Flowers from Robert

Ann is a 47-year-old home health aide living in Southern California. Her four teen/young adult sons live with their dad 10 minutes away, which enables her to spend time with them regularly. She is also newly married to her soul-mate, Robert, who is serving a Life Without Parole sentence in a California prison 300 miles away. Ann’s making major changes in her life right now, including earning her BA in English and preparing to buy a mobile home. She’d like our advice on how to stick to her budget, use her cash in the wisest way and work towards her goal of one day writing books and teaching English.

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.
  2. Hire me for a private financial consultation here.
  3. Schedule an hourlong call with me here.
  4. Schedule a 30 minute 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.

The Goal Of Reader Case Studies

Photo by Ann

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 92 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

Happy Lunch!

I probably don’t need to say the following because you all 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.

And a disclaimer that I am not a trained financial professional and I encourage people not to make serious financial decisions based solely on what one person on the internet advises. 

I encourage everyone to do their own research to determine the best course of action for their finances. I am not a financial advisor and I am not your financial advisor.

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

Ann’s Story

My Alter Ego

Hi, Frugalwoods community! I’m Ann, I live in Southern California and I’m a 47-year old divorced mother of 4 teen/young adult boys who live with their dad 10 minutes away. I see my sons regularly–except for the one who is in the Air Force. I am the treasurer of their Scout troop and enjoy it so much! I am a very detailed, organized person, and I find great satisfaction in keeping accurate financial records for the troop, plus I enjoy being around all the boys each week, even when my own two aren’t there.

I am newly married to my soul-mate, Robert, who is serving a Life Without Parole sentence in a California prison 300 miles away. We met through a pen-pal site and were married in the prison a year ago. It sounds crazy, but I would rather be married to him-in-prison than to anyone else out here. Our relationship is based on phone calls (now free!), texts (0.5 cents/text), hour-long video visits once a week if we’re lucky (free!), infrequent in-person visits (our goal is twice a year, or more if possible), and most recently and very excitedly, Facetime-like calls ($2.50/15 minutes).

Ann’s Job and Hobbies

My job is ideal for me: I care for an elderly couple, both with dementia, in their home (40 hrs/wk). The only drawback is that while I’m very fortunate it pays enough for me to live on, my budget is too tight.

I love to read novels (I just read Frankenstein for the first time), knit & crochet (I am currently working on two bedspreads), watch movies/tv shows (especially ones that make me laugh), and photograph my life. I am a homebody. 😊 Color and bright natural light are my lifeblood. Robert would also add that I love to “organize my colored pencils” (I’m probably too organized, ha ha!).

Robert and I are currently writing a children’s chapter book based on a nightmare he had as a child. He has always thought it was a story deserving to be told. It is slow going, since we are limited by 15-minute phone calls, but we are hoping it will supplement my income and pave the way for more books. We are writing for a middle-school audience and are almost at the targeted 20,000 words. We make an ideal team–he is the creative genius while I provide the structure and details for his ideas. I think I would make a very good editor!

Ann’s Goals

One of my Boys

My goal is to be financially independent so that I never have to worry about money. I find the Meyers-Briggs personalities very accurate, and my personality (INTJ) becomes stressed when forced to think about everyday things. Since living on my own, I have found this to be very true! I am always carrying around financial worry. I am terrified of being destitute someday, especially with recent rising costs. When I was first hired for my job and found out I’d be making $25/hr and realized this would cover my expenses, I felt an incredible lightness! I hadn’t realized the extent of the burden I was carrying until it was gone. But then prices started inflating and the fear came back.

I moved and started sharing living expenses with a roommate in August, which has helped ease the financial burden. However, I’m still trying to recover financially from August between the moving expenses (the movers were only supposed to cost $400 but ended up costing $1,284!) and losing 8 days of work due to having Covid (40% of my monthly income!). That’s another drawback to my job. Because my couple are elderly with pre-existing conditions and suppressed immunities, I have to stay home the full 10 days if I have Covid. So I still wear a mask EVERYWHERE, and I’m so anxious about getting it again.

I am also starting a side hustle with two vending machines. It will give me some mostly-passive income, as well as provide a job that Robert can take over in the hopeful event he is paroled. Laws are changing, he has been in for more than 20 years, and he is now considered “elderly” at the ripe old age of 52, so we are hopeful. It will be very good for his parole packet if he has a job ready for him to come home to. He has the personality and skills to excel in the vending industry. I do not, so that’s why I only have two machines.

