Reader Case Study: Community College Teachers Dream Of Real Estate and Rural Living (oh and they’re having another baby soon!)

Ann and Leo are both tenured community college English teachers in Seattle, WA. They have a three-year-old daughter, a baby due in March, and an adorable Corgi keeping them busy. While Ann and Leo appreciate the life they’ve created, they feel they’re at a turning point and want our help determining what’s possible, and prudent, given their financial situation.

Case Studies address financial and life dilemmas that readers of Frugalwoods send to me requesting advice. Then, we (that’d be me and YOU, dear reader) read through their situation and provide 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 Ann, this month’s Case Study subject, take it from here!

Ann’s Story

Hello, Frugalwoods readers! I’m Ann, I’m 38, and my husband Leo is 37. We have a three-year-old daughter, a baby due in March 2020, and a Corgi. We live in Seattle, WA where we both work as tenured community college English teachers. Leo and I met in graduate school (I have an MFA in creative nonfiction and Leo has an MFA in poetry).

Ann and Leo’s corgi

We moved to Seattle together in 2010 and got married in 2012. I love to garden and Leo loves to write (poetry and a soccer blog with a sole proprietorship that was really gaining readership momentum before it fell by the wayside after our first child was born). We love spending time with our daughter and are excited/nervous about adding another kiddo to the mix in March.

Leo and I find ourselves in kind of a stuck place right now, where we have a lot of good things in our lives that we’re grateful for, but we also can’t shake the feeling that we’re not living a life that reflects our values and true selves. Basically, we’re sure this is not the life we want to be living ten years from now, but are still figuring out what we do want, and feel kind of paralyzed about what to do next. I feel like our finances are a place where that stuck-ness really shows up. I could use some outside perspective (from you!) on where we are, what’s possible, and how to get there.

Ann & Leo’s Life

Our jobs are pretty flexible on a daily schedule basis–we certainly don’t have traditional 9 to 5 schedules, and the academic schedule is pretty awesome in terms of time off for holidays, school breaks, etc. We love our neighborhood–we know lots of our neighbors, some friends are close, restaurants are nearby, there’s an amazing hardware store, a video store (really! We have a family ritual of renting movies on Friday nights that’s a highlight of the week), and an incredible park all in easy walking distance. Plus, our daughter’s daycare is just three blocks away.

We spend a lot more time together as a family compared to most other people we know. I have a garden I have been slowly creating, and would do more with it if I had more time. The whole family loves to spend time out there in the non-rainy seasons. Watching our daughter hunt for–and devour–fruit all over our yard in the summer is seriously one of the best things ever. We appreciate and make use of the literary, cultural and culinary resources of Seattle. I have amazing work colleagues, and feel that the work I do is meaningful and aligns with my values. I grew up in Seattle and my parents, an aunt and two uncles, and a cousin and her family all live in town.

The Downsides

Despite all this goodness, Leo and I feel like we’re in a rut. Where does this “stuck” feeling come from? As best as I can nail it down, it stems from:

1) Our House.

We were very, very lucky to be able to buy our house in 2013, before housing costs in Seattle got really out of control. We bought the proverbial “worst house on the block,” which had been a rental for 15 years, and it had A LOT of long overdue maintenance, plus mold issues that made Leo sick.

Ann and Leo’s original 1940s kitchen

All of our extra income from the time we bought the house (in 2013) to when we had our daughter (in 2016) went to necessary (non-cosmetic) house repairs/maintenance, such as: replacing the roof and adding proper ventilation, replacing the furnace, replacing the hot water heater, replacing a missing section of foundation (the former owners had removed it to make a closet!), completely gutting the janky and mold-ridden basement apartment, adding French drains to make the basement watertight, and damp-proofing and insulating the basement.

The house is at a stable point now, but we’d really like to make it work better/more for us by doing some big projects, such as: finish the basement to add more bedrooms and another bathroom, renovate the kitchen, re-side the house, etc. Plus maybe add an Airbnb unit (more on that below)? Right now, we live in the 850 square feet of the upstairs, with two bedrooms and one bathroom. The basement is dry, insulated, and plumbed for a future bathroom, but doesn’t have, you know, walls or anything fancy like that. It’s currently unclear where the money would come from to do these big projects, without some sort of a major financial move (see my questions).

2) Leo’s job.

Leo and I do the same job, but at different schools, and his job entails a lame commute, toxic colleagues, and most importantly: he doesn’t feel fulfilled by teaching. Leo is an incredible people person–he can talk to and make friends with anyone–but the constant flow of students (people he invests in, gets to know, and then never sees again) in and out of his life is wearing on him. He knows he needs a change, sooner rather than later (like, within a couple of years). Before our first kiddo was born, he took a break from teaching to try out being an electrician as an apprentice. This ultimately didn’t work out – we couldn’t imagine the hours and low pay (during training) working for our family – but he learned a lot and generally enjoys working on stuff like that. He also worked hard on his soccer blog pre-kids, loved that, and it was gaining a solid readership. He’d ultimately like to re-start that and look into the possibility of selling it.

3) My job.

I, too, think about whether I want to stay in teaching for the long haul. I find myself being kind of… bored after doing this for almost ten years. My job is intense in a people-interaction kind of way, which is hard for me as an introvert, and the essay grading really wears me down. It’s feeling repetitive to teach the same courses over and over again. Though I believe in the mission of community colleges, and I like my school a lot, I can see myself becoming very, very burned out in ten more years. I really don’t know what else I would do, though.

4) Finances.

In crunching numbers for this Case Study, I was happy to see that we’ve got a good gap between our spending and our income, which is a brand new thing for us! When we first moved to Seattle, we were both adjuncts and were making around $70,000 – $80,000 combined. Then I got a full-time job, while Leo was still an adjunct. During this time we bought our house, and then were doing major work on it, and borrowed $20,000 from relatives to help with renovation costs. We paid off that loan in January 2019. When our daughter was born, Leo got a full-time job, so we’ve only had two full-time incomes for three years.

Ann and Leo’s dining room

Since starting daycare payments when our daughter was a year old, we’ve been barely breaking even–or going into the red–every year, even though we work extra classes during the summer. We just got an 8.2% raise this academic year, and have an additional 3% raise coming in January, but that was the first raise of any type that Washington state community college teachers received in 12 years, and getting that took a years-long lobbying effort, a walk-out, and a major media campaign that I am proud to have participated in. Given that, we’re not counting on getting other raises like, ever again – not even COLAs.

Our jobs are super secure and come with some amazing benefits, but our salaries are pretty much set for life. In general, it feels like we’re treading water financially, sometimes getting a bit underwater, and that’s with just one kid in daycare… Theoretically we’re making enough money, but it seems like something always comes up. I’d love to have more breathing room financially, so that we could choose to not work in the summer, travel more, improve the house, or have the flexibility to not always work full-time. That would make an enormous difference in our outlook.

5) We’re not sure we want to stay in Seattle.

Although I grew up here, I also spent some time living in small rural towns and loved a lot about those experiences. Leo grew up in a small town in Alaska, not far from Anchorage, and could definitely live somewhere a lot smaller. Leo was never wild about moving to Seattle, and the city has changed a lot since I grew up here and not necessarily in a good way. Though we have a good community here in some ways, it’s also odd to be earning about half to a third of what most of our peer group makes.

We both feel the pressure of living in a high cost of living area on not-huge salaries. Most of our colleagues have a partner who works in the tech or biotech fields to “subsidize” their community college salary. Leo and I have a general feeling that in Seattle, everyone is stressed and busy and doing their own thing and not joining together to support one another. We’d love to live somewhere with less emphasis on what people do and more emphasis on community.

Real Estate Considerations/Dreams

For years, Leo and I have bandied about the idea of having a “real estate empire” (’empire’ being tongue in cheek). For a while, we thought we might create an AirBnB unit in our basement. We’ve also talked about building a Detached Accessory Dwelling Unit (DADU) on our property, which we would rent out either short term or long term. Both of us think it sounds exciting and fun to do this – we can imagine a scenario where I’m the behind-the-scenes/organization/bookings person, and Leo is the “front of house” person, interacting with guests and doing the maintenance. This would really play to our strengths – we certainly have a lot of experience with maintenance after everything we’ve done to our house – and it’s something we’re both interested in, though to be fair, we don’t have any actual landlording experience. We haven’t pulled the trigger on any of these ideas due to a lack of capital to get started and also… life!

Ann and Leo’s living room

Our house is zoned to allow a DADU, but we’re not sure how big of a structure/where it could go. The rules are somewhat complicated, involving percents of property covered by buildings, setback requirements, etc., so we’d likely have to consult with an architect/builder.

While we’re lacking in capital, we do have a wild amount of home equity, and I think it’s burning a hole in our pocket. We won the property value lottery when we bought the house that we did in the neighborhood we did at the time we did. Young families are moving here like crazy, the public schools are good, and light rail (within a 15-minute walk) will open in the next 18 months. We bought our house for $375,000 (in 2013) and could probably sell it tomorrow (with no additional renovations) for $700,000. Fully renovated homes in our neighborhood, approximately the size of ours, sell for $850,000+. The market here is bonkers.

Future Property Inheritances

Additionally, we are set to inherit two properties in the future: one on our own and one with family. The first (which we will inherit on our own) is a one-bedroom cottage in the heart of the most desirable neighborhood in Seattle, close to downtown, a block from light rail, and right off the main commercial area. We’re inheriting it under an agreement to not sell it, since it would almost certainly be sold to a developer who would tear it down and build a condo or apartment building. It’s the kind of property that’s totally unique in the area, a bit of Old Seattle, and my relative who owns it regularly gets offers of $1 million for the land. However, the house is special, and it’s really important to our relative–and to us–that it not become just another apartment building. We imagine renting this cottage out, probably as a short-term vacation rental given the desirable location.

Bald eagle spotted at the family vacation cabin

The second property is a small (two-bedroom), funky family vacation cabin on the waterfront about an hour and a half from Seattle. The current understanding is that we’ll inherit a quarter of the property along with two cousins and my sibling (at present, my father and two of his siblings are the owners). It’s a little unclear how this will actually pan out. My sibling and one of the cousins don’t (and likely won’t) live in the area, but my other cousin does. I have a lot of emotional attachment to this cabin and would really like to keep it in the family… I think. Financially, I know that my parents and aunts and uncles put about $7,500 a year into owning and maintaining the property, which I think is worth around $300,000.

There are also somewhat constant, low-level familial conflicts about who puts more time and energy into the maintenance of the cabin, how decisions get made, etc. Looking to the future, I can see it would be simpler if fewer people were involved, and there’s a possibility that some of “the next generation” would want to sell and others wouldn’t… we haven’t yet had a real family conversation about the future of this property, which is kind of stressful. In a dream world, I would like to buy out the other co-owners of the cabin (my sibling and two cousins), and then run it as a vacation rental during the times we’re not using it. This could also possibly work if we were co-owners, say having bought out some of my cousins/sibling, but not others?

This past summer, we went to visit one cousin (who would co-inherit the family cabin with me) who lives a few hours from Seattle on rural acreage. It was a magical visit at a moment in time when we were really open to questioning things and thinking about what we like and don’t like about our life right now. Our daughter was so excited and comfortable running around outside and exploring, which was magical to see for a kid who has been raised in a residential urban environment. It sparked a “what are we doing? what are we waiting for?” moment for both of us, and we were able to imagine a life that seems a lot more desirable than what we’re currently living.

Ann & Leo’s Potential Rural-Living Dream

A dream that emerged from that weekend trip goes something like this:

  1. We move to a rural spot–maybe Western Washington–within striking distance of a major metropolitan area.
  2. We build a DADU on our current house’s property, which we can use as a crash pad when we want to visit Seattle/need to go there for maintenance, etc.
  3. We rent out our current house, rent out the inherited Seattle cottage, and rent the family vacation cottage.
  4. We earn enough money from those rentals–and maybe other jobs—to support a simple, fulfilling life on our rural property.
  5. Leo can imagine doing something physical, such as being a self-employed electrician, to balance out his writing interests. I can imagine doing a lot more serious gardening and some writing as well.

In other words, we’re interested in something very similar to the Frugalwoods’ life! Leo and I can both imagine loving this kind of life, but have no idea how to go about enacting it.

Where Ann & Leo Want To Be In Ten Years:

This is a hard one! I’d say the clearest sense of where we’d like to be in 10 years is outlined in the “Rural-Living Dream” section above.

  1. Finances: on track for retirement, have an honest-to-goodness emergency fund, and have the flexibility to not both work full-time.
  2. Lifestyle: not have to work in the summer (if we’re still teaching), be able to travel more–it’s a dream to live abroad for a while –and live a slower pace of life, whether that’s in Seattle or elsewhere.
  3. Career: Leo doesn’t want to be teaching and wants to continue writing. I want to not HAVE to be teaching. If I am still teaching, I don’t want to have to work in the summer. Or, maybe I’d like to do something totally different. I’m not interested in trying to become an administrator or anything else in the academic world.

Ann & Leo’s Finances

Income

Item Amount Notes
Ann’s net salary $4,851 These are our new salary numbers, reflecting a raise that started this academic year. We’ll get another 3% raise in January (see notes above in narrative).

Both salaries are minus health and dental insurance, retirement contributions (mandatory 7.5% contribution from us, matched by employer), life insurance, short term disability insurance, union dues, and taxes.

These totals are an average of a 12 month period when both of us picked up one class in the summer (the maximum we can work is two). We prefer to only teach online in the summer, to prevent burnout, but it’s not always possible to get two online classes, especially for Ann. Ideally, we wouldn’t need to work in the summer at all.

Leo’s net salary $4,600
Monthly subtotal: $9,451
Annual total: $113,412

Expenses

Note: the below monthly totals are averages from June 2018 – June 2019

Item Amount Notes
Mortgage $2,025 Includes home insurance and property taxes.
Daycare $1,350 Reasonable for Seattle…
Groceries $684 It’s important to us to buy almost all organic, mostly whole foods, etc.
Medical/wellness $637 Leo has a well-managed chronic condition that he takes supplements for. They are expensive, but keep him healthy!

This also includes A LOT of therapy — honestly, becoming parents has been an unfolding process of dealing with stuff from our families of origin both as individuals and a couple. We’re doing well, though, and this feels like an important investment in everyone’s emotional well-being. This should be going down in the future. I think $500 is a more realistic number going forward?

Travel $510 We have cut way back on this recently, but we have a lot of family all over the place, we’re used to traveling frequently, and though we used credit card miles for almost all flights (right now we have the Discover It Miles card), this really added up. There tends to be a lot of eating out, etc. while traveling.
Student Loan Payments $323 For both Ann and Leo
Eating Out $237 This category is the canary in the coal mine for us. When things are going well, it’s less, when they are not, this can get way out of control, to $500 to $600 in a month. I’d prefer this to be more like $100 for a special dinner once a month, but instead it tends to be mostly “oh, crap, I guess takeout?”
Taxes $216 See questions — the changes to the tax code really surprised us! Gah.
Christmas $173 See notes below under “Gifts” line item.
Bulk Shopping $160 This is quarterly Costco trips, plus occasional bulk meat purchases from a farm. This and the grocery bill includes most household stuff like toilet paper, batteries, etc.
Water, Sewer, Garbage $140 Apparently Seattle has some of the highest water rates in the country??
Home Maintenance $138 Air filters, things that need fixing, etc.
Car Insurance $133
Gifts $119 So much family, so many birthdays, weddings, baby showers, etc. This feels like a lot to me, but Leo really enjoys gift giving and it’s a big deal in his family… It’s an “ongoing conversation” between us.
Household Goods $111 Miscellaneous house stuff that doesn’t get bought at a grocery store or Costco.
Car Maintenance $106 Includes taxes and registration, and whatever maintenance needs crop up.
Kiddo $103 Diapers, wipes, clothes, car seats, etc., etc.
Gas for cars $92
Electricity $87
Home improvements $70 Occasional purchases of small to medium sized wants not needs, but things that make our life better. Blackout curtains for bedrooms is a recent example.
Fun $65 Family/couple activities
Babysitters $60 Occasional date nights not covered by grandparents.
Clothing/Haircuts $50 For Ann and Leo
Phone $47 Two cell phones through Republic Wireless, plus a VOIP landline that costs about $5.50 a month
Natural Gas $45 Furnace is natural gas
Internet $40 Promotional rate — whenever it goes up, we call and get it reinstated.
Ann Expendable $25 Misc. personal spending — also when we get monetary birthday gifts, etc., that balance goes here.
Leo Expendable $25 See note above.
Garden $25 Ann’s major hobby — includes vegetable and fruit production for the family!
Dog $18 Dog food, vet when necessary
Website hosting $16 For Leo’s website, not currently being worked on, but maybe again in the future?
Subscriptions $14 A couple of magazines that we really enjoy — house stuff for Ann, sports for Leo.
Netflix $9
Monthly subtotal: $7,853
Annual total: $94,236

Assets

Item Amount Notes
House $700,000 This is what I estimate our house is worth (in its current state, with no additional renovations). We bought it for $375K in 2013.  Fully renovated homes in our neighborhood, approximately the size of ours, sell for $850,000+.
Ann’s Retirement Account $90,000 Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund
Leo’s Retirement Account $80,000 Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund
Checking Account $8,200 We keep enough in here to cover living expenses.
Ann’s Roth IRA $8,000 I inherited money from a grandparent years ago — this is where I stuck it. We used the original capital for home repairs a few years ago. This is in FSTVX at Fidelity.
Savings Account $3,800 This is where we collect money for the summer, when we make less money, and also theoretically our emergency fund.
Leo’s IRA $2,000 Retirement account he started in his 20s through TIAA CREF
Total: $892,000

Mortgage

Item Outstanding loan balance Interest Rate Loan Period and Terms
Mortgage $290,000 3.38% 30-year fixed-rate mortgage; purchased in 2013 for $375K

Debts

Item Outstanding Loan Balance Interest Rate Loan Period/Payoff Terms
Loan from family member for Leo’s surgery $15,000 0% interest, flexible repayment For a very necessary hip surgery for Leo, which was  unfortunately not covered by (our normally extremely excellent) insurance. This just happened this fall, and we’ll need to make a plan for repayment.
Leo’s Student Loans $11,000 5.60% For both student loans: we refinanced through Sofi in 2015 to reduce the interest from 6.8% to 4%. The original balances when we refinanced were something like $14,000 and $15,000, respectively.

