One of our horses saying hi and hoping for a treat

Marie and her husband Ryan live on a 25-acre horse farm in rural Florida with their 10-year-old son and lab puppy. Ryan, who works as a firefighter, is incredibly handy and built their house 8 years ago. Marie is an elementary school teacher who enjoys her job. The family loves their rural lifestyle and the fact that their extended families live nearby. The only problem is their struggle to live within their means and the resulting debt. We’re off to sunny Florida to help Marie and Ryan chart a sustainable, debt-free path forward!

What’s a Reader Case Study?

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 comments section.

For an example, check out the last case studyCase 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.

Can I Be A Reader Case Study?

There are three options for folks interested in receiving a holistic Frugalwoods financial consultation:

  1. Apply to be an on-the-blog Case Study subject here.
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  3. Schedule an hourlong call with me here.

To learn more about one-on-one consultations with me, check this out.

Please note that space is limited for all of the above and most especially for on-the-blog Case Studies. I do my best to accommodate everyone who applies, but there are a limited number of slots available each month. Another way to get Frugalwoodsy advice is to…

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The Goal Of Reader Case Studies

Reader Case Studies 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 90 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, queer, bisexual and polyamorous people. I’ve featured women, non-binary folks and men. I’ve featured transgender and cisgender people. I’ve had cat people and dog people. I’ve featured folks from the US, Australia, Canada, England, South Africa, Spain, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany 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.

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 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 Marie, today’s Case Study subject, take it from here!

Marie’s Story

This was taken on a winter day in Florida!

Hello from sunny Florida! My name is Marie, age 44, and my husband’s name is Ryan, age 42. He’s a firefighter for our county and I’m a teacher at our local elementary school. We have a son who is 10 years old and a lab who is still a puppy! We live on a 25 acre horse farm in a house that Ryan built 8 years ago. Our horse farm does not generate any revenue, but we do benefit from the agriculture exemption on our property taxes.We absolutely love our home! It is very remote and the closest grocery store is 30 miles away! We both have to commute to work due to living in such a rural area and all trips to town are carefully thought out. We love the isolation and are fortunate to have lots of family nearby.

Marie & Ryan’s Hobbies

We’re all homebodies who love to be outdoors and go camping (or is it glamping when you’re in a camper?). I enjoy reading, hiking, fishing and horseback riding. Ryan is an old soul who loves to build things and is constantly in our massive barn working on a project. Our barn is now bigger than our house! It’s over 96 feet long and houses our camper, boat, tractor, an enclosed work shop, a saw/wood shop, our vintage car, horse stalls, etc. Ryan is extremely creative and can build or fix anything. He built our entire home and barn himself. He loves to go to the local dump and retrieve things that he turns into useful items. He really enjoys making new things out of old metal, wood, scraps, etc. Making knives is one of his many hobbies (see pic).

Marie & Ryan’s History

knife made by Ryan

Ryan and I got married right after high school. Our families did not help pay for college. We financed–and then paid off–Ryan’s training as a firefighter. I went to a local university and have two graduate degrees. As a teacher, I qualify to have my student loans forgiven under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (where you are employed by a public entity and loans are forgiven after 120 payments are made).

I am grandfathered in and the loans should be forgiven in June 2023. It has been emotionally taxing for me to pursue PSLF–I could write a book! The back and forth with the loan servicer was a truly awful experience. I ended up contacting my local Congressman and the Ombudsman in an effort to have the payments I’ve made count toward PSLF. Very long story short, all is now sorted out and I am mere months away from loan forgiveness! I am not sure how Biden’s recent announcement of forgiving $10k worth of student loans will affect me since I’m already enrolled in PSLF. I guess we will see!

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

When I initially reached out to Mrs. FW, we were struggling each month to cover our expenses. However, we’ve both been fortunate to receive raises since then! Our income increased by about 8% and we are so incredibly thankful to have steady, good paying jobs that we both enjoy. I still wanted to be a case study, though! There have been times when our spending was more than our income, which resulted in our credit card debt. We’ve committed to living within our means and no longer use credit cards. I will say that the credit card debt keeps me awake at night.

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

Our camper

Our large extended family that all live close by! Ryan and I spend a lot of our time with our extended family. All of our vacations are in our camper with family. We go on multiple trips a year–last year we camped for 37 days total and may exceed that this year! They are all planned out in advance, and I treasure this time my son gets to have with his grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

We also eat almost all of our evening meals during the week with extended family! We take turns and let me tell you–it is a well-oiled machine! I am so fortunate to have family nearby who are supportive and lovely to be around. Our “turn” comes once a week and we cook a big meal and feed anywhere from 7-10 people. The other evening meals are at nearby family members’ homes, and Ryan and I take leftovers for the next day’s lunch. We also go out to eat once a week and that is often with extended family, too!

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

Um nothing? If I had to say, it would be the tractor and camper payments we have to make each month. Ryan and I both have side hustles that bring in income each month. I pay the camper payment and he pays the tractor payment. The camper was purchased with help from the family members we vacation with.  They also pay for the insurance and registration each year. When each are paid off, we will likely keep them both and not upgrade. Most months our side hustles bring in more money than those payments require, so we each keep the surplus as our “fun” money.

Where Marie Wants to be in Ten Years:

1) Finances: 

  • I’d love to be free of credit card debt and have our HELOC, tractor, and camper paid off so that we can help with our son’s college tuition.

2) Lifestyle: 

  • We’d love to change nothing.
  • We’d love to continue living this rural farm life and spending tons of time with our families.
  • We are worried about our parents needing us to help care for them. I have no idea how to plan for that. They do not have long-term care insurance.

3) Career:

  • I will still be teaching at the same school, I’m sure. I love my job.
  • Ryan has to work 4 more years as a firefighter before he can retire. He will definitely continue working but isn’t sure what he wants to do.
  • With his skillset, I am confident finding employment will not be an issue. So I guess he will be on career #2, although he’s not sure what that will be!

Marie & Ryan’s Finances


Item Amount Notes
Marie’s net income $3,350 Minus family life and dental insurance and contribution to pension
Ryan’s net income $3,100 Minus family life and health insurance and contribution to pension
Ryan’s side hustles $500 pays the tractor payment each month
Marie’s side hustle $230 pays the camper (5th wheel) payment each month
Monthly subtotal: $7,180
Annual total: $86,160

Mortgage Details

Item Outstanding loan balance Interest Rate Loan Period and Terms Equity Purchase price and year
Mortgage on house plus 25 acres $212,220 3.00% 20 year fixed rate mortgage $167,780 Appraised at $380,000 in 2020 but likely worth more now; built ourselves in 2014; refinanced in Dec 2020 for a lower interest rate and to change from a 30 year term to a 20 year term


Item Outstanding loan balance Interest Rate Loan Period & Required Monthly Payment
Marie’s student loans $107,290 0% Currently in deferment but payment will be around $500/month starting January 2023 until loans are forgiven in June 2023
HELOC $42,861 6% Payment is $482/month; loan will be paid off in 2029
Marie’s truck $26,619 2.99% I pay the required $589 monthly payment; loan will be paid off in 2026
2021 John Deere tractor $19,414 0% Ryan pays the required $500 payment from his side hustles; loan will be paid off in 2026
2017 5th Wheel Camper $11,493 5.25% I pay the required $230 monthly payment from my side hustle; loan will be paid off in 2026
Discover credit card $8,211 0% I pay the required $168 monthly payment
Citi credit card $3,808 0% I pay the required $60 monthly payment
Total: $219,696


Item Amount Notes Interest Name of bank/brokerage
Cash $5,000 kept in our safe n/a n/a
Son’s savings account $4,819 He contributes to this and we will allow him to spend it how he wishes, but more than likely it will be to buy a vehicle earns 1.5% interest local credit union
Checking account $4,000 family account – all bills paid out of this account earns no interest local credit union
Savings account $2,500 part of emergency fund earns 1% interest local credit union
Online savings account $750 $50 from each paycheck gets automatically transferred here earns 2.25% interest Discover
Ryan’s pension account unknown – we contribute 3% from our paychecks and our employer contributes as well (our statements only show what our monthly pension will be and never show how much is in the account) Ryan is in year 21 of service and can retire in 4 years since he is high risk, which will be age 46 for him n/a FRS
Marie’s pension account unknown – we contribute 3% from our paychecks and our employer contributes as well (our statements only show what our monthly pension will be and never show how much is in the account) I am in year 17 and will work for 30 years before retiring at age 58 n/a FRS
Total: $17,069


Vehicle make, model, year Valued at Mileage Paid off?
2019 Ram 2500 4×4 $38,000 55,000 No, the amount I owe is listed under debts
2021 John Deere tractor plus attachments $35,000 250 hours No, the amount I owe is listed under debts
2017 5th Wheel Camper $25,000 n/a No, the amount I owe is listed under debts
2001 Dodge Ram 2500 Diesel 4×4 $15,000 150,000 yes
Vintage car $15,000 no idea – speedometer hasn’t worked in years yes (we inherited this)
Flat bed trailer to haul tractor $6,500 n/a yes
Bass boat $5,000 n/a yes (we inherited this)
horse trailer $4,000 n/a yes
Total: $143,500


Item Amount Notes
Mortgage $1,542 includes property taxes and house insurance
Marie’s truck payment $589 We will keep this truck once it’s paid off
Tractor payment $500 Ryan covers all costs related to the tractor including the monthly payment
Student loans payment $0 currently Not sure how to plan for this since I will only have payments from the end of loan deferral to June 2023 (I still haven’t been told what my monthly payment would be, but I estimate ~$500).
HELOC payment $482
Groceries $480 monthly average for food only (we meal plan!)
Gas $400 gas for Marie’s truck, the lawn mower, and the generator
Diesel $400 diesel for Ryan’s truck and the tractor
Camper $230 Marie covers the monthly payment; other family members cover the insurance, registration, etc.
Discover credit card payment $168 minimum payment
Restaurants $160 we eat out once a week on average
Cell phones (3 lines) $145 includes data for each line due to poor internet. This will change when the new fiber optic service is complete and then we can switch to something cheaper.
Car insurance through Progressive $140 includes both trucks and our vintage car; recently shopped around and was not able to find anything cheaper
Electric $130 monthly average
Medical $120 8 Rx per month total for the family, weekly allergy shots for Ryan and our son, doc visit copays
Farm expenses $120 monthly average for feed, hay, dewormer, fly control, farrier, etc.
Vacation/travel $100 monthly average – we go on 5-6 camping trips with extended family – they pay the camping fees so we only have to pay travel expenses and our part of the food related costs
Internet $62 best we can do until the new fiber optic service is complete in summer 2023
Citi credit card payment $60 minimum payment
Propane $50 monthly average – tank gets filled two times per year and is used by our stove, tankless hot water heater, Blackstone, grill, etc.
Pet $50 monthly average for dog food, vet visits, flea and tick control, heartworm prevention, nail trims
Household supplies $50 monthly average – we stock up every 3-4 months at Sam’s Club for garbage bags, dishwasher tabs, paper products, etc.
Clothing $50 we try to buy used but do buy new shoes for our son when he needs them
Gifts $50 monthly average for Christmas, birthdays, gifts, etc. (our extended family draws names at Christmas)
Amazon $50 monthly average – we tend to order from here often since we live so far away from stores (most recent purchases were coffee, wiper blades, and a humane mouse trap!)
Monthly pest control for house, barn, and camper $45
Personal care $30 monthly average for haircuts for all of us
Night out with the ladies! $30 I go out with friends/co-workers once a month (every so often I’ll host this at my house, but I’ve found the out of pocket cost is cheaper for me to meet them at a local bar or restaurant)
Alcohol $30 Beer, wine, etc.
Vehicle registrations $20 monthly average
Sirius satellite radio $17
Netflix $10
Disney + $9
Monthly subtotal: $6,319
Annual total: $75,828

Credit Card Strategy

Card Name Rewards Type? Bank/card company
Discover it 2% cash back but we chose it because of the 0% interest rate Discover
Citi Diamond Preferred No idea – we chose it because of the 0% interest rate Citi

Marie’s Questions For You:

1) Our main concern is retirement, like so many readers I’m sure. 

  • We both have pension plans through the state of Florida; but, will that be enough?
  • Here are our estimated pension and social security totals (if it’s still around!):
    • Ryan’s pension starting in July 2026: $4,069 per month (continues to pay throughout my lifetime, too)
    • Marie’s pension starting in June 2037: $2,721 per month (ends when I die)
    • Ryan’s social security starting at age 62 in July 2042 is $1,477 per month
    • Marie’s social security starting at age 62 in October 2040 is $1,429

2) How do we balance the lifestyle we share with our extended family and still live within our means?

3) How do we pay off our credit card debt?

  • Or should we focus on the HELOC since the interest rate is higher?

