Reader Case Study: Former Commercial Fisherman, Future Travel Nurse, Adventurer Always

Amy is a former commercial fisherman and wildland firefighter turned nurse. After working on the frontlines of the pandemic in North Central Washington, this month she began her first travel nursing assignment. As she embarks on this new career path, she’s examining her finances–including her recent purchase of her first home–with the goal of making sustainable, long-term decisions about her future. Amy is a wilderness lover and adventurer and does just about every outdoor sport imaginable. She’s also considering having children, potentially as a Single Mom By Choice (SMC), which is another factor influencing her financial thought process. Join me as we dig into Amy’s finances and help her answer some of the questions she has about her future.

What’s a Reader Case Study?

A View from Amy’s Previous Career as a Commercial Fisherman

Case Studies address financial and life dilemmas that readers of Frugalwoods send in 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 comment section.

For an example, check out the last case study. Case Studies are updated by participants (at the end of the post) several months after the Case is featured. Visit this page for links to all updated Case Studies.

The Goal Of Reader Case Studies

Reader Case Studies intend to highlight a diverse range of financial situations, ages, ethnicities, locations, goals, careers, incomes, family compositions and more!

The Case Study series began in 2016 and, to date, there’ve been 66 Case Studies. I’ve featured folks with annual incomes ranging from $17k to $200k+ and net worths ranging from -$300k to $2.9M+.

I’ve featured single, married, partnered, divorced, child-filled and child-free households. I’ve featured gay, straight and trans people. I’ve featured men, women and non-binary folks. I’ve had cat people and dog people. I’ve featured folks from the US, Australia, Canada, England, South Africa, Spain, Finland and France.

I’ve featured people with PhDs and people with high school diplomas. I’ve featured people in their early 20’s and people in their late 60’s. I’ve featured folks who live on farms and folks who live in New York City.

The goal is diversity and only YOU can help me achieve that by emailing me your story! If you haven’t seen your circumstances reflected in a Case Study, I encourage you to apply to be a Case Study participant by emailing mrs@frugalwoods.com.

Reader Case Study Guidelines

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 condemn.

There’s no room for rudeness here–the goal is to create a supportive environment where we all acknowledge that we’re human, we’re flawed, but we choose to be here together, workshopping our money and our lives with positive, proactive suggestions and ideas.

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. I am not a financial advisor and I am not your financial advisor.

With that I’ll let Amy, today’s Case Study subject, take it from here!

Amy’s Story

Amy the Covid Nurse

Hi, Frugalwoods! I’m Amy, a 33-year-old single woman living with my seven-year-old black lab Baxter. This month, I’m making a big career change by leaving my current job–as a nurse in a Step-Down ICU–to become a travel nurse.

I’ve been living in North Central Washington for the past two years and bought a house this spring. I worked as a Covid-19 nurse starting in March 2020 after having been a nurse for only six months! I love nursing and it has been mostly rewarding to work on the frontlines of this pandemic.

However, this latest outbreak of predominantly unvaccinated individuals has taken a toll on my mental health and so I’m becoming a travel nurse, both to be geographically closer to friends and family and to receive a significant pay increase. Travel nursing pays incredibly well, particularly now because almost all hospitals in the US are short on nursing staff.

Amy’s Hobbies

I love to travel, especially to places where I can play outside (skiing/snowboarding, mountain biking, hiking, and rafting) and visit friends and family throughout the Northwest and Alaska. I don’t have any family in North Central Washington and I’ve only lived here for the past two years, so I don’t have a big social network here, especially due to the prior lockdowns and Covid restrictions. I’m excited to work as a travel nurse because I can work in areas that are closer to friends and family and be in great places where I can play outdoors.

Recreating outdoors is a huge passion of mine. It helps me stay healthy mentally and physically. Being an outdoors person is also part of my identity. I spend a hefty portion of my budget on outdoor equipment, such as new ski/snowboard equipment, a snowmobile, backpacking and rafting gear, etc. This is something I feel conflicted about because I want to reach my financial goals and be frugal, but I also want to have the gear that helps me recreate safely and efficiently as well as have fun.

Amy’s House

Trail Crew and Our Pack Horses

I bought a house this spring after renting for a year and a half. The rental market here is surprisingly expensive and I’ve always dreamed of owning my own house so it made sense for me to buy at the time. I hadn’t anticipated leaving so soon but it still seems like a good investment. My area is relatively affordable for the West, but local housing prices have still been climbing at 6% on average annually. I hope that in the long run this house will continue to be a good investment.

My house was built in the 1940s and has lots of charm, but it does need some repairs and I’d like to do a remodel in the basement. I’ve enjoyed doing a few repairs already: I painted all the interior walls, repaired a leaky shower faucet and a leaky sink drain, and I’m in the process of painting the exterior of the house.

The house has two bedrooms and two baths. It also has a large basement that has the potential to be converted into a basement apartment because it already has a bathroom and a wet bar with a sink and large fridge. Besides framing an additional bedroom, the basement would need an egress window. A third bedroom would add value to the home overall and a basement apartment would bring in extra income.

Amy’s Life as a Commercial Fisherman

Before nursing school, I was a commercial fisherman in Alaska and worked for the US Forest Service as a wildland firefighter and on a trail crew. I definitely had fun and learned a lot of valuable life skills doing these jobs. While I earned a good income from commercial fishing (though not so much from the Forest Service), I didn’t know about investing for retirement so I have no retirement savings from my 20s. I did save about $25,000 during this time but I then used it for tuition and housing during nursing school. I only started contributing to my retirement accounts at the age of 31. I’m playing catch-up now and I want some advice and/or reassurance that I’m saving adequately, especially if I want to achieve financial independence.

Amy’s Financial Goals

I don’t know if I necessarily want to retire early. However, I do want to feel financially secure. According to the FIRE calculator at Engaging Data, I could retire at the age of 49 assuming I continue to make an average of $100,000 per year and don’t make major changes to my annual spending. Travel nursing affords me the opportunity to make a lot more money and I want to make sure I save and spend my new income wisely.

Amy’s Parenthood Goals

While I’m excited to try travel nursing, I don’t plan on doing it forever particularly since I’d like to become a parent within the next seven years. I’ve always wanted to be a mom and the urge to have kids has only intensified since I’ve entered my 30s. Lately however, I’ve been more open to the idea of not having kids, especially since I don’t have a long-term partner and I have concerns about climate change. But even with those caveats, I still see myself having a child before I turn 40–with or without a partner–via adopting or conceiving as a single parent. Given that, I need to budget for this future expense.

What feels most pressing right now? What brings you to submit a Case Study?

Backcountry Snowboarding

I’m struggling to find a balance between my spending and saving. I have a lot of expensive hobbies such as skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, etc and I love these hobbies and they bring me great joy. I’ve splurged in the past two years on a used snowmobile and a used whitewater raft that I share with my parents. I’ve spent more on gear lately because I wasn’t able to replace a lot of my equipment due to living very frugally in nursing school. I want to meet my financial goals while also budgeting for recreational trips and equipment.

I don’t have a lot of savings since I used all of my savings to purchase my home. I know I was supposed to wait until I had enough for a down payment and emergency savings, but I felt urgency to buy now before home purchasing became out of reach. I may want to rent my house out for the longterm if I’m not planning on moving back. I currently have two renters.

What’s the best part of your current lifestyle/routine?

North Central Washington was a good place for me to start my nursing career. I’ve enjoyed working at the local hospital as it was supportive and I made many friends. I also enjoy the four seasons of outdoor activities here: biking, hiking, and boating in the summer; mountain biking in the autumn colors; access to many different ski and snowboard areas, both at ski resorts and in the backcountry; and enjoying the wildflowers and green hillsides in the spring. Our hills are covered in yellow balsamroot and purple lupine in the spring and it makes a fabulous backdrop for trail running and mountain biking!

I’m also really proud of myself for buying a house as it’s something I’ve wanted for a long time. I’ve found this area to be more affordable compared to living on the Western side of the state. I’ve enjoyed taking ownership of my home by learning to do various home repair projects and yard maintenance. It’s also really nice to have storage space for all my toys and outdoor gear and room to rent out or host family when they come to visit.

What’s the worst part of your current lifestyle/routine?

Before going to nursing school in Oregon, I lived in Bellingham, Washington. I thrived there and this is where my closest friends and my brother live. Even though I like living in North Central Washington, it’s hard not to feel lonely and like I’m missing out on nurturing relationships with my old friends.

Baxter Getting a Free Ride On a Long Bicycle Ride

Loneliness has compounded some of the emotional stress I’ve endured as a Covid-19 nurse. I’m starting to experience burn-out and compassion fatigue, especially now that our hospital is full of very sick, unvaccinated patients. I need more support from family and friends if I am going to continue working on the frontlines. Also, dating as a Covid nurse has been a challenge. I have been rejected due to potential dates’ fears that they will contract Covid from me; or, I reject them because they refuse to get vaccinated or wear a mask, which is something I take very personally after seeing the worst effects of Covid over the past 18 months.