We went with a variable interest rate, thinking we’d be able to pay them off in a couple of years, but that didn’t happen. The original 4% rate has been creeping up, up, up. It feels like we make no progress on these and they drive me crazy!!

I looked into refinancing again and I think we could refinance at a fixed 5.7% over 20 years and reduce our monthly payment to $150. Or should we use part of a house refinance to pay these off?

Anticipated payoff date is June 2025.

Ann’s Student Loans $10,000 5.60% See notes above.
Discover credit card $9,341 0% interest until June 2020 We used this to cover some of our living expenses this summer when Ann wasn’t able to work two classes.

We plan to have this paid off by the time it starts accruing interest in June.

Total: $45,341

Vehicles

Vehicle make, model, year Valued at Mileage Paid off?
Nissan Versa 2014 $6,000 100,000 Yes, bought with cash
Honda CR-V 2001 $1,500 150,000 Yes, bought with cash
Total estimated value: $7,500

Ann’s Questions For You:

1) Our number one question boils down to: how can we leverage our current situation to start moving towards a life we really want to be leading?

2) Can we afford two full-time daycare bills? Or should we explore other childcare options, such as an Au Pair?

I confess that we figured we would cross that bridge when we get there… not great. We imagine starting the new kiddo in daycare in Fall 2020, so that would be two daycare bills from then until Fall 2022 (when our oldest starts kindergarten). That means that in Fall 2020, our daycare bill would go from $1,350 to $2,700 a month (it’s not the same price for infants and toddlers, but siblings receive a $200 discount, which will make their monthly cost the same). Gulp. We have friends who have an Au Pair, and that’s more like $800 a month, but we would also need to provide housing and food plus an upfront agency cost. Neither of us love the idea of having someone living in the house with us and, without renovations, it would be impossible to house an Au Pair since we don’t have a bedroom for them.

3) How can and/or should we use our home equity to get ourselves on firmer financial footing?

Should we do a cash-out refinance to get a big chunk of money and use it to build a separate Airbnb/Au Pair unit on the property, lessening daycare costs in the immediate future while creating the potential for rental income later?

Or should we potentially create an Airbnb unit/Au Pair quarters in the basement, which would be less desirable long term but more affordable in the short term? I got some ballpark numbers from a loan officer, asking her to cap our total housing payment at $2,500 (including insurance, taxes, etc.). The answer was that we could get about $115K, with an interest rate of 3.75%, on a new 30-year mortgage. Construction costs in Seattle are HIGH – for creating a DADU, the ballpark figure is $300/square foot.

4) How would you plan for/think about the two properties we’re set to inherit? Are we crazy for thinking we could turn those into serious part-time or even full-time income (and be able to leave teaching)?

5) Are we doing okay with respect to saving for retirement? Doing some basic compound interest math using the Fidelity rule of thumb you have mentioned on the blog before, it seems we’ll be okay even though we’re a little behind right now, but what do you think?

6) The recent changes to the tax code really hosed us – we went from breaking about even to owing $2,600 last year! Is there anything we can do to lessen this?

Mrs. Frugalwoods’ Recommendations

Ann and Leo have almost as many options as their homemade popovers

Congratulations to Ann and Leo on their upcoming baby! And congratulations on putting themselves in the position to have options. They’re doing an excellent service to themselves by pausing to analyze their finances and their longterm goals.

Ann is so insightful about how their spending does–and does not–reflect their values and I commend her for taking the time and energy to do this thorough soul search and financial research. These two things often work in parallel: how you spend your money equals the type of life you’re able to lead. And the type of life you want to lead is informed by how you manage your money.

Options

In many ways, the future is wide open for Ann and Leo due largely to the prudent purchase of their current home. Since they have so many options, which we’ll get to in a moment, I want to start off with their top line financial priorities (as I see them). By first identifying what they need to do, we can then address what they might want to do.

Financial Goal #1: Pay off the credit card by June 2020

I’m not a fan of carrying a balance on a credit card; however, since this card has a 0% interest rate, I’m not hot and bothered. What I am worried about is their promise to pay it off before the interest rate begins in June 2020. I want to make sure Ann and Leo have an ironclad plan for making this happen because I have to imagine the interest rate won’t be pretty (most credit cards have interest rates in the high teens–eek!). Plus they’re having a baby in March, which has a way of derailing the best of intentions. Given that, I want to keep this repayment top of mind for them.

  • Current balance: $9,341
  • Months to pay off (including January): six
  • Amount to pay each month: $1,556. 83 (we’ll get to how in a moment)

Financial Goal #2: Build a real emergency fund

View from the deck of Ann and Leo’s family vacation cabin

Ann and Leo sort of have an emergency fund–which is better than no emergency fund!–between their checking and savings accounts. However, Ann noted that the checking account is depleted each month to pay their expenses, and they only have $3,800 in their savings account. An emergency fund is a required part of a responsible, stable financial life because it serves as the buffer between you being fine and you being in deep debt.

An emergency fund should be kept in an easily-accessible bank account, such as a checking or savings account, NOT in investments, retirement funds, or cars/houses/expensive china. An emergency fund is money you can access immediately in an emergency. I recommend saving three to six months’ worth of expenses. meaning three to six months worth of what you spend every month. This is why it’s so important to track your expenses–I use and recommend the free expense tracker from Personal Capital (affiliate link).

  • Ann and Leo currently spend $7,853/month, which means they should target an emergency fund in the range of $23,559 (three months of spending) to $47,118 (six months worth).
  • They have $3,800 in this fund at present, so they should target saving at least another $19,759.
  • I will note that since emergency funds are calibrated on monthly expenses, if Ann and Leo reduce their monthly expenses, they’ll need a smaller emergency fund.

There are quite a few options for how Ann and Leo can achieve these two goals, but I want them to be crystal clear that these are priorities one and two. Not renovations. Not moving. Not quitting jobs. These two things need to be done first so that they don’t find themselves spiraling deeper into debt.

How To Achieve These Goals: Reduce Expenses

The good news is that, with focus and determination, Ann and Leo have the capacity to knock these two goals out in a relatively short time frame. The bad news is that they will need to severely trim their spending in order to do so. But the good news is that this is Frugalwoods, where frugality is fun! Right, guys? Aren’t we having fun??!!! Ok good.

Ann and Leo’s corgi enjoying a sunny snooze

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.

In order to effectively review your expenses, you need to know what you’re spending. Luckily, there are software programs designed to do this for you. I use and recommend Personal Capital, which offers free expense tracking (affiliate link). You can write your expenses down in a notebook, you can create your own spending spreadsheets, you can use an online program–whatever you do, keep track of what you spend every month. If you’d like to know more about how Personal Capital works, check out my full review.

What impressed me about Ann and Leo’s expenses is that they provided annual spending averages in each category.

This is a phenomenal way to track expenses because it gives you the most realistic picture of what you spend each month. It’s not realistic to assume that what you spent in, say, December 2019 is what you’ll spend every single month of the year. While some expenses are fixed from month to month (such as rent/mortgage payments), most of us experience fluctuations in tons of other categories, such as: travel, dining out, groceries, healthcare, gifts, entertainment, pets, utilities…. you get the picture.

Since Ann and Leo have two clearly defined goals (at least, according to moi), they might consider making the below cuts to their spending until these goals are met. Once they achieve these goals, they could incorporate some of this spending back into their lifestyle… although they’ll want to consider Goals #3-5 (listed below) first.

Item Current Amount Mrs. FW’s Notes Proposed New Amount Amount Saved
Mortgage $2,025 Fixed expense; no change $2,025 $0
Daycare $1,350 Fixed expense; no change $1,350 $0
Groceries $684 This is not bad at all! With some concerted effort, I wonder if they could decrease this a tad? Alternately, it may be that this amount remains while the eating out category goes down. $684 $0
Medical/wellness $637 Ann noted that $500 seems like a more realistic number going forward. $500 $137
Travel $510 I recommend putting this on hold while they work towards goal #1 and goal #2 $0 $510
Student Loan Payments $323 Fixed expense; no change $323 $0
Eating Out $237 I recommend putting this on hold while they work towards goal #1 and goal #2 $0 $237
Taxes $216 Fixed expense; no change $216 $0
Christmas $173 I recommend putting this on hold while they work towards goal #1 and goal #2 $0 $173
Bulk Shopping: grocery and household goods $160 My question is about the monthly total spent on groceries, bulk shopping, and household goods. Between those three categories, Ann and Leo are spending $955 per month, which seems like a lot.

I wonder if there are efficiencies to realize? I encourage them to comb through receipts to determine what’s being bought in each of these categories and what “wants” might be creeping in with the “needs”

$100 $60
Water, Sewer, Garbage $140 This does seem like a lot. I wonder if they’ve looked into water-saving options, such as low-flow faucets/shower heads and more efficient toilets? I’ll leave as is for now, but I recommend they explore water conservation options. $140 $0
Home Maintenance $138 I recommend putting any non-essential items here on hold while they work towards goal #1 and goal #2 $65 $73
Car Insurance $133 This seems high for two older, high-mileage cars. I suggest they shop this around and see if there’s anything cheaper. $133 $0
Gifts $119 I recommend putting this on hold while they work towards goal #1 and goal #2 $0 $119
Household Goods $111 My question is about the monthly total spent on groceries, bulk shopping, and household goods. Between those three categories, Ann and Leo are spending $955 per month, which seems like a lot.

I wonder if there are efficiencies to realize? I encourage them to comb through receipts to determine what’s being bought in each of these categories and what “wants” might be creeping in with the “needs”

$50 $61
Car Maintenance $106 Fixed expense; no change $106 $0
Kiddo $103 This seems high since this is in addition to all groceries and household goods. I encourage Ann and Leo to look into generics, hand-me-downs, etc.

Here’s a post on the topic: How I Saved Tons Of Money During My Baby’s First Year

$40 $63
Gas for cars $92 Fixed expense; no change $92 $0
Electricity $87 Fixed expense; no change $87 $0
Home improvements $70 I recommend putting this on hold while they work towards goal #1 and goal #2 $0 $70
Fun $65 I recommend putting this on hold while they work towards goal #1 and goal #2 $0 $65
Babysitters $60 I recommend putting this on hold while they work towards goal #1 and goal #2 $0 $60
Clothing/Haircuts $50 I recommend putting this on hold while they work towards goal #1 and goal #2 $0 $50
Two cell phones through Republic Wireless, plus a VOIP landline that costs about $5.50 a month $47 I’m thrilled that Ann and Leo are using an MVNO, but this still seems a tad high. I pay around $29 for two cell phones through Ting. Might be worth shopping around to see if they could settle into a cheaper monthly plan. However, this isn’t a super duper high priority since they’re already doing the right thing by using an MVNO.

Wondering what an MVNO is? Check this out: My Frugal Cell Phone Service Trick: How I Pay $10.65 A Month

$35 $12
Natural Gas $45 Fixed expense; no change $45 $0
Internet $40 Awesome! $40 $0
Ann Expendable $25 I recommend putting this on hold while they work towards goal #1 and goal #2 $0 $25
Leo Expendable $25 I recommend putting this on hold while they work towards goal #1 and goal #2 $0 $25
Garden $25 Fixed expense; no change $25 $0
Dog $18 Fixed expense; no change $18 $0
Website hosting $16 Fixed expense; no change $16 $0
Subscriptions $14 I recommend putting this on hold while they work towards goal #1 and goal #2 $0 $14
Netflix $9 I recommend putting this on hold while they work towards goal #1 and goal #2 $0 $9
Monthly subtotal: $7,853 Proposed new monthly subtotal: $6,090 $1,763
Annual total: $94,236 Proposed new annual total: $73,080 21,156

If Ann and Leo brought their spending down to $6,090 per month, they’d have $3,361 every month to put towards paying off their credit card and building an emergency fund ($9,451 income – $6,090 expenses).

At that rate, they could easily pay off their credit card before the interest rate appears in June:

  • Current credit card balance: $9,341
  • Months to pay off (including January): six
  • Amount to pay each month: $1,556. 83

After making their credit card payment, they’d have $1,804.17 leftover each month to put into their emergency fund. Plus, if they decided to continue all of the above cuts and keep their monthly expenses at $6,090, they could target saving up a smaller emergency fund ($18,270 to $36,540).

After the credit card is paid off in June, they’ll be able to funnel the full $3,361 every month into their emergency fund. At that rate, they’d have a fully funded emergency fund of $18,270 in place by August 2020 (math below):

$1,804.17 x 6 months = $10,825 (by June 2020) + existing $3,800 in savings = $14,625 + July 2020 amount of $3,361 = $17,986

Based on the above recommended savings, they could wipe out goals #1 and #2 in a mere eight months!

Financial Goal #3: Daycare For Two

Ann and Leo’s family of three is soon to become four!

It’s really good news–and ideal timing–that Ann and Leo could have their credit card paid off and their emergency fund built by August 2020 because their second child is slated to start daycare in September 2020. At that point, their monthly daycare bill will double to $2,700.

In order to afford this second daycare fee, Ann and Leo will have to reduce their spending, so it’ll be perfect that they’ve already done so!

If they follow the above recommended cuts to their spending, they’ll be able to easily afford the $2,700/month daycare bill and will, in fact, have $2,011 leftover every month ($3,361 in monthly savings – $1,350 for the second child’s daycare) to plow into…

Financial Goal #4: Student Loans!

I know Ann is bothered by their student loans, but the upside is that the interest rate (5.6%) isn’t terrible and the total amount they owe ($21,000) isn’t astronomical. They’re a hassle, but they can be paid down–especially if Ann and Leo are able to stick with lowered expenses. Let’s project when these could be paid off:

January 2020 to August 2020: continue paying the $323 monthly minimum (while completing goals #1-3). In September 2020, their combined loan total will be $18,416 = ($21,000 – [323 x 8]) 2,584

September 2020: add the $2,011 in monthly savings to the $323 monthly minimum payment for a total of $2,334 per month going towards their student loans

At that rate, it would take them under 8 months (until May 2021) to pay both loans off in full! Not bad! ($2,334 x 8 months = $18,672)

Note: I initially made a ton of errors in calculating this for reasons unknown. Thanks to helpful Frugalwoods readers, I’ve updated all the numbers! Thanks you guys!

Financial Goal #5: Loan from family member

View from a park in Ann and Leo’s neighborhood

Ann and Leo borrowed $15K at 0% interest from a family member and they will need to pay it back. I encourage them to sit down with this family member to discuss repayment expectations and timeline.

If this family member is flexible and willing to defer payments on this loan, Ann and Leo should wait to pay it off until their interest-bearing debts (credit card and student loans) are paid off. This is the mathematically smartest solution, but might not be the family-relationship smartest solution. They’ll need to talk with this relative and figure out what’s reasonable.

If they can wait until May 2021 to begin repayment, they could then put their full $2,334 in monthly savings towards the $15,000 balance (it’ll be the full $2,334 because they’ll no longer have a student loan payment!!!!).

In this scenario, they’d have the $15K paid back in full by December 2021:

$2,334 x 6.5 months = $15,171

December 2021: Ann and Leo are debt-free!!!

According to all of the above calculations (which are imperfect since they don’t account for inflation or increases to their salaries or inevitable emergency expenses), Ann and Leo can have their full debt load of $45,341 paid off in less than two and a half years from today! That’s pretty darn quick! This would necessitate a permanent reduction in their monthly spending, but it’s a very doable, very quick debt repayment rate.

Once they’re finished paying off this debt, and once their older daughter starts kindergarten in September 2022, they’ll have $3,684 ($2,334 former debt payment + $1,350 former daycare payment) leftover every month to put towards investments or renovations or a move to the country.

But What About Their Rural-Living Dream?

None of the above takes Ann and Leo’s rural-living dream into account, but I wanted to get all of those details out of the way first, so that they have a clear picture of what they can–and need to–do in order to right their financial ship. The enormous wild card in all of this is the value of their current home and their home equity. I think Ann and Leo have done a great job penciling out different possibilities here, and they clearly bought an incredible investment property, so I’m going to turn the tables and ask them a few questions:

Question #1: How handy are they?

Part of Ann and Leo’s veggie garden

Ann mentioned all of the renovations they’ve done to their home but it wasn’t clear to me if they did that work themselves or hired someone to do it. If Ann and Leo are serious about living rurally and becoming landlords, being handy will make the process a lot easier and a ton less expensive.

For both landlording and living rurally, Mr. FW and I have learned that handiness–and a willingness/ability to teach yourself how to do stuff–is imperative. It might actually be the first requirement, unless you have endless funds to pay for endless repairs, maintenance, rural labor… the list goes on. Mr. FW and I have a property manager for our rental, which is certainly something Ann and Leo should explore, but it will, of course, eat into their profits.

Since Leo studied to become an electrician, I assume he’s handy and has an aptitude for teaching himself handy skills. Handiness matters because if they do a cash-out refinance of their home, they won’t need to get a construction loan and won’t need to hire a contractor. With a construction loan, they’d be limited on how much they’d be permitted to do themselves and they’d (most likely) be required by their lender to hire a contractor.

Question #2: What’s their anticipated rate of return?