Side notes:

  • Ryan has strong personal beliefs about keeping our money liquid or in items that retain their value.
  • That being said, it is unlikely he will agree to moving our cash emergency fund into an interest-bearing account.
  • For now, it is in our very secure safe that is attached to the foundation of our home. Ryan wants to bury it, so this is the compromise!  Did I mention he is an old soul? 😉

Liz Frugalwoods’ Recommendations

A horse farm! Marie and Ryan are living my childhood dream!!! I’m so excited to have them as our Case Study today and not just because of the HORSE FOTOS.  I’m excited because I think they find themselves in a position many readers will recognize: they have relatively high fixed expenses, which makes it really challenging for them to break even each month, let alone save money. I don’t say this to blame or judge them, but rather as an observation of the crux of their financial challenges. I so appreciate their courage and transparency in sharing their story with us today–it’s not easy to assemble all of this financial information, let alone share it with the world.

I also want to thank Marie and Ryan for both working as first responders. Teachers and firefighters are the backbone of our communities and I am so grateful that this couple has chosen to dedicate their lives to helping others. Thank you, Marie and Ryan!

I will respond to all of Marie’s questions, but I want to start with an analysis of their expenses to explain what I mean by “fixed costs.”

Marie and Ryan’s Expenses

In reviewing their monthly expenses, I was struck by how very frugal they already are in most of the areas I advise folks to cut back on. To get a clearer picture of how to help them, I categorized all of their expenses as fixed, reduceable or discretionary. Side note: my free Uber Frugal Month Challenge guides you through doing this categorization on your own, so consider signing up if you too would like to do this!

Here’s what those three categories mean:

  • Fixed expenses are things you cannot change. Examples: your mortgage/rent, debt repayments, health insurance.
  • Reduceable expenses are necessary for human survival, but you control how much you spend on them. Examples: groceries, gas for the car, utilities.
  • Discretionary expenses are things that aren’t necessary for your survival and can be eliminated entirely. Examples: restaurants, travel, gifts, clothing, haircuts.

Marie & Ryan’s Fixed Monthly Costs

Item Amount Notes Category Liz’s Notes
Mortgage $1,542 includes property taxes and house insurance Fixed
Marie’s truck payment $589 We will keep this truck once it’s paid off Fixed
Tractor payment $500 Ryan covers all costs related to the tractor including the monthly payment Fixed
HELOC payment $482 Fixed
Camper payment $230 Marie covers the monthly payment; other family members cover the insurance, registration, etc. Fixed
Discover credit card payment $168 minimum payment Fixed
Car insurance through Progressive $140 includes both trucks and our vintage car; recently shopped around and was not able to find anything cheaper Fixed Normally I would list this as “Reduceable,” but Marie stated she’s already shopped this around and not found anything cheaper
Medical $120 8 Rx per month total for the family, weekly allergy shots for Ryan and our son, doc visit copays Fixed This could be “Reduceable,” but Marie would have to weigh in as it’s equally possible this is mandatory and fixed
Internet $62 best we can do until the new fiber optic service is complete in summer 2023 Fixed Normally I would list this as “Reduceable,” but Marie noted there’s no other option until the new fiber service comes to town
Citi credit card payment $60 minimum payment Fixed
Vehicle registrations $20 monthly average Fixed
Student loans payment $0 Currently deferred and will be forgiven in June 2023. If the deferral period ends prior to June, I don’t know what my  monthly payment will be. I’d estimate $500 Fixed Even though this is currently $0, I include it so that we don’t lose sight of this potential future $500 required payment
Monthly subtotal: $3,913
Annual total: $46,956

And there’s the rub. Even if Marie and Ryan cut out every discretionary item and reduce everything reduceable, their fixed costs–no matter what–clock in at almost $4,000 a month.

This is the insidious nature of debt: it keeps your fixed costs high, which often means you have to take on more debt.

Again, this is not a criticism of Marie and Ryan; rather, it’s an illustration of how debt can easily become a lifestyle. It’s kind of like me and Cheetos–I can’t eat just one, so I don’t buy them unless I’m prepared to eat the whole bag. In the same way, it’s often really hard to have just one debt because it compounds and builds. The vehicle debts meant that Marie and Ryan needed to use their credit cards in order to cover their other expenses, which means they now have credit card debt, which means their debt continues to grow. But, all is not lost and this is not a day for doom or gloom!

Marie & Ryan’s Priority #1: Eliminate Debts

Ryan made this from wild flowers growing near our property

In light of their fixed costs conundrum, my top recommendation for Marie and Ryan is to work on eliminating these debts as best they can. The beautiful thing about paying off debt is that:

  • It reduces your monthly expenses, which means you’re less likely to go into debt again.
  • It eliminates the interest you’re paying on the debt.
  • It enables you to start funding your future as opposed to paying for your past.

Let’s take a look at each of their debts:

1) Marie’s Student Loans: $107,290, 0% interest

  • This debt has the easiest answer because they’re currently in deferral and Marie has followed the arduous, harrowing process of qualifying for total loan forgiveness through PSLF. Well done, Marie!
  • My advice here is to cross your fingers that federal student loan deferral continues and that the loans are forgiven in full this summer.

2) Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC): $42,861, 6% interest

3) Marie’s truck: $26,619, 2.99% interest

4) 2021 John Deere tractor, $19,414, 0% interest

  • Since this debt has a 0% interest rate, I suggest they continue paying it off according to the schedule.
  • Crucially, they should plan to keep this tractor for the long haul so that they don’t need to go into debt again for a new tractor.
Getting the side eye from my fav horse

5) Credit cards: $12,019, 0% interest 

  • Discover credit card: $8,211, 0% interest
  • Citi credit card: $3,808, 0% interest

While Marie asked about paying off their $12,019 in credit card debt, that’s actually not the most mathematically smart move. Why? Because of the interest rates.

Their credit cards currently both have a 0% interest rate, which is great! The enormous caveat and caution is that it’s highly likely this is an introductory offer that will go away.

Marie should comb through the fine print for both of their cards to see when/if this 0% interest ends. Credit cards typically charge the absolute highest interest rate of almost all debt–usually in the 15%-20% range–and so Marie needs to know for certain what the terms are around this 0% interest rate.

6) 5th Wheel Camper, $11,493, 5.25% interest

This is the debt I suggest Marie and Ryan focus on paying off first.

Here’s my rationale:

  • It has the second-highest interest rate of all their debt.
  • While the HELOC’s rate is a tad higher at 6%, I encourage them to focus on this debt because they’ll be able to pay it off a lot faster since it’s less than the HELOC.
  • In this way, I’m recommending a combination of the Debt Snowball and Debt Avalanche re-payment methodologies.

→The Debt Snowball approach advises people to pay off their debts from smallest dollar amount to largest.

→The Debt Avalanche approach advises people to pay off their debts from highest to lowest interest rate.

Debt Avalanche is technically more correct because you stand to lose more money to high interest. However, Debt Snowball has a very high psychological appeal as it enables folks to wipe out smaller debts and feel victorious. The idea is that these smaller victories will encourage people to continue paying down their debts. As it happens, Marie and Ryan’s debts give them the perfect opportunity to essentially do both!

How To Pay Off Debt Early

You’ve got two options to choose from:

  1. Earn more
  2. Spend less

Since Marie and Ryan have quite a bit of debt, I strongly suggest they tackle it using both of these tactics. I’m impressed that they both already have side hustles and my question is: can you ramp those up and earn even more?

On the spending side, let’s take a look at their reduceable and discretionary expenses:

Marie & Ryan’s Discretionary Monthly Costs

Item Amount Notes Category
Restaurants $160 we eat out once a week on average Discretionary
Vacation/travel $100 monthly average – we go on 5-6 camping trips with extended family – they pay the camping fees so we only have to pay travel expenses and our part of the food related costs Discretionary
Clothing $50 we try to buy used but do buy new shoes for our son when he needs them Discretionary
Gifts $50 monthly average for Christmas, birthdays, gifts, etc. (our extended family draws names at Christmas) Discretionary
Personal care $30 monthly average for haircuts for all of us Discretionary
Night out with the ladies! $30 I go out with friends/co-workers once a month (every so often I’ll host this at my house, but I’ve found the out of pocket cost is cheaper for me to meet them at a local bar or restaurant) Discretionary
Alcohol $30 Beer, wine, etc. Discretionary
Sirius satellite radio $17 Discretionary
Netflix $10 Discretionary
Disney + $9 Discretionary
Monthly subtotal: $486
Annual total: $5,832

I am not normally an advocate for cutting out every last discretionary line item because it’s usually the fun stuff!!! But in this case, I suggest Marie and Ryan seriously consider eliminating all of their discretionary spending as they employ the Debt Snowball/Avalanche method. I think the important thing to remember is that they don’t need to eliminate these expenses forever–just while they’re paying off their debt.

Marie & Ryan’s Reduceable Monthly Costs

Item Amount Marie’s Notes Category Liz’s Notes Suggested New Amount
Groceries $480 monthly average for food only (we meal plan!) Reduceable Honestly, this is so low I should be taking advice from Marie!!! I’ll leave this as is. $480
Gas $400 gas for Marie’s truck, the lawn mower, and the generator Reduceable This is a tough one. I totally understand the farm-related need for gasses of all kinds, so the question here is if anything can be eliminated? $300
Diesel $400 diesel for Ryan’s truck and the tractor Reduceable Ditto $300
Cell phones (3 lines) $145 includes data for each line due to poor internet. This will change when the new fiber optic service is complete and then we can switch to something cheaper. Reduceable Once they have reliable internet, this’ll be a slam dunk to switch to an MVNO. We have zero cell reception at our house, but use an MVNO with no problem over our fiber optic WiFi.

I pay ~$15 per phone, so that’s the price I’ll list for them.

Electric $130 monthly average Reduceable Where can they cut back here? This’ll be a question of analyzing their electricity usage and determining where less is possible. $100
Farm expenses $120 monthly average for feed, hay, dewormer, fly control, farrier, etc. Reduceable? Any opportunities for reduction here? $100
Propane $50 monthly average – tank gets filled two times per year and is used by our stove, tankless hot water heater, Blackstone, grill, etc. Reduceable Any opportunities for reduction here? $40
Pet $50 monthly average for dog food, vet visits, flea and tick control, heartworm prevention, nail trims Reduceable Any opportunities for reduction here? Generics, etc? $40
Household supplies $50 monthly average – we stock up every 3-4 months at Sam’s Club for garbage bags, dishwasher tabs, paper products, etc. Reduceable This is already pretty low, but what are the opportunities to reduce this and the “Amazon” line item? $25
Amazon $50 monthly average – we tend to order from here often since we live so far away from stores (most recent purchases were coffee, wiper blades, and a humane mouse trap!) Reduceable $25
Monthly pest control for house, barn, and camper $45 Reduceable Any opportunities for reduction here? $40
Monthly subtotal: $1,920 Suggested new monthly subtotal: $1,495
Annual total: $23,040 Suggested new annual total: $17,940

If Marie and Ryan are able to commit to eliminating all of their discretionary expenses and reducing their reduceables as I outline above, they’ll be on track to save an additional $911 ($486 in discretionary + $425 in reduceables) per month. They’re currently saving $861 per month (their monthly income is $7,180 – their current spending of $6,319 = $861). Added together, they could save a whopping $1,771 per month. 

If they chuck that full $1,771 per month at their $11,493 5th Wheel Camper debt, it will be paid off in just over SIX MONTHS, which is amazingly fast!!!!!!

Now we get to see the debt snowball in action:

If they continue saving that $1,771 per month and add in the $230 they were previously paying on the Camper debt, they now have $2,001 per month to throw at their next debt.

Assuming the tractor and credit cards stay at 0% interest (and don’t ever increase), next on the chopping block are:

  • Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC): $42,861, 6% interest
  • Marie’s truck: $26,619, 2.99% interest

Now, Marie and Ryan have a decision to make:

Option #1: They could go with the Debt Snowball, which would tell them to pay off the truck first since it’s a smaller dollar amount. If they go that route and throw the $2,001 per month at the truck, it’ll be paid off in 13 months, which again, is FANTASTIC and super duper quick!!!!!!!

Option #2: If they instead want to pursue Debt Avalanche and pay off the highest interest rate debt first–the HELOC–that’ll be paid off in 21 months! Which is less than two years! Not bad at all.

The other variables here are the monthly payments on the HELOC and truck. If they go with Option #1, they’ll eliminate the truck payment in 13 months. Then, if they add the former $589 truck payment to the $2,001 they’re saving, they’ll have $2,590 per month to plow into the HELOC.

This is the nature of debt repayment–as you continue to pay off each debt, you turn around and put that former debt payment towards paying off the next debt.

The Ultimate Goal: No More Debt

Once Marie and Ryan have paid off all of their debts, their monthly spending will be $2,029 less. If they commit to saving this money and building up an emergency fund and savings reserve, they won’t need to finance future large purchases.

The ultimate goal is for them to get out of this debt cycle and create a situation where they can live within their means and pay cash for everything.

Stop Using Credit Cards

We spend a lot of time on our porches

I also recommend that Marie and Ryan stop using their credit cards. The cards have enabled them to go into debt and so I think not having cards to fall back on will help them terminate this debt cycle. If you can’t charge things, you have to spend within your means. Anything that Marie and Ryan can do to curb their spending will help them pay off their current debt and avoid future debt.

Getting out of debt–and thereby reducing their monthly expenses–also relates to Marie’s first question:

Marie’s Question #1: Our main concern is retirement, like so many readers I’m sure.

One truism of retirement (and life before retirement) is that the less you spend, the less you need to earn and save.