Also, my hospital hasn’t compensated nurses for putting ourselves at risk and dealing with the increased stress. For three months last winter, we received an extra $10 an hour if we were working in the Covid unit, but this quickly went away. Now, my employer occasionally offers double pay, but only if you work overtime. It was tough to work alongside travel nurses who were being paid four to five times as much as I was to do the same job, which is one of the reasons why I’m becoming a travel nurse now.

While I like living here, I miss living in a more environmentally-friendly atmosphere. When I lived on the Western side of the state, I rode my bike to commute to work, school and various other places. It was a fun way to stay fit and healthy and I saved a lot of money on gas and car repairs. My current location is not as bicycle friendly. Drivers aren’t used to seeing cyclists on the road and sometimes they’re even aggressive. My bike collects a lot of dust these days and I spend a lot more money on gas.

Where Amy Wants To Be in 10 years:

Finances:

  • I want to be well-established financially and able to meet my retirement goal by at least the age of 50.
  • I want to be able to afford being a parent to at least one child, potentially on my own.
  • I would like to have more rental income, either from owning more properties and/or by converting my house into two separate dwellings.

Lifestyle:

  • I want to continue doing the outdoor sports I love.
  • I may want to continue travel nursing and that may mean renting out my house and moving into a camper of some sort.
  • If I have a child of my own, I want to share my love of the outdoors and recreation with them.
  • I want to have the financial freedom to travel to see family and friends and go on outdoor adventures such as rafting in the Grand Canyon, ski trips to Alaska and Canada, camping in Baja California, Mexico, and many other adventures I have yet to dream of!

Career:

  • I don’t anticipate continuing to be a travel nurse but I would like to continue being a nurse. There are many different jobs in nursing and I’m not sure where my career will take me next. When I graduated from nursing school, I wanted to be an ICU nurse and as a Step-Down ICU nurse, I’ve achieved this goal.
  • However, I don’t know that I can continue in this role for many years to come if the pandemic continues the way it has or gets worse. There is too much heartache, frustration and stress in this job for me to continue for much longer. Luckily there are many different jobs I could do and I don’t anticipate making a career change away from nursing.

Amy’s Finances

Income

Item Monthly Amount Notes
Amy’s new monthly net income, which’ll be from October – December 2021, with potential for a renewal for another three-month contract.

This is an estimate as I haven’t been paid yet.

$5,570 This is an estimate of my net income, using a Washington State tax estimator. My monthly gross will be $15,264.

I plan on maxing out my 403b and HSA contributions:

  • In order to max out my 403b to the $19,500 limit, I will need to contribute $6,300 per month for the final three months of 2021.
  • To max out my HSA to the $3,650 limit, I will need to contribute $1,216 per month for the final three months of 2021.
  • I’ll also be paying $115/month for medical, dental and vision insurance.

These three deductions combined = $7,632 per month, plus I’ll need to pay taxes, which I estimate at $2,212 per month.

Travel Nurse Housing and Food Stipend $4,650 This is not taxed.
Roommate Income (started in October 2021) $1,300 Two roommates, one a longer-term, part-time renter who lives out of town and stays with me when she is working at the hospital. She pays $400 per month. The other is a full-time renter who pays $900 per month.

Before October 2021, I rented a room to a good friend who paid $200 a month and was only there a few nights per month. It’s been nice to have my whole house to myself but it’s time for some real rental income to offset my big mortgage payment.

Pfizer Covid Vaccine Trial Study $40 Started August 2020. I earn $5/week for diary entries recording my symptoms and $90/appointment for blood draws and testing.

This should continue for another year or so. I also got vaccinated super early which was a nice perk, especially being around Covid so much as a Covid nurse.

Monthly subtotal: $11,560 October – December 2021, with potential for renewal for another three-month contract. This is an estimate as I haven’t been paid yet.
Annual total: $83,640 Previous income of $48,960 (from January – September 2021) plus three months of travel nursing income, which I estimate at $34,680 net.

Mortgage Details

Item Outstanding loan balance Interest Rate Loan Period and Terms Equity Purchase price and year
Mortgage $297,469 3.20% 30-year fixed-rate mortgage $2,500 $330,000; purchased March 2021

Debts

Item Outstanding loan balance Interest Rate Loan Period/Payoff Terms
Federal Student Loan $5,459  4.45% interest In Covid-related forbearance. My parents want to pay my student loans for me but we’ve waited to see if the current administration would forgive them. Payments are set to resume due January 31, 2022.
Loan from Parents $4,500 0% interest Loan from my parents to help with closing costs on my house. I pay them $100/month.
Federal Student Loan $2,846 3.76% interest In Covid-related forbearance. My parents want to pay my student loans for me but we’ve waited to see if the current administration would forgive them. Payments are set to resume due January 31, 2022.
Perkins Loan $2,840 0% interest (5% if I am no longer a nurse) Deferred and not accruing interest. Will be paid off in full after five years of working as a nurse (Sept. 2024).
Total: $15,645

Assets

Item Amount Notes Interest/type of securities held Name of bank/brokerage
Roth IRA $15,740 Contributions maxed out last year and this year. I contribute 20% of my net income until I max this out. FIOFX 2045 Fidelity
403B $11,900 I contribute 15% of my gross income to this account. My employer would have matched my contributions starting Jan. 2022 which is 2.5 years after my hire date.  I’ll have a 401k with my new employer and they match contributions after six months. VTRLX 2050 Fidelity
Emergency Savings Account $6,850 I used all my emergency savings when I bought my house so I could put 10% down. I have been contributing 10% of my net income to this account. My goal is to have $10,000 saved. I feel financially secure in my career as a nurse because we’re in such big demand right now. But maybe I should increase this for unexpected housing expenses, especially if I’m away and need to hire someone for repairs? Or make a separate savings account for such expenses? 0% for the first 6 months; after 6 months of consecutive deposits with no withdrawals, the rate increases to 2% up to $2,500 Numerica Credit Union
Total: $34,490

Vehicles

Vehicle make, model, year Valued at Mileage Paid off?
Toyota Tacoma 2000 $9,000 180,000 Yes, it’s paid off. It’s not the most fuel efficient truck but it comes in handy for hauling my snowmobile, household/garden stuff, camping, I can sleep in the back, and more.
SkiDoo Summit 2007 $3,000 3,500 Yes. Big purchase for me. I use it to get up closed roads in the winter for backcountry snowboarding. I am a powder hound.
Total: $12,000

Expenses

Item Amount Notes
Mortgage & Escrow $1,592
Rent $1,000 Oct-Dec rent for travel nursing. I’m renting a small studio so I can have a quiet space to sleep during the day since I will be working night shift.
Sports & Hobbies $500 Snowboarding equipment, mountain bike maintence and parts, etc. Many one time purchases. Last year was a big splurge year as I needed to replace a lot of my gear that I had been trying to repair and hold together during nursing school. I want to replace a few more things this winter. I’ll also buy two ski passes this winter to two different ski areas since I won’t be near my home mountain as much and I already paid for a pass at my local resort.
Groceries $475 I eat a special diet that is more expensive than the frugal vegetarian diet I used to eat as a college student. This also Includes toiletries and alcohol though I did just quit drinking so maybe this will go down.
Other Shopping $250 Household goods, toiletries not included in groceries. This also includes one time purchases for my house.
Home Furnishings $230 Several one time expenses including my first new bed and mattress this year after sleeping on a $50 Craigslist mattress and free bed frame for nine years. Also invested in a quality couch that will hopefully last many years to come and bonus, it doesn’t collect dog hair.
Utlities $219 Water/Sewer, electricity, garbage/recycling, and internet
Gas $200 My truck isn’t the most fuel efficient and I drive to visit friends and family every month or so.
Doctor/Health $150 Counseling and other Co-Pays
Eating Out $120 This includes any food I eat outside of the house, including vending machines. This also includes restaurants visited on vacation or treating my parents to a nice meal when they visit.
Gifts & Donations $120 Christmas gifts ($330/year), PBS & NPR ($10/month), various coworker & friend donations, and gifts for family and friends for birthdays, etc.
Mom & Dad Loan $100 See Loans for details
Clothes $69 I was very strict during my five years of school and only wore used clothes from thrift stores or hand-me-downs from friends. I’m slowly replacing my worn-out clothes. My weight fluctuates a lot too. I was up a size during nursing school, then back down a size, and now I’m back up a size. Thanks Covid and nursing stress!
Auto Insurance and Registration $68 Allstate
Auto Service, Parts, and Registration $65 oil changes, parts, repairs
Mobile Phone $61 I know, Mrs. Frugalwoods is going to recommend I change cell phone plans. 🙂 Verizon family plan Unlimited talk/text/data. Had to buy a new phone when I switched from AT&T? I might have been duped by the salesperson but was told I couldn’t use my iphone 5 when I switched so I upgraded to an iphone 11. Hopefully this phone lasts me a long time. I currently get $20 off for being a nurse but give my parents $10 off their accounts so I get the other $10. Phone will be paid off Jan. 2022 and total phone bill will drop to $39/month. The interest rate is 0% so I don’t feel any hurry to pay this off.
Home Repair/Maintence $50 Paint, plumbing, tools, garden and lawn supplies (many of these are one time purchases)
Nursing Expenses $29 Insurance, license fees, and continuing education courses
Spotify Subscription $11
Monthly subtotal: $5,309
Annual total: $63,708

Credit Card Strategy

Card Name Rewards Type? Bank/card company
Citi Cash Back 2% Cash Back Citi Bank
AK Airlines Airline Miles Bank of America

Note: the credit card links are affiliate links.