What brings you to submit a Case Study?

My Oldest Son

What feels most pressing right now is that I’m not making enough money. I make enough to cover my basic expenses, with very few frills. And I’m not even paying for health insurance right now. I need advice on where to further cut my expenses (I have made great strides in that this past year!) and how to STAY ON BUDGET until I can earn more. I am subsisting with MediCal, which I hate, but it’s free, and since I have medical conditions and monthly prescriptions, this is a necessary evil right now.

I truly love my job, but working as a CNA/HHA will never pay much. I am VERY fortunate to be making $25/hr. Last year, I was earning only $17/hr working at a healthcare facility and the year before, I was earning a meager $15/hr as an administrative assistant.

Ann’s Desire to Write

I want to boost my earning power, and since my ultimate dream job is to work at home from my laptop, I’ve started earning my BA in Creative Writing. My best-case scenario would be to write successful mystery novels like Agatha Christie! I plan to go on to earn a Master’s as well, because then I can teach at the community college level, ideally online classes. Having homeschooled my sons for so many years and having taught an English class for other homeschoolers, I know I love teaching.

With a bachelor’s in English, there are also online positions available to teach English to foreign students. My plan is to stay with my elderly couple until I earn my BA, then find an online job using my degree, but staying with my couple part-time, because I really love them. Then I can start classes for my MA. After that, I should be able to work and earn enough for my financial goals. A benefit of working from home will be that I won’t have to retire until I want to, as I can keep earning money as long as my brain works despite what my body may decide to do. I plan to keep up my medical licenses, as I love eldercare, and it is something I can do part-time, even just a few hours a week if that’s all I want to do. I will always be able to find work since eldercare is a dependable, recession-proof source of income.

Ann’s Plans to Buy a Home

Robert’s Home

My roommate and I have decided to separate (our lease is up in September), so I’m in the process of looking for a mobile home to buy, since I recently found out that I can! Hopefully when I update this post, it will be from my very own nest. I’ve been pre-approved for a $130k mobile home loan with a maximum monthly space rent of $1,000. My combined monthly payments cannot exceed $1,650.

I know a condo is a better investment, but I will be happier in a mobile home—it is unattached, and I’ll be able to have my own outdoor space. Also, there are literally no condos in my county in the range I’ve been approved for ($250k max). My financial advisor approves, as the important thing is to stop wasting money on rent. I will use my non-retirement account (which is now at $68k) as the down payment and for the cash flow necessary when buying a new home (since there are always expenses).

I am very new to being in charge of my own finances and it has been a trial by fire. In my previous marriage, my ex-husband managed all the finances. I was blissfully ignorant of everything except the money I received for groceries and my personal expenditures. But I have a good financial advisor whom I trust and whose advice lines up with what I read on Frugalwoods and hear on the ChooseFi podcasts. His advice is to withdraw nothing and let my investments grow, while doing my best to contribute $6,000 into my Roth IRA each year (the max allowed). Right now, I’m not contributing anything, but that is something I want to do.

The Feast or Famine Cycle

Still Life with Oranges

Another thing that feels very pressing is my shopping problem. For my entire adult life, I’ve never been able to stay on a budget. Shopping is my coping mechanism when life gets stressful. I have a feast or famine way of dealing with this. I start out with the best of intentions, sticking closely to my budget, but when I feel stressed and overwhelmed, then I OVERSPEND—generally on things I was denying myself while I was being so good, and then some. And then I feel so wretched that I am even stricter with my budget, which of course starts the whole cycle over again. I am also this way with eating.

I know that if I was in control of my spending, I would have built up my cash cushion already. I have been using a budget program to budget my expenses this year, and it has been really helpful in curbing the mindless overspending. However, I can’t seem to control the emotional spending.

What are the best parts of your life?

Still Life with Handspun Yarn

The best parts of my current lifestyle are spending time with Robert and my boys, my English classes, and my job. I love my husband–he’s a wonderful man, not at all like the stereotypical prisoner. I really enjoy my boys and I’m sad I miss out on being with them every day. I know I could live much cheaper somewhere else, but I don’t want to move away from them. Writing satisfies something within me, and I’m very excited by the idea that I could earn a living doing it. And I truly have the best job! My couple adores me, their family values me, and my co-workers are wonderful people.