Marie further shared:

We both have pension plans through the state of Florida; but, will that be enough? Here are our estimated pension and social security totals (if it’s still around!):

    • Ryan’s pension starting in July 2026: $4,069 per month (continues to pay throughout my lifetime, too)
    • Marie’s pension starting in June 2037: $2,721 per month (ends when I die)
    • Ryan’s social security starting at age 62 in July 2042 is $1,477 per month
    • Marie’s social security starting at age 62 in October 2040 is $1,429

A major question I have for Marie is if their pensions are inflation-adjusted. Social Security is inflation-adjusted, which is good. Many pensions are too, but Marie and Ryan should dig into the paperwork on their state pensions to ensure they understand the guidelines.

Our horse farm (taken before we added on to the barn)

As it stands now, they should be able to expect a grand total of $9,696 per month in July 2042 (when Ryan is 62). Assuming their pensions are inflation-adjusted and assuming their spending keeps up with inflation, but doesn’t dramatically increase, they should be fine. Again, the lower their spending in retirement, the more security they’ll have. And not just security, but freedom!

If Marie and Ryan can enter their retirement debt-free and with manageable monthly spending, they’ll have enough money to spend on fun stuff too! When they pay their mortgage off in 20 years, their monthly spending will be that much lower and they’ll have that much more financial independence and freedom.

All that being said, pensions are not a sure thing. Since they work for the government, I’d say the likelihood of their pensions defaulting is much lower, but, it’s still a possibility. However, we can only work with the knowledge we have at hand and, it certainly seems like they will be fine, provided they both work until the necessary ages to qualify for their full pension benefits.

Marie’s Question #2: How do we balance the lifestyle we share with our extended family and still live within our means?

I think the answer is: with honesty. It sounds like Marie and Ryan have wonderfully close-knit, loving extended families and I imagine they will understand. If it were me, I would be as forthright as you’re comfortable being and share something along the lines of:

“We need to cut back on our spending right now because we really want to pay off our debts. We have a goal of being debt free and we’re excited to start the new year off by saving more money! This means we need to bow out of restaurant meals for now since it’s one of the places where we can cut back. But, we’ll of course see you for dinner at our house.”

It appears that the primary family-related line items are:

Item Amount Notes
Restaurants $160 we eat out once a week on average
Vacation/travel $100 monthly average – we go on 5-6 camping trips with extended family – they pay the camping fees so we only have to pay travel expenses and our part of the food related costs
Gifts $50 monthly average for Christmas, birthdays, gifts, etc. (our extended family draws names at Christmas)
Monthly subtotal: $310
Annual total: $3,720

This will be a change to how Marie and Ryan are accustomed to living and spending time with their families, but they need to find a way to dig themselves out of the pile of debt they’re in. A few ideas:

Our 25 acre horse farm

For gifts: could they give gifts of time or service? For example, a few hours of handyman services or babysitting or a home cooked meal?

For travel: is there any opportunity to spend less? Would it be possible to reduce this but still travel? Or perhaps travel needs to be on hiatus for a few months while they accumulate savings.

For restaurants: can you propose a cheaper, at-home solution? Or perhaps this needs to be on pause for the time being.

Something I’ve found is that, often, when we tell friends or family we want to save more money, their response is along the lines of either:

  1. “that’s a good idea; I need to do that too!”
  2. “good for you! It’s so important to prioritize your financial health.”
Our guest bathroom shower – built by Ryan

This is why I encourage being honest about why you’re making changes in your life. And to be clear, I’m not saying you need to tell all of your co-workers and acquaintances, but, the people with whom you most often spend money–in other words, those closest to you–should respect you enough to respect your financial decisions.

The analogy I like to use is around food/drink. Some folks do not drink alcohol. When you offer someone a drink and they say, “No thank you, I don’t drink,” you don’t pressure them to drink, you simply say, “Gotcha! Thanks for letting me know” and you move on with the conversation.

Same deal when I offered a new friend a hot dog at a party and she said, “Oh no thank you, I’m vegetarian.” I didn’t pressure her to eat the hot dog, I helped her find something meat-free to eat.

Goal: set boundaries around your money and brainstorm responses that are as firm, concise, confident–yet casual–as these examples around alcohol and hot dogs.

I know that money feels more awkward than food and drink conversations because money feels like a barometer of our self-worth, our value in the world and our ability to provide for ourselves. But in the end? It’s not that big of a deal. It’s just one more thing in our complex, creative, funny lives. De-mystifying money and talking about it as we would any other aspect of life is liberating. If Marie and Ryan get to a place of feeling comfortable explaining this to their families, I hope it’s a freeing experience.

Unless Marie and Ryan’s families want to pay off their debts for them, it’s none of their business.


Let’s take a peek at Marie and Ryan’s assets:

Cash: $12,250

Between their savings, checking accounts and safe, Marie and Ryan have $12,250 in cash. This is a great start to their emergency fund–very well done!! Note: I didn’t include their son’s savings account here as I gather that’s his money.

An emergency fund should cover 3 to 6 months’ worth of your spending.

  • At Marie and Ryan’s current monthly spend rate of $6,319, their emergency fund would cover just under two months, which makes it on the slim side.
  • Ideally, they should build their cash savings up to a full three months’ worth ($18,957), if not more.

The rationale behind an emergency fund is that it’s your “oh no” money.

Your emergency fund is there for you if:

  • You unexpectedly lose your job
  • Something horrible goes wrong with your house that needs to be fixed ASAP
  • Your car breaks down and must be repaired
  • Your dog gets quilled by a porcupine and has to go to the emergency vet
Our son mowing our one acre yard

As you can see, an emergency fund is not for EXPECTED expenses, such as:

  • Routine maintenance on a car, such as oil changes and brake pads
  • Anticipated home repairs, such as boiler servicing/chimney sweeping
  • Planned medical expenses
  • An emergency fund’s reason for existence is to prevent you from sliding into debt should the unforeseen happen. It’s your own personal safety net.

Since an emergency fund is calibrated on what you spend every month, the less you spend, the less you need to save up. Thus, as Marie and Ryan pay off their debts and reduce their monthly expenses, the size of their emergency fund will commensurately reduce.

Open a High-Interest Savings Account

We made this fire pit from limerock and stones we gathered over time

Marie noted that Ryan doesn’t want to have all of their cash in a bank, which is totally his prerogative. If it were me, however, I personally would put my money to work in a high-interest savings account. Here’s why:

If they put their full $12,250 into an American Express Personal Savings account, it would earn 3% in interest every year (affiliate link). In one year, their money would increase to $12,618. That means they’d earn $368 just by having their money in a high-interest account.

When you keep money in cash, it loses value because it’s not keeping up with inflation. The buying power of $50 today will not be the buying power of $50 in ten years. This is why people utilize accounts with interest rates and why people invest money in the stock market.


  1. Make a plan to reduce expenses ASAP and begin paying off debts, starting with the $11,493 Camper debt.
  2. Once that’s paid off, continue saving and funnel the money into paying off the $42,861 HELOC
  3. After paying off the HELOC, continue saving and plow the money into paying off the truck, then the tractor and credit cards.
  4. Check on the 0% interest rates on the credit cards and tractor to ensure that rate continues. If it doesn’t and it suddenly balloons, re-prioritize the debt pay off schedule and pay off the highest interest debt first.
  5. Stop using credit cards to force yourselves to live within your means each month.
  6. Have a frank conversation with your extended families about your need to focus on saving more money in order to pay off your debts.
  7. Check the fine print on your pension plans to determine whether or not they’re inflation-adjusted.
  8. Plan to work your jobs until you qualify for your full pension amounts.
  9. Consider moving all of your cash into a high-interest savings account.
  10. Continuously check-in on the size of your emergency fund. Aim to keep it at three to six months worth of your expenses as your buffer against future debt.
  11. Commit to living debt-free and focus on saving any and all extra cash.

Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice do you have for Marie? 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? Apply to be an on-the-blog Case Study subject here. Hire me for a private financial consultation here. Schedule an hourlong call with me here, refer a friend to me here, or email me with questions (

Oh, and before I forget… Join a UFM Mastermind Group!

Money is something we’re not supposed to talk about and so many of us don’t. We harbor secret concerns, joys, frustrations, questions and don’t have an outlet for them. This is that outlet! These groups are the place to discuss every single weird money question you have. These groups are the place to share every single money success you experience. These groups are where you’ll find camaraderie and support.

There’s no question too big or too small for the groups to address because, for most of us, our financial educations began after we became adults, after we made some serious financial missteps (anyone remember my story about overdrawing my checking account in my 20s?). We feel like we SHOULD know this stuff and SHOULD be able to manage our money and so we don’t ask for help. Let yourself off the hook and come join us.

These Groups Exist to Address:

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🧠 Lack of clarity on your long-term goals and how your money might impact your future.
🤷‍♀️ A disconnect between you and your partner/spouse about how money should be managed.
👎 Undesirable financial routines/expectations you’ve set up with your kids and want to change.
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👏 How to create a sustainable money plan that you actually can–and will–follow.

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  1. Hi Marie & Ryan, I feel like you two are right smack in the middle of the hardest part: with a child at home, with future college costs to come, with a not yet paid off house, with student loans that are almost, almost gone…

    So while yes, you definitely need to work on those debts, also know that life will probably be a bit easier when Ryan gets his pension and on top of that will bring in some extra income and when a bit later your son finishes his education and becomes independent.

    Don’t wish these months and years away, as they’re also years filled with joy and pleasure and fulfilment, but know that you’re right in the middle of it right now and that there will likely come times when things are easier.

    1. You are right! I want to cherish this time when our son is at home. We both recently got raises so I am hoping to plug away at the debt as per Mrs. Frugalwoods’ suggestions.

      1. Go Marie!!

        I’m with Petra on this one. You’re in the hard part, and once you start paying the individual debts off, it will start to gain momentum. Keep focused on it and remind yourself that the payment is going toward your future freedom. If tracking helps you, consider creating spreadsheets or using an image you can color. Anything to motivate you to continue and help you focus on the big picture.

  2. I hope the horse fotos are added soon! Best of luck in your frugal journey.
    The one thing that stood out to me was the very large truck (lots of gas) with a very high debt attached to it. If it were me, I’d sell it and try to buy an older, smaller model. That could potentially get rid of $26,000 of debt in one swoop and then you could also throw $500 monthly to credit card debt. Then, if need be, save up for a newer model.

    If you need it to pull the camper, what would be the price to rent one 5 times a year for the times that you need it, and might that be less expensive?

    1. Can you not see the photos? I can see them! Yes the large truck is a bit much, but it is worth way more than we owe on it, so that makes it a tiny bit easier to digest. Smaller is not really an option due to the things we have to pull with it (camper, trailer with tractor, horse trailer, etc). I have used my truck to pull campers for other people who don’t have the fifth wheel hitch so maybe that could be a way to off-set the cost? It could be another side hustle.

      1. One caveat: Renting a vehicle to pull the camper may be difficult. Until we bought (years ago) our van, whenever we needed to rent one was when everyone else was also looking to rent one. If you do this, reserve very early.

        Also, I think there’s a recommendation to buy a ‘beater’. You both have commutes to jobs, and therefor need reliable transportation. You might buy a used vehicle, but a beater is probably a bad idea.

        1. I agree with this. Around me, you could only rent a truck like this private party and wouldn’t be able to find it in a standard rental place. This is probably also applicable for their horses. You need a very large/heavy trailer and paying to haul them could be very cost prohibitive. Many horse vets go to homes but I’m not sure how that plays into owning the larger truck.

      2. Marie, am I understanding right that you have two large trucks? In that case can you sell one and buy something smaller and more fuel efficient? I can see why you need at least one large truck but maybe there is room with the second.

        1. Actually I take that back. I misread and thought you owed money on the older truck. I’m casting my vote for selling the vintage car and using the money to wipe out the credit card debt and bump up your savings.

    2. This is my advice too- sell the truck! It’s about roughly the same as your anticipated student loan monthly payment.

      Where will the money for your student loan payments come from otherwise?

  3. I would absolutely get rid of the truck. Resell, and get an old beater. The Suzuki jimmy is a small car that does great on bad rural roads . I drive a 22 years old Honda CR-V on terrible roads. That frees 600 a months. Look into sharing economy, can you rent out the camper and the brass boat when not in use? What about the tractor , how many days a year do you use it. Could you just go with an old army tent for camping? You have a lot of toys and that reduces your financial freedom . I would also look into letting the tractor go and get an old one. You have very new equipment that you pay monthly for, you don’t own them. Look into getting them replace by older ones. You can find a good old tractor for 5000$ , same with a vehicle. With a handy husband and enough place for working on them , it really makes sense. It will make life a little more complicated but will give you a lot of peace of mind. Debts suck not just cash but lot of energy. Reduce all those coast, put all you have into the helox .

    1. I could definitely rent out the camper – what a great idea! We do have a lot of toys, yes. Two were inherited (boat and vintage car) and the camper we co-own with extended family. But yes, looking at it all spelled out in black and white is mind boggling. Time to reduce and pay off debt!