How much could they rent their current home out for? How much could they rent a DADU for? A basement apartment? I encourage Ann and Leo to start building spreadsheets that account for all the expenses and rental prices for each of the rental scenarios they’ve discussed. Look at rental prices on Craigslist, have a realtor do a free appraisal of the home, have a property manager do a free rental appraisal.

Regarding the Au Pair question, this can only be answered when we know what the DADU/basement apartment would rent out for. It seems possible they’d be able to charge enough in rent to negate the savings of an Au Pair over daycare. But again, we can’t know that until we know the expected rental rates (minus costs).

Ann’s question of whether or not they should refinance their home should really be answered by what rate of return they can expect from renting out a basement apartment/DADU (with all expenses accounted for, including: an ongoing maintenance reserve, vacancy, repairs, etc).

Another note: if they do move to a rural location and rent out their home, I don’t think it’ll make financial sense to keep the DADU as a pied-à-terre for themselves. It would most likely be a lot more advantageous to rent out the DADU and pay for a hotel when they visit Seattle and/or hire a property manager.

Question #3: What’s their risk tolerance?

Last winter in Seattle

At present, Ann and Leo have a pretty low risk level. They both have stable, tenured jobs and–with a bit of cutting to their expenses–they can afford daycare for both kids and pay down their debts in a reasonable time frame. However, if they want to explore a different lifestyle, they’ll be looking at a higher risk level.

This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just something for them to be aware of. They’d be going from stable (boring, perhaps), routine paychecks to the potentially volatile, variable (exciting, perhaps) income of rental properties, which also, by the way, does not include health insurance or retirement benefits.

The way I see it, the highest risk, highest potential reward would be for Leo to quit his job (since he makes less money and is more interested in quitting) and continue paying for daycare while he renovates the basement and builds the DADU as quickly (and cheaply) as possible. If they took this approach, they’d need to cut their spending to the bone and be quite quick about the renovations in order to not slip underwater.

Question #4: How much would they pay in healthcare?

If one of them quits their job, how much would it cost for them to be covered by the working spouse’s healthcare? If they both quit their jobs, how much should they expect to pay through the affordable care act for their family of four?

Question #5: Are they paying for daycare in the summer?

Parsnips from Ann’s garden

It sounds like they’re currently paying for summertime daycare, but if they’re not working, then could they cease the daycare and re-start the kids in the fall? This would give them some financial breathing room this summer to work on the renovations.

That being said, I have two little kids and I know it’s not possible to work on a renovation project with children underfoot. So, one parent would either need to watch the kids or work and pay for daycare while the other parent did the renovation work.

Question #6: What’s the price point of the rural properties they’re interested in?

Ann and Leo should start researching rural properties in the area they’re interested in to get a sense for what their budget will need to be. There are a lot of unknowns here and the best direction I can give is to start creating financial models that pin down as many variables as possible.

Question #7: Can they spend more time living/visiting rurally?

Spring in Ann and Leo’s neighborhood

Rural life is A LOT different from city life and I encourage Ann and Leo to spend more time in their desired rural location before making the leap.

The Inheritances

The only advice I have here is that an inheritance doesn’t mean anything until you actually inherit it. If it comes your way, great, but you can’t build plans around it until it happens. It’s not wise (or possible, really) for Ann to make plans about these properties until they are hers. It sounds like the Seattle cottage could potentially provide a great rental income, but again, it’s an unknown until it’s hers. The vacation cabin sounds like kind of a hassle, but again, it’s an unknown until it’s hers.

If it were me, I’d focus on all of their tangible financial goals and then deal with the inherited properties when (and if) they’re inherited.

Get a High Interest Savings Account

I’m not sure what interest rate Ann and Leo’s savings account has, but, they should make sure they’re in a high-interest savings account. Using a savings account with a high interest rate is one of the easiest ways to make your money work for you. For more info, here’s my page on high-interest savings accounts.

Credit Card Usage

I’m usually a fan of credit card usage–for the rewards points and also the boost it can give your credit score–but, I’m concerned about Ann and Leo’s tendency to carry a balance on their card. I encourage them to consider if they feel they can pay their card off in full every month. If they can’t, I recommend they stop using credit cards. More on how to use credit cards responsibly: The Frugalwoods Guide to a Simple, Yet Rewarding, Credit Card Experience.

Retirement Savings

Not much to say here because Ann and Leo are doing just fine with their retirement savings. They’re both saving a total of 15% of their salaries (7.5% with a 7.5% match) towards retirement, which is awesome. The thing to keep an eye on will be if one (or both) of them quits their job(s). At that point, they’ll want to research alternative, non-employer sponsored retirement vehicles, such as IRAs, Roth IRAs, SEP IRAs, and more.

Summary:

  1. Research the rates of return for renting out their current home, a basement apartment, and a DADU.
  2. Calculate the cost of renovations/building and determine how much of the work they could DIY versus hire out.
  3. Consider their risk tolerance and handiness level and whether or not they’d be comfortable with one of them quitting their job in order to perform the renovations/building.
  4. Research home prices, lifestyle, schools, availability of services, hospitals, grocery stores, etc in the rural area they want to live in. Visit and spend as much time there as is feasible.
  5. Enact the plan I outlined for paying off the credit card by June 2020 and saving up an emergency fund.
  6. Then, based on what they decide regarding the house, pay off the student loans and the family member loan.
  7. Reduce their expenses in order to afford any–and all–of this, including a second daycare bill (unless it becomes feasible for Leo to stay home with the kids while managing a DADU/basement apartment rental that he has built).

Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice would you give to Ann? 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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185 Responses

  1. Lisa says:

    I look forward to these posts so much! Just a note on daycare, in my experience, pausing or even reducing in the summer is not *that* easy. Spots are so competitive, especially when you have two kids and want them in the same place. Just my two cents. As always, thanks for sharing their story and your advice!

    • Nora says:

      Agreed – our daycare does not hold spots if you stop in the summer!

      • Portia says:

        Yes, same here. We are both teachers expecting our first child, and the daycare we’re planning on will not hold a spot during the summer. We can pay a slightly reduced rate to take her out entirely (definitely doesn’t seem worth it!), or just keep paying the regular rate and keep her in full-time. Because she’ll be in in the infant room, they won’t even let us drop to part-time. But this daycare has much more reasonable rates than others we’ve looked at, so we’re okay with the tradeoff.

      • Ann says:

        Yes, I *think* we could drop down to 3 days/week in the summer, but the savings is not huge (a couple of hundred of dollars) and honestly: we love our daughter SO MUCH, but we are better parents/healthier and happier people when we are not with her all the time! Last summer we gave ourselves the gift of continuing full-time, but it’s certainly something to continue to consider for future summers

        • Holly says:

          I can relate to this comment – our kids are school aged now but in the early days, daycare was a “worth it” expense even over holiday breaks when husband and I were not working. We needed the days off for just us to restore our sanity and take some adults only time to connect with each other. We are also better parents when not parenting 100% during our “free” time. Plus, with a new baby on the way, it’s really better to keep her schedule as consistent as you can – the addition of a sibling is a big enough transition. And you will also enjoy the 1:1 time with Kid #2 that you got with Kid #1 that way.

          • Ann says:

            YES — those days when we’re both not working, and she has someplace to go, are so priceless for us as individuals and for our time to connect as a couple!

          • Anne says:

            Just wanted to flag that hiring an au pair will probably not lower your expenses. With the annual agency fees, you are looking at more like $1300/month, plus contributions to tuition fees for their classes.

            Having been in this position, having an au pair or a nanny is not really a substitute for preschool in terms of academic and social kindergarten preparation. So while it could make life less stressful in some ways to have an au pair and childcare at your fingertips, you will likely end up wanting to put your older child in preschool for 1-2 years before kindergarten, which would negate the savings.

    • Liz says:

      Yup – agreed!

  2. Dorothy Young says:

    I agree with much of what Mrs. F recommends. But in particular, her advice on inheritances is spot-on. Your relatives could live for decades and/or leave the properties to others.

    Don’t count your chickens …

    • Ann says:

      Yes, this is definitely something we’ve considered. For the Seattle cottage, the will has been changed to reflect my relative’s intentions, but there’s always the possibility that something could change, that they could need to sell it to provide money for their care before death, etc.

      • Maureen says:

        Unless the limit on use of the property is recorded On title with the county, a verbal commitment to keep as a cottage is not legally binding.

    • PDXmomma says:

      Yup, this happened in my family. Verbal arrangements from in relative who died first didn’t pan out. When the spouse died nearly 10 years later the anticipated inheritance wasn’t split the same for reasons unknown. I had hopes of maybe renovating a basement or putting aside for my kids college IF I received anything , but didn’t receive so much as a China cup. Glad I hadn’t counted on it or inflated my lifestyle.

  3. Amanda says:

    Just popping in here as another college educator, although not at a community college.

    Burnout is very real in college teaching! I sense some of that in this case study. But I wonder if decreasing your reliance on summer money, and considering alternative academic positions, might be a middle ground between staying where you are and leaving entirely.

    Breaks are as necessary for teachers as they are for students. Teaching can be wonderful but it can also be a grind (sooooo much grading). I wonder if you got yourself into a financial place where you didn’t need to teach in the summer, if that would give you the breathing space you need to enjoy and appreciate teaching during the year. It does for me, and I try to avoid summer teaching for that reason. It might be worth a try as a first step at least! Can you cultivate another income stream that would cover you in the summer?

    Also: there are lots of ways to work in a university, maybe do some teaching, without being a full time teacher. This might be worth considering for Ann especially, as it would give her a better balance of alone time and student time if she could find the right job. I’m thinking things like administrative positions, maybe in an academic dept or in student affairs. It might mean getting some experience in another area, but it’s worth looking into.

    Finally, are online classes and option for you? They aren’t any less work than in person classes, from what I understand, but the occasional online class could give you flexibility in location and commute while you consider your next step.

    And I would look at community colleges in rural areas to get a sense of whether they might offer you some income in the event that you do decide to move out of the city. My guess is they pay less and are less likely to offer a full time position, but that might not be the case if you teach a staple course.

    Basically, these are all options you could explore to reduce your reliance on daily, year round classroom teaching, and maybe that would help you get back into a place where you can enjoy it. while some of them (like adjuncting in a rural area) might not be enough to support you now, they could be an option down the line in combination with frugal living and another income stream or two.

    • Gretel says:

      Love your idea of looking for a different type of college position! Great idea. It’s funny, on paper they have a perfect situation 2 tenured positions and a house they can afford in Seattle! But that doesnt’ take into account the reality of living that life

    • Connie says:

      Great thoughts Amanda!! I too wondered if changing things up a bit could add some challenge and interest without doing a full out quit.

      I also wonder if taking on some tutoring would be applealing or possible? Even tutoring for college entrance exams could be a huge pay out… parents can be desperate to increase those scores!!

      The neighborhood sounds wonderful, as well as family close by.
      My other thought is… sometimes work is work, and although we can plan for more satisfying jobs in the future, sometimes we just have to do the work to get there. But that can be a great motivator to get into the financial place you need to be in…. and enjoy planning for the future while doing it.

  4. Mandy Lambert says:

    I haven’t done calculations like Mrs. F but it sounds like selling the house could be a good option since it has gone up in value so much. Is there any possibility to sell it and rent somewhere cheaper until you decide where you want to go? Also if Leo is in such a negative environment at work would he be interested in being a stay at home dad for a bit? He might be able to still work on his soccer blog and then once the kids are in school full time he could work on real estate or find a new job. Not sure if that is feasible with the budget but those are just my initial thoughts!

    • Julia T says:

      I wondered this as well. If it is an option at his college (or another in the area), perhaps Leo could look into switching from full-time to adjunct. I work at a community college in Ohio and there are many evening, weekend, and online classes that the adjunct instructors teach. He could stay home with the kiddos during the day and teach part-time in the evenings or weekends. I know that is a huge adjustment to family time so it would need thoughtful consideration. There is even the option of becoming an online instructor at a college outside of Seattle. This could also be coupled with another reader’s suggestion of hiring a babysitter part-time, rather than daycare.
      I commend Ann and Leo for being so forthcoming with their story! I see a lot of similarities to my family and look forward to reading through all of the comments/advice from readers. I wish you the best of luck with the new baby and the rural dream.

      • Wendy says:

        I thought this as well. Leo could work at night or part time and stay home with the kids saving so much on daycare until they are in school full time. He can also have time to build up his website until it starts making money as well. There is also tutoring he can do as a side hustle. There are many ways he can make money until they figure out where they want to end up.

        • Ginger says:

          I knew many full time tenure faculty who taught evenings and weekends to be home with their kids. It can be done without giving up tenure at many places however, he’d likely lose the summer classes. But without daycare it may be worth it.

      • Connie says:

        I wondered this as well. Cutting out day care costs, selling and paying off all debt. One parent working full time, getting benefits and the other doing side/evening/weekend work.
        That’s a lot of changes but could be a breath of fresh air.

    • Sunny says:

      It comes down to the rent costs in Seattle also having gone up in the last decade. I pay more than their mortgage in Seattle in rent for a 1 bedroom, 600 sq ft apartment (also outside of the city, but near a light rail station) – fortunately, I don’t have (almost) 2 kids so I don’t need the space. They are getting a great deal right now, renting any comparable would likely move them 1.5 hours outside of the city.

    • Maggie says:

      I agree !! If daycare will be almost half of one income, could you cut some corners and have one stay home? . Reduce working expenses like gas, work clothes, eating out because of lack of time to shop for sales or cook from scratch. Possibly share one car? Can you watch a friends kids a couple of days a week and have a playmate for yours and some extra cash? Or just work opposite shifts for a while ?

    • Teri says:

      As a fellow Seattleite I will say they could not sell the house and rent somewhere cheaper unless that somewhere cheaper comes with a commute even more lame than she said (think 1.5 hours each way – I am not joking here people). A very small studio apartment will go for $1500 in a much less desirable neighborhood than hers. Housing, groceries, and daycare out here are insane, and while they could even rent their house out for probably almost twice their mortgage, they wouldn’t be able to find a less expensive place to rent. I was so excited to see a case study from someone in Seattle as many of the costs out here as so much higher than for things I see in other case stories. I can relate so much better to this and am looking forward to the comments.

  5. Georgia says:

    Wow! Sounds like the dream life…! My husband is a poet who loves soccer and Seattle, hah. Any way we can rent that little downtown cottage when it becomes available 🙂 ?

    Two thoughts—can you find just a regular babysitter who’d be willing to watch the kids around your schedules? Maybe someone in college who wouldn’t need housing?

    I’m also a big fan of WWOOFing to really hone in on what kind of ‘rural living’ you’re interested in. So many things to learn! And a lot of times, you can take babies/small children with you…

    Sounds like you all have wonderful things ahead—have fun with the frugalizations!

  6. Rachel says:

    Fellow college professor here. A lot of what you said resonated with me. I think honestly if I were you I would sell my house, take that 500k in equity ( approx) and pay off all my debt and buy a rural home in cash where one parent could work and the other could stay at home with the kids or both parents could work part time. That could be a few adjunct classes each, or some online courses, or maybe your husbands blog, but get creative and with no mortgage, no daycare, no debt payments etc. you wouldn’t both need to work. You could garden more and get your grocery budget down by preserving and canning more, maybe get a chicken or two for eggs 🙂 etc.

    Or honestly if you didn’t have any debt or payments maybe a career change in the new community? For example my husband worked at a hardware store as a teenager and has always wanted to work at one again. Silly I know- but being debt free gives you that flexibility.

    • Michele says:

      My thoughts exactly. Plus, I wouldn’t want anything to do with the family cottage. Assuming you even inherit part of it, family does and will continue to have issues of who pays more for upkeep, who does work on it, etc. Let the other 3 deal with that. IF you inherit the “million dollar” house – use that as a rental income / Air Bnb, since you are not supposed to sell it anyway (again, you might Not get it, or could be decades away.) If it is yours, you could stay in it, on vacation, to visit family and check on the property, because in this scenario you have moved away from Seattle.

  7. Abby says:

    Have you done any research into how much it cost to have a nanny care for your children for the exact hours you need it? Especially for college students, this can be a great part time job, and your children can gain a wonderful friend and third parent if you find a good nanny! At least in my area you could get someone wonderful to personally care for your children for the amount you are slated to pay for two at daycare.

    • Sarah says:

      I live in Seattle. Minimum wage is above $16/hour. I don’t see this costing any less than $2500/mo for a full time nanny and that’s a stretch as cost of living here is high. It’s not much cheaper than daycare, and comes with the relying on one person to watch your child vs a staff/center with additional resources. It’s a puzzle. Perhaps a PT schedule could work though?

  8. Emily says:

    Congrats on your careful tracking of expenses! No financial advice, but maybe some caution: the logistics and fatigue of two small kids is huge. As you plan timing, I can’t emphasize how valuable it is to have the current family support you have in Seattle. Just food for thought for young kids…

    • Emily says:

      **can’t emphasize enough

    • Carrie says:

      When I had a home in a high COLA area with a lot of equity, it helped me make decisions on next steps by setting up scenarios in a spreadsheet to see what the options would look like.

      For myself, I developed eight different scenarios and made budgets and then indicators of lifestyle happiness (commuting time for example and need for childcare). Having the cells to fill out forced me to research each item individually, which made it easier to handle and less overwhelming. Once I did that exercise, then it was a really easy discussion with my husband to make our choices.

      In your case, it seems that you have status quo, and then permutations of staying in Seattle or moving (e.g., husband quitting job and renovating and then taking care of kids). You could sell your house or keep it for a rental if you left. Nailing down what that would pencil out to will really help you weigh the options.