What are the worst parts of your life?

The worst part of my current lifestyle is not having enough time. I am working full-time, schooling part-time, starting a small business, and trying to buy a home and move, on top of making sure I have regular time with Robert and my sons. I have regularly scheduled time with my two youngest boys, and Robert and I talk on the phone in the evenings after I get home from work.

Where Ann Wants to be in Ten Years:


  • To have no money worries!
  • To be well on my way to financial independence, with investments in real estate.


  • To have a cat or a small dog and to be working from home, living on my own (with Robert!)


  • To be a successful writer—working from home and getting paid for my writing.

Ann’s Finances


Item Number of paychecks per year Gross Income Per Pay Period Deductions Per Pay Period Net Income Per Pay Period Annual Totals
Ann’s job 26 $2,000 taxes: $314.22 $1,686 $43,836
Robert’s contribution 12 Monthly. He can sometimes contribute more, but this is the fixed minimum I can depend on. N/A $207 $2,484
Annual Total: $46,320
Monthly Subtotal: $3,860

Debts: $0


Item Amount Notes Interest/type of securities held/Stock ticker Name of bank/brokerage Expense Ratio Account Type
Traditional IRA $310,440 Passive ETFs LPL Financial 0.06 Retirement
Non-Retirement Account $68,797 Down payment + move-in costs LPL Financial 0.06 Emergency
Roth IRA $25,770 Passive ETFs LPL Financial 0.06 Retirement
Checking Account $14,764 0 California Coast Credit Union n/a Cash
Savings Account $11,343 Earmarked for tuition. This will be enough for my Bachelor’s degree. Should I put this towards my down payment, and then use my extra monthly cash to pay for school? 0.05% California Coast Credit Union n/a Cash
Business Checking Account $1,018 I am starting a small side hustle with two vending machines. This is my business checking account. 0 Union Bank n/a Cash
Stocks $579 Just for fun. Not planning to sell! Originally worth $700. 14 different stocks Robinhood n/a Fun experiment
Total: $432,711


Vehicle make, model, year Valued at Mileage Paid off?
2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid EX $27,842 ~30,000 yes


Item Amount Notes
Rent $1,461 My half
Groceries $200 Only food
Text & face messaging w/Robert $200 Sometimes over this amount.
Robert’s discretionary spending $200 He uses this for things he wants me and our household to have, so he doesn’t have to wrestle the purse strings from me to be able to do it.
Ann’s discretionary spending $185 Clothing, shoes, yarn, home dec., etc. (I have a hard time sticking to this amount.)
Gas $175 My work is 26 miles away. Car averages 37 mpg. Last fill-up was $4.759/gal.
Eating out $125 A way to bond with my boys, and I need some breaks.
Robert’s food packages $100 He can have 4 packages a year ($300/pkg.), letting him take a break from state food.
School books & expenses $100 I am estimating this, as I’m just starting and not sure how much my books will be. This also includes CEU classes for renewing my licenses.
Savings–>Visiting Robert $100 Driving to see him costs about $1,200, if I am unable to trade shifts at work for the days I miss. If I can trade, it costs about $600.
Auto insurance $86 Through Wawanesa
Supplements $75 Some are necessary for my health conditions.
Utilities $65 My half (sometimes it’s less)
Savings–> Cushion $58 Goal is a month’s income. Right now it’s at $1060.86. Extra income goes here. I get overtime and holiday pay often (I earned an extra $600 take-home in November), BUT I’ve been trying for most of the year, and I just can’t get it there. I do have $2000 saved (Dave Ramsey’s Baby Step 1), but I want this cushion on top of the $2000. (The extra $600 this month covered my over-budget expenses.)
Electricity $54
Car maintenance $50 I know next-to-nothing about cars, so I take it in for almost everything. My good-with-cars brother has the same car, so he helps me remotely with the easy things.
Household supplies & HBA $50 From TP to mascara to vacuum filters.
Compassion International $38 Sponsoring a child in Rwanda
Internet $33 My half
Covered parking spot $30 My half (not an option–it’s the only way to have two parking spots at our complex)
DMV registration $27 $318 due yearly
Robert’s treats to me $25 He likes to have the ability to give me special food/meals that I otherwise wouldn’t want to pay for.
Birthday gifts $25 Xmas gifts are out right now for financial reasons, but I would like to have an envelope for those.
Chuze Fitness $25 I just joined, because I love exercise classes and the gym is 1/2 mile away, and historically, exercise classes work best for me to be consistent with exercise. Right now, I’m not exercising at all.
Cell phone service $17 Mint Mobile
Haircut $15 $30 every other month
Xmas cards $10 Yearly. I like to send nice photo cards.
YouTube Music $10 Very important to me. I use it almost constantly when I’m not working.
Renter’s insurance $8 Through our complex
Amazon Prime (student) $7
Netflix $7
Microsoft $6 Yearly
Goodbudget $5 Yearly (my budgeting program)
McAffee $4 Yearly
Parking permit $2 Yearly (for the complex).
Apple $1 My cloud space
Monthly subtotal: $3,579 Almost exactly my monthly income.
Annual total: $42,947.76