      1. Mary, a nice vintage vehicle can be rented out for weddings. Look at how many days on average you use something and then do the math. If the trailer is 269 a month , usage is 35 days a year you come up to an almost a 100$ a night without maintenance and lost of value. Do the same calculations with the tractor. Best of luck

  4. Something seems amiss; 100% a joint and survivor annuity pension in only three years that is larger than his net income today and he can collect starting at age 46 or so? Very unusual.

    Too much stuff, too much debt, too much dependence on extended family, no savings to speak of and no inclination to invest. Already relying on four jobs.

    Only $120 a month to feed and take care of what appears at least three horses? That seems really low.

    Unless there are significant changes in buying, spending, investing and lifestyle habits this doesn’t look good for the long term.

    1. Nothing amiss, I assure you. We both have the Florida Retirement System pension plans. His is just much higher due to being in the high risk category. They have a great online platform to plan for retirement and those are the numbers showing for my husband and I.

      I didn’t mention it in my case study but we trade favors with a nearby farmer. He provides some of our hay and feed and we, in return, keep and care for some of his animals (currently a horse and a mule). Or sometimes we mow his fields, my husband will fix something for him, etc. It is a wonderful and mutually beneficial arrangement!

      1. You know best, but here is what the 2022 Florida law says, “ (1) The normal retirement date of each firefighter will be the first day of the month coincident with or next following the date on which he or she has completed 10 or more years of creditable service and attained age 55 or completed 25 years of creditable service and attained age 52.
        (2)(a)1. The amount of monthly retirement income payable to a full-time firefighter who retires on or after his or her normal retirement date shall be an amount equal to the number of his or her years of credited service multiplied by 2.75 percent of his or her average final compensation as a full-time firefighter.” NOTE final average compensation.

      2. Marie – thank you for sharing your case study with us. The fact that you are taking the time to think through your priorities and goals in a realistic way and make shifts shows you’ll be right on track for the long term. We are all rooting for you and wishing you the best.

    2. I think the critical tone of your comments here and elsewhere are really not in keeping with the spirit of this forum . Can you find a way to say your points more kindly?

      1. I second this. The idea is to be supportive and helpful, and these comments read as very judgmental and if I’m honest, mansplain-y.

        1. I am 79 and managed retirement plans and did financial retirement planning for employees for fifty years. These folks need reality and judgement, not supportive comments. If they had the ability to act responsibly, they wouldn’t be in this fix. They are headed for trouble and they need a swift kick in the pants more than rubbing their back.

          1. The case study guidelines are listed in the article and state that the goal is support and ideas, not judgement. It’s fine to work with your clients how you see fit, but on this site, suggestions are required to be non-judgemental. If all of the comments were similar to yours, people would be much less willing to open themselves up to criticism by submitting these studies, and that would be a shame.

            Case study guidelines from Mrs MW:
            “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 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.”

    3. Wow, that was a little harsh. I am sure they know what their own pensions will be, I don’t see that they have too much stuff, or are too dependent on family. Family is supposed to be able to be there for you and it sounds like they have a wonderful close family that love to spend time together, that is something that is becoming rare. I think they are on a good track and came here for suggestions and to help think outside the box.

      1. The fact is those workers who even have a pension rarely know what it is or how it works. Didn’t she say family members pay insurance and registration on the camper? They are living above, way above, their means, period. Family helping is fine, I help mine all the time – if they are acting responsibly.

  5. Having horses myself I’m not sure how they even manage to keep the horse
    care bills that low! Hay is very expensive, feed is gone up and the routine farrier and vet bills average me more than that alone each month….

    1. I actually tutor my farrier’s son so we trade out some of those services. See the comment above, as I explain some of the ways we cut farm costs by trading favors with a nearby farmer.

    2. I was going to say the same. In MA this year we are paying $10 for a 40 lb square bale. Of course your horses are probably on grass for more months of the year than ours, but still your costs are amazingly low. Well done!

      1. To make extra money you could rent out time slots on the weekends for photo shoots – wedding, graduation, anniversary – with the vintage car and then the horses in the background, fenced. Lower risk than renting out the camper which could get damaged. The photo shoot is easier to supervise and less time for strangers to roam your property.

  6. One idea that could help with debt repayment. Do you use/enjoy the vintage car? If not, you could sell it and knock out your camper loan in one go, which would allow you to reallocate that $230 monthly spend to other debt paydown (and might be more palatable vs. other discretionary spending cuts?).

    1. That is definitely a possibility! We do use it, as it gets 25 mpg! We drive it here and there, and it is a lot of fun. I will look into selling it, as it really isn’t a necessity. We inherited it so it’s not something we bought. We inherited our boat, too, which we use all summer on our local river. Both are very old and break down often lol. Thankfully my husband is always able to make the repairs.

      1. Maybe, with it being a vintage car you can ‘rent’ it out for pictures? I know photographers are sometimes looking for vintage cars to do family photos with.

  7. Sell anything non essential and for the essential big ticket items, sell and buy an older and cheaper version(Truck, Tractor, Trailer, etc) Ryan sounds handy so he can work on the older and cheaper trucks, tractors and trailers

  8. Hi, Marie and Ryan from a Big Bend Floridian! I’m taking a guess you live in or near Marion County. I know people who’ve attended the fire college and of course, UF.

    Have you looked at renting out pasture for other people’s horses or cows? Doing trail rides for a fee on your land?

    I have checking and savings at Vystar. I don’t earn a lot on checking, but I do earn some money. Your stats indicated your credit union pays no interest on a checking account- my suggestion there is shop around for a different credit union, since the ones where I live all pay interest on checking. Ryan, I would suggest you take the money out of the safe and put it in an fee-free interest-bearing checking account. I’d keep no more than $500 in my home. Safes are not burglar proof, and burglars can and do rob rural homes, ask my friend who was burglarized three times out in the country. Burying your money doesn’t guarantee the bills won’t be degraded in the damp heat of Florida soil, even sealed securely, and what if you lose the location somehow?

    I would look at getting rid of the vintage car. It may not be an option for you and I understand that, but it’s not adding anything to your income at all. I would also look trading the tractor for an older model. The tractor we used to have about 20 years ago was built in the early 60’s and still ran like a champ when we sold it.

    Also, and I ask this with all sympathy as a Floridian – is this the time to own a boat? Yes, they are fun, but they are so expensive – just filling the tank is a huge expense. Maybe sell the boat now and get back into one when you can do it with no or minimal debt?

    I live rurally too and love the life. As Mrs. FW has pointed out in the past, there are expenses due to living rurally, but I think it’s worth it. You two are on the right track – this is a tough period of life, but you will get this!

    1. Well I thought about selling the boat but it’s so old and doesn’t cost us much money. We fish a lot and eat fish frequently, which keeps our grocery bill down. I’m not sure how it would work if we sold the boat and then bought fish instead? It would be hard to sell it with its age and also it was gifted to us by a dear family member because Ryan is a skilled fisherman. But it’s worth thinking about, for sure. Thanks for all of your ideas, JD!

  9. From an Uber frugal camping family out west: look up state lands/campsites without hookups. In the end, we transitioned to a clip on pop up truck topper for camping with 2 adults, 2 kids, and a dog. It will reduce camping fees and diesel. Sometimes you can find used options that require some maintenance. We also have a Tacoma long bed. It’s enough for short term trips around 1 to 2 weeks in length. Also I don’t find MVNOs as affordable in all places. Ours is at least 25 minimal per phone with most of that being taxes.

    1. We usually have 7 or 8 people with us when we camp, which is why we co-own the camper with family members. I don’t think they would want to sell it and I also wanted to mention that we only camp in state parks, so it’s pretty cheap. Our family members cover the cost of all camping reservations so that’s not an out of pocket expense for us. Thanks for the comment, Becca!

  10. What a lovely life you’ve built! And I see some of your safety net is not money but interdependence with family friends and neighbors which is awesome.
    It looks like between two drivers there are two trucks, one vintage car, not counting the flatbed? If so I’d definitely sell one of them and chuck the cash at a debt or two, and then if you can Airbnb the camper if it’s in decent shape, when not using it as “home stay on a horse farm” you’d be looking good

    1. Two trucks – one is older and paid for and has a gooseneck hitch for the trailer that hauls the tractor. My truck is newer and has the fifth wheel hitch for our camper, but we still owe money on it. I love the idea of renting out the camper using Airbnb!

  11. It is such a nice resource pulling out so many brains to find a solution! I would do an Air B and B ! People would love to stay in a farm! Your husband is so handy! It would bring at least $1000.00 extra per month! Use the RV ! Another idea is your husband get one day a week handy man job! People are desperate to find someone reliable and handy!

  12. I think you are doing great. One of the things I noticed is you didn’t mention short term disability or life insurance listed. If something happens and your income is changed by one of those factors, will you be able to cover your expenses? I’m sure you have coverage through work. Have you looked at what that income would be? Since you swap/trade services, do you know what those costs would be and how that would effect your budget? Building your emergency fund is important for this reason and eliminating debt too.

    1. We have both short term disability and life insurance through our employers. We definitely need a larger emergency fund, but that may need to be put on hold while we pay off debt.

  13. Everyone has their priorities and that is the battle I’ve observed reading this post. A decision of stuff now/stress now or selling some to end up in the plus to then maybe rebuy it later with cash? That may be stressful too. It’s really a tough spot to be in.

    No amount of people on the internet can decide your priorities, but debt will. No one likes that. If you decide to opt out and reign in your spending that’s your temporary decision leading to a lifelong ability to be in control.

    1. Valid point! I love everyone’s suggestions though. Being a case study is so eye opening and you get the benefit of having so many readers offer different ideas – I am loving it!

  14. Hi, Marie, I too wondered how you kept your horse costs that low! But now I understand. Still, be cautious. Vet bills can add a huge amount to your debts. And there’s ALWAYS vet bills. I love horses, but they’re idiots.

    So here are a few things to consider that I don’t see in the comments yet. Since Ryan is handy and loves building and restoring things, perhaps he’d consider doing that for his employment after he retires as a firefighter. You have a great opportunity right now for him to explore creating boutique products to sell – unique, beautifully made items that can command a high price. Ryan can try building his clientele now, and see if the business grows. And if he loves making knives, he could look into tapping into the prepper community. Depends how deep his technical knowledge is.

    Restoring vintage cars might be another business opportunity for Ryan. Again, this is a great time to explore tapping into local enthusiasts. And you’ve got that lovely huge barn, so he has a great place to store them and do the work.

    I do feel like the two of you are dangerously close to the edge, financially speaking. I say this not to scare you, but to really encourage you to work on paying off your debts faster wherever possible. If either of you became ill or injured and unable to work, this could all come tumbling down. And as someone in her late 50s, I can assure you that our bodies do not improve with age. LOL. Enjoy your lives, yes – but stop expanding your debt load, and really think hard about how you can increase your income with side hustles, as well. And can any of your expensive acquisitions, like the truck and tractor, help earn their keep by becoming part of side hustles as well?

    You’re both in a great position right now to prepare for a comfortable retirement. So make hay while the sun shines. 🙂

    1. Ryan could do so many things with his skills in retirement – he just needs to narrow down which “thing” he wants to do! I am glad he has another 4 years to figure that out before retiring. And yes – paying off debit is exactly what we need to do. Agreed!

      1. As someone who is also married to someone with what seems like infinite creative/handy interests, I’d say that I’m still learning to enjoy to support him best. I think I’m resigning myself to the thought that there may never be “one” thing, and that maybe the best thing is to think about flexibility – setting up our house and space so he is free to change between things, and then (the hard part): being willing to part with the gear once he’s moved on. One idea that we’ve tossed around that may work for you all is an Etsy shop – he could very easily sell those knives for 00s of dollars, I think. Then when he moves on to the next thing, you can just change your listings. You can scope out your competition around whatever it is you’re selling, and folks are really prioritizing the actual handmade things instead of the painted-over-mass-produced things. It can be something you offer with your AirBnB too – “for an extra x amount, you can also take home a custom xyz.”

        At the end of the day, it seems like you all have built a beautiful life together. There’s a lot of friendly and not-so-friendly internet advice (people love telling other people where they’re wrong), but you’ll find the things that work for you. It seems like you already have the optimizing/looking for opportunities mind, which is the biggest battle. If you’re ever in the Orlando area, I think our husbands will really get along haha 🙂

  15. I would strongly suggest you convince your husband to move most of your emergency funds to a bank. After some research I was able to find a small local bank that pays a higher interest rate than any of the online banks I researched. If you are able to do that, you would have quick access to your funds but they would be safer and it would be earning money. You can still keep a small amount for small emergencies in the safe. A number of years ago, like you, we had a lot of monthly payments. We ended up selling some of the toys and eliminating the monthly payments. It allowed us to pay off our mortgage and pay cash for everything going forward – including truck, camper, vacations etc. Sometimes you have to take a step back to move forward in a better way. The fact that you recognize you need to do better at spending less than you make is a great first step. Good luck!