      Paula Pant on the afford anything podcast has a lot of advice on rental properties that seems helpful. I’m wondering if a rental in Seattle is the best option for your home if you moved, because you might get more cash flow from investing that money in another part of the country. If the maintenance costs for a home and the lost opportunity of the equity are significant enough, you might find that it isn’t the best rental market. It seems that lots of real estate investors look for lower cost markets so they can cash flow better, so you might want to look at that.

      One thing to consider is that a second baby can be really tough to add while keeping focused on financial goals. If you can take the time before you have the baby to develop easy systems (such as a system on how you do your weekly food so you don’t go to take out due to exhaustion) it might help. I definitely spent a lot of money when my babies were little just on convenience items, which resulted in increasing my debt a lot.

      • Ann says:

        Hi Carrie,

        Thank you so much for this comment! The idea of a spreadsheet with different scenarios is a great one. I’ve listened to some of the Afford Anything podcast but haven’t really dived into her content on rental properties, so that can go on the to-do list for sure. What I’ve always been unsure about is that, with a property that *clearly* doesn’t meet the 1% rule, is it worth keeping it as a rental as long as it’s cash flow positive? But it sounds like your spreadsheet was designed to address just that.

        Both Leo and I are on near-complete leave already this quarter, to have (hopefully!) a solid 10 weeks to regroup and get some better family systems in place as we prepare to add our second kiddo. Food systems are definitely high on that list! I am definitely amazed at how much we’ve relied on convenience items with just one kid, so we definitely want to be proactive about planning for this next life transition.

        Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful comment!
        Ann

      • Erin says:

        My husband and I just bought 4 acres and a 950 sq ft house in a semi rural area 20 minutes outside of Olympia WA. You could probably pay cash for a place depending on where you wanted to live and afford to make less. A lot is different out here, some of my neighbors don’t take great care of their places, but since we have so much privacy, it’s not a big deal. Just a thought.

  9. Bella Lewin says:

    Could you both put your workload in 4 days away from home?this enable you to put the kids just 3 days in daycare or getting a cheaper nanny at the house. You are both a bit bored and not really knowing where to go with life. Is a teaching position abroad a option for you? Ask for a sabbatical ( unpaid probably) and give it a try. With 2 young kids , traveling is easy. Most countries have cheaper daycare provisions. Then come back , work hard at those debts, finish the basement. And look at want you want then.

  10. Brittany says:

    It looks like they’ll actually have about $2000 extra each month to pay off student loans, $1350 of the day costs are already included in their expenses, so from the $3361 in savings each month, only an additional $1350 will need to go toward the daycare expense.

  11. Catherine says:

    Can I just say that I am super impressed with their community college salaries (and tenured!)!! Here in NJ my husband makes a pittance as an English professor. And tenure-track teaching positions seem to be a thing of the past now 🙁 Sorry, no advice here but I had to comment. Congratulations on the new baby and best of luck with everything!

    • Ann says:

      I just want to take a moment to say here: thank goodness for strong unions! When CCs were just starting here in the 70s, there was a strong union that bargained hard for living-wage salaries and benefits, and has kept that up. We have a MUCH better situation here in Washington than a lot of our friends who are adjuncting/teaching at community colleges and 4-year universities in other places. Even part-time adjuncts get full, good, benefits here!

      • Rob in Germany says:

        Speaking of adjuncts A lot of people are unware that the bulk of university now is taught by temps (adjuncts) rather them a proper professor a d much of the increase in costs are going to (warning political comment) overpaid diversity staff. For most kids a trade is a much better option.

        • Julie says:

          As a business major, some of my adjunct professors were the best professors I ever had as they could actually share from real life experiences. After recently ending my career as a CFO, I am considering adjunct teaching myself at our local JC. My son attended this same JC a few years back and he agrees that he had some great adjunct teachers.

      • Natalie says:

        Wow that is amazing that part-time adjuncts get full benefits! I adjuncted for a long time but quit and stayed home once our second child was born, because daycare for 2 would have cost more than I made! (We were in Northen Colorado, though, which is also super high cost of living).
        Good luck!

        • Nancy says:

          Just a note of caution about adjuncting. I oversee adjuncts at my university, and because of declining enrollments have just had to cut two people completely, and reduce teaching loads for two others. Adjuncting can offer flexibility, but it can be a risky business.

  12. Erin says:

    Just a note on the au pair plan – there is a court case that was just decided on in MA that au pairs are now entitled to minimum wage: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/08/us/au-pair-massachusetts-ruling.html.
    I know it is Mass and not Washington, but probably good to keep it on your radar as it sounds like it is hitting some families very suddenly. I would imagine it will start popping up in other states as well, but that might be years after your kiddos need daycare.. I am not an expert on this at all, but just wanted to share!

  13. Stephanie says:

    I am pretty sure either the main property or DADU will need to be owner occupied in Seattle. I’d focus on the apartment in the basement first. You should be able to get $1,200-$1,800 at least for it depending on number of bedrooms…especially for your neighborhood (video rental gave it away). I’d pay off credit cards, do what you can yourself on the basement apartment, and finish it up as quickly as possible!

    • Ann says:

      Ha! I knew that the video store reference would give it away to those in the know. 😉

      And, good to know about the owner-occupied requirement — I had not heard that. A basement apartment is definitely something worth considering.

      • Teri says:

        You are no longer required to live on site when you have an accessory dwelling unit in Seattle. My neighbor built one and doesn’t live there so I checked up on it in case we wound up with troublesome renters :}. I think it’s fairly new rule since housing has become such a problem, the city wants to encourage density. Love your neighborhood! Congrats on the pending new baby. I hope you are able to come to decisions that work well for your family.

  14. Leah says:

    This suggestion is somewhat unconventional but have you considered ayahuasca for therapy? We spent quite a bit of money to attend a retreat in Costa Rica, but my husband seems to be cured of his lifelong problem drinking and many people liken the experience to ten years of therapy in one week. We live in rural Pennsylvania but perhaps where you live there could be options to participate in ayahuasca ceremonies locally.

    • Ann says:

      I appreciate the unconventional suggestion! We both recently read How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan and it was very intriguing for sure!

  15. Sarah says:

    You may already know this but your baby timing was excellent as there is now a partially paid leave benefit for family in WA ( as of January 1)! It’s not the same as full time work, but it is something and I’m proud our state offers this. Best of luck to your new family and for your future plans.

    • Ann says:

      Gah don’t make me cry! I didn’t include this in the case study because it was just too complicated/up in the air, but: I likely will not be able to use the new paid leave law, due to the vagaries of the intersection of state rules and our union contract. Leo will totally get it, so that’s good, but because the union contract that covers me was signed three months before the cutoff to be grandfathered in to the new paid leave law, we have to wait until after our new contract is signed to be able to access it… the upshot is that I may miss this by mere months. A good thing for Washington for sure, it just sucks to be right on the wrong side of the cusp of being able to use it. It also means that there’s a fair amount of uncertainty what our income looks like March – June, but all of Mrs. FWs feedback and the thoughtful comments here means that I think we will be able to weather some loss of income without disaster, even if it means our potential debt payback gets slowed down a bit.

  16. Katie Camel says:

    Interesting story! Like Ann and Leo, I have a love of English (my first degree is in English literature) and used to want to teach, but I knew those jobs were difficult to find. Congratulations to each of you for landing full-time positions!

    I agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods that you need to cut some spending, particularly the gifts and the food. I finally had the pleasure of shopping at Costco for the first time last month. Wow! I was blown away by the prices! If you’re routinely shopping there and plan meals more efficiently, you should be able to keep well within a much smaller food budget. That alone will make a huge dent in your monthly expenditures, especially once the second baby comes. I strongly suggest making things like soups, stews, etc. and eating them throughout the week. I’d also suggest freezing some for those moments when you’ve failed to plan ahead. Defrosting a healthy meal is a lot cheaper and faster than takeout. Believe me, after working a 14-hour day, the last thing I want to do is cook. Even after my usual 10-hour day I don’t necessarily want to cook, so having something prepared that’s easy to reheat is a lifesaver. Sometimes it’s as simple as a bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon and fruit and a huge salad (I keep salad ready made in the fridge to eat throughout the week).

    I’m also curious if you take advantage of your local Buy Nothing Project. That could help reduce some of your child-related expenses and even sometimes your food expenses. It’s amazing what people give away on it. My neighbors give away leftovers from parties or things they don’t want from meal deliveries, etc. If you choose to rent the cottage or build on your property and need furniture, BNP is also a fantastic resource for furniture.

    Since you don’t work typical 9-5 jobs, how useful is daycare for you? During college, I babysat children while mothers with flexible work schedules worked or ran errands. I don’t know if that’s a cheaper option for you, but is it possible to hire one or two college kids to cover your work schedules? Or even a retired nurse/mom/whatever? I’m wondering if even a nanny would be cheaper. Au pairs can be risky. That’s what I’ve learned from the docs I work with who’ve hired them.

    Lastly, I’m curious about your husband’s apprenticeship. Is it possible for him to complete it while simultaneously teaching? Electrical work will always be in demand and can be done anywhere. Once he gains that skill, he can easily gain another, like HVAC, etc. That’s what my brother did and had a booming side business for years before changing careers.

    Good luck to you!

    • Ann says:

      Katie, thank you! Though our jobs (well, particularly Leo’s) come with some downsides, we are very lucky to have two tenured positions in the family, for sure.

      I definitely want to use some of this preparing for baby time to actually put ready-made meals in the freezer and to get some solid meal prep routines in place. I love to cook but am still operating in a cook-a-new-thing-every-night paradigm which is not really sustainable even with one kiddo. We’re definitely working towards getting on a cook-a-big-thing one or two nights a week plan, similar to the Frugalwoods household.

      We are Those People who have never been on Facebook and won’t be… but the Buy Nothing Project is literally the only thing that has ever made me wish that we were!

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment,
      Ann

      • Jennie says:

        We are also Those People, but have found that our local Freecycle page is a great way to give things away (or to find them, if you’re looking for something). It is a website, rather than Facebook, so you might see if there is a local Freecycle group near you!

    • Michele says:

      I hope your husband’s surgery went well. As a nurse, I wonder: if he had hip surgery, will being an electrician or some other physically demanding job be in the cards? Best of luck.

  17. JD says:

    I have to agree with Mrs. FW, don’t count your chickens before they hatch. A close family friend of ours got everything together to leave two funds to two young people he loved dearly, and then — died without ever getting it finalized, so they got nothing. My own father died without getting his updated will signed and notarized — he kept meaning to get it done, but…
    I think a lot of research is needed here, on renting and adding on, hiring nannies, on living the rural life, and on refinancing or selling the family home. I think this couple is on track and has a lot of potential; I also suggest they research carefully and wait until that next baby is here to see how much that impacts their lives before making big decisions. And certainly, learn more about rural life in the area at which they are looking. The cons can sometimes be well hidden, so dig deep.

  18. Brianne says:

    The situation is even brighter than it looks!

    It appears that the 2nd child’s daycare has been counted twice. So after achieving goals #1 and #2, they’ll have $3361 in monthly savings, and only $1350 of that will need to go to daycare (because the other $1350 is already accounted for in their expenses). That then leaves them with $2011 to go towards student loans, which means they’ll have them paid off in only 8 months (following September 2020), i.e. May 2021 (note that while this seems later than currently written, the case study has a typo:19 months after September 2020 will be March 2022, not 2021).

    Once the student loans are paid off in May 2021, they’ll have $2334 to go towards their family debt, which means they can pay it off in less than 7 months ($2334 x 6.4 months = $15,000). So they’ll actually be debt free by the end of 2021!

  19. RB says:

    I thought I would just comment on the desire to live in a rural area in Washington. I lived for ten years on the North Olympic Peninsula. We saw a lot of Seattlites come out our way for many of the same reasons you have; burnout, a desire to live that idyllic rural life, and the ability to cash out of a Seattle home and buy a property for much less. There are a few common themes we noticed among these families. First, there aren’t a lot of jobs in the rural area, and the ones they could find often didn’t pay enough to live on. Bringing your jobs with you through an online format would help you avoid the stagnation of the local economy. Secondly, while many loved the idea of a little hobby farm, they found the distance from town to be isolating. Add in a NW storm, constant power outages, heating solely by wood, and many of them struggled to feel connected to the community. Most of the little farms (at least in my area) were some ways from town. It was silly, but the thirty or forty minutes you drive in Seattle traffic seemed to become magnified out on the NOP. Finally, there just aren’t a lot of places to shop in a rural area. Everyone seems to know that, but people were still always amazed by having no mall, no Target, or relying on Walmart or little shops to try to clothe the family. Removing that consumer mindset of shopping was surprisingly harder to do than most people realized. Many of the Seattlites eventually returned to the city because their careers became fairly stagnated out in the rural towns. I would personally focus on finding new careers or places of employment; the equity in your home means that once you sell, you can go anywhere and do nearly anything and pay everything off in one fell swoop.

    • Ann says:

      RB,
      Thanks so much for chiming in! This is a really helpful comment. I think finding a way to “practice” living somewhere more rural is a great idea. My cousin lives outside Port Townsend, and they have an amazing community there, but they are also literally farmers and very connected to the farming/organic community which has made finding that community easier. And yes, it would be ideal to keep just the online teaching at Seattle salaries and live elsewhere… there may be a way to do that, at least in a transition period.
      This is great food for thought, thank you!
      Ann

      • Mrs. Gardener says:

        Hello Ann,

        Congratulations on the new baby and safe delivery!

        As my husband and I get closer to retirement, I’ve been exploring suburbs and country living in a variety of places.. (We live in a big city a few blocks from the county line.). When reading reviews of people who already live in the country, I see a lot of what RB is talking about. The recurring themes are nothing to do, limited job opportunities, having to drive every where, not much choice shopping, insular neighbors, and drug addiction. The more I read, the more appealing our current locale is ( 30-40 minutes from downtown and an equal distance for a drive out to the country, plenty of shopping).

        Many of us idealize country living and if you really want it, go for it. But be prepared for the possibility of feeling the same way you do now in a few years. BTW, if we had an after tax income of $9,000+ monthly I would feel we’d won the lottery!
        Focus on your many (and increasing) blessings.

  20. Daisy says:

    Chiming in as a fellow university adjunct here. I have a PhD and don’t make anywhere near their salaries, nor do I ever expect to have their job security. My academic life is subsidized by a much higher earning partner. Reading their story I find myself torn. On one hand, walking away from such security could be difficult and downright risky. But if their dream takes them in another direction than Seattle/academic life (which it sounds like it does), then this is the time to make those changes. I agree with Rachel. If they really feel called to a different life, sell the expensive house, buy a less expensive rural property, pull the kids from expensive daycare, and get creative about how to earn a living.

    Similarly I agree with the grind of marking and teaching. I love teaching, and I enjoy the energy of students, but students can also be very high maintenance. I just taught my first winter class yesterday and am bracing myself for a term of near constant marking. So, yes, I can see not wanting to do it forever.

    My kids are older now, but we made the decision to employ a nanny when they were younger. Our situation was/is slightly different in that one of our kids has special needs, so we needed consistent care and our nanny remains with us to support our son’s special needs even now that I have three young adults. But our decision to employ a nanny over a decade ago was also related to daycare issues. On the whole the nanny experience has been a good one for us. From a cost standpoint a nanny was less expensive than daycare. We liked the fact that care was offered in our home. We avoided the morning and evening dash to day care which I loved; we could leave kids in their pjs eating breakfast if things were moving more slowly in the morning, which went a long way in reducing family stress. But Ann does note several real concerns. This person will become a member of your family. You need to take the time and energy to make sure you have a good fit. This person might join you for holidays and vacations. They will eat meals with you. They will putter around in their pajamas drinking coffee with you on Saturday morning. They will be in your space. In fact your space is also their space. You need to be okay with that, and as a fellow introvert I can tell you it can be challenging at times – even if you adore your nanny. We live in a large house. Our nanny has a large, private suite in our walk-out basement, as well as her own car. This goes a long way in ensuring in ensuring harmony in the home. Ann and Leo need to think through how adding one (actually two, with the baby) to their modest home will play out. It’s going to be a bit of a squeeze and I anticipate in a few years they might feel cramped. Realistically for Ann and Leo to employ a nanny they’re going to have to finish their basement. If they’re not really committed to Seattle life then it might make more sense to forgo that expense and explore options where one parent can remain at home/work from home, or both parents work part time with minimal babysitter support – particularly because it sounds like this might appeal to Ann and Leo and allow them to pursue options like gardening, blogging, home reno work, etc.

    All the best.

  21. Nichole says:

    I just want to address one thing:
    Please, please, please do not get an Au Pair. I had no idea about this program until I was forced by illness to get a nanny. She met other nannies in the neighborhood, some of whom are Au Pairs. The wages these young women are paid are so low, even with room and board that I am embarrassed and shocked that our country allows such a thing. The power dynamic of having these young women from other countries who usually have no or very few contacts here, live in the home of their employer and be reliant on the employer’s honesty and good will to ensure that they follow the rules for hours, food, time off, etc… and a good reference in order for them to stay in the program if they want is so awful. (I am sure my run on sentences, etc… are enough to drive an English professor crazy! Sorry Ann!!!) Additionally, the program has some very glaring examples (some of which have made the news) of instances where the program has done a very poor job of checking the background and mental state of the Au Pairs. And I have heard some very bad stories from some of the young women who work in my neighborhood of scary families they had to get away from. Things like the male in the family propositioning them all the time, one nutter who would go outside and shoot a gun every time he got frustrated and kept guns all over the house. The mom in one family who refused to allow the Au Pair to eat dinner every night and made her serve the family. I know this is not something Ann’s family would do, but it does illustrate one of the many awful things about this program. Finally there was a horrible death in New Jersey last year because the new Au Pair who had only been there a couple months had found a boyfriend and made him a key to her employer’s home. When she broke up with him he came in the middle of the night and stabbed her and the dad in the family to death. Luckily, the mom and 2 kids were visiting relatives overnight.

