have more home equity than debt? Make a graph. Try to increase the money total, including home equity. Every week, update it, sell junk, add that money to the total. Celebrate every dollar you win. Share with your family or husband. Talk about it. Even if it goes up one dollar a week, celebrate that. Good luck. These things all work for me. I like the hobbies you like. They are the best things in life!!!

  64. Mrs. Gardener says:

    Hi Sarah,

    You’ve already gotten great advice and drawn up a plan, so I don’t have much to say.

    I think the most important thing for you to do is to be aware of expense creep. It seems that your expenses are always creeping up to and exceeding your income. Be ruthless about “Is this a need of a want?” as you work to reduce your student debt.

    You have a USEFUL job that provides a needed service. It pays the bills and you are good at it. You have a faraway boss and enough time to pursue a sideline that you love. Sounds great! I get the sense that it is Jonathan and not you who is unhappy at work. He probably pursued finance thinking it would pay well and that he could handle the grind. It sounds like the pay is not as much and grind is harder for him than he expected, especially now that you have children and are getting closer to 40. He should look for a job closer to home so those Boston style days are not so hard.

    One thing stood out to me when you talked about buying the practice, you planned to eliminate the nursing home customers without saying how that might affect the bottom line or the goodwill of the business. I wouldn’t buy any practice, now or in the future, where your priority is to eliminate existing customers.

    The baby should be a heart decision. How would Jonathan and you feel if you were pregnant right now? There’s your answer.

    Good luck!

    Mrs. Gardener

  65. Sarah says:

    If you really, really, really, want a third child, go off the birth control now. Fertility is incredibly expensive, stressful, and I doubt covered by your insurance. Be as ruthless as you can without backsliding in your cutting to get rid of as much debt as you can before the baby comes.
    If your husband hates the Boston trips, would him doing grocery stocking run on way home help change the outlook of the trip? Would your boss allow grocery restocking on your breaks while driving around?
    If this optometry field is in trouble, get as much debt paid off now, and investigate the most likely doc-in-a-retail box that will move into the area. You may finish your professional life in that box. Get the best box you can and your foot in the door first.
    Is your husband looking for a new job, thinking of being a househusband and primary childcare provider, and maybe working part time?
    When the debt, except for mortgage and baby 3?, is gone perhaps your husband can jump ship to another job if this job is currently the best paying choice for now? What perks can a lower paying job give in same/different company/job to make the jump worth it? You said 10 years, and Mrs. FW highlighted a shorter time. Doesn’t mean you can’t arrive a year or so later as needed, as she pointed out as well.

  66. Mary in Maryland says:

    About buying a practice…I was offered an OB/Gyn practice for $375K in 1987. I had my accountant (who specialized in small businesses) look over the books. She said that I wouldn’t make as much money because I don’t order as much lab work. Also, the doc couldn’t convey patients to me, because most of them came via specific insurance plans. I bought a suite in the same building for $60K. My business was only viable for 11 years when HMOs took over my area. Someone offered to buy my practice. I had to tell her that the only parts of it that were transferrable were probably the equipment.
    Your employer may have you circuit riding because those marginal patients are the only ones that haven’t been snatched by the retailers. Also, being self-employed doesn’t mean you can take off whenever you feel like it, if you want to be solvent. I used to go to a Physical Therapy practice where the owner would reschedule his 5pm patients if they couldn’t come an hour earlier to fill in for a cancellation. His office manager had to have a serious talk with him about declining income and patient dissatisfaction.
    Lastly, as the driver of a 2005 Prius with 285K miles I feel that yours is just reaching its peak years.