  16. With all the extended family you have, can you all share accounts for your streaming services to lower/eliminate costs while also keeping access to some entertainment? Also, I understand your husband’s desire to keep money in the safe – I think it’s important to have some cash in your home. Could you all compromise and split that money in half though? Half stays in the safe and the other half goes into a hi-yield online savings account? Then you’d at least get the benefit of a little interest to take some of the sting out of inflation.
    Can you switch to an MVNO and still get good data at your house while you wait for fiber optic service to arrive?
    Your fuel costs are huge at $800/month. Are there any opportunities for carpooling that would help save gas/diesel costs? Could you use the vintage car as a commuter car since you mention in the comments it gets better gas mileage? Or possibly sell the vintage car and use the cash to replace it with a cheaper fuel-efficient commuter car? Another option that works if one of your trucks gets better gas mileage than the other – my husband and I traded cars so the spouse with the longer commute drives the more fuel efficient vehicle.
    Also to reduce your discretionary expenses without feeling miserable, maybe try cutting things in half instead. Eat out every other week instead of every week, only take 3 camping trips instead of 6, etc. Have your ladies night out every other month or maybe switch it to ladies brunch/lunch out to reduce costs.
    Are there any opportunities to bring in a little money with the horse farm like giving riding lessons, hosting kid’s birthday parties, or boarding other people’s horses?

    1. I agree with the ”reduce” rather than ”give it all up for quite a while” approach to at least a few of the discretionary line items. Eat out fortnightly, ladies night every other month, maybe switch it for something low-cost-or-free on alternate months, depending on the time free you all have, obviously. 1-2 fewer camping trips for the next year or two. Spend a bit less on gifts…

      And sell any vehicles that aren’t necessary, such as the vintage car. It’s a lovely thing and obviously you enjoy it, but it would bring in a cash injection that could really help settle debts and you’d still have vehicles aplenty.
      I do think when you can change your internet situation, that will be a really big win, so holding thumbs that that happens soon.

      1. Very good ideas on reducing the ladies’ night out costs. I would see if people are up for a ladies’ coffee/tea meet up or a ladies’ hike. Lower cost and different fun ways of socialising 🙂

      2. There is room to cut back, for sure. I think reducing might be best for us rather than cutting out/doing away with. The camping trips can be cut back some, but it does affect other members of the family as we all travel together and stay in the camper together. It sleeps 8! Selling the vintage car seems to be the most popular suggestion and one we can do to pay off debt.

  17. Due to the tremendous financial burden that the CCs will have on your finances when the introductory rate ends, I would 100% focus on paying off the CC debt first even though they are 0% now. The CC companies know what they are doing when giving introductory rates. The 0% rate is designed to get your bill as high as possible so your stuck paying interest of 15-20% when the period is over. Your credit card debt is $12,000. At 20% you’ll have to pay $2,400 just in interest. As Frugalwoods showed, in 6 months you can save $11,000 cutting back on everything. That’s at the highest level of cutbacks. Most people probably only cut back halfway at most to start so that would mean it would take a full year to pay off the CCs. I say this because if you don’t start immediately paying down the CCs, you will almost certainly be stuck paying super high interest. The crushing burden of having to pay an extra $2,000 per month in interest is such a high emotional and financial burden that this is why I would get rid of the CC debt first.

    Aside from stating that, as others have said, focus on what’s important to you and your family and look into possibly getting rid of the big items like the vintage car that don’t fit. It may be paid off, but it’s still costing money to fix up and take care of, so if it doesn’t fit with your family’s priorities that extra money from selling it would be more beneficial.

    It takes hard work and commitment to get to a point of financial well-being but it is so worth it. I wish you and your family the best.

    1. I completely agree with you, Doug. I looked up the two cards Marie listed they have. The Discover it card only has a 0% introductory APR for 15 months before kicking into 15.74-26.74%, and the Citi Diamond Preferred will switch to 17.24%-27.99% at 21 months– YIKES. Given the high fees on these, I would knock out the credit card debt ASAP and then turn their attention to the other debts. Others have recommended selling the second truck and buying a used, fuel efficient vehicle. I think this strategy might be the quickest and easiest way to knock out most of this debt before the real interest rates kick in and this debt balloons.

      1. Oh I would never let the interest kick in. I should have mentioned that. I would just do a balance transfer to a different card with 0%. Ryan and I have high credit scores, so getting another 0% card won’t be a problem. There is usually a 3% balance transfer fee, but if usually pays for itself with the interest we’ll save.

        1. We just got a house this year, and are doing the same! It can be a helpful tool. The next thing we’re looking for is balance transfer cards that also give us points so we can use those towards our debts/other travel.

        2. But remember that “small” 3% transfer fee could still amount to hundreds, and you want to compare that amount to none, not potential interest you’d be charged. Erasing the credit card debt should be a priority if you can.

  18. I think it’s great that you enjoy your time with your extended family and live close. That does cut down on expenses of traveling far to be with them. I don’t have any sage advice other than what people have already offered. The one thing I will say from being about 10 years down the road from where you are currently is: I wish we had shoveled more money into savings and gotten really aggressive about paying down debt sooner. Not because we wound up in peril but because that sleeplessness you mention – that ate up years of our lives. We were happy but that stress was always there. The advice I would give my 40 something self is: do the hard work right now, sell the stuff you don’t absolutely have to have, decrease the expenses that you love but you can go without all to give yourself the gift of less stress. If I could do it over again I would do that.

    1. I’m so glad you made this comment. This gives me a lot to think about. Saving has really been on my mind lately. I’ve set up automatic transfers of $50 out of each of our paychecks that goes directly into our online savings account. I know it’s not much at only $200 a month, but it’s a start for sure. Thanks Sara!

  19. All great advice, but I would encourage Marie to sell her truck and purchase a reliable basic 5k vehicle for cash that Ryan could fix if necessary. This would save $589 plus decrease their gas bill.

    1. I am open to selling my truck but am not sure how I would pull the fifth wheel camper. My truck is the only vehicle we have to pull it. Maybe I could get an older one?

      1. Marie, there are a variety of 5th wheel conversion kits you can put on gooseneck hitch of the 2001. I just found some on etrailer for about $900 – $1000.

      2. Could you sell the truck AND the camper? You could purchase a camper that doesn’t require a special vehicle to pull it (like a pop-up; you have some good ideas from other commentators).

        You’ve mentioned that you are using the vintage car as a fuel-efficient car compared to the trucks, with 25mpg. My Honda Fit gets around 42 mpg highway/34 mpg city- sell off these expensive vehicles and really think about what your needs are, and what options you have to meet these needs in a cost-effective manner. You have the funds (tied up in your vehicles, which you can sell) to be creative here!

        Need to commute to work? What’s the commute like? What cars would be good options fuel-wise and overall cost-wise?
        Like to spend time with family? Is there another way to do camping trips/time in nature that you enjoy?
        Ryan likes to create stuff? Can some of that be flipped or can he take on a few custom projects?

        I think with so much of what you’ve written that you have sunk cost fallacy, and the weight of your high-cost possessions is holding you down (seen in spending beyond your means, a miniscule emergency fund), but you are so connected to these items that you don’t see that you can let them go!

        If you would like inspiration in this kind of thinking, The Minimalists have good content about not letting your stuff own you, as does Dave Ramsey.

        1. We camp with extended family (never by ourselves) so a pop-up wouldn’t work. Plus we co-own the camper with family. I think we may sell the vintage car to pay off the cc debt and possibly convert the older truck to be able to haul everything, which would free me up to sell my newer truck. I will check out the Minimalists and I am already a Dave Ramsey fan and own all of his books. It might be time for me to re-read some to get “gazelle” motivated! Thanks for your comment.

          1. Talk to the family you co-own this camper with. Tell them it must be sold, or they can take over the payment. It will be theirs alone, it is a luxury not a necessity. Then you won’t be worried about what vehicle has to pull it.

  20. I understand having one pick up since you have a camper and trailer to haul but why two? Seems one of you could be commuting in a compact car for half the cost. I would say when the old pick up is ready to be replaced then replace it will a small car even if that means Marie driving the new car and Ryan taking the pick up depending on what his new job is after retiring from the fire department. Can’t imagine why Marie would be commuting in a large pick up truck in a place with no snow or ice. That said and assuming the student loans get forgiven in 2023 I don’t think you are too bad off. Take the extra $6000/yr from the student loan payments and put it towards the other debt and you should be ok. Next few years will be a little tight but once Ryan retires and gets that pension plus works a new full time job, hopefully up until you retire, then you should be much better off.

    1. Yes once Ryan retires and receives his pension plus income from his next job, things will be better. We still need to pay off debt asap, as others have said. I’m motivated and ready to better our financial situation!

  21. What a wonderful life! I am so envious. Would have loved to have everything you do, including the help from family and neighbors.
    I actually don’t know why you’d need to keep any cash at home? Could someone explain? The most I’ve ever needed is maybe a hundred or two.
    Meanwhile, like others, I don’t think I’d want the gas costs of two trucks. But I don’t know how many are needed in this situation. I’d drive a Prius to commute! All that said, obviously there are more ways you could earn some money and pay off debt/raise savings. Good luck!

    1. I think that people keep large amounts of cash in case the banks fail. It may seem unlikely but in the 30s many banks failed overnight and it could happen again (and has happened in many countries like Greece and Argentina more recently). However, I think the idea of keeping half in cash and half in the bank is a good one.

      1. It’s worth pointing out that the reason people lost money in the Great Depression is because deposits weren’t insured back then. Now, we have the FDIC which insures up to $250,000 per depositor at almost all banks. So if a bank fails, the only way you’ll be out that money is if the FDIC and the government fail. And if the government fails, the currency people are storing at home probably isn’t going to be worth much either.

        1. I work with a lot of Puerto Rican folks. When Hurricane Maria hit I heard so many horror stories of relatives standing in line for cash because when the power and phone goes, you can’t use an atm card or credit card – something I hadn’t thought about. It convinced me to keep more cash on hand than I would have ever thought. The money might be in the bank but if you can’t access it, you’re still in a bad place.

          1. I agree that having at least some money on hand to pay for water, gas and food might be necessary. But that seems like just a couple hundred to me. Knock on wood that our services never suffer like places like Puerto Rico. The biggest threat to me in St. Louis might be a tornado or thunderstorm. (if really hit by a tornado, it’s likely that cash would go flying!) That said we’ve only lost power a couple days at a time. Again, knock on wood.
            I think few U.S. citizens know what it would be like to suffer what some countries deal with. Even with same crazy, destructive flooding in Missouri, there are always services, other people to help house people, etc. In a terrible disaster, I think loose cash would be lost.

  22. I love that y’all are living your best lives! That’s great about the raise, and I see in your comments various ways you reduce actual expenses through trades and such. I think y’all are creative and doing great – keep it up!

  23. Hi Marie and Ryan!

    Thank you for sharing your story with us! I’m hopping into the comments to let you know that the federal student loan pause has been extended until either 60 days after the Supreme Court makes a ruling on debt forgiveness or 60 days after June 30th. The court date is set for February so I’d say the chances you have to make more than 1 or 2 (or really any) payments on your loans before a June 2023 forgiveness date are small!

    I hope this helps your stress and that you have a wonderful holiday season!

    1. I just heard this wonderful news! I am hoping that the pause will carry me to forgiveness in June 2023 but if I need to make a few payments, that’s wouldn’t be too bad. Thanks Jackie!

  24. Something I didn’t see addressed here: SiriusXM. They have a very bare bones subscription plan available for under $10 monthly. It includes the decades channels (70s,80s,90s,Pop2K) and your choice of genre focused channels. (I have Rock, while my mom chose Country). I think it’s about 7-10 channels altogether. You should be able to find it if you go online and click the cancel option. I understand not wanting to give up your music completely while driving, and this is a nice alternative.

        1. I really love SiriusXM, but I’ve been working to cancel Sirius for a year by keeping track of what songs I really like and putting away money to buy the music I enjoy. That way the musicians get the money for the play, and I have a play list of songs that I really like. It takes some money at the outset, but in the end you save so much money.

  25. There is no note that anything is being spent on home maintenance/repairs…which even if that is the case today can’t go on forever. Not to mention they have 25 acres on land that must steward.

    1. We do all of our repairs ourself. Ryan built the house so he’s pretty good about staying on top of things. We haven’t had many repairs yet and the metal roof should last many years. I would anticipate replacing appliances may be coming in the next few years. We fenced it ourselves and replace boards as needed.

  26. One option to consider: do you have enough space, stalls and fenced paddocks that you could offer horse boarding (self care or full care) for some supplemental income? It would mean others would be using your property, which might not be ideal – but in my area, board runs from $200 (self care, outdoor board, with limited facilities) up through $800+ for full care board with an indoor arena, hacking trails, etc.Having just an extra 2-3 horses could give you a tidy bump to your debt repayment, even if it’s just for a year or two!

      1. If you go this route, your homeowners insurance policy will need to be changed to protect yourselves. Keep that added expense in mind.

  27. Thanks for sharing your story. It sounds like you have built a life that aligns with your values, which is great to see. Congrats on getting your salary increases. I also wonder if you could add additional work in your current role. I know that the breaks are really important, but for the next few years, would it be possible to work over the summer? Or at the very least pick up some tutoring hours? The current rate of spending and future reliance on pensions without other retirement accounts seems very precarious. An ability to increase your income during these critical years could really pay off. Wishing you the best as you tackle your finances in 2023.

    1. I do a little bit of tutoring now but I can definitely do more in the summer. I always have parents ask me to tutor so this would be an easy way to bring in extra cash. Thanks, Shayna, for your kind words. We love our life and are very fortunate.