    Thanks for sharing your case study. And thanks for bringing up the Au Pair program. Hopefully people will read this and do their own research to confirm what I am saying. There are some good pieces in some respected publications that will back up what I have found out these past few years.

    • Lauren says:

      We host Au Pairs. These types of situations may exist but positive ones do, too. As you said, I would encourage anyone interested in the program to research it more to understand how it is regulated by the US State Department.

      Hosting an Au Pair is not necessarily a cheaper childcare option. You do only pay $197/week but you pay nearly $9000 in an agency fee. You then pay for room and board including cell phone, car insurance, Christmas and/or birthday presents, and $500 towards classes, What you gain is a lot of flexibility. When you leave for work your kids can stay home in their jammies longer. When baby is sick you don’t have to stay home. When you want to have a date night you schedule it. You don’t have to pack bags and drop people off and pick people up. Co-habitating is not for everyone. However, if you make a good match it feels significantly less weird than you would think. My whole family misses our former Au Pairs dearly and look forward to our visits. So, I don’t know if it makes the most financial sense but for my family and the experiences it has given my children I believe it is completely worth it.

      I wish you all the best

    • Tori says:

      Wow! I think this is an extremely negative characterization of au pairs. I’m sure that these are all true stories, but you can find equally horrifying things that have happened with nannies or daycares or even family members if you look for them. My family had two au pairs for a total of four years. Both young women were from Colombia and working for our family was more money than they had ever made. With home visits from the agency and monthly meetings for all of the au pairs in our area, they quickly made friends and we had an advocate for both sides of the relationship. An unexpected bonus was the other families we met through the program.

      We paid them $800 a month, but also provide food, housing, a car, cell phone, insurance, etc. They went on vacation with our family and one of them comes back to visit almost every year. The relationships and flexibility were invaluable for us and our kids learned Spanish too. We had three young kids so this was the most economical option for our family, but the cost is about $19,000 a year (before you add in the cell phone, car, etc). and given the high cost of living in your area, I’m not sure it would save you money. We had the extra space in our house. You can easily research different au pair agencies online – ours was Cultural Care if you want to look into it further. Good luck!

  22. Beatriz Cervantes says:

    Leaving secure jobs means finding your own medical insurance. This is one of the biggest drain on our finances at present. I pay $1,300 per month. Don’t underestimate the value of a job with benefits.

    • Gretel says:

      There is NO health care security in the US if you are paying your own way. You can be dropped, rejected, costs skyrocket every year. This is what traps my husband in a low paying/high benefit job. If she could keep working at hers, maybe change to an administrative position…..sigh…..

  23. Ann says:

    Hello Frugalwoods Readers! Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I’ll be getting caught up and doing some responding as our day gets going here over on the West Coast.

  24. Carrie says:

    Let’s talk inheritance cottages since Mrs. Frugalwoods refrained from diving into that topic in depth.

    Property #1: It sounds as if the cottage you’re inheriting in Seattle is a dream come true. This could be a significant monthly revenue stream! However, go into AirBnB rentals with eyes wide open and a CONSERVATIVE estimate of rental income. There are great calculators to look at average rental price — then calculate operating costs, and be sure to include:
    – taxes
    – garbage, water, sewer,
    – home, furniture and appliance maintenance (much higher than a normal home due to increased guest wear & tear)
    – good quality towels, pillows, linens replaced at least annually
    – basic guest consumables like TP, dish soap, paper towels, hand soap, cleaning supplies, etc.
    – nice hospitality touches like coffee, wine, candy, filtered water, that increase AirBnB value

    AirBnB hosting has a big operating cost, esp if you aim to get that coveted SuperHost status! You have to work very hard in the beginning, and spend to earn. Also be sure your cleaning fee charged to the guest amply covers regular cleaning plus a % of quarterly deep cleans / rug & upholstery steams, etc.

    Also – look into whether Seattle may be affected by city regulations — hotel lobbyists are huge and powerful, and they’re going after AirBnB via city governments to take back marketshare. I don’t know anything about Seattle but here in NYC, AirBnB has become an increasingly difficult.

    Property #2 –
    More complicated. My suggestion if you cannot buy out relatives, which it sounds like this is unlikely with your current financial scenario and other goals. Use this property as an AirBnB that EVERYONE benefits from.
    Rules of Engagement:
    1. Each owner gets 2 week’s vacation for personal use (you can decide what’s realistic and would make you all happy.) I recommend 1 week during peak season and 1 week during off-peak. If you all pick peak season weeks, income will go down significantly as that’s 8 weeks and peak season in the NW is usually 8-12 weeks, tops! These weeks MUST selected in advance by a date (Jan 1), and if forfeited go to be AirBnB weeks.
    2. You, Ann, take on the full responsibility of the AirBnB rental. You receive an admin fee/salary of 18% (15% is industry standard, for an individual/fam member taking on the learning curve of a new role, 18-20% sounds right to me) – this % is off the TOP of the bookings revenue. Then, earnings are calculated quarterly (Bookings revenue – taxes, home maintenance & rental expenses = profit) The profit gets divided equally between the owners! For your cousins and siblings, it’s really a no-brainer. They get time at the beloved property should they wish, and then an effortless revenue stream. You, Ann, get the same plus a manager’s fee. You don’t have to outlay huge amounts of cash to buy out your cousins or sibling.
    3. Draft a legal agreement about this arrangement so there is no question and everyone feels good about it. Include exit contingencies should someone want to sell their share.

    Those two rental properties could be boons for your financial situation, but as Mrs. F said, you cannot plan for them until they’re yours. Focus on the short term goals and since you won’t be eating out, going out on dates or reading magazines for a while, you can use that time to read, research and hatch your real estate dreams! 🙂

    • Ann says:

      Thanks so much for the ideas about both properties! I really like the potential family vacation cabin plan… And totally agree that it makes the most sense to live our lives as if neither of those things are happening until they actually do.

  25. Dee says:

    I think there’s an error in the ‘daycare for two’ maths:
    “If they follow the above recommended cuts to their spending, they’ll be able to easily afford the $2,700/month daycare bill and will, in fact, have $661 leftover every month ($3,361 in monthly savings – $2,700 for daycare) to plow into…”

    They are already accounting for one lot of daycare in their expenses, so they only need to find $1,350. From the potential savings of $3.361-$1,350=$2,011 and not $661 as suggested.

    Love this series, by the way 🙂

  26. Miriam Kearney says:

    Congratulations. I certainly did not have the financial options you have at your age (I’m now 71) so you guys are doing great. What I want to talk about is the idea of becoming Landlords. I own 3 properties, one is a triplex (well it was a very large house but I created three apartments in it and yes with the exception of plumbing myself and my husband (and after he died, my daughter became my partner in this) did all the work ourselves. Still wasn’t cheap but way cheaper than hiring a contractor. The second property is a studio condo in the heart of the city (Toronto). My daughter and I live in the 3rd property, a small cottage in a small city in south-eastern Ontario. From the four rental units we net about $8000 a year. Of course we couldn’t live on this money but it is a nice addition to my pension income. However the properties continue to go up in value and I think of the capital in them as my daughter’s retirement pension. My point is that there are expenses associated with being a landlord -it’s not all free income. And there is work. One of our tenants just gave notice so tomorrow I’m going up to the property to check it out and take pictures in order to rent it out again. The triplex takes the most work; the condo is pretty self-maintaining although we did spend 2 days refurbishing it last summer which is the first work we’ve done on it in 8 years.
    So that original cottage in Seattle might be a great rental but how well maintained has it been over the years? And the cabin might need work as well. All of which takes time from your young family and money. Property managers might look after the rental from a business perspective but they usually don’t fix leaky taps – they hire someone and send you the bill.
    I agree with Mrs. FW in saying right now focus on getting out of debt – make a real plan and use your vision of the future as your motivation. The only financial comment I would make is don’t cut yourself to the bare bones for too long or you will probably rebel – think about your tolerance for not going out and think of alternative ways to treat yourself that either cost less or nothing.

    • Bri says:

      Good point, might be a nice experiment to spend a few dollars one month to turn Netflix on and have fun with it. Then take it off and another month look forward to a nice dinner out like you mentioned. Maybe each month as a reward pick an area that you can have a tiny splurge. I know when I was teaching myself to be frugal and to save, I would play little games with myself to “earn” a treat as I made progress and at least psychologically, it helped. For me, the rewards were silly, like a tank of gas and go on a road trip along the coast and back, or taking my favorite latte and a pastry out on a beautiful hike, awarding myself x number of dollars to buy a favorite fancy food at the market, or sushi takeout, even candles, hot bath and a book could be a reward at the end of a month when I needed the motivation but didn’t have the cash… At first it seemed necessary to keep me motivated, but I’d have rewards rarely enough that these small things seemed like big deals and I actually appreciated them *so much*. Now that the good habits of living frugally and saving like crazy are the norm, I no longer need to do any of that as motivation, I just sprinkle in the fun stuff because, well, the ultimate goal is quality of life anyway!

      I love that your time frame is so short to be out of debt. Keep yourself on the path with rewards or not, but either way, know that you can do anything temporarily and, it’s so worth it! You’re doing great!!

  27. Mia says:

    I love all the suggestions Mrs FG made for cutting costs. At the same time cutting all the extra expenses (traveling to see family, all Christmas gifts and clothes) for 2 years would be a strain at best. I agree with one of the above posts about bringing in some side income, especially during the summer, to speed the timeline along and allow for the occasional gift or haircut. Along with the other suggestions I’d recommend looking into tutoring. I teach in a less expensive city and earned $40-45 / hour tutoring. If you can pick up a few tutoring jobs during the summer (maybe even on some weekends or evenings during the year) it can add up. Regarding daycare, I would look into nanny shares, at home daycares, and (depending on the hours you need covered) college students. Local parenting groups on Facebook are a great way to find childcare options. Good luck!

  28. Tiana says:

    This may be a non-option if you’re set on living in Seattle or western Washington but I live in a rural area just north of Spokane, WA. Moving to this area might be an option. It’s a different climate but I’m from SW Washington (near Portland) and love it so much more here. I even find it’s easier to spend more time outdoors in the winter here. While the housing market is heating up here, prices are way lower than Seattle. There are some downsides like most restaurants don’t have atmosphere but it makes it easier not to spend money. You could also look for a community college job here and thus stay in the same retirement system.

  29. Jill L says:

    One thing to consider is additional tax write-offs for the soccer blog/business. You should be able to write off part of your internet, home expenses, etc. as part of his business. This might help reduce your overall taxes and lower that amount. I work online, from home and we are able to write off quite a bit. It’s something to consider. Does any of your travel involve soccer related activities? Can you add a soccer related activity in your travels moving forward? Does your husband play soccer and write about it? He can then write off new shoes, clothing, etc. that he uses for the business. Take a good look in this area. Even if he has a site, does a little bit of work on it each month, you would both qualify for additional tax write offs.

    Also, if you love gardening, have you thought about starting a blog or website about it? That would allow you to write off some of your gardening expenses on your taxes also. There is so much you could do in this area.

    • Ann says:

      Leo has been a total mastermind of combining the blog with tax write-offs, but this is where we got hosed with the changes to the tax code: all those write-offs were suddenly gone! (Or, at least, we didn’t have enough write-offs to make it worth more than the new standard deduction.) Did this happen to you, too? Or is there something we’re missing? Starting a garden blog is a great idea, and one I played around with/kinda sorta started pre-kiddo…

      • Anne says:

        You should be ok next year because of the larger child tax credit. With kid #2 you will get additional 2k credit (not deduction).

      • Elise says:

        If your husband is running his blog as a business, you can deduct eligible business expenses regardless of whether you take the standard personal deduction. Business deductions and personal deductions are treated differently.

  30. Tim says:

    Thanks for sharing you story and congratulations on all you’ve accomplished so far. Most of all best of luck with baby #2! My three kids are a little bit older (middle and high school) and my wife and I have tried various work schedules over the years. I’m not sure we’ll ever land on the perfect arrangement but I truly value all the time I’ve managed to carve out to spend with my kids.

    We are also considering building a basement rental apartment. The somewhat passive income would be nice and I’m curious to try my hand at land lording. Have you read “Backdoor Revolution”? It’s a really detailed look at financing and designing an accessory rental unit which I’ve found to be helpful as we are developing our plans. I recently learned that in Washington, DC, where we live, its not possible to rent out both the main house and the ADU. ADU’s are allowed only if part of the property remains “Owner occupied”. You may want to double check you zoning regs as they may limit your options.

    My sister’s and I are starting to plan how best to manage my parent’s cabin in Maine once we inherit it. As you mention, this can be an emotional charged issue for many families since there are often so many shared memories involved. We read “Saving the Family Cottage: A Guide to Succession Planning for Your Cottage, Cabin, Camp or Vacation Home”. The book describes how best to develop a ‘family agreement’ that addresses many of the issues/ decisions upfront so that cabin/cottage can be shared and maintained fairly and equitably for generations to come.

    Finally, have you heard of the blog “https://www.thegritandpolish.com/”? This couple left their conventional jobs and have created successful real estate business renting out properties in Seattle while moving back to a farm house in their home town.

    Sorry to mention so much reading material–I imagine you are super busy but maybe some of it will be of use.

    Best of luck!

    • Ann says:

      I love Grit and Polish, and have a secret mind plan to contact Cathy if/when the Seattle cottage inheritance becomes real. Thank you so much for the book recommendations — I will definitely check those out!

    • Jane says:

      Thank you for the recommendations. Very helpful.

  31. Elizabeth Peterson says:

    I have a suggestion for a person to follow or contact as they are living the lifestyle of FI seattle landlords while living in their family home in the country, Cathy amd Garrett at The Grit and Polish (both a blog and IG).

  32. Soggy Suzzi says:

    Let the internet be your best friend for extra cash. A few examples that are totally doable:

    Teach English – yes I know, but these jobs are apparently well paying, you set a specific time block for meeting with your student (1 instead of dozens), teaching experience is required, the jobs are provided by brokers (you will have to hunt for this on the internet), and you would primarily be teaching a student in China.

    Customer Service or Reservations: I’ve tripped over two of these (also handled by brokers) on U-Tube, one of which was making reservations for a hotel and the other was a straight customer service job the companies outsource to independent contractors. Again you need a smart phone connected to ear receivers. That’s it. I gather the payments vary depending on the job and the broker. Apparently you may have to work your way up the brokers jobs to get to the best jobs.

    Reselling: This one I think would be a hoot. Will I do it? Chances are slim to none. I’m already over the standard life expectation and I have a decent retirement and I don’t want to leave a mess behind. Since I have spent a good part of my life keeping my eyes open for opportunities (and finding a bunch) it’s a hard habit to break. One never knows when the bottom will drop out of something. OK, enough of that–how does it work? Basically, You buy low and sell high or higher Where do you find stuff to sell? Garage sales, thrift stores, retail store massive sales, wholesaler’s for bulk buys, and on and on. This hack is all about branding. You have to know the most popular brands of things to sell be it clothes, shoes, tennis rackets, golf clubs, baby diapers, or anything else. Some folks specialize in clothing, others in hard goods, some in electronics, etc.. You figure out the brands by doing your homework and watching the channels of those who are valid resellers. If interested, leave me your E-mail and I will give you a list of those I watch. Its part of my entertainment package as I dumped cable a while back, but a good learning tool for how to check pricing and current E-Bay sales as well as creating a listing of brands to watch for, ie BOLO (be on the lookout for). So how do you pay for starting this hack? Go through your house, garage, whatever and sell everything you aren’t using, don’t need, or have something else that will do the same job Sell this stuff locally if you can either on Craig’s List or Facebook Marketplace. Small stuff you can put on E-Bay once you have figured out the various shipping options to keep the cost down

    On another note, when you get to the place of being able to spend money to save money, consider putting in IBC tanks on a couple of roof gutter drains They each will hold 250 gallons and will reduce your exterior landscaping water bills. Just make sure you get food grade ones and paint them black (to prevent mold growing inside) before using. There are bigger ones and the small 50 gallon tanks (we can get them here for about $5 from a soy sauce manufacturing place).

    In any event, you have lots of options that others will probably address. I wish you the best of luck. You have the ability and the income to start down this path without too much pain. You can do this!

    • LB says:

      Re the ‘Teaching English to students in China’ Idea: The one’s I know about pay about $15/hour. That doesn’t seem very “well paying” to me. What have I missed?

      • Soggy Suzzi says:

        Who knows. I’m not a retired teacher so this is just what I have picked up by “interesting possibilities” popping up on U-Tube. It may be the brokers pay different amounts and you have to search for what is currently available. The two “at home” part time “jobs” for hotel reservations and customer service made it clear on their posts that their pay depends on the broker and the underlying customer. Frankly if it were me needing to do this I would go for the resale business. The specific resellers that I briefly mentioned are those that are as successful as they want to be. One is a stay at hoke mom who started reselling when pregnant with her first son. She now has three kids. Their family lives on her husband’s salary and they paid off $50,000 in school and credit card debt in four years and are now working on paying off their house. She spends about two hours a day in the morning 5 days a week and does most of her sourcing at rummage sales where she picks up as much as she can list and ship during the week. Her net profit per year averages $20-25,000. This works for her family. Another one is a high school history teacher who lives in the country and has to drive to get to his work and garage sales, etc. He’s been reselling for about 20 years but only recently on U-tube. The resellers are jumping on U-tube because once you have a “certain number” of viewers, you start to get paid by U-tube. It takes most people a while to get to that point, but there is one guy in California who works nights and profited $35,ooo prox in his first year and as of last November was up to 80,000 something. His goal is to make a full-time income part time. His channel is one of my favorites as he has figured out how to hit a thrift store and find weird stuff that sells well and gets to the point without a lot of mindless chattering He is married with two small children and his wife home schools and occasionally helps with thrifting (she likes the bins). You have to realize that to be successful, you have to reinvest some percentage of your profits into buying more stuff to sell. How well you manage your time and “store” is key to success in this hack. It requires work, but potentially (in my opinion) will eventually produce the most rewards

      • Codruta marin says:

        Hmmm I actually work at a teach online job that pays me 19 usd per hour atm and I am on the lower end of the payscale. So there are some options. I’d be happy to share details via email if Mrs. Frugalwoods is ok with it.