Amy’s Questions for You:

  1. Should I rein in the spending on my outdoor recreation/hobby items?
    • How can I budget for bigger ticket expenses while also achieving financial independence?
  2. How should I budget for home expenses?
    • I’ve read that I should set aside 2% of the property’s value each year for future repairs. Is this how the homeowners in the Frugalwoods community save for house maintenance?
  3. How should I fund the basement remodel at my house?
    • Should I take out a loan or save up to pay all cash? I could do some aspects of the construction myself but I don’t have the skills for framing, dry wall hanging, or using a concrete saw for the egress window. I’d love to learn some of these skills but I know I will be slow and make mistakes along the way.
    • Any suggestions for doing this project affordably as a single person with limited construction skills?
  4. How should I save and spend my new increased salary?
    • As noted above in my income spreadsheet, I’ll net approximately $11,560 per month for the next three months at my first travel assignment. This is a sizable increase from my prior pay.
    • While this first assignment’s pay is incredible, it may not be what I make in the future and most travel assignments last three months.
    • I could potentially work three travel assignments, take three months off per year and have one month between each assignment. Even if future travel assignments pay less, I estimate I could net at least $100,000 per year as a travel nurse–and more if I take less time off in between jobs.
  5. Suggestions for health insurance and how to navigate this large expense?
    • Being a Covid-19 nurse took a significant toll on my mental health and to cope, I was seeing a counselor once a week. Prior to travel nursing, I paid $0 for counseling sessions via my hospital’s health insurance.
    • My travel nurse agency offers insurance through United Healthcare for $115/month but my counselor is not in-network. If I were to pay out-of-pocket, visits would cost $250. I decided to go with an HSA plan, which would at least allow me to pay for out-of-network providers tax-free.

Liz Frugalwoods’ Recommendations

Amy is doing great! She’s at an exciting transition point and has made excellent financial decisions to get to her current position. I also want to thank Amy for her service as a nurse on the frontlines of this pandemic. I am so grateful to her–and all of the healthcare professionals–who consistently risk their own lives in order to care for their patients. Thank you, Amy! And folks, if you’re not vaccinated yet, please get on it!

Let’s dive right in:

Amy’s Question #1: Should I rein in the spending on my outdoor recreation/hobby items?

Whitewater Rafting at Camp

My short answer to this is a simple NOPE. The point of working and earning money is to develop the ability to spend that money on your highest and best priorities. There’s no point in working hard and earning money and never spending it on the things that matter most to you.

The goal of mindful frugality is to operate through the lens of prioritization.

Successful, longterm frugal people know their priorities and happily spend on those things. Successful, longterm frugal people are also able to identify things that don’t bring them a sufficient return on their investment and then cut those things out of their life. It’s not about saving all of your money, it’s about saving most of your money and spending on what matters the most to you. From Amy’s write-up, it sounds like outdoor sports are a huge priority for her. She said:

Being an outdoors person is also part of my identity.

That’s a powerful statement. It’s evidence that Amy knows herself well. She knows what she values in her life and she spends her money accordingly. Where you spend your money and time = what matters most to you. Amy’s figured that out, which is fantastic!

Short Term vs. Long Term Goals

The counterbalance to everything I just said is Amy’s ultimate goal. If her ultimate goal is to reach financial independence as fast as possible, she would need to make sacrifices in her spending in order to get there. However, from her write up, that’s not her goal. It sounds like Amy prefers to extend the time horizon of her financial independence goal in order to better enjoy the journey. This is no “correct” answer here, it’s just a question of priorities, which is something only Amy can discern.

Amy’s already done the math on this and shared:

According to the FIRE calculator at Engaging Data, I could retire at the age of 49 assuming I continue to make an average of $100,000 per year and don’t make major changes to my annual spending.

It sounds like that’s a number that works for Amy, so I say, go for it! I think she’s spot on that whether she decides to actually retire then or not, she will not regret being financially secure.

Amy’s Question #2 How should I budget for home expenses?

Views from Rafting on the Green River

Amy’s next two questions are kind of unanswerable at this stage because we don’t know her ultimate plan for this house.

In my opinion, the answers hinge on whether or not she decides to pursue travel nursing for the longterm and whether or not she plans to return to live in this home.

There’s a big difference between a property being your home and a property being a full-time rental. I think the next year will be a time for Amy to consider which route she’d ultimately like to pursue.

Amy’s in a sort of limbo in terms of being a landlord. She’s renting out her place, but the rent isn’t covering her mortgage (not to mention a maintenance reserve). She’s also paying to live elsewhere as a travel nurse. I commend her for having tenants to offset some of her costs; but, this isn’t a tenable long-term situation.

A few questions I have for Amy:

  1. Do you plan to live in your house, along with your tenants, in between travel gigs? If not, would you consider transitioning the property into a formal rental (whereby you never live there and you instead turn a profit)?
  2. Do you have formal, legal leases signed with your tenants? If not, please consult with a lawyer/property manager and get them signed ASAP!
  3. What is your plan if the house needs a major repair in the near term and you need to re-house your tenants for a period of time? For example, the water heater blows up and floods the first floor and you need to put your tenants in a hotel while it’s being fixed. As a landlord, you need to cover the cost of the water heater repair as well as the hotel stay. Don’t fret, I’m not trying to freak you out! Read on…

These three questions get at the heart of Amy’s landlord limbo and I want to reflect on #3 for a bit.

When you’re a homeowner–and doubly so when you’re a landlord–you need to plan for a lot of expenses over the long term.

Things break and have to be repaired. And while you personally might be wiling to live in a house where, say, one of the toilets doesn’t work, you can’t do that if you have tenants. There’s a higher threshold of maintence required when you’re serving as a landlord. This is why you need to build up a maintence reserve for any property you rent out (and I would argue, any property that you live in too). This reserve is intended to cover all the expenses that are inherent to home ownership. One of the challenges here is that home expenses are lumpy–some years you’ll spend $0, other years you’ll spend a significant amount.

There are a couple different ways to determine how much money you need in a maintence reserve:

  1. As a percentage of the rental income.
  2. As a percentage of the property’s value.
  3. Save all profit at the beginning in order to build up a reserve.

Since Amy is just starting out as a landlord and has no maintence reserve, I’m going to suggest #3. The challenge is that she’s not turning a profit on her rental at this point, but, all is not lost! Amy is earning a lot more in her new job and so, most of that should go into savings at this stage. Let’s skip around real quick to….

Amy’s Question #4: How should I save and spend my new increased salary?

Woohoo! Congrats to Amy on securing this travel nursing gig. I am THRILLED to see that nurses are being paid this well and DELIGHTED to brainstorm with Amy on how to deploy this newfound funds.

Catch Up on Retirement

Hiking in Eastern Oregon near the Snake River

Amy is already doing the #1 thing I’d recommend: catching up on retirement. She’s correct that she’s behind at this point, but her plan to max out her 403b in this calendar year is brilliant. The IRS dictates the amount you can contribute to your 403b/401k each year and in 2021, it’s $19,500. Since 2021 is rapidly drawing to a close (!!!!), Amy is super smart to stock up her 403b in these final three month of 2021. The clock will restart in 2022 and she can again fully load her 403b, spread out over the 12 months of 2022.

Red Alert: Beef Up the Emergency Fund ASAP!!!!

The only red flag that gives me true concern in Amy’s case is her lack of a robust emergency fund. If she didn’t own a house, I’d say her $6,850 emergency fund is perfectly reasonable, if a bit small. However, since she owns a house and especially since she’s renting it out, she needs to sock away more money into liquid savings.

Putting cash into her retirement accounts and HSA is wise, but, that’s illiquid money that she can’t access in the event of the aforementioned water heater explosion example.