  28. Thank you for sharing your story and what a cool life you have! Congrats on your hard work tracking down PSLF credit and sorry you had to go thru that. I really recommend The Institute of Free Student Loan Advisors for info and free expert personalized help. They are a nonprofit and could give you some unbiased info on what you can expect to come. Fingers crossed you get full forgiveness pronto!

    I also wanted to offer another consideration to your loan repayment prioritizations. I know debt snowball and avalanche have great logic behind them, but personally I’d prioritize the HELOC. If something unfortunate happens and you can’t pay, losing the home sounds like it’d be devastating. So I’d just factor into your decisions what the debt in question is secured with, in addition to thinking about the loan size and interest rate.

    1. I am adding the nonprofit you mentioned to my to do list. Thank you so much! Also, I see what you mean about the HELOC. It would be devastating if we couldn’t pay for some reason. Thank you for pointing that out, Erica.

  29. Hello Marie and Ryan. Great story, beautiful pictures and home!
    I know things are tight, but if you can, I would keep plugging along as Frugalwood’s advise states. Please do not sell anything that you use, as it is way harder (and more expensive) to replace it later. Having a farm and animals, I know how important it is to have a good truck and a good back up truck – you never know what can happen that you need to haul, drag, etc something 🙂 Try to enjoy life with your little one, keep the family ties strong (that is hard these days and it is wonderful for your son and younger generation to see and have!).

    My partner is also an old soul and is very hard headed on having money in our safe instead of in the bank. And the one time I talked him into putting some into a retirement account, it lost $75,000 last year – that did not make him happy – at me or the situation. Thankfully some of it is coming back, but I now don’t say anything to him wanting more cash at home. lol

    I love that you and Ryan use the barter system to help lower the costs of having your horses and making your life easier, we love to barter whenever we can. My one advice is you said you use any left over cash from your ‘second’ jobs as ‘fun’ money, maybe for now add that to the payment you each are paying and have that be paid off quicker. Good luck!

    1. Yes to everything you said! We love our life and you have a good point about the trucks. Most readers are suggesting we sell one but maybe selling the vintage car instead is the way to go? My poor husband is so old-fashioned. He insists on keeping cash on hand and would likely never agree to investing it. I think I can convince him to move some into our interest bearing savings account though. I will try, anyway! Thank you for your comment, Lonelle.

      1. The money, from the safe, doesn’t have to be invested in something risky. Some of it can go in a bank that is FDIC insured. This is a crazy world we live in and homes do get robbed.

  30. I agree that a cheaper truck would be a good option. I also want to thank you for sharing your story. I am in a similar income situation and also am a teacher. It was great to read about someone in a similar position and hear Liz’s advice.

    1. Hi Laura! Isn’t teaching the best job ever?! I love my job and may never retire. We have the best schedule and it’s so rewarding. I am so happy you were able to relate to my case study. When I reached out to Mrs. Frugalwoods initially, I was looking for a similar family in a similar situation in regards to income and debt and she said for me to do it! Long story short, here I am as a case study! The readers’ comments have been amazing and I am ready to make some changes to get out of debt. Best of luck to you, Laura!

  31. What a nice life you have. Enjoy it.
    I agree with others about selling the “vintage” car. It could pay off a few debts or allow you to buy a more efficient car. I wonder if getting an electric car would make sense for you, with the tax credits available now and the long commutes.
    Also agree with other commentors- do you need 2 big pick-ups? Would it be possible to borrow one from neighbors or family in the event that you need to be driving 2 at once?

    1. I think selling the vintage car is probably the way to go. Our two trucks do drain a lot of money. They each pull/haul specific things and no one else in the family has a large enough truck that we could borrow (both trucks are the 2500 models). I have been thinking about hauling campers for other people to bring in some money since we have a gooseneck and fifth wheel hitch. Thank you for your comment, Christina!

  32. Found it interesting you’ll both get social security – presume contributions from other than your current jobs (I thought they closed the teachers social security “loophole” as they called it a number of years ago).
    At times it is hard to tell family “no” but it may be necessary (when it comes to cash outlay that is). You didn’t say how far away parents are nor their health (which I know can change in the blink of an eye). Current health/family history may help guide you in this area.

    1. It depends on the state. Not sure about Florida, but my dad worked as a teacher in Michigan and they pay into Social Security here so he got both when he retired. The Windfall Elimination Provision only applies if you get a pension from a job that is exempt from Social Security taxes.

    1. Hi Kathy! Yes, we have been thinking about this, too. I guess we can decide later but I agree with you about maybe waiting later to draw.

  33. You have built the life you want and have worked hard to create it ….congrats! You should feel so proud of that! Only things that stand out to me are the following: 1) You are really frugal in so many areas of your life and I fear cutting back on camping trips even in the short term may remove the things that are most important to you and bring you joy. 2) Can you maintain your current frugal living and increase your income? Some suggestions: airbnb your 5th wheel when you aren’t using it. Your place sounds amazing for families! Your husband is clearly a talented builder – can you create a tiny home or two to rent out? Could you have some RV hook ups? You mention your side hustles but not what they are….is there a way to earn more there? I would find ways to earn more money that don’t require too much more of your time … are a busy Mom with a busy job so don’t make yourself go crazy!!! 4) You have alot of vehicles. Once you have them generally keeping them forever is a good strategy and I am guessing you need them to pull heavy things (you can tell I have no idea what I am talking about here!!!!). Could you sell the classic car? I am certain this was a gift with emotion attached to it but it that enables you to own the camper free and clear (which you use and is important to you) you could view the camper as the gift. Just a thought in case this is an option. Most importantly have a picture of what it will feel like to be debt free (maybe think of an image or something that represents it) and put it on your fridge / front door / somewhere you will see it everyday to keep you marching towards that goal. You are closer than you think …..good luck!!!!

    1. I just had one other thought. Where you live is really sunny and your husband is really handy! Could you put solar on your roof (he could install it) and reduce your electricty bill and have a goal (when car prices aren’t so ridiculous) to exchange one of the trucks for an electric car so you are getting free fuel from the solar for your daily commute? This would free up a big chunk of cash for long term use. When the batteries are dead from the car you can look to convert them for home electric storage …….some people much smarter than me have done this! Just wanted to throw that idea out there! This would help reduce your costs in retirement

    2. I can increase my income by doing more things in the summer, like tutoring. And it’s too funny that you mention a tiny home as a potential way of bringing in extra money because I think we have the perfect set up for that! Plus Ryan can build it himself! We could also store RVs for others and/or rent out our RV when we’re not using it. Thank you so much for your thorough comment, Kate!

  34. Why haven’t you ordered Starlink yet? It’s available in most of Florida now with broadband speed. Would enable working from home. As for the equipment, you need a tractor to maintain 25 acres and the truck and trailer work well with it to enable tractor side hustles. Agree to go after the RV and credit card debt first. A good side hustle for Ryan might be a small CNC machine making/selling parts online since he’s handy and would enable him to work from home. Beautiful life and property!

    1. I assumed Starlink would be too expensive, but maybe not? I thought it was $500 up front and then around $100/month but maybe I’m wrong. We will have affordable fiber optic service available this coming summer, thankfully. Ryan nor I can work from home in our positions. Thank you for your comment, Derek!

    2. We live in a rural area too on a historic property with no cable and internet is so so limited. As in, every company giving us a big no no matter what we want to pay. Nonetheless, on a whim, we checked out Wireless Internet from the library and it works like a charm (!) better than the internet we eventually purchased (that runs so slow with data limits to boot). The library just increased check out lengths of them from two weeks to three weeks. Is fast, no data limits. Seems Verizon’s contract with the libraries allows a much wider radius of coverage than what they were willing to sell to us. Worth looking into! They have enough kits to check out that we are covered 90% of the time using that! If we were more organized about turning right around and doing it again we’d have library internet all the time 🙂

  35. The Windfall Elimination Tax 🙁 may come back to “bite” you. 🙁 I paid into a State Pension for 24+ years & worked some part time jobs that paid into Social security. When I applied for the SS when I was 62, an unkind SS worker told me in a snarky voice, that I was NOT allowed to double dip-therefore, they would be keeping 2/3 of my SS pension — even though I worked & paid into both! Whoever came up w/ the Windfall Elimination Tax is a “crook!”

    1. One of the reasons it came to be because people used to go to work as a paying into SS worker for a short amount of then also then collect SS. Typically the pay into job started immediately after retiring from the not paying into job. I’m not sure why yours was offset unless you did not have enough SS quarters?

      “The wind fall elimination provision(WEP) reduces the amount of Social Securitybenefits people can collect if they receive a government retirement plan in addition to Social Security. It applies only to workers who did not pay Social Security taxes, and so did not earn credits toward Social Security income during their working years.”

      And I know my grandfather’s pension was cut down to almost nothing as it was offset by his SS.

  36. What a great lifestyle you have!

    The two trucks and large truck payment are what jumped out at me too. Especially if you have a long commute and need to drive 30 minutes for groceries, getting a smaller, fuel-efficient car will save a lot on gas.

    I know you need one truck to pull the camper, but if the older vehicle is reliable, you could sell the 2019 for a nice profit. Depending on what you buy to replace it, you might be able to buy an inexpensive car and pay off some of the camper too. End result would be $600+ more in your pocket each month without the truck payment and with lower fuel costs.

    Whatever you decide, best wishes!

    1. Thanks, Mary! Another reader suggested we convert the older truck to pull both the gooseneck trailer and fifth wheel camper. That would eliminate the need for two trucks.

  37. Just buckle up and do the snowball debt pay down. It’s hard, but so worth it. 20 years ago I had 2 house payments, a car payment, and I decided to do the snowball. I had already paid my student loan off so at least I didn’t have that. After I sold one of the houses, paid the car off, and then in a couple years sold the other house I built a little place and had it paid off in 3 or 4 years (I don’t remember exactly how long it took me), but when you don’t have all the payments you will be in wonderful shape financially. I paid cash for my next 2 cars because I was able to save money that would have been going for payments. Keep up the diligence and you will reap the rewards! Your son may also not need student loans if he can get scholarships. My nieces both got bachelor’s with scholarships, working hard, and graduated with no debt. One of them had gotten one master’s degree free by being a teaching assistant, and it working on her second advanced degree doing the same. She will get her PHd with no debt so it can be done!!! Your husband could make $$$ selling his handiwork at craft fairs, on-line, and at guns shows selling those knives. You both have the skills to achieve your dreams!

  38. It seems like you have a lot of assets in vehicles, which will of course be decreasing in value, and many of which carry debts. In your position, I would consider selling the vintage car (unless you are super attached to it for emotional/family reasons) to go towards some of the other debts. I would also really look at swapping out one of the trucks for a fuel efficient reasonably priced used car. Ideally you would sell the car with the loan and use the ~11k to buy a used car for cash. You could also get rid of whichever truck doesn’t pull the camper, or does your family that you travel with have a truck that could be used instead? $800/month in gas for your commutes is a big cost, so even if you don’t get rid of the truck payment, at least you could limit a commuting in a truck to those days that both of you are working (probably less than half the time, given variable schedules).

    You really need to pay off some of these debts to get yourself a little more breathing room and flexibility in your monthly budget. But at your level of salary and variable expenses, IMHO it wouldn’t be unreasonable to keep one low or 0% interest debt to ride out over the next 4 years. Having $500 in monthly debt repayments would feel a lot easier than $2000, and it would be paid off when your son starts college.

  39. The peace of mind of having a strong truck to haul your animals in case of an emergency is worth every penny. While I wonder if the 2001 diesel would have enough power to do that job as well as hauling the camper, I completely understand that you might need both vehicles for safety’s sake. We traded in our 2013 1500 gas engine for a 2016 2500 cummins this spring and while the payments are obscene, the peace of mind I have knowing that I can haul the horses to a world-class vet school without concern that I’m going to break down in the mountains makes it worth it. However, to limit the amount we use it, we do have a small car that gets 45 MPG that we paid cash for. This saves wear and tear on the truck as well as our wallets.

    I think it’s rare to have case studies where what you want in 10 years is… what you have. That’s amazing and inspiring! The sooner you can pay off that debt, I’m guessing the more peaceful and happy you will feel while living your dream.

    1. Yes! Peace of mind is crucial! I worry about having an older vehicle since we have such a drive everywhere we go. Plus my truck will be paid off in a few years. It’s a lot to think about. I really appreciate you and everyone taking the time to comment and offer suggestions. Now I have some decisions to make!

  40. I haven’t read all the comments, but I think Liz’s suggestions are not aggressive enough. $143k in vehicles (depreciating assets) is a huge opportunity cost! I say rip the bandaid off! Here’s what I would do:
    Sell Marie’s truck and buy a $12k truck with the equity
    Sell tractor and buy a $15k tractor with the equity
    Sell the camper and buy a $15k camper with the equity
    Sell the vintage car and boat and use that $20k in the following ways: $12k to pay off credit cards, $3k for payments until student loans are forgiven in June, $5k to shore up emergency fund
    Then you would only have the HELOC remaining but would otherwise be debt free and have removed $1547 of monthly debt payments! Which could then be used to tackle the HELOC.
    I know it feels like we “need” nicer, newer things but you’d be able to upgrade again down the road. It’s worth it to have the peace of mind of being debt free. And better to act now than wait until crisis strikes and you are desperate for more cash flow.
    It’s wonderful that you have such a happy life that you love so much. You’ve got this!