  33. This would require taking on some risk, but what about going down to one income once the maternity leave is up and the credit card/emergency fund are paid off and funded? With cutting expenses and without the cost of daycare, Leo could stay home if that’s something he’s willing to do, and he could use the time to work on his blog and try to build that up to where it starts turning a profit. I quit my teaching job when my oldest was a year, and though it does require us to make sacrifices and be very frugal, we make it work and still have money left over for some (inexpensive) fun and money left to save for our bigger goals. Just a thought!

  34. Also, have you considered slightly tweaking your dream? Maybe instead of looking for lots of acreage, you just move more out to the suburbs. We live on a lot that’s just over a quarter acre, which leaves us plenty of room to garden, raise chickens, and have areas for the kids to play in. It wouldn’t require the more full-time maintenance of a full-on homestead, but it would give you more of the fresh air and outdoor living you were mentioning wanting.

  35. Soggy Suzzi says:

    Oops, forgot one thing on the reselling. You have the perfect storage place in your unfinished basement. No work to do on the walls at this time and a tax write off on your income tax. Also gas, mileage and shipping supplies, etc. are tax deductible.

  36. Nick says:

    Why not just unload the house, pay off all debts, pay cash for a rural property with the balance of cash and live debt free in the country NOW? Without childcare expenses, it seems like living in the country with ZERO debt would be quite easy on one income????

    It just seems simpler and basically like an immediate fix. It also forgoes the hassle of renovating the house in hopes that a rental situation will work out.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      So the reason I didn’t suggest this is that it’s highly likely their Seattle home will be able to provide them with some pretty substantial rental income over the years. Yes, it would be an immediate cash influx to sell the house, but it would likely be at the expense of longterm, fairly stable income (and overall, they’d likely make more money by renting it out). For reference, this is the reason why we rent out our city home and didn’t sell it when we moved to the country. More on that decision process here: How We Turned Our City Home Into A Rental Property

      • Ann says:

        Thanks so much for sharing your thinking here Mrs. FW. As several commenters have brought it up, I have to admit it’s so tempting to think selling and having all that cash in hand now. BUT long-term I think we would be losing out on a lot, lot, lot of potential value in this property because of the neighborhood, potential rental income, etc. I’m also loathe to refinance from our ridiculously low interest rate mortgage, but would do it if it meant significantly changing the cash flow of this property. Bottom line: Leo and I both really want to hold onto this house for the foreseeable future if at all possible.

        • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

          I agree with you, Ann. I think you’re wise to hang onto this place and utilize it as a rental.

          • Ms Blaise says:

            I also think that you have not considered the capital Goan over time. I think with the housing shortage, you re likely to have an even more valuable asset in another 10 years – even without renting it out. Why sell the thing that has generated the most $$ for you?

          • Maureen says:

            Check landlord tenant law in Seattle. Oakland has seen recent changes that really change the calculus.

  37. Amelia says:

    Thank you Nicole for raising the au pair issue. If you’re after full time (or close to), sole charge caregiving, you need a live in nanny, not an au pair.

    An au pair arrangement is a cultural exchange with light childcare duties and low pay attached. It is not the same as having a qualified, experienced nanny.

    It sounds like Ann hasn’t given this side of things much research and I would encourage her to do so.

    • Ann says:

      We have friends in the neighborhood who have worked with a reputable company to have two different, excellent, non-crazy Brazilian au pairs who are definitely not exploited and receive a lot of support and resources through the agency, so we’re quite sure that it’s possible to have an au pair experience that is positive for everyone! But yes, I too have heard au pair horror stories, and nanny horror stories, and daycare horror stories for that matter…

      • Nichole says:

        I sincerely hope that is the case with your friends. Every single one we have met gets paid just under $200 per week for 45 hours of work. It is nuts.

        • Lauren says:

          I just want people to understand that the $197/ week for 45 hours of care is set by the US State Department. The Au Pair and host family sign contracts acknowledging this. It is not a surprise. The host family then pays for room and board including a cell phone, car insurance, 21 meals/week and snacks, gifts for the Au Pair, etc. The host family also contributes $500 toward the cost of two classes the Au Pair is supposed to take because she or he is here on a student Visa. It is

  38. Annie R says:

    Spouse of a college instructor here. Summer money is awesome and very seductive but I can see the value of taking off a summer to replenish your enthusiasm. Also I second/third the idea of pursuing online courses. My husband teaches several a semester and outside of his full-time job adjunct teaches online courses at other schools to bring in extra money. yes, it’s work, but it’s less face-to-face work for someone who inclines toward introversion and just changes up the mix.
    I would not personally pursue rural living without a lot more real-life exposure. I have done both and it can be so lonely. It also can be great! But you need to get a feel for the day-to-day and how driving distance really makes casual connections/friendships harder.

  39. Laura says:

    First time commenter and fellow Engl prof here! Two quick suggestions: do you and your partner qualify for loan forgiveness? If you have gov’t loans and teach at a public university, you should qualify after 120 payments under the right payment plan. Secondly, I feel you on the tax burden and daycare costs, and I highly recommend signing up for a dependent care account during your open enrollment period. The max is $416/mo, but it’s pre-tax. You submit documentation and get the money back. So it’s essentially like a healthcare FSA, only for childcare, and it will reduce your taxable income. Good luck!!

    • Sarah says:

      Tread lightly here! There are many lawsuits against the DOE for denying loan forgiveness, providing misleading advice etc. The stat is some less than 1% actually get loans forgiven. I’d pursue it, but not count on it…

  40. Katy says:

    Another source of income could be online teaching. It requires daily logins but is otherwise very flexible. From initially submitting an application to teaching a course can take 6-9 months, and then count on another 6-9 months to get efficient with teaching and grading. Then it is a predictable, easy, flexible side job – can easily make $10-20k per year.

  41. k schwartz says:

    Hmmm, I don’t see any anticipation for the expense increases that surely accompany child #2, aging dog & people, plus people healthcare cost increases. Nothing’s getting any cheaper or improving on its own. Travel could be reduced to occur every 2-3 years only after the amenity credit cards’ benefits can be reaped to fully cover airfare & lodging. Reduce the eating out by 10% every month in 2020 until it gets to zero, and redirect that savings to meals while traveling. Will rental property amenities need to be modernized to include more ‘smart’ technologies and do you have the skills to provide them (and secure them), or will that too erode your rental income margins? Often, the drudgery associated with reaping employer-paid benefits is worth it.

  42. Nick says:

    I agree with Mrs. FW’s advise. Just another thought about a rural move. Ever consider just selling the home and buying a much lower cost home in a rural area? You could even use the proceeds from the sale to pay off your credit card and student loans. Best of luck with you new baby.

  43. Josh says:

    I’m surprised that the option of tapping some of that newly-discovered home equity wasn’t mentioned. At least to knock out the student loans (freeing up some cash-flow) and maybe even making some of the necessary home improvements (hello second bathroom!) Especially for the second item, it adds to the home value, so it’s not a step backwards.
    I also like the idea of Leo getting back to blogging, maybe doing some side projects with the electrician background, but otherwise being a SAHD while the 2-in-daycare overlap is occuring. That could shave off $64,800 in daycare expenses over a 2-year period!

    • Mandy Lambert says:

      Those were also my thoughts! I wasn’t sure if it was omitted because there was no way that would happen either due to preference or finances but selling the house and Leo taking some time to be a SAHD seemed like the simplest way to make big changes.

  44. Robin E says:

    Would you ever consider owning a Bed and Breakfast in a rural community? Also, If you decided to rent both your home, and the possible Accessory Unit associated with it, would long term rentals (1 year) be less stressful? I realize that would bring in less money, but you would not need to pay someone to clean on “change-over” days, and wouldn’t need to purchase/replace furniture/housewares/linens. My sister-in-law (English degree) created her own business after being laid off. She started writing articles for her Alma-mater’s news letter, then worked on finding similar writing jobs. Some were one- timers, some were monthly. (Brochures, articles, etc) Payments were immediate for some companies, others took a month, a few had to “be reminded”! She eventually was hired by one of her clients full-time, and still can work from home!

  45. K says:

    Everyone has given some great comments, so I’ll stick to just some ideas on how to keep things fun while socking that extra savings toward debt. For the magazine subscriptions, does your library have them for free? You won’t get them as early as you might want, but could be an option. Same goes for movies. Check the library. Your selection will be more limited, but you may end up watching some movies you wouldn’t have considered otherwise – this can be good and bad. 😀 Mom and Dad still need some time from the kid (soon to be kiddos), so use those family members and return the gift of babysitting with things from the garden or services if you can. Mom and Dad should certainly be able to find free entertainment since you’re in a big city! I just found free yoga classes 3 days a week through a local studio – couldn’t believe it!!! And those home needs to make things more comfortable… if you don’t have to have it immediately and don’t mind a bit of searching, you’d be surprised what people give away. It may not be exactly what you’d pay for, but keep your eyes open for free things on your local social media sales sites. I’ve furnished our new home with 6 nice dining chairs, a chaise, 11 orchids (!!!), firewood, scrap wood to build bike stands, and other items for $0. It’s become a bit of a game at this point. 😀 Best of luck to you. You have a lot of options.

    • Ann says:

      Very interesting case study, thanks for sharing. Is there any way you could arrange your schedules so that one parent can be home each day? For instance, if Ann taught MWF she could be home T-TH for child care duties. If Leo could teach T-TH, he could handle child care MWF (or vice versa). I realize teaching responsibilities extend beyond the actual class time (office hours, planning, grading, meetings, etc.) and that this would make for very intense work days. But maybe this could be an alternative to paying for daycare for two kids? I’m not sure how much flexibility you have as far as class assignments go, but it never hurts to ask! Even if you needed a babysitter for a few hours a week to make this work, it would still be less. Again, just a thought…

      • Laura says:

        Two colleagues in my department did this before their two kids started elementary school, but I know it was pretty intense for them…

        • Ann says:

          We did just this for the first year of our daughter’s life… intense is right. You’re essentially squeezing full-time jobs into two or three days a week. Even with serious grandparent support, it was seriously hard. Going to first part time and then full time daycare has been a lifesaver for us!

  46. Jo says:

    I am not sure of the reasons the hip replacement was denied. But you might ask your health plan administrator at the college how to appeal the decision, or go to the I
    State insurance division. There are usually several levels of appeals. While you might have missed an appeal deadline, never say never until you explore possible options. The last level of appeal is often found to favor the member.

    • Robin E says:

      I agree with this suggestion! The Periodontist I worked for was well versed in the “appeal process”! Many periodontal patients were denied intensive treatment, but he managed to “win” most appeals. His theory was they tried to deny as many as they could get away with (borderline cases), but usually agreed with a strongly worded letter detailing his findings on attached xrays and charted info. ALWAYS worth a shot! 😀

      • Sarah says:

        +2 this is absolutely worth at least one appeal. Most insurances give you a 90- or 180-day window to appeal. Find out why the claim was denied (lack of authorization, medical necessity, experimental procedure, doctor out of network, etc.). Then, you can check the insurance’s “clinical policy bulletins” to determine why it should have been covered and craft an appeal letter from there. Also, check if the plan is self-funded, meaning your employer actually assumes the risk and would be the group to whom you could submit an appeal. If self-funded, check for a Summary Plan Document that outlines what they will / will not cover. Hope that helps, absolutely worth trying to clear this loan off your plate!

  47. Laura says:

    I also work in higher ed, in a stable teaching job that isn’t tenured but pays decently well for the cost of living in our area. I wonder if addressing the boredom while keeping your job might help you – and maybe your husband, too – feel better about work at this point. I think it’s easy for us to forget how good we have it in college teaching sometimes, especially compared to high school teaching or full time college admin jobs.

    Could you research some ways to cut back on what I know can be really soul-crushing grading time? I did this successfully with rubrics a while back, but I know there are many ways to approach this, especially if you’re teaching freshman English/FYC, which I’m guessing you both are as MFA grads. I encourage you to research this, even just via googling, including looking for evidence-based rationales for doing things differently so you don’t feel guilty and so you can justify it to your supervisor(s) if you ever need to do that. I guess it depends on the policies of your department, but often instructors also have flexible work-from-home time. I became extra appreciative of this when my kid finally started K-12, as I can pick my kiddo up at 3 pm and then be home for the rest of the day. Plus we have those long breaks, even if you do work some in the summer. (Do you teach a full 14-week semester in summer? OR just half the summer in a single 4 or 5 week session?)

    Regarding the boredom: what can you do to shake things up at work while you also cut down on your grading time? Can you try to teach one new course, or pick a new textbook or series of assignments for a course you’ve taught for a while? Could you teach a study abroad course? Could you teach some kind of domestic study-in-America course (like driving a van to CA national parks or flying with a group of students to D.C. or N.Y.C. for a week or two)? I’m looking forward to teaching 3-week summer study abroad classes as a way to travel internationally in an affordable/subsidized way with my family, which is a major personal goal while I’m raising my kid. This assumes your husband – or maybe another relative – could just be on vacation for three weeks to watch your kids while you teach during the mornings/days. Those kinds of programs take a while to set up, like two years sometimes, so it could be something to think about after your second child is born. Rick Steves says if you’re gonna change diapers, might as well do that in Paris. Maybe this could also help satisfy the call you feel towards a more rural life; could you pick a rural location somewhere cool (Scandinavia?) or especially affordable (Latin America?) to teach a travel writing/nature poetry/etc. kind of writing or literature class? If you like it and the trip works for students in your community college, maybe it could be an annual thing your family looks forward to doing together as your kids grow or even learn a foreign language. And maybe when your kids grow even older, your husband could teach online from abroad/across the country? These are all just some ideas for how you might keep your income, summer teaching, health insurance, and home while also scratching that rural-living, anti-boredom-at-work thing in one go…

    Anyway, I’m definitely interested in your case and in the advice other Frugalwoods readers have for you, since I find myself in somewhat similar circumstances… Thanks for writing in with it!

    • Ann says:

      Laura, thanks so much for all your comments! How to focus on the parts of the job that are truly valuable/meaningful for me and the students, while “working smarter not harder” on the other stuff is a constant meditation. I think I do okay using rubrics/standardized comments that I tweak for individual essays, and thus minimizing grading time and burnout, but there’s always more to be done. We actually went through a pretty brutal Fall, with a serious and heartbreaking loss in our family, and then Leo’s surgery which laid him up completely for longer than we thought. I felt like I was doing a *terrible* job as a teacher, especially in terms of my essay feedback. My students did not seem to notice. This is something I need to consider going forward!

      Yes, we teach SO MUCH English 101 and 102. We’re on quarters, so our regular terms are 12 weeks, 8 in the summer.

      Yes, yes, yes to leveraging our positions to do some more “fun stuff.” Teaching abroad for a quarter is definitely a possibility, though would require a lot of lead time and a lot of work to develop a site-specific class proposal, etc. But getting paid to live abroad for at least a quarter? I’d totally take that. Leo and I traveled in Peru together and loved it so much — it’s a dream to be able to go live there as a family one day. Thanks for sharing all your ideas to combine teaching and travel! I think once we’re out of the crush of two very small kids, this is really something we’d look into hard. If we haven’t moved to a farm by then!

      • LB says:

        You might check into Rotary International. They have funding for teachers to work a year abroad.

      • Laura says:

        Yeah, that’s so telling about the students not noticing or being bothered by your minimal grading this past fall. (I’m so sorry to hear about your family’s loss, btw.) Older/more experienced folks in my department often tell me most students will only hear a max of three comments – or sometimes just one – in our essay feedback. And I really think the actual grade – linked up to a pre-written rubric explaining what it means and what they can do to improve next time, in general terms – helps them understand and recognize their writing issues. Then they can decide whether to make the effort themselves to learn more with you in office hours or with the campus writing center. (I’m sure I’m not saying anything you don’t already know!) When I cut back on detailed feedback, something like only 2 out of 80 students per semester actively seek more commentary from me via office hours. I also put a timer on my phone for 5 minutes (or 3, knowing I can finish up my rubric selections and a written line or two of commentary in the next 2 minutes) and try to finish grading each paper within 5 minutes, instead of the 15-30 minutes I could easily spend on detailed feedback. This doesn’t always work, but it definitely helps.

        8 weeks of teaching in summer is a lot. Someone else’s idea of saving $ in the food/household areas to help justify less summer work sounds like worthy motivation to me. Relaxing summers off with kids can be so delightful, especially once they get old enough to more or less entertain themselves. Just imagine all four of you lounging around reading (!) and taking twice-weekly trips to your local library all summer long. That’s the academic life for you guys in just a few years if you stay the course. I also hope Seattle’s subsidized preschool that someone else mentioned here works out for you guys in the meantime!

  48. Kathryn says:

    Regarding the soccer blog, check out monetizing it with Mediavine. At the very least it should be able to pay for its own expenses and could possibly make a little extra income.

  49. ann lee s says:

    From Canada: I am wondering how they feed their dog for $19 month? I need over $40. to feed one cat, although I do use high quality soft and hard foods without grains. my Vet bill would be above this. Perhaps dog/cat food is much less in the US? or they have pet insurance for the vet bills?
    ann
    great job on tracking spending, that is SO important.