Amy, you want to have enough cash savings to cover the water heater explosions of the world. Because when you own a house, something will always happen that needs money thrown at it. I can’t even list the number of things that broke at our house in the past few months alone: the washing machine, the dryer, the oven…. ok maybe I can. Point is, something’s always going to happen and since Amy’s not there to fix it herself, she’ll need to hire someone.

Money Coming in!

Amy will net approximately $11,560 per month for the next three months at her first travel assignment. This is AFTER her pre-tax contributions to her HSA, 403b and health/dental insurance. Hooray! We have money to work with here!

Backpacking in Hells Canyon, Oregon

Next up, her monthly expenses clock in at $5,309, which gives her $6,251 leftover every month for the next three months. I strongly suggest she funnel this $18,753 straight into her emergency fund. This’ll give her $25,603 in her emergency fund, which is a great start to building her property maintence reserve fund.

Saving liquid cash will also be of use to Amy on her parenting journey. However she reaches parenthood, kids are expensive and having extra money squirreled away will be useful!

Once things have settled out in Amy’s life and she knows:

  • Her plan for her home
  • Her career trajectory
  • Where she wants to live
  • How she’ll become a parent

And once she’s caught up on retirement and has a robust emergency fund/baby fund/home maintenance reserve, she should start researching taxable investments. I recommend the book The Simple Path to Wealth: Your Road Map to Financial Independence And a Rich, Free Life, by: JL Collins.

Now, let’s jump back to…

Amy’s Question #3: How should I fund the basement remodel at my house?

My initial response here is to wait. I suggest Amy first determine her longterm plan for this house:

  1. Is she going to return to live in it full-time?
  2. Is she going to use it as a partial rental/partial home when she’s not travel nursing?
  3. Or is she going to make her permanent residence elsewhere? If so, does she want to sell this house or turn it into a longterm rental?

Glacier Peak

Her response to these questions will dictate the nature of this basement remodel. In general–and without knowing the answers to these questions–it sounds like remodeling the basement to add another rental location would be great.

However, I don’t know the market rate for rentals in her area.

I suggest Amy research this to determine how much value another bedroom/auxiliary apartment would add. Once she’s clear on her longterm goal for this property and IF she determines the basement remodel is likely to deliver a great return on her investment, I think she should cash flow the remodel and hire out the work she can’t do and do the work herself that she can.

She’s in a great position now to save up a lot of money and think carefully about where she wants to live in the future. If it were me, I’d put a pin in starting the basement remodel for at least a year or two. The last thing Amy wants to do is sink a bunch of money into a remodel that she’s unlikely to recoup her costs on–either through additional rent and/or increased property value.

Amy’s Question #5: Suggestions for health insurance and how to navigate this large expense?

I think Amy’s very wise to contribute pre-tax money to her HSA and I honestly think her $115/month for insurance sounds pretty reasonable. I’m a huge proponent of therapy and I encourage Amy to either pay her out-of-network counselor or find a new, in-network therapist that she likes. The only other consideration here is for Amy to explore the various options with this insurance the next time there’s an open enrollment period. Is there a high deductible plan that would cost less every month? Since Amy’s on her way to saving quite a bit of money every month, this might be tenable for her in the next year or so. Something to look into!

Expenses

I said most of my thoughts on her expenses under #1, but I’ll highlight a couple things I think Amy could reduce if she chooses to:

Summary:

  1. Continue with your plan to max out your 403b and HSA in this calendar year. Well done!
  2. Funnel all leftover money every month into your emergency fund.
  3. Make conscious, mindful decisions about your spending. Spend on what matters; save on what doesn’t.
  4. Formalize the relationship with your tenants via a lease (if you haven’t already).
  5. Spend the next year (or two) discerning what you want to do with your house. Consider if this is where you want to live for the longterm or if you’d like to turn it into an actual rental.
  6. Be mindful that the current rent isn’t covering expenses and isn’t a feasible longterm situation. Although, it is great for the short term while you determine if travel nursing is your longterm plan!

Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice would you give to Amy? We’ll both reply to comments, so please feel free to ask 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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91 Responses

  1. Julia says:

    I loved your story – and agree wholeheartedly with Liz that it’s time to listen to people like Amy instead of ignorant keyboard warriors and Get The Vaccine!!!!! Doctors and nurses are worn out already.

  2. Kate says:

    Amy, hats off to you. I’m a family medicine doctor far away from the front lines. I have said many times now that if I worked in an ICU I’d have quit long ago. Do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself.

    • Amy says:

      I was surprised and relieved by Liz’s support of my outdoor pursuits budget. Thanks for your support as well!

      • Kate says:

        I will never forget in spring 2020 our hospital had a video conference with an intensive care doctor in Italy to try to learn about their experience, and he shared that one of their nurses had died by suicide because of what they experienced; there was a gasp from everyone and then silence in the room. Of course she was not the last healthcare provider to meet that fate. If the outdoors and therapy keep you sane at this terrible time it will be worth it, and good for you making a change in your work.

  3. Max out to obtain any employer contributions for retirement savings, but beyond that spread your investing around to hedge against future higher taxes, for more flexibility and to create income streams in the future. Open a brokerage account for mutual funds, a few dividend paying stocks, etc.

    • Amy says:

      I have been thinking about this. I agree with Liz’s advice that I should bulk up my emergency fund but once I’ve met this goal and if I am able to max out my tax-deductible accounts in the future, I’d like to make additional investments. I get a little intimidated by all the different investment options and I’m concerned about capital gains taxes compared to my retirement accounts that offer tax deductions. Do you have any resource suggestions I can use to educate myself and not feel so intimidated?

      • Chris Duffy says:

        JL Collins “A Simple Path to Wealth” is a great resource to learn more. There are a number of people (myself included) that put most/all of your investable assets into VTSAX. It’s a fund that mirrors the whole market and is an easy way to invest on auto-pilot

      • Cha says:

        Congrats and thanks for your work saving people from Covid. I would focus on two things : building up a bit more of you emergency fund and I would get rid of the student loan . Make a plan to get rid of the debt in the next 12-24 months- no matter what the government says it will or won’t do.

  4. Anne says:

    I just loved this case study! Amy sounds like such an amazing person and it is wonderful to hear how she is shifting her career to build her best life. I’m also in the middle of changing jobs to another part of my field that will increase pay/lower expenses (but more travel/variability), so this was super relevant, and I’ll also look forward to hearing advice from readers on how to manage the increased income but more frequent changes in expenses.

    For the basement remodel, are you thinking about this as your toehold in your house for in between nursing gigs etc? If so, would you want to keep it as a hybrid space for now (live down there, maybe have an informal kitchenette, but keep it attached to the rest of the house for entrance/exit and full kitchen)? Ultimately an emergency exit will certainly be needed for renting, but is it usable enough (or marketable) as a studio rather than having a bedroom walled in? For basements studios often work well because there is less light and windows.

    What is your plan for managing the contracting cycles in travel nursing? Do you get a lot of advance notice on next jobs, or is it last minute? And are you employed by the same contractor or finding each job yourself? Any particular areas you want to live in work? No particular financial reason for these questions, I am just curious about such a cool job 🙂

    • Anne says:

      By the way I am a SMC and it is the best! Definitely look into it in the coming years (although probably post-pandemic and might mean more location stable nursing)!

      • Mary says:

        Awesome! Like Amy I also have a desire to have kids even if that means without a partner! Great to hear that it has been the best for you!

    • Amy says:

      Thanks Anne! I’m currently keeping one room in my house as a “toehold” to use if needed between travel gigs. Also, I’ve rented my house furnished so I don’t have to move any of my stuff right now which is great because I hate moving.
      On the subject of a basement apartment remodel, the basement already has a separate entrance though the entrance also leads to the attached garage which might be an issue. It’s not a bad idea to go with the studio apartment option, especially because the space is pretty dark. For a basic apartment remodel, I would need to add an egress window, refigure the kitchen to add an oven, and add additional lighting (electrical work) to brighten up the space.
      In regards to travel contracts, I’m still figuring this piece out. Travel nurses work with agencies who have established relationships with varying hospitals. I am only working with one travel agency right now but I’ve been advised to work with multiple agencies so I can have more assignment options. I’m currently on assignment in Bellingham, WA and I’d like to extend my contract through March. Once I’ve established myself as an excellent travel nurse worthy of an extension, I’ll be able to broach this with management. I’ve been advised to ask for an extension about a month in to my assignment. So far so good, I’m fitting in really well and I’ve had several nurses say I should apply for a permanent position.
      I’m thinking about going to Alaska for the spring and summer. I love snowmachining (snowmobiling to those not from Alaska) and I’d love to be up there for the spring season. We’ll see after that!