  67. Mary in Maryland says:

    Don’t buy a practice in a field where the ground is shifting. A number of years ago when HMOs were just thinking of my area, and established OB/GYN offered to sell me her practice for 375K. I had an accountant who specialized in small businesses go over the practice’s books. The CPA advised me not to buy–the practitioner was plumping her income with may too many lab tests, and patients were not that transferable, i.e. most required that the practitioner participate in a given plan. The only asset that seemed transferable was the equipment. I bought the equipment for 3K and an office suite for 60K and had 11 good years before HMOs saturated the area. I had seen them coming and avoided buying the newest practice toys for my shortish run. And when I was closing and another woman offered to buy my practice, I told her she shouldn’t.
    I suspect your employer has you circuit riding because those patients can’t make it to the retail outlets. I joked that being self-employed gave me an employer I could respect most of the time. But you can’t take time off whenever you’d rather be doing something else. I used to go to a PT who would cancel pts if they inconvenienced him. Once when his three o’clock cancelled and his five o’clock couldn’t come in at 3, he had the 5 o’clock reschedule to another day. Bad for income and for patient relations. And he’s surprised that he doesn’t make what the previous owner did.

  68. Jane says:

    I’m confused by the lack of expense line item for before and after care. Presumably that expense will increase when daycare costs go down. Also, I think it’s a big assumption that as the years continue that both kids would continue to spend every summer with relatives. I’d expect to end up paying for summer camp at some point.

    In any case, you’ve gotten a lot of good advice. Best of luck to you!

  69. I just came to say I agree nearly 100% with all of Ms. FrugalWoods’ advice here. Especially regarding the business. Definitely do your due diligence before jumping in – that means signing an non disclosure agreement, reviewing the finances, cashflow, expenses, etc. Like she said, find out what is all included in the business. I don’t necessarily agree that $375k is low for a business. For a small optometrist that doesn’t necessarily out of line. And people sell for different reasons. I explored buying a business that would have been a tremendous deal, throwing in the kitchen sink (literally the kitchen sink, it was a fancy cheese shop lol), mostly because they had one too many kids to manage a business besides.

    So, should you buy? I would say if the cashflow is good, and it’s down the road enough, it might be worth considering. Especially if it’s turnkey, in which literally nothing changes other than you are the owner and fire for your former position. But do your homework, hire an attorney before you sign anything, and explore the numbers. Most communities have entrepreneurial centers with mentors to help with advice too. I’d look into it, but don’t get too attached to the idea. And remember that running a business usually means MORE work and time than being an employee, not less. Having afternoons off with that kind of pay is nothing to scoff at either.

  70. Nessa says:

    Hi Sarah,

    l think you have a natural talent in your art and photography. I studied art at college. Art making does require time and head space. I do art when l feel l need it, as l find it theraputic, when l have the energy, which is not often, after the to do list is done.

    I guess after the debt, it is about what you need as a person. It’s a philosophical question really. Mrs Frugalwoods values time as much as money.

    Your children need you as they are little, that’s a given. And you need art, that is a fact for you. What would you like to have done, looking from your death bed at the end of your life? That may sound grim, but time is ticking . . .

  71. Kim says:

    As a professional who had built a private practice and sold it a few months ago, I would say no. I also believed (very mistakenly) that owning a business would give me more free time–but if you are the owners and operators, you will be surprised how quickly your business consumes you. Have you and your husband ever worked together before? Running a business with my husband sounded perfect , until I realized that he was not as motivated to put in the work…and it became my responsibility–which definitely caused problems in our marriage. If you’re an artist type nothing will kill your creativity more than being consumed by your work…especially, if like me, you don’t really enjoy the field and see it as a means to and end. It is very easy to become “stuck” in your business. It took me almost 2 years to finally sell mine and I still have another year of a “transition period” before I am free to leave. It’s a trap!

  72. JP says:

    Hi Sarah, we replaced our AAA roadside service by adding towing to our car insurance policy. It was super cheap. Not huge savings, but worth looking into.

  73. Carrie says:

    I just wanted to highlight something that a previous commenter mentioned which is trying to refinance your student loans now that interest rates are much lower. I don’t think you would be able to do that until you pay off your high interest debt, but once you do that the process of requesting quotes for refinancing student loans is relatively quick. Just be careful you don’t refinance in a way that would make each spouse responsible for the debt in the case that one of you died (or at least consider that issue when planning life insurance).

    I also really liked the comment by Effie above about funneling creativity into saving money through making more of your own food, etc. Other people have also mentioned selling crafts or similar businesses, but that is riskier since you have to spend money to make money, and it may be something to think about more after you have focused energy on reducing spending.

    I agree with everyone else’s cautions about buying the practice.

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