    1. These are not bad ideas! The camper would be the hardest to sell, since we co-own it with family. But you make a valid point and it’s given me much to think about. Thank you, Bailey!

      1. Yes, I thought that might be difficult with the camper. But even selling some would be a start!
        I think you are really brave to put your finances out there and listen to so much feedback. Everyone on here wants the best for you but you are the only one living it. So I hope my advice wasn’t too much- I just waited to offer some ideas of how to get to your debt free goal faster without cutting back the day-to-day items as much.

      2. I’ve been reading the comments about co-owning it. Do you * have* to continue that? In other words, can Ryan exchange maintenance duties for credit towards a trip or two in it? Versus a big ol monthly payment out of your pocket that comes out to a real steep monthly camping fee? Have you done the math to see how much cheaper if you tagged along instead? Maybe with a little pop-up (not sure how cheap) or even tents and parked alongside them? Do you have to be *in* the camper to join them?

        I mean what is the contract like with them? It’s a weird thought but say someone in the group got cancer and could no longer go or had huge medical bills and couldn’t pay? You might sadly be on the hook for even more. Just be careful! I’d start brainstorming how to bow out of this if you could…

        1. Oh! And did I read that your family stores the camper too? Might be worth something in not owning it but helping in other ways so that everyone continues the family trips.

  41. Saw the credit card promo interest rate of 0% and thought the same as you: that’s likely to change! I’d recommend NOT making just the minimum payments on those cards, but rather calculating the payment necessary to hit a $0 balance by the time that 0% promo expires, and making that monthly payment instead. The only exception to this would be a guaranteed method to transfer the remaining balance to a different 0% card….but those can be hard to find, without paying a fee.

  42. Thanks for sharing your story, Marie! As a fellow teacher and animal-lover who hopes to live on land one day, kudos for the super cool life you’ve created that seems to embody all of your values!

    Other people have already mentioned the cost of all the vehicles, but another way of looking at it struck me as I was reading. The cost of all the monthly vehicle payments + gas is $2,119/month or $25, 428/year, which is ONE THIRD of your family’s total yearly expenses, or 30% of your total take home pay! And that’s before maintenance, insurance, registration, etc. That’s an awful lot of your resources sucked up by just one spending category. Others have had great suggestions so hopefully you’ll find some creative ways to cut this. Good luck!

  43. Hi Marie! My husband and I are also in the FRS system. Here’s two thing to look into: a) A 403b account. It’s like a 401k, but only available to government employees and with more flexibility. It’s meant to be supplement your pension plan. When you’ve cleared some debts and shored up your emergency funds (great start), this will be a good next step. b) call your reps at FRS and they’ll be able to give you more details about what your account is worth. Here’s the website: In case your benefits department isn’t good at this sort of thing.

  44. Please make sure you can count on both your pensions and Social Security. My husband and I receive pensions for life but we cannot also receive Social Security – that would be “double dipping” so I had to choose which to take.

  45. Hey there. My thoughts are, it’s not how much you earn but what you spend. You could explore using some of your land to grow some, if not all your fruits and vegetables. You also seem to have a number of vehicles on your property. Have you considered switching to transport that is cheaper to run and maintain ? With the price of fuel our priority is fuel efficiency for our cars. You also seem to not have any savings. I think a dedicated weekly amount into a rainy day account would come in handy and take pressure off your credit cards. Do you get any benefit from those cards? We accumulate flying points on ours that we use to see family and save $$

    Since you have land I would encourage you to investigate permaculture videos (free YouTube videos) around sustainability.

    Also perhaps you could both apply for promotions in your field to increase your income overall.

  46. You guys have done a great job! And love the 3% FIXED mortgage rate! I strongly advise you consider how you can architect your spending so that you can delay taking social security until FRA (full retirement age) or age 70; if you can hold out to age 70, your monthlies could double at age 70 and where else could you go for a guaranteed 8% annual return with little risk?! Even if it requires you to work another couple of years, it would totally be worth it to be able to maximize social security by delaying to age 70. And of course, social security has built in cost of living adjustments that could accelerate the amount to get. If you can take advantage of that- do it; even if you have to spend down other $ in order to hold out, the alternative being that it would be a more lucrative deal. What about taking a small parcel of your farm and leasing that out for growing produce to something else. Do you actually use the entire property or if you leased out several acres would you even notice?

    1. I think leasing it out to board other horses might be the easiest route since we’re already set up as a horse farm. And yes – I am sooooo thankful I locked in that 3% fixed rate on our mortgage! And shaved off years of repayment! Thank you for your comment, Luisa!

  47. You are loving the dream! A lot of these suggestions are way more austere than I would go. You are living your ideal lifestyle, and you just need to get by a few years until your husband has his pension plus an income. You are currently making more than you spend. All of these vehicles make a lot of sense for you lifestyle except the vintage car. If at all possible, I would try to keep everything but the vintage car. However, gas-price-wise, even that might not make sense. You seem to have a lot of hustles that you didn’t detail, so you might have this already. But I wonder what you do during the summer and if there’s some possibility there. Permits for this might be expensive, and a farm might be less of a novelty in your area, but I wonder if you you could use your teacher experience to market a day camp experience. Horses are very appealing! It might be way more work than it’s worth though. I would try to find ways to make more money than make cuts because you seem like frugal superstars already. I also would disagree with Liz on the credit card debt. My guess is the 0 percent interest is not for very long and then it’s in the 20s, so I would start there and hope you can get rid of it all before the 0 percent rate is up

  48. About sirius radio – I call every year and negotiate my bill, have been doing this since 2015, and every year they have been willing to give a deal. I have an alert set on my calendar to remind me to do it. I just checked my last receipt from them – $77.51 for the year, which comes out to $6.46/month.

    I know it’s not much, but every little bit helps.

    And I also do this with my internet bill every year. My last negotiation with the internet company got my bill reduced from $55 to $35 per month for 12 months, took me about half an hour on the phone.

    1. Yes! My car came with a trial membership, which I liked but not enough to pay for. I let it lapse and all of a sudden there was an offer for something like $20 for 6 months. Perfect! I’ll reassess in 6 months 😉

  49. Not sure if you could transfer your current phones to Consumer Cellular, but this might be worth checking. Their monthly charge for 3 with unlimited data is $80. I used to have what I thought was a good deal on Verizon through my employer, but have been very happy paying a lot less with Consumer Cellular

  50. As a counterpoint to the advice to sell a truck, if each truck does a different thing in terms of hauling, and the vehicle is in good shape, you’re probably better off sticking with paying it off in 3-4 years. A LOT of your vehicle debt goes away in 2026 so if you can make it until then, your finances will ease up a lot. And then keep those old trucks instead of upgrading!

    Do get rid of the vintage car however and pay off the smaller credit card balance. And to save on gas, get an inexpensive high miles per gallon car for commuting. Use whatever is left from selling the vintage car to add to your emergency savings.

    If you are able to increase your income from side hustles then focus on paying $100-200 extra on the remaining credit card balance. At then increase your payment to include what used to go toward the smaller, now paid off, card. Slow and steady and that debt will also go away in 3 years.

    Regarding the family trips, I would be loathe to cut back on those. You are not spending a lot there and getting HIGH value in return. While being debt free is great, you are relatively young, employed, and healthy. You have time on your side. As long as you stop taking on debt and keep paying off debt you should enjoy your family time now.

    Bottom line, a 3 -4 year plan to get rid of the vehicle and credit card payments is pretty darn good! Especially while still enjoying your current lifestyle.

    Then focus on paying off the heloc, and by the time you are in your fifties you’ll be in a sweet place financially!

    1. I’d strongly second the point Suzanne makes about the value you get from to your family trips. I’m a similar age to you and spent much of my 30s focused on getting my finances to a healthier place. One thing I have zero regrets about spending money on is family trips – in my case regular visits to stay with my parents when they were living in a different country. My mum died unexpectedly a few years ago and I’m profoundly grateful I prioritised those trips and looked elsewhere to make savings.

      In terms of finances, the hardest bit for me was taking stock, making honest choices about what was important to me personally (which looked different from many of my friends’ priorities) and setting things in motion. Once I’d done that, I felt more in control and less stressed. I hope you have the same experience. Wishing you and your family all the best and a bit of luck along the way.

    2. They may not be spending lot on the family trips themselves, but they are actually spending a lot ALL YEAR LONG as a result of the family trips because the debt due to the camper and the truck, and these items are a large contribution to their overspending issues (gas, insurance, as well as the actual payments on the truck and camper). I think that maybe they need to work with their family to see if someone else could be responsible for owning a truck that can pull the camper, and maybe sell their portion of the camper to another family member, perhaps, and then buy back in an a few years once they can actually afford the luxury of owing vehicles necessary for vacations. May sound cruel, but they have to face reality at some point and may have to forgo the vehicles necessary for these vacations for the time being. Why could they not still join the family and camp in a tent at the site instead of having the expense of the camper and truck?

  51. Hello,

    Below is my thoughts and questions…have you considered boarding other horses on your property? You said it doesn’t generate income. Is there a way it can generate income? Chickens…selling eggs?

    With your husband being a firefighter, I assume he has a set schedule so to speak and isn’t working five, 8 hour days each week? Can he find some other ways to make money on days off if he has time?
    Such as yard work, handy man services, walking dogs etc? Every little but helps and it may be a struggle at first but you could give it a try for so many months to see if it beneficial. Also, is he selling any of his “dumpster finds?” He can create a page and do a before and after of the item.

    Would cutting back one or two camping trips, help with expenses? Even if it was just short term?

    What is your plan if the student loan forgiveness doesn’t go through? How will that additional payment impact your monthly expenses? And if you have to make that payment, would you then be more willing to cut other things out or sell items or trade down?

    I feel you both are in a great position to find a side hustle that would benefit your family. People are making money in so many different way these days…my sister literally sells earrings and jewelry. She buys the charms etc online and connects them to make earrings or a necklace and people buy it!

    Good luck!

  52. I would be pretty nervous to keeping thousands of dollars laying around, even in a safe. What if the safe is stolen? Natural disaster? I would recommend putting it in the bank. Remember that banks are FDIC insured up to $250,000, so the money will be “safe” – if the government fails, as someone mentioned above, we’ve got bigger problems and the cash would be worthless anyway (as would gold if you have any ideas about that…).

    Some other thoughts… if you actually do need to use the money, there’s a good chance that you won’t be able to pay cash for it and will require an online transaction or via debit/credit card, so you would have to make the long trip to deposit the money anyway. Which could be pretty inconvenient in the middle of an emergency.

    Lastly, what if there is an accident and your family doesn’t know where the safe is or where the key to the safe is, or even remember that it exists?

    I don’t know if you can convince him or not (or if you even want to try) but just some food for thought…

  53. My thoughts:
    -You have built a wonderful lifestyle, and your discretionary spending is not very high, so I would not focus too much on reducing that. Reduce what you can without feeling deprived (for instance, if you don’t care about eating out slightly less frequently), but not the ones that you care about (for instance, family trips). Instead, focus on more creative debt payoff to eliminate fixed expenses.
    -I think you can have most of your debts payed off by the time your husband retires from firefighting in 4 years. This would be a great goal to set. It seems like your main source of discontent is the debts, and it will be a huge relief to have them mostly paid off AND have the pension in 4 years. The rest of my comment is an idea on the plan to accomplish that.

    -You seem quite open to selling the vintage car, which I think is a good idea. Use the proceeds to pay off the camper (because it’s higher interest, and obviously an important vehicle to you and your family) and the smaller credit card debt (because the proceeds should be around enough to pay both of these off). This eliminates two of your debts right off the bat – and combined with the student loan forgiveness, you would be able to eliminate 3 of the 7 debts within the next 6 months.
    -Funnel the extra money from the debt payments and vintage car insurance into increasing your emergency fund (to 3x your monthly expenses, so that you have a bit more breathing room and can hopefully prevent any additional debt in the future), and into the HELOC. Could you set a goal to pay off the HELOC early, by around the time that your husband retires from firefighting (which is also around the time that multiple other debts will be fully paid in 2026)? Send any extra fun money, side hustle / new side hustles (particularly love the idea of the horse boarding), future raises, etc there as well. If you can accomplish this (or accomplish it soon after), you will then only have one credit card debt remaining! That would be easy to pay off without the other payments, and then you will be truly free and it will feel amazing.
    -math on the above: you should have ~$300 extra per month after selling the vintage car and paying off the first couple of debts, so let’s say you would now pay $800 per month to the HELOC. If you can works towards an additional $300 (from spending cuts and/or extra income), for a total of $1100, that should be enough to be fully paid off in 4 years. And paying it off early will save you interest!

    1. Oh, and I forgot to mention, but if you can make it works with the trailer situation, I do think that replacing one truck with a cheaper and more efficient vehicle would be a HUGE money saver as well. It might get you all the way to the goal I mentioned! The used car market is great for sellers right now, so it’s a great time to sell. If you were to go with this plan, consider selling the truck first and using the vintage car to commute while you’re hunting for a good, efficient, reasonably priced user car to replace the truck. Then sell the vintage car after you have a replacement car for the commute.