  5. Jennifer says:

    Thank you for being a front line nurse, Amy— and congratulations on taking the step to (significantly) better paying travel nursing! My husband is a hospital nurse as well and the exhaustion/ compassion fatigue is real… thinking of all frontline workers still and glad you are taking some steps that are better for your mental health 🙂

    • Amy says:

      Thanks Jennifer 🙂 I hope your husband is getting the mental health support he needs as well and that we all get a break soon.

  6. Caroline says:

    I think Liz has hit most of the financial points nicely, but just to say that, as Amy is a nurse, and as she so rightly says, nursing is a very widely varied profession, with lots of avenues, even IF she’s not quite ”there” to FIRE at 49-50, she could take more of a part time role at that stage, in other words, wind down rather than bowing out completely. Experienced nurses are hot property re training, supervision and so on, and she may find, at that time, especially if there’s a child in the mix, that this suits her better, and frees up her time sufficiently that the stress is low, her time to pursue her passions / be there for her child, BUT still provides enough of an income that her retirement pot can continue to accrue for an extra few years.

    Of course it’s so hard to know how one might feel or how things might be, but it’s a truly great profession for different possibilities of that nature.

    Very interesting case study. Amy, you’ve given such insight on WHY WE MUST GET VACCINATED, and it’s something I too feel very strongly about. It must be a very specific sense of irritation and worry when confronted with determinedly, wilfully anti-vax people who then wind up in ICU and for whom you need to care. Gaaahhh!

    • Amy says:

      I too love how many diverse options there are in nursing. It has been a great career move for me even with the pandemic. I have considered nurse management or educator and other roles for the future, both of which would work better for childcare. And yes, irritation in regards to the number of unvaccinated patients is putting in mildly.

  7. Alli says:

    Thank you for your work Amy. It is so appreciated!

    I wanted to chime in on the therapy note—if you’re paying cash out of pocket, most therapists will be willing to give you a discounted rate rather than have you pay the full $250/session rate. If you have a strong relationship with your therapist, especially if you can keep seeing them while on your assignments, it may be good to try and stick with them for your first few months (one less change during a period of many!). If they can’t discount the price, then you could seek alternatives if this becomes prohibitive—but I definitely agree that therapy is a priority, I just think therapist shopping with all the change you have going on would be a lot and likely to get dropped while working nights.

    • Amy says:

      Therapist shopping is SO hard! I saw four different therapist before finding the therapist I was seeing before moving. And yes, I’m not sure how I am going to be able to keep a counseling relationship working nights and likely moving to a new state in the spring. One perk of this pandemic is healthcare’s move to telehealth medicine and it has been such a blessing to be able to travel and go to therapy. I do have a good therapist where I am now who’s much more affordable and it’ll be nice to be able to use my HSA funds to help offset this cost.

  8. ColoradoFIRE says:

    Hi Amy,
    As a fellow nurse and early semi-retiree (with a dog named Baxter no less!), my first though is that in nursing, you have chosen one of the most flexible careers there is. You may find, as I have, that once you are able to retire, you still want to do a small amount of work each month. I find it enjoyable and the extra income keeps more of our savings in the bank, which will help down the road, so it’s also a great career for a person aiming for FIRE. At some point you may transition to a different nursing role that better fits your lifestyle or financial goals such as becoming a nurse practitioner, or moving into management or a research role.
    Regarding your outdoor recreation expenses, I agree with Mrs. F that you don’t HAVE to reduce in that area, but I can tell you that my husband and I, in our early 50s, rarely buy new equipment. With a mix of DIY and paid maintenance, the items we have have lasted remarkably well. In thinking about this response I realized that my favorite bike is almost 20 years old, and I’ve only bought two bikes in my adult life. You could also focus on sports such as backcountry vs. area skiing to keep expense down.
    Lastly, if you decide to become a mother, consider moving closer to family and friends. Your parents sound supportive, and you clearly miss your friends. There is nothing like the help of family and friends when you’re a single parent. I say this from experience. Plus, close relationships with family members and friends makes a child’s life that much richer – a win-win.
    Good luck and enjoy your travel nursing assignment!

    • Amy says:

      Wow, its sounds like we do have a lot in common. Thanks for not judging my outdoor spending budget! I agree that this expense will adjust especially as my priorities change and I put less wear and tear on my equipment. Who knows, maybe I’ll find a lovely, adventurous guy who would want to share the cost of a raft, truck, trips, and other adventure expenses.

  9. Laura says:

    Amy you are doing so great! And I am so glad to see you recognizing you need a break and acting on it. That is so important. One thing you may want to consider going forward with potentially becoming a single mom is looking into freezing your eggs, assuming that aligns with your desires, beliefs, goals, etc. My friend in her late 30’s is pursuing being a single mom now and she said she wishes she had frozen her eggs in her early 30s because its been a major struggle at 39 to get viable eggs.

    • Amy says:

      I need to look into my options, especially since I’m not ready to be a parent right now. Anyone know the cost of egg freezing and implantation down the road? Am I too old to have this as an option right now? Biological clocks are very inconvenient. Though there’s always adoption and I’d be open to this option.

      • Rachel says:

        Amy, I’ve been trying to become an SMC for the last few years. It’s pricey for sure. But egg freezing and embryo freezing have come a long way. It may be worth making an appointment with a reproductive endocrinologist in the near future. Get some testing done, see what your options/cost would be. A lot of jobs are starting to cover fertility in their health insurance benefits.

      • Anne says:

        Generally below 35 is best, so you still have time!

      • Meghan says:

        You may want to also look into using a fertility clinic in Canada should you decide to have a child on your own. I understand it is cheaper here, amplified by the exchange rate. You’re far from needing to panic, age wise though.

        Best of luck to you!

    • Melody says:

      I second this comment! The earlier the easier it will be, but 33 is definitely not too old. Once you get to later 30s if can be much more difficult to retrieve quality eggs (each year can make a big difference). Here in Buffalo/upstate New York there are more affordable options. I had a wonderful experience with Buffalo IVF, but I have also heard CNY Fertility is good, and caters a lot to out-of -towners looking for a less expensive option. They have the prices on their website. Good luck whichever way you choose, and thank you for all the service you’ve given to your patients!

      • Melody says:

        Also, adoption can be incredibly expensive and difficult as well. People always say it is a “fallback” option, but it can easily cost more than IVF and has its own unique challenges as well.

  10. Liz says:

    Just a note on the HSA, be sure you check into how much you can put in the HSA if you haven’t had an HDHP plan for the entire year. Pretty sure you can’t fully fund it in the next 3 months if you’ve only had HDHP coverage for 3 months.

    • Amy says:

      Do you have any references that I could refer to to help figure this out?

    • Amy says:

      I just did an online search and I think you’re right. I will likely only be able to contribute 3/12 of my HSA maximum annual contribution which would be $900 for 2021. That’s throws a little wrench in my plans and my taxes.

      • Amy says:

        However, I could contribute the maximum amount this year under the “Last-Month Rule”. As long as I remain on an HSA plan for 2022 (the test period), I can contribute the full annual amount in 2021. If I switch plans next year, I’ll have to pay income taxes on the contributions less the prorated amount plus a 10% penalty.

  11. CarolineRSA says:

    As a midwife and community health nurse, I’ve been involved in Covid testing, but have not nursed severely ill patients. Amy, you deserve 2 new snowboards!

  12. Jessica says:

    Amy, what a beautiful life you have built for yourself. These words of yours really stuck out to me, ” I thrived there and this is where my closest friends and my brother live…it’s hard not to feel lonely”. No financial or other advice from me, just that I noticed you longing for something that you may want again at some point.

  13. Erin says:

    Amy, I really admire how well you know yourself! You have your passions in life and you’re following them. And you’ve done so much already! What interesting careers. Thank you for all you do as a nurse – take care of yourself.

    One thing I didn’t see in your expenses was Baxter – food, vet, treats, dog-sitting if you have long shifts, etc. He certainly looks healthy now, and I’m sure is living his best life with you on all these adventures, but that’s another good thing to budget for as pets age or have unexpected issues.

    On the future mom topic, I’m happy to hear you considering adoption. There are many adopted people in my husband’s family (he is adopted) and they are all wonderful. 🙂 There are lots of babies and littles out there need loving homes.

    Best of luck with your travel nursing! I bet we hear an update soon about a kind, sporty, vaccinated dog-lover you’ve fallen in love with…

  14. Liz says:

    You are doing great, Amy! It occurs to me that you might want to start a ‘future parenthood’ fund to be ready for a few possible options. As you probably know, one round of egg freezing is about 12-15K. Then there are storage fees of about 500-800 dollars a year. One round of IVF is anywhere from 20-30K (insurance might cover this in some states/situations), and adoption can be upwards of 40K. Adopting from foster care doesn’t have upfront costs. You can always repurpose any potential parenthood funds if you decide against these options!