    • Natalie says:

      I’m a veterinarian and also thought that the dog expenses are very low. Even in the Pacific Northwest dogs can get heartworm and should be on a monthly preventative. If you hike with your dog they should also have some sort of tick repellent, especially if you have kids at home (ticks can crawl off the dog and onto family members).

    • Kelly says:

      I am from Canada too and always think the prices/budgets for food and consumer goods are incredible! Especially cell phones! I can’t imagine!! The cost of living in Canada is just generally higher I think…not to mention the tax burden!

  50. Dicey says:

    Oh, I am really struggling with this case study! I want to abide by Mrs. FW’s rules, but at the same time I want to shake Ann and Leo and admonish them to bloom where they are planted! As kindly and gently as possible, of course.

    • Lynn says:

      +1. I started several replies and all of them sounded like the grandma character from “As Good as it Gets”.
      Contentment comes from within you.

      • Ann says:

        I actually really hear this! Writing out the Case Study made me really realize all of the good things we have going on in our life right now, and thinking more about that stuck feeling.

        • Lynn says:

          Don’t get me wrong, I sometimes have those “what if?” feelings, but I’ve learned to stow those pretty quickly. I finally landed in higher ed after many years of working in the private sector, having no control over my work, time off, zero worker protections or job security. I missed my 20’s and most of my 30’s because 100% of my time was devoted to making enough money to get by. We’re talking low wage stuff, despite having skills – I wasn’t working a zillion hours just to put money in the bank. I am so fortunate to have finally broken out of that. All these ideas I see batted around – go back to finish an electrician’s program, run a B&B, etc… they sound like a great change from the endless monotony of grading, but it’s classic “the grass is greener” thinking. The B&B might be in a scenic area, but you’ll never get to enjoy it because you’re tending to your guests. It’s a gilded cage. Being an electrician will get him out of the office…. into hot stuffy attics in July or on call at 3AM. The new guy is probably not the one running wire in new construction houses on 70 degree days. Also, how does a job with a huge manual labor component square with a sketchy hip? Childcare gets really, really complicated when you get into jobs that aren’t 8-5.
          Stay the course. Expand your veggie garden. Use every bit of your parental leave (both of you!). Work with your ass deans to incorporate fresh ideas into the curriculum. Be an engaged part of the community you live in right now. You don’t need to move or abandon what is likely the best paying, most flexible career you’ll ever have to get a lot of what you’re seeking.
          Do I occasionally contemplate throwing the dogs in the car and hitting the road for a year? Quitting my job and turning my entire property into a giant garden? Joining the Peace Corps? Heck yeah, I do! Actually, I hope to remain healthy enough to join the Peace Corps when I retire.
          tl;dr – I figure out what’s causing the itch and then find a way to scratch it right here where I’m at.

        • Amanda says:

          That’s one of the reasons I suggested you consider whether you might just be burnt out. You’ve got a lot of great stuff going on! But burnout makes it hard to appreciate that. The answer to burnout, if that’s what it is, isn’t necessarily to burn it all down and start over (even though I get the appeal!). It’s finding ways to make time and space for the things that fulfill and recharge you. That’s something you could do now, in the context of your current life. It’s worth trying, and then it’ll be easier to see what if anything you want to change.

          +1 to finding ways to minimize the time you spend grading and giving feedback. For me, that’s the real grind of teaching, and u don’t think our students read half the feedback we spend forever typing up.

    • Susan says:

      I agree! Especially with a second baby on the way, which will be a huge change for the next 3-4 years. Stay the course, pay off debt, build savings, make an effort to have summers off after debt is paid, and continue doing all the things they love doing. Visit the cousins in Port Townsend, and enjoy all the our amazing PNW has to offer, lots of it free.

      • Adrianne says:

        I echo many aspects of what others had said about moving to rural spots. We have a new basement Airbnb apartment in a rural but very popular PNW area (the Columbia River Gorge near Portland) and we’d love to invite Ann and fam out for an “educational field trip” (or would love to swap someday for some Seattle time back in the neighborhood where I grew up)! We’re both natural resource workers grappling with a very similar series of questions/considerations (including a toddler and a newborn) and we’d love to share our experiences and the joys and realities of rural life.
        Congrats on the new addition, Ann and Leo!

  51. Judy says:

    Thoughts:
    1. Can either of you take trade/skills classes at your CCs (for free/reduced cost)? It might be a way to increase your knowledge & skills re home improvement, property management, gardening, canning, or other topics that could equip you for your future lives. My husband learned to fly fish – from a Master Fly Fisherman, who turned out to be internationally renowned – through a college extension class. We now live near the water, and he frequently catches fresh fish for dinner.
    2. Could either of you teach online for a stream of income after you stop teaching full-time/move away?

    Lots of great ideas in the comments – what a clever & helpful community this is!

  52. Holli says:

    I have friends who are both teaching online courses at a local university. That might be a great way to enable you to continue working as a teacher from a rural location. They make good money!

  53. MSR says:

    For simplicity sake, in the interest of cost-cutting, I would consider lumping up the following categories: dining out, “fun”, travel and entertainment, even though Ann separates them in her budget. In my family, we generally think of these in a lump, since they are all, more or less, for leisure. My husband absolutely resisted the whole “dining out” as entertainment, but now he sees how it’s so easy to use the “we have to eat anyway,” as an excuse to spend unnecessarily. So now, it’s “$40 Chipotle or do we want to take the kids out for that new movie on Sunday afternoon?” Whatever we decide, it’s now an intentional decision, and dinner out or a movie, we enjoy them a lot more too. And, to tell you the truth, we are finding that we just spend less, simply because we are becoming more creative with cooking, and we are finding out ways to have fun without spending money (that funny enough, are more fun than those activities that require money).

    And, for the sake of sanity, the one area which we do always keep in our budget though (though recommended here, to put on hold, is personal “fun money” for my husband and me). We just both felt that it was necessary for us to have $X a year to just buy/spend whatever the heck we wanted without having to explain. We annualize it so that it’s a chunk of $ at once. It’s where my husband can buy lunch for his mom, or new AirPods. It’s also where I would buy a splurgy outfit for my son without guilt and trying to justify it out of the clothing budget! I equate it like getting Christmas money from a grandparent as a child.

    Good luck and congrats on the impending addition to the family.

  54. Debbie says:

    I’ll address the inheritance issue for the vacation cottage with multiple owners. My 2 siblings and I inherited our family vacation home in VT 10 years ago. We knew this long in advance and “assumed” some cash would come with it to help with yearly expenses. Surprise! In the will the cash went to various charities. Yearly expenses are about $10k/yr. Divided by 3 it is doable but not ideal. Do we get the new garage doors or wait a couple more years? Can we cancel rodent control if one of us wants to crawl under the house to set the traps? It goes on and on and on…it can be a pain and we all get along!

    I had hoped we could rent it out during some high season weeks to recoup some of the expense money. I checked with a relator and was told that the state has put in a lot of regulations for rental properties, including if you do AirBnb. We would have had to make the house handicapped accessible, bedroom windows made large enough for an adult to get through in case of fire…and lots more. We would have had to spend thousands to make these renovations and never gotten a decent return. The house is from the 1940’s.

    Therefore, we decided to form an LLC for just the 3 of us. It’s impossible to earn any income but we all use it a lot. Point being: We all agreed on how we wanted this to go from Day 1. Looking at your situation with all the varying points of view on what to do, I would honestly say unless you win the lottery, sell and use the money for a possible new cottage or your kids schooling. Buying the others out and then facing all the bills on your own will be daunting. And who knows when it will happen? My advice is to not even consider it when making the decision on how to move forward.

  55. Lindsey says:

    Congrats on so many things- new baby, house up in value, retirement well funded, etc!

    I really value the Ms. FW gave realistic advice that was chunked into timeframes, focusing on the “easiest” (decision making wise, in my opinion) to get your things in order in your financial house/spending before looking at changing things up. This would also time nicely with a new baby (ie exhaustion) so focusing on getting through that stage might prove valuable- maybe give yourself a bit of a cushion timeframe wise. That being said, selling your current house and taking the equity to move to a rural area gives you some breathing room as well- but completely changes your lifestyle/community/accessibility/etc which might be hard with a newborn. Other options/thoughts: Could you move into/rent the rural family cabin from family while renting out your current house? If you got your finances where Ms. FW suggests, you might be able to do that for a summer to see if you like that lifestyle? If in retirement and all the chickens hatch, the cottage in the city might be a nice retirement plan to return to the city with a lower cost of living/housing. Maybe just having a plan to follow will allow you to get through the days at work with a focus on a short term end goal and make it feel more bearable.

    I’m so curious what you decide/do! My husband is in education as well. Burnout is super real.

    • Michele says:

      Have you considered selling and moving to a nice house, not super rural? Within 1/2 hour drive to stores, doctors, etc. Don’t expect to grow all your own food, have internet and cell service, but Less expensive housing. One parent works part time. Lots of options, you just have to weigh them.

  56. Jessica says:

    Former college educator here, trying desperately to get back to my former career after a 10 year hiatus spent raising my children. I wish I had pushed through the boredom and monotony of the job and focused on the many positive aspects such as stability, long holiday breaks, excellent benefits, etc. Just my two cents.

    On a financial note: when I was teaching I saved one third of my take home pay every month September to May, then lived off that savings from June to August. If I worked in the summer (I usually did but it was never guaranteed), that money was extra that could go straight to savings, travel, etc. My employer even offered this option so I didn’t have to trust myself to set the funds aside. Worth looking into.

  57. Chris B says:

    I want to echo the person who mentioned not underestimating the difference in buying/shopping in rural areas. It’s useful to explore this before making the move (later), and also to reset how much just living in your area makes you buy.

    We’ve lived outside of major cities and rurally. Rural really is cheaper, simply because there is nothing to DO that costs money. Nowhere to eat out, except the local 2 spots and McDonald’s, no cute little shops for pets, birdseed, bicycles, toys, children’s clothes, athletics, jewelry, spices (I’m looking at you Penzey’s), no cafes, Panera, sandwich shops, salons, not to mention Target, Walmart, Kohl’s, etc etc may be quite a drive away. You’ll be at Walmart, the feed store, gas station…and Amazon/Etsy if you order items is your saving grace.

    I’m stressing this because it’s helped me reset our own spending. Lately, whenever I go home – outside of Washington D.C., – I realize it’s not just the property taxes that created the high cost of living, it’s that spending is completely enmeshed in life. If you can reset, it will help meet the savings goals Mrs. FW outlined.

    Also:
    1) if you’re thinking of bailing on city life, do not renovate or spend any more on the house. We would sell it, invest the money and have no debt. Small difference in perspective with the FWs’ situation. We like the freedom of having cut ties.
    2) do not – I repeat, Do Not – count on that inheritance. Especially if it’s your in laws 🙂 Assume it’s not happening. Do not include it as a future asset or retirement income or or put money into it, assume everyone would love an AirBnB wor income….these things are fraught with peril for relationship damage. Do not underestimate the emotional side when the unfortunate time comes. Been there, done that. Still ongoing with a vacation cottage in our family – drama is major, and way too many people involved to do anything, agree on anything, decide anything. In our case, it’s on the 2nd and 3rd generations, and you’ve got spouses, some people with kids, some without, some with loads of Money to “invest” in this great asset, and some with none. Very messy. Major headache. Not cute or fun. But I digress 😉
    Good luck! 🍀

  58. Carrie says:

    This case study definitely comes close to home for me. I am also in a job that on paper is very close to what I wanted, and I am very grateful for it, but the thought of doing it for another 25 years is sometimes tough to take. When I think about potential options, I find myself always ending up with the same assessment, which is that the security and benefits of my current job are extremely valuable, and knowing that if I get off this train I may have a lot of difficulty getting back on. This is particularly the case because I have health problems that make it harder for me to take the time to do the training I would need to do for a different career, and that make me very wary of giving up excellent health insurance with a good network. I also frequently come across people who are desperate to get out of the job I think about moving into — programming.

    All that to say is that I agree with the people who suggested working hard to make the secure jobs you have more of what you want before trying to jump ship. I was able to do this somewhat with my job, with fewer responsibilities at the risk of less advancement. One benefit I did not expect is that I have freed up mental energy to be much more mindful of finances and have saved a lot of money. With relatively little pain we have cut our expenses by about 25%, and I feel much more confident in my ability to stop working a little earlier and/or go part time at some point (although not for a while). If you were able to cut your regular monthly expenses and no longer have to work in the summers, your jobs may start looking much better.

    One other thought is that if you were able to make a move to a rural area, it seems like you probably wouldn’t be able to do it until your kids are school-age. At that age, the benefits of a walkable neighborhood with lots to do may start to seem a lot more attractive to the kids (and/or you) than an area with lots of places to run but less to do.

    Best of luck to you and your family!

  59. Laura says:

    $140 a month sounds about right for Seattle area water/sewer/garbage. The town I live in charges a base rate just to be connected to water/sewer, and that is about $120 a month, even if you only use one drop of water. And ours doesn’t include our garbage. We regularly pay $140-$150/ month for water/sewer, because that’s what the usage for a typical family of 4 is.

  60. kib says:

    First off I am so impressed with the thoroughness of Ann and Leo’s case study! I am interested in reading through more thoroughly. One thing I would say off the bat from experience is that owning rental real estate that is not near your primary residence can be an exhausting pain in the rear, especially if you wind up with tenants who don’t do their own maintenance. (And if they say they will, don’t count on it being a very good job, it’s not, after all, their house/yard.) People think owning rental real estate is the same as any other financial investment, but it’s not. While it can be profitable, it is definitely a JOB, not passive income.

  61. kib says:

    Just idle thought here, have you considered doing something like a “no spend month / year” , $100 a week grocery challenge or other time-specific financial challenge? This is not a permanent solution to budgeting concerns and I think Mrs. FW has excellent ideas for long-term tweaks, but it’s a really nice temporary boost, and it also improves your awareness of where the money goes after the challenge is over.

  62. kib says:

    Someone has probably brought this up already, but is it possible / have you considered having one of you take a sabbatical? What I’m envisioning is that spouse #1 continues working full time while spouse #2 takes a sabbatical and becomes a SAHP. When spouse #1 comes home from work, they can take over childcare duties and spouse #2 can do a part time job. From what I’ve read, perhaps “spouse #2” would be Leo, who could work on his blog or other calling – if being SAH saves $2700 a month in daycare expense, $2,000 in part time pay could cover the salary loss while hopefully adding to skills / network / new career. This could expand horizons while keeping a foot in the door with a guaranteed job, at least temporarily.

  63. kib says:

    I was just reading over savings advice and I would say, don’t ignore checking accounts! There are reward-based checking accounts out there paying 3-5%. The amount you can deposit is limited, there are hoops like direct deposit and a number of debit transactions per month, but if you’re into somewhat fiddly accounting detail and comfortable with using an online bank, you can do a lot better than 1.7%.

    https://www.depositaccounts.com/checking/reward-checking-accounts.html

  64. Jennifer B says:

    Something you might consider if you still want to teach would be to transition over to high school level teaching. The hours would be fuller, but the time off for holidays and summers would be similar and you could transition over with a limited loss of income in the earlier years.

    Starting salary in Seattle school district for a teacher with a master’s degree is $69.5k, and a teacher with a masters and 15 years of teaching is approaching 120k. It could be an option to consider that would allow a transition to a more rural location in the future. All districts in WA state will allow you to “bring along” your years of experience when you move to another district so a move in the future won’t have you starting back at step 1 salary wise.

    Expenses-wise, the water/sewer/trash is in line with what we see in a Seattle suburb. Nearly all of that is trash/sewer and not subject to potential lower costs from lower water usage. Insurance on the cars is in line with what we see too.

    Looking forward, don’t forget to factor in schedule adjustments or costs for before/after schoo, care for your current 3 year old. Before/after care in this area can be $600-800 per month. And summer day camps when school is not in session could run $600-1000 per week. These are often expenses that parents looking forward to dropping daycare once a kid starts school are not prepared for.

  65. Anne Feary says:

    A question for Ann: with your and your husband’s flexible schedules, how many hours per week of childcare do you actually need, not want? If this has been noted, my apologies.
    A consideration in hiring college students is that while they have “flexible” schedules, they can become fixed for a semester, depending on whether the classes are personal attendance or on-line. You may need to find 2-3 qualified caregivers to ensure that you have coverage with your “flexible” but changing-by-the semester schedule.
    I would certainly very seriously explore getting the debt, other than mortgage, wiped out before any moves, cut-in-pay job changes, or other major life changes happen. Boredom is not fun but I survived 5 years of a really nasty employment situation to get my full retirement. It was worth it.
    Best of luck in formulating the best plan for you and your family.

    • Ms Blaise says:

      I agree with this approach. I have a 2 year old and 5 year old. I would advise staying in the current situation for 2-3 more years to achieve the plan Mrs Fruglewoods has designed. During this time I would suggest that you enjoy your summers, accept the marking ( all jobs have parts you have to grind through), and your hubby upskills in the building/electrical/blogging etc, and you just focus on raising pre schoolers and working which is more than enough.
      At the end of this time, you will be in a position for hubby to stop and work on the basement etc, and then when children are heading for school age you could look at your move.
      However, do think about the sort of childhood you want to offer them. We have stayed in the city because of the opportunities for our children. Like you we can walk, have a great neighbourhood, we have parks, reserves, bird sanctuaries nearby as well as our own large section with veggies and trees. And we have almost no commutes to speak of. This allows us to live with one seldom used car. Country life is ALL about driving. Is that what you want? No judgement – but really ask yourself. Currently I can walk DD5 to school, walk her to ballet and swimming and pick up food on the way home as needed. We hike and camp in our holidays but value the city opportunities.
      We don’t live near family, but wish we did. Would you want to move your children away from their families? Have your eyes really open about country life. It can be very lonely, very physical, very hard if the farmers are going through a bust time. Most country people could only dream of how “easy” earning your income is. If you want the country, go for it! But dont use it to escape grading! I suggest you get some awesome grading strategies instead.