      1. Wow, horse farm in Florida and camper vacations with extended family, what a dream! I second the advice to sell vintage car or whatever vehicke you dont use regulary. Renting out your home or guest area on airbnb when you are camping, renting out barn/outdor area to weddings or renting out vehicles I think is the easiest way for you to make extra money. You’ll be suprised at what people will pay for a rural wedding location!

  54. While his tone is terrible, R Quinn brings up some valid points on the pension.
    *Have you confirmed that Ryan’s pension amount remains that high, even if he selects the survivor benefit?
    *Have you confirmed that neither of your pensions impact your ability to withdraw Social Security?
    *As Mrs. FW asked, are your pensions inflation-adjusted?
    I’d take a few hours to find the answers to those questions as they’ll have an outsized impact on the next few decades of your life.

    I disagree slightly with Petra/Marie/Kristine. You are in an extremely fortunate position of having neither childcare costs nor reduced hours for childcare. As such, I agree with Bailey that your costs are really driven by your debt repayments, and you should:
    *Sell Marie’s truck and buy a $12k truck with the equity
    *Sell the tractor and buy a $15k tractor with the equity
    *Sell the vintage car and boat
    *Pay off the credit cards and start aggressively paying off the HELOC
    Given how much you use it and its family ties, I’d recommend keeping the camper but dedicating your payoff efforts to it (after the credit cards and HELOC). As one of my favorite personal finance authors (besides Mrs. Frugalwoods!) Ramit Sethi says, “you should fight for SIMPLICITY in your finances.”

    Other miscellaneous items:
    *I like the idea of horse boarding, although again only if you can do so while keeping things relatively simple.
    *I would not consider 403b until your debts are paid off. This comment stood out to me: “I would never let the interest kick in….There is usually a 3% balance transfer fee, but if usually pays for itself with the interest we’ll save.” This leads me to believe that: 1) you’ve done balance transfers before, and 2) you’re still paying fees that, while not as high as standard 15-20% interest, are still eating into your ability to save. Freeing up that monthly cash flow from debt payments and getting honest with your monthly expenses will allow you to avoid these transfers again the future.
    *Highly recommend the PSLF sub-Reddit for good information about forgiveness. Looks like payments are set to remain paused until June 2023, but this is a helpful forum for keeping an eye on updates. Betsy, the President of The Institute of Free Student Loan Advisors (TISLA) that Erica mentioned above, is the forum moderator.
    *If available through your employers, I recommend contributing to an FSA so the $120/month in medical expenses can be pre-tax

    Best of luck!

  55. Hi Marie, Thank you for sharing your story.
    Unlike most of the comments, I say keep the trucks. You have already taken the hit for the depreciation, they are doing specific jobs for you, and if you take good care of them, as I am sure you do, they will last a long time. Used vehicle prices are out of sight right now, and trucks are both especially high priced, and often abused by previous owners.
    I want to encourage you to be open with family and friends about the need to limit spending. When my husband was unable to work, and we needed to reduce expenses, we explained why we were making the choices that we did. We used to go to dinner weekly with motorcycle friends, and so we told them we would continue to join them, but we would only be having coffee. (I budgeted weekly for the coffee and a generous tip, because we were still taking up space at the waitresses table. ) People were very understanding, and it saved mental and emotional energy for us.
    I would think about selling the vintage car. They need upkeep, even if you don’t drive it. If you sold it, you could pay off the camper, and reduce your auto insurance as well. Down the road, when you are in a better place financially, you could get another car .
    As a person who has both been a boarder, and managed a 14 horse facility, I have some advice. Before you offer boarding, consider the potential need for liability insurance, and getting stuck with non-paying boarders. I have found that the amount of work needed increases exponentially with more than four horses. There’s more wear and tear, feed gets used up faster, so more trips to run, horses don’t get along and have to be moved, you pasture needs more maintenance, etc. When you have boarders, they are your customers. You can’t just let something go, everything has to be kept in good condition. Don’t go without insurance, the risks are too high.
    You can completely turn your situation around, and you will be so happy that you have taken whatever steps you decide on.

  56. I’m late to this and really hope you see it, because we are living on our FRS pensions as high risk employees. They are inflation adjusted, at 3% a year, in July. Check his, this may have been slightly reduced since we retired. High risk employees in the Florida retirement system can retire after 25 years, no matter what age.
    Have you looked into DROP? If Ryan works any additional time beyond his 25 years, that can be a life-changing amount of money, especially with your debt load. Here’s my warning about your debt, and why it is crucial you get very serious about reducing it asap. If Ryan were to be hurt at work, workers compensation is rarely his full salary. FRS disability is a percentage of his full income. It happened to me, and my county had a special program for employees injured in the line of duty. But, I took a 60% reduction in income, with a lot of debt and 5 kids under 10. I had short and long term disability, but workman’s comp changes a lot of that.
    So get very serious about eliminating what you can. If his schedule is a typical one in Florida for firefighters, he can really build some income on his off days to get a big shovel for the debt. I would 100% do at least a year in DROP. It’s much easier to work an additional year up to 5 than try to replace his income with a different job, and you’d have a great nest egg.

  57. As a beneficiary of PSLF myself, it is definitely worth the hassle to finally have your student loans forgiven. Please note that there are basically two loan forgivness programs at play here. The first is PSLF, which is contingent on 10 years of public service + 120 payments. The second is a general forgiveness of 10k/20k for borrowers and is not contingent on public service or number of payments. The general forgiveness program is the one being challenged in the courts. The outcome of those legal challenges *should* not change your ability to have your loans forgiven by PSLF, especially if you already qualified for PSLF in June 2023. I say should because as you know the PSLF roll-out didn’t go smoothly, but PSLF is not the subject of the legal challenges.

  58. Habitually rolling over the credit card debt to another zero-rate card really worries me. It’s still debt, it doesn’t go away — just a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ I felt much better when I went debt-free. I felt like I was finally building good habits that will stand me well in the long run. Constantly refinancing consumer debt is NOT a good habit.

    I’d suggest:

    1. selling the “antique car” and/or one of the trucks, then applying the gain to the cc debt and HELOC.

    2. Sell the camper at cost to the family members you camp with. It may involve some loss of face if they don’t know you’re struggling, but if you can’t be honest with family, then who?

    3. The $5K in the safe has lost 17 percent of its value in about two years. It’s actually around $4150. If Marie’s husband doesn’t like banks, better to take it out of the safe and pay down his debts.

    4. This is drastic, but Marie’s commute costs must be astronomical. Can she bunk a couple of nights a week with a teacher in town until they make some headway on their debts?

  59. Also, Ryan’s participation is crucial. Since we hear mostly from Marie, it’s hard to gauge whether Ryan thinks the family has a problem and therefore how invested he is in solving it.

  60. OK Becky the retired nurse/ paralegal reporting in. There are amany parts to this story. First off in my suburb we are far enough out there are many rural areas to our county/suburb. I live in the downtown area of our suburb. I am tapping this out on my phone as I am not able to afford cell phone service and internet. Another option for you is to consider is fixed wireless service aka wifi aka 5g internet. Both tmobile and Verizon offer it for $50 per month. I choose to use my phone for what I do. I recently found an mvno for $25 per month that provides 25 gb of data per month. Many of my neighbors have small boats as we are close to a river and a reservoir. They go fishing to cut down on food costs. One neighbor grows a huge veggie garden on her front lawn since she remarried and has 6 children. You were hinting about the possibility of having to look after parents during retirement. My best friend helps me out by renting me a small home . I don’t know their lifestyle however I too do not have long term care insurance. What will appen more than likely is that they will end up on medicaid if they require nursing home care. There are 4 choices in retirement for Healthcare Medicare medicaid medicare advantage er a supplemental policy.
    Medicare advantage sounds great on TV except that there are a lot of out of pocket expenses. For example you could be on the hook for 7k a year. If you are basically healthy the supplemental policy is a good option esp. A plan g policy. You have to pay extra on top of your Medicare policy premium however all your expenses are picked up and you can travel with it. You will also need a pharmacy drug plan and something to cover dental and vision. Vision in my case is covered because it’s a medical condition. Dental I use a discount plan. Since I have zero debt and savings I’m ok. Supplemental policies do not cover home health however if push comes to shove you can do a spend down and medicaid will cover the costs. You will need to read up on these things at several websites like and medicaid is at cms. It will give you Info on financial guidelines. Get your ducks in a row yourselves so you can help out. I rent for peanuts and from my saving I help cover repair costs instead of having an increase in rental costs. I also like Ryan am pretty savvy on simple home repairs. He’s more savvy on big home repairs which is .very useful. I stayed in an airbnb in Sanford when I traveled to Florida recently. My stepmother lives in the villages and just turned 90. I stayed in a room for $30 a night with my 14 pound dog and it had a microwave and mini refrigerator. It was perfect for my needs! Happy New Year and best wishes on your financial journey. I dug myself out of debt and have no credit cards. It can be done. I often joke that my life has been like the story the perils of Pauline. No matter I sleep well at night these days and I am happy. Best regards Becky

  61. Hi, Marie,
    Your lifestyle sounds wonderful. I’ve read all of the comments so far, and there are so many good suggestions. I’m not sure I have much to add, other than to say my husband, son and I took a camping trip back in the fall using a pickup truck and camper we rented. We had a great trip! I don’t know what we paid for the rentals, as my husband took care of that, but it was well worth the cost. I think that might work for you and your family to earn some extra $.
    Another thing – and maybe this is already taken care of – but make sure, if you have roadside assistance of any kind, that your RV and trailer is covered. We have AAA roadside assistance, and found out the hard way that our boat trailer was not covered under our plan when we blew a tire hauling our boat (additional coverage is required for an RV/trailer).
    I know you have much to think about, but it sounds like you are willing and motivated to make it happen! Happy New Year to all!

  62. Great comments so far!

    Can the camper even be paid off early, given that it is co-owned? Or rather, since I assume there are two or more parties making payments how would accelerating Marie’s payments affect the payoff? As first debt to pay off I’d go for the HELOC since the credit cards are at 0%, and if/when the time comes that the balance transfer fee is over 5% or there is no 0% card to roll it over onto then I’d pay the cards off from the HELOC. I assume the cards are cut up/used only for emergencies? If so I’d get another card for day to day use to pay off each month (Amazon has nice rewards and I see you buy from them often enough that it might be a good choice). Or you could use a bank debit card if that’s more comfortable but it has a little less flexibility and fewer fraud protections.

    As for long term goals, I see a lot of family interdependency right now which is awesome, but no plans to return the favors in the future. I know you will, that’s the culture you’ve built, but I think it’s worth taking a moment to be intentional about it and make sure you plan to have the resources for that. Retirement won’t be just you and your husband.

    My opinion on the cash at home: Higher than I’d keep around as someone who lives in suburbia with very infrequent hurricanes/snow storms. But you are in Florida with devastating hurricanes and far from population centers. I think its within reason. Someone invoked Puerto Rico in the earlier comments and Yes, it’s the scenario you’re prepared for.

    1. The classic car: before selling to outside of the family, make sure there is not an interested buyer inside the family. My Mom is still ticked that her brother scrapped a rusty old truck that was their Dad’s when they were kids. Note: their Dad is still alive and probably gave his blessing to scrap it, but my mom is STILL ticked. You have a great relationship with your family, and a much nicer car. Keep the good family relationship!

    2. Another comment on awareness/intentionality. My first reaction to only spending $100/month for 5 weeks of vacation/year was “Great job, that’s super low and since that includes vacation food – if you weren’t on vacation those weeks you’d be buying groceries anyways, so the net effect on your annual budget is really low!” But as I’ve mulled it over I realized that your life is built around those vacations. I still say they’re worthwhile, but to spell out what the cost really is:

      $100 listed cost
      $230 camper payment
      $589 truck payment –> if you were not towing a 5th wheel you could be driving a smaller/cheaper vehicle.
      $300 gas –> smaller car would mean less gas (2019 Ram 2500 averages 14 mpg)

      If your family had never decided to camp together in the 5th wheel you’d be spending ~~ $50 + $230 + $200 + $150 = $630 less each month.

      In reality I assume there would be other vacation expenses if this was eliminated, but I wanted to point out how family camping is a lifestyle expense that aligns with your values and priorities.

  63. Marie,
    My husband is with your’s and would rather work 10 jobs than sell his boat. 😉 A used bass boat in Florida would be tough to replace as well as the vintage car. It’s also a terrible time to buy a new/used truck. Even to get a smaller one, there will be a bit of a loss to change. I would look to see if your husband can do some side work to make some funds to put toward the higher payments. When my husband wants a new toy, he trades something or does extra work for it. We tend to buy used boats and then resell them once he fixes them up which is nice for making some money.

    We have a vintage car – its not worth it for us to “rent” it out as we would have to fully supervise/drive it. It’s also not restored fully so it’s not a desirable rental. However, we paid $5000 for it and it’s worth $20K+ and only appreciating. We could never replace it though so we keep it.

    Also for the camper, it is very different tent camping vs. camper camping. Camper camping is more similar to hotels and hopefully you are realizing a cost savings there!

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