    • Amy says:

      Thanks Liz, these potential future reproductive decisions are making my head spin. I just met a fellow travel nurse who showed me a picture of his “$200,000 baby” meaning he and his wife had to go through numerous rounds of IVF to conceive. I am curious about fostering and I like the idea of supporting kids during a tough transitional time and getting a little practice at parenting.

      • CaseyR says:

        I would also add you can do a very basic fertility workup with your OB/GYN at your next physical or a local fertility clinic. I wish these were more commonly discussed as an option – they can do blood tests that give you an idea of your egg quality, etc. It may give you peace of mind and at least provides some middle ground between “I’m going to commit to spending $15,000 on an egg retrieval” and waiting/worrying! You seem open to lots of parenting options, and if you don’t feel a powerful pull to having a biological child I don’t think you need to stress about egg freezing, etc.

        I’m going through IVF now to have a second child and although the costs don’t seem too crazy to me ($35,000 – not $200,000! Yikes!) I wish I’d gone in to talk to a fertility doctor earlier… but I thought the minute I walked through the doors of a fertility clinic I’d be signing up for IVF, and that definitely isn’t the case. So I didn’t go until I was ready to start IVF, but in reality there’s a lot they could have done for me earlier in terms of testing, medicated cycles, monitoring, etc. Live and learn – just a PSA out there in case anyone else is in those shoes!

        This was such a wonderful case study to read. Amy, thank you for all you do and have done during the pandemic. You are amazing and I hope you have a great experience as a travel nurse!

    • Sam says:

      Just a quick plug for being VERY thoughtful about becoming a foster parent – both fostering and adopting from foster care are pretty fraught experiences, for the child(ren), bio parents, and foster parents. In most cases, the goal for foster care is reunification with the bio families, not adoption, which is how I think it should be. I worked as a psychologist in a foster care agency for a year and rarely had kids adopted out, because the whole point of foster care is that bio families are supposed to be given resources to help facilitate healthy and safe parenting/child care. Termination of parental rights is often not adjudicated for months if not years, so most kids who are placed in care are not “adoptable” when they come into your home – and if they are, they’ve usually already been in care for quite some time.

      I also have two close friends who are foster parents (one fostered a child from ages 4 months to 3.5 years, the other 2 siblings from ages 9mo/2 years to 2y/3.5y). They have had overall positive experiences, but it is extremely emotionally challenging, and the information that foster (and bio) parents are given throughout the process is often wrong or incomplete . Being a foster parent can be a phenomenal experience but I would not do it to save money on adoption fees – I would do it because you want to provide a loving, stable home for a child, however long they need it (1 day or 18 years).

  15. S says:

    I’m a counselor and want to address the session fee question. First, see if you have any out of network benefits. You still pay out of pocket but you can submit a receipt from your counselor to insurance and they reimburse you directly at the percent they cover OON. Second, tell your therapist about the change in your coverage. See if they will agree to a new price now that you pay cash. $250 is really high (many psychiatrists in private practice charge that so for therapy that’s…a lot) and they should be able to come down a good chunk from that and still be earning a fair rate. Third, consider meeting less frequently with your therapist and supplementing the other weeks with a therapy group, regular massage, or similar self care. Lastly you could find a new therapist who is either in network or has lower fees. Even at half the $250 rate there should be many great options… especially if you’re open to seeing a masters level clinician.

    I’m bummed that it’s so expensive to find this kind of support especially since covid has been such a huge contributor to stress and the need for therapy for many on the front lines. I wish hospitals were able to offer more support and/or cover fees for counseling sessions.

    • Amy says:

      The LMHC I was seeing was employed through my employer hospital and the co-pay was $0. Neither she nor the hospital billing department were able to tell me what the out-of-pocket cost would be to continue seeing her. The $250 charge was on my insurance bill so likely this is an inflated cost that is supposed to be negotiated lower by the insurance company (healthcare in America….jeez).

      I have a counselor here in Bellingham who I’ve been seeing off and on for the past five years when I’ve lived in Washington. She only charges $100 per session. I’m being really protective of my mental health right now and I like your self care ideas for helping me during this transition. Thanks for your suggestions.

  16. Becca says:

    Amy I think you have an awesome set up here! I am also in healthcare and it is so worth it to explore options and locations early in your career and especially before having a kid, if that’s the way you decide to go. I agree with the other replies- as a solo parent myself I think being embedded in an community is so important just my own mental health and for my little guy to grow up knowing his extended family, since he will be a one and only in all likelihood. I also ended up going through a lot of ups and downs on the path to having a baby, and while I’m super happy with where I’ve ended up I think freezing your eggs early does give you more options in the future. Good luck and I hope you also take some time during this transition to take care of yourself and do the things you love! You’ve been working through the most intense time in medicine I can imagine and self care (and therapy!) are so essential to being able to make a sustainable career.

    • Amy says:

      Thanks Becca, I appreciate hearing from someone who decided to become a SMC. We’ll see if that’s what my future holds but I appreciate all the fertility and family planning advice I’ve been getting here in the comments.

  17. Leslie says:

    Congrats, Amy, you are doing great. I have a friend with two sons who have been travel nurses for years. One finally paid off his loans since he now makes double the money in covid wards. And he bought a new truck.
    I was going to suggest seeing a therapist before I read that you are. that seems smart. Although I know any nursing is stressful, you have been a nurse for only about 2 years, right? Definitely need some tips on how to handle the stress. With experience, that might get better. Good luck with everything!

    • Amy says:

      Thanks Leslie. I’ve been learning lots of tips on how to handle the stress of nursing though nursing during a pandemic is a whole different can of worms. But it has been great for job security and the travel pay is fantastic.

  18. Annie R says:

    Amy,
    I just wanted to say kudos to you and you keep doing whatever it is that is keeping you sane. I work in healthcare. Our nurses are leaving in droves because they are absolutely fried to a crisp and now watching unvaccinated people get incredibly sick and die… It’s just too much. Kids, as well. It’s horrifying. I say that to say: save so you have flexibility in the future. But do not give up the things you love in the outdoors that bring you joy.

  19. Haylie says:

    Hi Amy,

    Congrats on your plans coming together!
    I was an RN from age 22-35 when we finally had kids. The wages for travel nursing look pretty alluring, It’s tempting to come back! Alas, we are FIRED instead.
    If you choose to have kids I would probably freeze embryos instead of eggs- I went through IVF and the rates for egg thawing and consequent efficacy for fertilization aren’t great given the costs. You could read about how Google female employees realized this when they brought their eggs out of storage after 10 years. Google was one of the first companies to pay this expense so female careers wouldn’t be interrupted. Probably technology has improved, but embryos are still a better bet.
    The other thing I wanted to mention was to be careful gauging your long term horse power with nursing. Save as much as you can because that job is a physical marathon. However, I’m confident there will be plenty of types of nursing work in our lifetime.
    Agree with Liz that you should fully enjoy your outdoor pursuits and have fun!
    I wouldn’t bother with the basement renovation until you have a serious amount in cash reserves- like at least 500k. You may view the necessity of the renovation differently and you will be more likely to control costs versus if you were to finance the reno. Also, if your savings are robust you might choose to sell the house down the road anyway.

    • Amy says:

      I agree with Liz too that I should wait to do any remodel projects and decide later if it makes sense financially in terms of costs versus returns. I need to do more research about fertility treatments. I know my current insurance does not cover infertility treatments. I’ll have to decide if conceiving is something I really want as opposed to adoption. Either way, I do need to be saving for this future expense.

  20. Belinda says:

    Re. house maintenance costs: I’ve owned a house and kept expense records for 25+ years. Though I hadn’t heard that rule of thumb and didn’t think of it that way, we do spend about 2% of the house value on maintenance annually. Though as Mrs. Frugalwoods said, it varies a great deal by year. It is a budget category that I “roll over” from year to year, which is to say that if in Year 1 we budgeted $X for house maintenance and spent only $1/2X, in Year 2 I would budget another $X and keep the $1/2X from Year 1 earmarked for housing repair. That way I build up enough money for major expenses like a new roof.
    An important caveat, though, is that we get away with 2% because we do almost all the work ourselves. If we paid contractors, we’d need to spend much more than 2% to keep everything in good repair. Lower house values and older homes probably have to spend a higher percentage to keep up with maintenance.

  21. monica says:

    sounds like you are doing great! I am an SMC and happen to live in Massachusetts where fertility treatment is covered (state law) by insurance. If you find yourself seriously considering conceiving on your own, and are will ing to move, you might want to research states that mandate fertility treatment coverage.