    • Teddy says:

      I live in Seattle and would also encourage you to look at the Seattle preschool program. They have classrooms all over the City and provide really generous family subsidies, and the program is getting great evaluations.

      I believe if one of you stepped away from your job your 3 year old could attend for free. It might give you some options if Leo wanted to try a new career path or have your newborn in more part time care. My daughter attended SPP and hoping my son will as well.

  66. Monica says:

    Agree with Mrs Frugalwoods advice – specifically – you really have to work on decreasing that food/eating out/bulk goods/household goods spending! My math puts those 4 categories at a total of $1192/month. I just did my totals for 2019 and I spend $653/month TOTAL for all 4 of those same categories (including alcohol, pet food and cat litter) , living in a High Cost of Living area (5 miles outside of Boston), for a family of three (me, two teenage boys a dog and a cat). I cook almost all meals from scratch, I buy a fair amount of organic, and we eat ate home almost every night. It’s doable- you just have to put your mind to it! Good luck!

  67. I liked the comment above: Why not just unload the house, pay off all debts, pay cash for a rural property with the balance of cash and live debt free in the country NOW? Without childcare expenses, it seems like living in the country with ZERO debt would be quite easy on one income???? It just seems simpler and basically like an immediate fix. It also forgoes the hassle of renovating the house in hopes that a rental situation will work out.

    So I would just add to it: you ARE in a golden situation right now, two nice salaries, flexible time schedule, some time off during the year and part of summers…and about to have your second child. If you follow Mrs. FW’s budget advice and be debt free by 2021, AND continue to save and your house will continue to increase in value AND you have the time to really research your rural options…then set the date for perhaps 2022 to CHOOSE which of many attractive options that you can pull off with two small children in tow. Reread Mrs. FW’s How they chose their Rural Property again and their budget…just because they can pull off the Cambridge MA rental doesn’t mean you would have that much of a cash flow. Seriously think about selling the property and buying a rural property…and THEN have Leo give notice. Having the flexibility to get a small loan at 3.38% would be fab and invest the rest. If Leo is exhausted from working, then the idea of investing $150,000 or more in rental units in his free time (with two babies in the house) is so illogical (to me)…and said rental units could be banned or terribly restricted in the years to come. I have two professor friends who moved to Maine and bought two acres on a river…she works as a professor of online PHDs in Education, doesn’t make much more than you though. Great lifestyle and he was able to retire young and putter around the house and property which, by the way, DID soak up a LOT of money as the years went by. Think about what YOU would be committing to, Ann, as probably always the one who is the reliable wage earner, the one who cannot quit her job…at least for now. And honestly two children are twice the work and you are going to need support in the months and years to come. I would seriously think about simplifying your life, not making it a lot more complicated, work to your strengths, I guess I mean.

    Here is a bright idea…It does appear likely that in the not too distant future you will be inheriting that small house. If you can’t sell it, and wish to rent it out for Big Bucks, you CAN get a loan on the property to not only help fix it up but also pay for your many other plans, a sabbatical, teaching abroad, etc. I agree that a small rural or semi-rural property is all you need and more to create the lifestyle you want…but on one salary, it would be very hard to save for retirement and the kids’ college education. On the other hand, reduce your expenses, sell the house and move to the country after two years of planning…I think it’s very doable. The Best of Luck to you!

  68. B says:

    Here are my suggestions: I would concentrate on paying down all the debts, except the home loan. I would take off as much parental leave as possible, along with my husband’s leave. If possible re-do the basement and rent it out (even short term, Air BnB, so you wouldn’t have to have people there all the time). Then this income could help your husband to quit work and concentrate on his blogging/handy skills. He could then help look after your children, saving on some daycare fees. These savings would allow you to have Summer off, if possible, and then you as a family could travel to rural areas every Summer.

  69. Amanda says:

    I think if you get the debt paid off with Mrs. Frugalwoods plan while saving for your emergency fund and *not* acquiring more debt, you’ll have more peace of mind. Maybe it means no big changes with work, but you’re life will feel more manageable and more fulfilling. It’s great to have long term goals to keep you motivated and the stricter you are with the budget the more motivated you’ll be to get back to luxuries like traveling and enjoying date nights with babysitters again. Good luck. I know you can do it.

  70. Kelly says:

    I love reading the cases studies and I think this one highlights some important basics in personal finance – getting to debt free and building an emergency fund, which both provide a higher level of security and freedom with whatever they choose. However, as a mom of two working outside the home, I sometimes think it is easy to move and delete numbers on a spreadsheet, but the reality of implementing this significant changes can be very challenging. The reason so many households with two parents working outside the home tend to spend so much eating out is because it take a significant investment of time and energy to meal plan, shop, batch cook, freeze, clean etc. and make the shift. I know people have done it, so it is not impossible, just challenging. I often feel like it is “which came first, the chicken or the egg” situation. That if only I could work less, I would have more time to be frugal…but because I am working and rushed, time is scarce and I spend on convenience! I do love that Frugalwoods has so many blogs with practical advice, but some weeks finding time to even read them in one sitting (never mind actually do what is suggested) is difficult. I guess the entire point of my comment is give yourself some grace. Even if you can’t do everything suggested aim for better than before!

    • RG says:

      I feel you. It’s finding that balance between constraints that is key. There are many different ways to do frugality and it’s important to find the way that suits your life and your goals, and not necessarily compare yourself to others.

  71. Patricia says:

    Nobody seems t have addressed that if you do inherit the cottage, it would be completely ludicrous not to consider selling it for sentimental reasons only. It sounds like it may be a better financial move than renting it. Financial decisions should not be sentimental. If the only reason not to sell it is sentimental, and you or the relative feel bad selling it, maybe you or your relative would consider a scenario where you donate some of the proceeds to their favorite charity or cause upon sale. You can’t stop progress, and if you don’t sell it, someone else after you will, so it might as well be you, or your relative. Regardless, unless there is a legally binding contract preventing you from doing so, my gut instinct is you will sell it at some point when a hardship or emergency comes up and it makes financial sense. If you get the cottage, at the very least run the numbers to see which position would make more financial sense.

    About the au pair – terrible idea. My relative was an au pair and abruptly left the home she was assigned after the husband made a move on her. I mean why on earth would anyone bring an attractive twenty something to live in their home? Seriously! Terrible, terrible idea. If you need a nanny, think Mrs Doubtfire type.

    Frugalwoods nailed it on this one and I would say it is kind of an emergency to cut your expenses. Also agree with another poster that expenses seem understated what with the aging people and dog plus additional kid. If you struggle with takeout consider reading some of Frugalwoods tips on meal planning. Good luck to you!

    • Bri says:

      Interesting comment about Mrs. Doubtfire. Not sure of the type that is but the character was actually deceiving the family, was in fact not a nanny at all but the actual parent, and of course, entirely fictional. So not the type I’d be hoping for but I think I get what you mean 😌

  72. Cindy in South says:

    I didn’t read through the comments, but I know that it is really, really hard to get a tenured professor position, especially in English teaching/poetry positions (my son is an English major), and most of the classes are taught by grad students or adjuncts for pennies on the dollar. I have no idea what the situation is in Washington, but I would hang on to your good jobs, garden in your yard, and just try to build in some down time. Unless you could move slightly further out, to reduce your husband’s commute, and get a much cheaper house, it would not make sense to move into a comparable house because of moving costs, and well, all houses seem to be expensive in the area where you live. As far as a toxic work environment goes, I have worked in one for 32 years in two different states (I am 60) in their court systems, and I have learned to tune it out and watch my back (which seems contradictory but can be done). Politicians will throw anyone under the bus, and our legal system is made of politicians. I suggest therapy, exercise, vacations in nature to cope. My advice is jaded because I lived through the Great Recession and lost nearly everything, when stock, house, job at that time (funded by grants) all tanked. I hope your situation works out and I wish you the best if you decide to quit and move.

  73. Trish says:

    That stuck feeling you both are experiencing might be worth more exploration before you make any major life decisions. I’m speaking from experience of feeling the same thing after becoming a parent. My husband and I ended up selling our house, moving, taking a job transfer all to find out that our life was pretty good before we made these major changes and regretting our decision. Our daughter was 2 at the time and we ended up really missing our house. Now after renting for nearly 3 years we are moving back – not the best financial decision for us but we’ve learned a lot. I’m wondering if it’s less job related and more of a trapped feeling resulting from the enormous responsibility of having young kids? For me it took a few years to really adjust to being a parent. Maybe a shift of thinking that you’re in a really challenging stage of your life that will gradually become less all encompassing. Right now you are surviving, keeping really needy humans alive and paying down debt. Boring but very necessary. I still haven’t fully figured out how to deal with the loss of self I feel but I’m working on it. Now that I have a 5 year old I see how the time does pass and things get easier. I have a baby too and it’s easier with #2 having had time to settle into my role as a parent. My situation and experience may be way different than yours but just wanted to share incase what you feel really is about something else not related to your professional role. All of the external variables are things you could easily change to address the feeling you’re experiencing but would it solve anything? Maybe and maybe not. It might be worth some in depth exploration to see what is at the root of your feeling of stuckness before you make any changes.

    • Ann says:

      Trish, your comment made me tear up, so probably that means there’s something there! Yes, I can relate to so much of this. Definitely still feel like I’m still coming to terms with the loss of self and what it means to be a parent, and just the true *relentlessness* of it can be so wearing. And then adding on the terror of having another one and how that’s going to go. It helps so much to hear from other parents who can relate, so thank you for sharing your thoughts. Good to have a reminder that it does indeed get easier. Our daughter is easier than she used to be, for sure, but we’re not at a stage yet where I feel any kind of an easing of the constantness of it all.

      • Rachel says:

        I agree with Trish. I am a mother of 4 (ages 12-20). I remember that “stuck” feeling, a trapped feeling and reading books and looking at lifestyles from going off the grid to homeschooling all four kids. All great life choices but ones I did not end up doing. It is VERY hard to be a parent of a young child and very few people tell you that! I recall asking my close family friends – “why oh why” did you not tell me of the loneliness / trapped feelings that are so very common. A lot of people want to make it all sunshine and roses but its a lot of hard tiring work especially adding in two busy careers. BUT with the benefit of looking back 10+ years it does get so much better, easier! I found actually having that second child (all my kids are about 2.5 years apart) was like “hitting the ground running” – I was an expert, less stress and pretty much about the same sleep, lol. From my far away view you are rockin’ your careers, opportunities and parenthood! You have given yourselves so many choices and a great gift of a lot of equity. Wait for this second little person to come into your lives, enjoy the monotony for a bit – hey you are experts in young kids after your first – and continue to explore and educate yourselves on all paths you could take. I’m thinking you guys will be landing on your feet and feeling a little more contentment in a few years. It takes time.

      • Trish says:

        Ann I’m so glad I could share what I’ve experienced. Parenting young kids is no joke. I hope whatever direction you guys take is the right one for your little family. Good luck to you with baby number two. It really is easier with the second.

  74. Steveark says:

    This is a little off topic but one big income expanding possibility for junior college educators is to get in the administrative part. Community college presidents make from $150k to $300k even in our rural state. And most of them started out as faculty. I am familiar with the compensation because I have hired several.

  75. Marlena says:

    You know your family best. I can say as the mother of an 11-year-old, many things are easier, and many things are harder. Parenting in those first three years is no joke, and I don’t know of many good stories of people who leaned out of their careers during this time period. I know there are stories – I just don’t have friends who have good ones. All to say that you can amazing and flexibly careers – you can’t buy that unless you’re independently wealthy. There will be only a few years of dual daycare, and then you will feel like you’ve received a raise. With your partner’s health concerns, I would be careful about leaving the work you do; however, I do like the ideas above of being in a different part of the community college arena. Some administrators make incredible salaries. The downside there is you will lose flexibility, attend many more meetings, and definitely have more of a desk job. The upside is possibly setting policies at your campus level. Check out the Higher Ed Jobs forum – some are remote, and then you could stay connected to higher ed. If you’re thinking of moving remotely, consider consulting in the high school and higher ed arena – much of that can be done remotely. I’m rambling, but more to say that you really are in the hardest parts now with sleep deprivation and demanding children. It will change and one day your kid will get ready by themselves and help you get out the door.

  76. Brandon says:

    If Leo really is a people person like you describe, he might find more satisfaction and more money in a sales job. Becoming a realtor is an obvious easy entry and could be piloted in the summer when he is off work anyway.

  77. Astrid says:

    I have a 3yo and a 1yo, both in daycare, both of us work. From this perspective about a year ahead of you, I strongly encourage you to make zero big changes in your life. Make all the spreadsheets you want, dream every dream, but don’t make any big changes. Do the things that will help you no matter what — cut costs as Mrs FW recommends, pay off the debt — as that will put you in a great spot once you are in a good place to make big changes (if you still want to). In the meantime, drop anything at work that’s not absolutely mandatory, scale back cooking/cleaning expectations to bare minimum (pasta and a jar of sauce were considered a full meal in our house for the past year, crazy fancy if we added a salad). This is a crazy hard time in a person’s life, and I’m only truly seeing that now, now that things are a bit easier. We still have a long way to go to feel like we’re thriving again, but we are at least now starting to come out of pure survival mode. Good luck to you!!! The first 3-6mo w the second baby are ridiculously hard, but you’ll see it’s totally worth it once they can make each other giggle.

  78. Jane says:

    Hi

    Read with interest and just wanted to say that most au pairs would not cope well with very small children. They are best suited for older children who can talk and perhaps are at pre-school or older. You may luck out of course but remember these are often teenagers or in their early twenties and it’s a lot to ask of someone to look after 2 smalls full time. We have had au pairs nannies, day care, after school clubs you name it for ours and au pairs were amazing and we are all still in touch with them, one is flying into to see us next week as it happens. But just be careful of you (and their) expectations. Best of luck with it all – good advice here. I am clearing down debt and building up the EF right now. Like your priorities as set by Mrs FW!! See you on the other side!!!!!

  79. Jen says:

    I saw one other person suggest this, but one of my first thoughts when you were describing yourselves and your strengths was whether you would have any interest in opening a B&B and living on the property. Maybe there’s an area that has that rural feel, but is still connected to a community and close enough to attractions that it would be a desirable spot for guests and would keep you connected to the life you’re more accustomed too. If you chose to go this route at some point, you could sell your house and use that toward the B&B property as the new property would become your source of income. Could be putting too many eggs in one basket though.

  80. Kate says:

    Hi! I’m Kate, a teacher and mom to four little ones. My advice is to start looking into where you would like to live and investigating the job market and housing situation there. Because you will soon have two little ones you will NEED family, so don’t underestimate the importance of being within 1-2 hours of a reliable family member who would enjoy babysitting or helping you out. I would start looking into state colleges around the area first since they will probably pay highest with the best benefits. Then look for an affordable home within a 30 minute drive If you can really sell your house for $700,000 that would be life-changing!

    Essentially, you could sell your house and buy a gorgeous house in my state of Pennsylvania and in many other lower cost areas of the country for $250,000 and never have school loans, credit card debt, debt to any family members, or even a mortgage ever again! To top it all off, as university professors at a state school, your kids could go for free and you and or your husband could go back to school for free too. With your extra $50,000-$100,000 you could probably even buy a rental if that’s what you really want to do. Once your house is paid off, one parent could stay home and watch the kids and renovate the rental in the evenings. Realistically, most people can afford to live on about $50,000 a year in rural America, so you should be able to stash away a ton of money within ten years if you both wanted to retire then, you should be set! I would sell that house ASAP! The bubble won’t last forever and since you don’t love your jobs or the area it would make sense to relocate to a much cheaper area before your kids start school. I agree- don’t factor in any inheritance unless it actually becomes yours!

  81. Ann Onnysmous says:

    On the urban Seattle bungalow – Very late to the comments, but I wanted to add my two cents. I’m a commercial real estate broker focused on selling land, especially in urban settings (not in Seattle). Depending on the acreage of your land with the bungalow, don’t wait forever to potentially sell it. If everything surrounding you on all or 3 sides has sold, you could have a piece of land too small to meaningfully develop on its own and still get full land value. Certainly take steps to honor the inheritance and relationship, but it is possible to hold out too long and decrease value.

  82. Middle class says:

    Hi. I would definitely suggest appealing the insurance denial. I have appealed all denials if I felt I had a case. Be sure to read through your actual benefits booklet, not just the summary of benefits. Throw in some legalese, attach supporting documentation, and use your English writing skills to good advantage! I only lost 1 appeal ever and I knew i had a weaker case for that one. Good luck!

    Even if it’s too late to appeal now, keep in mind for future.

  83. Cora says:

    Hi Ann, I’m a late commenter! I wanted to address your comments about feeling stuck and in a rut. I think that’s just par for the course when you’re a full time working parent in the trenches! I’m not too different from you but a few years ahead (a 44 year-old PhD with an 11 year-old son). I’ve felt the same feelings and still do from time to time. Life can just be really boring when you’re in the grind and I think it’s normal. Stable is boring but it’s also good. You and Leo have built an amazing life with lots of great possibilities. I know you’ve gotten all sorts of advice here but I think you should just stay the course and enjoy your family, home and community. It all sounds pretty sweet. Spice it up with some cool mini-vacations or date nights when the finances permit (after that debt is paid off and the emergency fund is bulked up, of course). Plant some new things in your garden. Get Leo back on his blog. You guys are doing pretty well and should appreciate it. Congrats on the new addition to your family!

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