  22. Katie says:

    Just wanted to say hi! I’m in Leavenworth, WA (likely near you!) and in a similar position. I got divorced recently and bought out my ex’s half of the house. Now I have a roommate and am renting out my unfinished basement and trying to decide whether to finish it. I have an amazing 2.5 yr old daughter, but also want more kids, so trying to figure out if I’d like to have a child on my own sometime… All the best with everything! Reach out if you’re nearby 😉

  23. Whit says:

    I agree about beefing up the cash emergency fund- it will also come in handy if you burnout from covid nursing and need to take a longer break. Kudos to you, that’s heartbreaking work.

    Also, if you have a kid, during the early days at least you won’t be spending money on outdoor hobbies – that’s $500 a month for kiddo right there in your budget without any adjustments to savings.

    • Amy says:

      I agree with beefing up my emergency fund. I’m going to take Liz’s advice and squirrel away as much as I can while travel nursing. You’re right, there’s lots of different potential uses for a large cash reserve. And yes, I’ll have to divert the $500 recreation budget to better uses, at least until the kid can walk, then they’re going skiing with me 🙂

  24. kate stephens says:

    Thank you for your service during the pandemic – so appreciate it! Keep going with the outdoor life which clearly fills your soul. I do know that outdoor gear can be an enormous money pit so I do think it is important to ensure that you achieve your goals that you carefully evaluate spending here (sounds like you probably do this anyway which is great) to ensure you are maximizing your fullfillment and accomplishing your long term goals. I particularly note your goal to be a Mom. I’m not a single Mom but the main breadwinner and I love being outside. Having time when you have a child (whether on your own or with a partner) became a massive driver for me as I love getting outside with my child. I think you are doing the right thing as a travel nurse to max out this earning opportunity that exists today, knowing taht it may not last forever. When you become a Mom you are likely to want to be close to your support network (sounds like you have a great family) so giving this some consideration and looking for a home in that area (even if it is way out in the future) may be worthy of consideration. Getting some cash flowing assets so if you do become a mom and are flying solo you can take some time away from work as needed and have the option to have some extra cash coming in so you can continue to have a great lifestyle and save at the same time whilst having a regular nursing gig. Might be worth considering house hacking (buy a duplex in the area you want to live so when the time comes you can rent one side to offset your mortgage. You sound like you are doing great and are on track. Have a clear vision of what you want life to look like when you are 40 with a young baby and march with purpose towards that goal. You will be a rock star Mom and your kid is going to have the most wonderful adventures!

    • Amy says:

      Thanks Kate for your kind words and your house-hacking, parenting suggestions. 🙂

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Kate’s wonderful comment made me think–Amy, if you have a deadline in mind for when you want to become a mom, you could travel nurse up until that point (saving tons of $$$$) and then take a few years off work while the baby is young. Once they go to school (be that all-day preK or Kindergarten), you could look into school nursing in order to fit your schedule around theirs. My mom was a school nurse all through my school years and it gave us an almost identical schedule. It doesn’t pay as well, but it might be a great way for you to balance work/kid and remove some of the stressors associated with the disconnect between school schedules (particularly summers) and traditional workplace schedules. Just an idea!

  25. Suzanne says:

    In your leases, I’d suggest putting in something about your tenants agreeing to get renters’ insurance that includes liability (very inexpensive to get usually, around $10-15 per month if tenants use the same insurance company that insures their cars). Tenants may say their stuff isn’t that expensive to replace so they don’t need renters’ insurance. Ah, but the house itself is very expensive; what if they damage it through a kitchen fire? Driving through the back of the garage? Crazy party with drunk friends punching holes in the wall?

    If you file a claim with your insurance company (btw, make sure your policy covers having the property be a rental), the insurance company will pay you your claim amount after deductible and go after the responsible party for reimbursement – your tenant!

    As far as the property being temporarily uninhabitable (kitchen fire, broken sewer line, tree falling down and crushing corner of living room, etc), generally as a landlord you don’t have to pay for substitute housing although you may have to rebate any prepaid rent and/or let your tenants out of their leases (check laws in your state, county, city, whatever to verify this). Which goes back again to why your tenants want to have renters’ insurance – it pays for temporary housing while the problem gets fixed. When tenants find out what coverage they get for their small insurance payment it generally makes sense to them to get it.

    • Amy says:

      Thank you for these suggestions. I will look into my home insurance policy ASAP to see if it covers renters. And I will ask that my current renters get renters’ insurance that includes liability.

  26. Kim says:

    Amy, thanks for working as a nurse on the frontlines of Covid care. I’m a retired RN and if I hadn’t been retired already, I would for sure have retired as soon as the pandemic hit. Nursing is a hard job, physically and emotionally, and I’m so glad you’re getting therapy as needed. One thing I’d suggest is for you to have both short and long-term disability insurance, if you don’t already. All it takes is one injury while enjoying your outdoor recreation, and you’re out of work. I’d also like to offer a different point of view regarding being a landlord that I’ve not seen yet. I have two friends who are both landlords with a mortgage to pay on their rental houses. Because of Covid, their tenants have not been paying their rent. At all. And the landlords have no recourse. Especially if you are loving being back in Bellingham and decide not to return permanently to your house, would you really want to have to deal long-distance with your tenants? Or would it just be one more stressor to deal with? Of course you could hire a management company to handle things, but if the housing market there is booming, maybe it would be better to sell the house. Just something to consider. You are in such a great position with your career as a travel nurse! Wishing you the best luck and life ever!

    • Amy says:

      Thank you for bringing up this issue of disability insurance! I have been wondering if this is something I should pursue, both because of my outdoor activities and because nursing can be such a physically demanding job. I just reviewed my benefits options and I can add both long term disability and accident insurance for $6.81 per month. I’ll go ahead and do it.

      On the subject of the house, if I do decide to rent it long term I’ll probably pay a property management company to take care of it for me especially because I won’t be living locally. My house has built equity fast since I purchased it based on online real estate estimates. I’d have to calculate how much I would have to pay in taxes if I sold it sooner than I had expected. I only bought the house in March and from my understanding, I’ll need to hold onto it for at least 12 months.

  27. LongTime Frugal says:

    I’ll just say this: people in tune with climate change and other social issues should *not* be deterred from having a child/children. Too bad if others disagree but in my opinion, a person/persons in touch/looking to the future/eyes wide open are the ones that *should* be having a child(ren). IMHO, breeders need not, well breed. Just my two cents, YMMV.

    • Nish says:

      Not to speak for Amy but as someone the same age, my questioning of having kids because of climate change is more to do with what the world will look like as they grow up – what will the islands, reefs, mountains, rainforests that I love be like in 10, 20, 30 years; how much damage have we already locked in; how optimistic am I about how much we (globally) will be able to turn things around. And gotta say, my answers vary day by day 🙂

      • Amy says:

        Nish, this is how I feel. I live where wildfires and droughts have become more catastrophic and I wonder what our world will look like in 20-30 years. Having a child biologically is more of an ethical concern for me. And yet I see others with children and want that for myself. It’s complicated.

  28. Jean says:

    Hi, I really admire you for wanting to do travel nursing. I always thought about it as a nurse but I had a family and it just wasn’t practical for that reason. I worked alongside travelers who were making many times more money than myself which was a real bummer. However, I did have the luxury of a permanent job with benefits. A small pension also due to the Adventist hospital I worked at had a pension plan but switched over in the 90’s to 401k type plans. A couple of years ago I worked with a fairly new nurse who always wanted to go to Alaska and he did with the travelers. When he came back home to florida he went back to work at the hospital or a skilled unit in the nursing home. We were always glad to see him come back. He made enough with 2 assignments that he really could have taken the rest of the year off but he continued to work and save for retirement. One traveler spent time on an Indian reservation twice as a nurse and loved it. Another husband and wife couple were both nurses and they bought or built a tiny home that they could haul with their automobile. It was tiny like 200 square feet or so but had everything they needed and could take their dog with them. Paid for itself in no time because they pocketed the housing allotment money. I agree with just waiting on the basement redo for now. You may want to make the basement your home in between assignments and rent out the entire house above ground. I have read about people who do that for several years and manage to pay the entire mortgage off and then move themselves back above ground and use the basement as a rental after the mortgage is paid for. You have so many options as a nurse. You also have many opportunities to meet people. Perhaps you will meet a young male RN who shares your interests and the two of you can be travelers together. Good luck with everything you do and please post your update in the future.

  29. Jean says:

    Read retirement blogs for suggestions on investing. Darrow Kirkpatrick started a retirement blog called Can I retire yet. It is now run by an early retired physical therapist. Darrow was an engineer who retired early by earning really good money, being frugal and quitting at I think it was age 53. You do not have to stock pick. Vanguard has everything you could possibly want in funds. They have target funds also that start out more risky but become less risky as you age. Say your target is 20 or 25 years from now, you can get a target fund for the year 2040 or 2050. Start at the beginning of the blogs and read through them. Always read the comments too. I have learned so much from reading these blogs and the comments. There are books like Your money or your life which I think is a must read for young people. The object to investing though is put the money in and don’t ever touch it for anything, never take a loan out of it , etc. leave it there, let it grow, let the market go up and down just don’t mess with it. This has served us well.

    • Amy says:

      Thanks for the suggestions. My retirement funds from my previous employer are in target date funds though my new employer didn’t offer very good TDF options. So I chose my own portfolio which hopefully is well balanced. My current spread is 40% FID 500 IDX, 30% FID US Bond IDX, 15% FID Small Cap IDX, and 15% FID International IDX. There weren’t very many options available and these were the best ones I could see with very low expense ratios. I’ll look into your blog and book recommendations, thank you.

  30. Mel says:

    Hello. I have been an RN for 27 years. If I was 20 years younger I would be all over travel nursing. My body can’t handle the demands of bedside nursing anymore. I just moved to a desk job, but remember when we only had one mask for the whole shift. Your outdoor time, in nature, is so important, for a mental break. Glad you have that hobby. I’ve always maxed out my 401 and that was my path to financial security. I vote for adopting, a young child, who is in foster care. I doubt that is expensive, and wouldn’t put time constraints on fertility. Being a landlord is not my thing, but with property management, seems less stressful. No real advice here, but wish you all the best.

    • Amy says:

      I do like the idea of adopting especially because it gives me more time to focus on myself and enjoying my solo woman adventures. At the beginning of this pandemic, we were using the same n-95 for five shifts and had to bring our own homemade masks when not in ! The hospital I’m at now gives me a new n-95 every time I don and doff for an isolation room.

  31. Hannah Whitaker says:

    Do not skimp on having fun outdoors! Your snowmobile is less than many bikes. (We traded a car for a mountain bike once….)

    Just wanted to add a note to consider lifestyle and childcare down the road for being able to continue outdoor sports with small children. It’s hard in the early years without family or community support. There is a lot you can do with small ones like hikes and we’ve even pulled them in a trailer in backcountry cross country skiing, but it’s really different. It’s also harder to make outdoor pursuit friends/companions in new areas once there are small children in the equation, though I’m sure that depends on the community too. It’s wonderful, and worth it, and feasible, but has been surprisingly harder for me to figure out than I expected because I don’t think I planned enough for the reality.

    • Amy says:

      I am trying to enjoy my single lady life as much as I can because I know my future will change. Both of my parents read my case study and said they would love to support me anyway they can if I decide to do parenting solo. They have grandparent fever, lol.
      I’ve been looking at upgrading my mountain bike but I get crazy sticker shock when I see the $5-10k price tags. My current 2013 bike has even held its value with the pandemic bike shortage. It’s insane.

  32. Tara R says:

    Amy, THANK YOU, for all you do as a nurse during this difficult time. It’s fabulous to hear you prioritize your outdoor pursuits and your mental health. I spent 12 years in Alaska (and miss it after relocating to SoCal for work) and know several nurses working at Providence that enjoy their work. I met my husband skiing at Alyeska Resort- we love the outdoors, and taking backcountry trips. Congrats on your upcoming assignments, and enjoy a fabulous winter season!

    • Amy says:

      I have friends at Providence as well and spent a few spring seasons in Girdwood and Valdez. Alaska is amazing and I think about snowboarding and snowmachining up there ALL THE TIME. It’s a magical place. And the odds are good for meeting an outdoorsy man who enjoys winter sports in AK 😉

      • Tara R says:

        Amen to the outdoorsy man- Alaska is not lacking! 😉 So you know what kind of backcountry adventures exist, and it is limitless in The Last Frontier, truly. We are currently plotting either a rafting trip on the Noatak, or a backcountry ski trip maybe…Talkeetna, Fairbanks, someone else. I miss AK and I hope you can make it up in the Spring for your adventures too! Or connect with Providence- that’s my vote 😉

  33. Jess says:

    It seems that neither your heart, your job, nor your family are tied to the location of your current house. I would really explore whether the concept of being a homeowner/ landlord is as valuable to you as liquidity in this stage of your life. As Mrs Frugalwoods pointed out above- the additional emergency fund required is extensive. Would you rather that $$ be available for fertility treatments / extended leave to care for a child or potential broken water heaters? Could you be the “infrequent renter” and have a home base for gaps between assignments with family/friends?

    • Amy says:

      Ugh, this is a good point. I’ve stressed about this and have worried that I bit the bullet buying a house too soon, especially because I moved away six months later. But I know I’m building equity and if I can actually get more of my mortgage/expenses covered from my renters, it should be a good investment/source of income. Currently, I am the infrequent renter and I do need a home base between assignments. It gives me peace of mind knowing I always have a place of my own to go to. Plus my current renters are friends of mine who are happy to have me home when and if I need it.

  34. Clancy says:

    Amy, thank you for all that you do to keep others healthy, especially in this challenging pandemic! You have chosen a commendable career with purpose. I love the passion you have for the outdoors and agree with Liz, and all who commented, that you keep investing in quality gear in order to get the most out of your experiences!

    Side note, I grew up in the Methow Valley and loved it for all of the fun, outdoor activities! My parents introduced me to skiing when I was 4 and took advantage of the small ski hill nearby with weekly trips! I live in Oregon now (after many years spent working in the Bay Area) and am thankful for all of the nature that surrounds me. Enjoy this season of your life…I think you are asking all the right questions and you are clearly putting the pieces in place for an amazing life!

    • Amy says:

      I love the Methow! It was one of the reasons I moved to Central Washington and I love going up there for backcountry skiing. It’s a magical place. And thank you for your kindness and support.

  35. Kimberly says:

    Amy, I really enjoyed and related to your story! I moved to the ICU during Covid and plan to move to travel to make as much money as possible. As many retired nurses have said, there is a limit to how much bedside you can do physically and mentally especially taking care of the current population in hospitals. I feel you.

    As for your rental, I would be careful about how the lease is written for your tenets. As a travel nurse, make sure your tax home is secure and that renting out your house does not affect claiming it as your primary residence. The housing stipends for travel assignments are because of duplicate expenses such as paying a mortgage and rent. I would speak with an accountant about making sure all your mortgage is seen as a business expense rather than a personal expense to not have to pay taxes on that stipend. Your First Rental Property from Afford Anything is a great course for learning to find and manage long term rentals if you decide to go that route.

    I agree whole heartedly to spend money on things that make your life better. Recreation or procreation, if it makes you happy go for it! Congratulations on your next steps!

    • Amy says:

      Oh! This is a good point about maintaining my tax home. It might be in my best interest to just rent out room by room instead of renting my entire house so I can maintain it as my primary residence. Plus I don’t have to find storage for all my stuff. Thank you for the suggestions regarding my mortgage as a business expense and the rental property course. I’ve always done my own taxes but I know my situation will be too complicated this year so I appreciate all the travel nurse and property management suggestions!

  36. Andrea says:

    Late to the game, but a question / suggestion about your basement – would it be possible to just install a door with a lock at the top / bottom of the stairs so that the basement could become a studio where you store your equipment and stay when you’re back in the area (as it sounds very close to many of the outdoor activities you enjoy)? That would allow you to kick a major remodel down the road some while you decide what to do with the property in the longer term, give you secure storage for expensive gear near the places you use it, and let you (or your friends / family) visit the area whenever you want. Also a place to move furniture that the tenants may not want to use 🙂

    • Amy says:

      Yes! This is also the idea I’ve been having. There’s also a large shop space in the basement with a door that I could lock and use for storage if I wanted to allow renters to use the basement. One issue is the washer/dryer are in the basement so upstairs renters would need access to the basement until I sorted out a different situation.

  37. Jessie says:

    Pay off your Student Loans ASAP. The American taxpayers will never go for student loan forgiveness (and why bankruptcy laws do not apply to student loans.) You have a great nursing career and can afford to pay the loans off without undue hardship. Our country has a big enough national debt!

    • Amy says:

      My parents are paying them and my Perkins loan doesn’t accrue interest and will be totally forgiven in five years. Someone else made this suggestion so I guess I didn’t illustrate this very well. I probably shouldn’t have put them on the debts list. I’m sorry you feel stressed about the current state of our national debt but not paying them off urgently works best for my financial situation.

      • Jessie says:

        That’s great, Amy, and thanks for the clarification. Yes, honestly every American should be stressed about the state of our National Debt. I am a huge proponent of a balanced budget for our country and wish that our leaders were on the same page. (https://www.usdebtclock.org/). I’d love to hear Liz’s take on a balanced budgets as well.

  38. Tonya says:

    Nothing to add except that outdoors is therapeutic and you should enjoy your spending toward that rewarding part of your life. Sorry the unvaccinated hospitalized are so difficult on your mental health. It really must be discouraging and disheartening to see something that could have been prevented.

    Great job on this case study!!

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