Credit Card Strategy

Card Name Rewards Type? Bank/card company
Chase Sapphire Preferred Travel Chase Bank
LL Bean Website money (I’m currently working towards a $300 down blanket for my bed.) Citibank
Kohls n/a Capital One, N.A.
I only use one credit card at a time, to focus on the rewards. I pay it off completely each month.

Ann’s Questions For You:

  1. How can I further cut my expenses while I’m in school these next few years? And how can I sustain this budget?
  2. How can I eke out $6,000 a year to put in my Roth IRA?
  3. How can I control my shopping problem?
  4. How should I pay for my Master’s degree?

Liz Frugalwoods’ Recommendations

Ann’s oldest son

I want to thank Ann for sharing her story with us today and congratulate her on all of these exciting life changes ahead!

Ann’s Question #1: How can I further cut my expenses while I’m in school these next few years? And how can I sustain this budget?

While I agree with Ann that her income is low, it’s also true that she’s managing to live on it. That’s a huge win! Plenty of folks don’t break even every month and doing so is an accomplishment all on its own. So take some praise here, Ann: you’re making it work! Would it be easier if she had a higher income? Of course! But since that goal is potentially a few years away, her inclination to spend less makes sense.

Anytime a person wants to spend less, I encourage them to comb through their expenses and categorize each item as Fixed, Reduceable or Discretionary:

  • Fixed expenses are things you cannot change. Examples: your mortgage and debt payments.
  • Reduceable expenses are necessary for human survival, but you control how much you spend on them. Examples: groceries and gas for the cars.
  • Discretionary expenses are things that can be eliminated entirely. Examples: travel, haircuts, eating out.

This is always an illuminating exercise because we can’t know how much we can save if we don’t know our categories. This is also, by the way, why I encourage everyone to find a system for expense tracking that works for you. I use and recommend the free tracking service from Personal Capital, but there are plenty of other options on the market (affiliate link).

Below is this categorization exercise for Ann and it assumes that all Robert-related expenses, which total $625 per month, are fixed and non-negotiable.

This is an austere, bare bones budget, but it illuminates Ann’s baseline. In other words, this is potentially the lowest amount she could spend every month. I eliminated everything Discretionary and reduced everything Reduceable. From a quality of life standpoint, I can’t say I recommend this. But from a saving money standpoint, this is the most aggressive way to go about it:

Item Amount Category Proposed Bare Bones Amount
Rent $1,461 Fixed $1,461
Groceries $200 Reduceable 200
Text & face messaging w/Robert $200 Robert 200
Robert’s discretionary spending $200 Robert 200
Ann’s discretionary spending $185 Discretionary 0
Gas $175 Reduceable 100
Eating out $125 Discretionary 0
School books & expenses $100 Fixed 100
Robert’s food packages $100 Robert 100
Savings–>Visiting Robert $100 Robert 100
Auto insurance $86 Fixed 86
Supplements $75 Reduceable 50
Utilities $65 Fixed 65
Savings–> Cushion $58 Reduceable 0
Electricity $54 Fixed 54
Car maintenance $50 Reduceable 30
Household supplies & HBA $50 Reduceable 30
Compassion International $38 Discretionary 0
Internet $33 Fixed 33
Covered parking spot $30 Fixed 30
DMV registration $27 Fixed 27
Birthday gifts $25 Discretionary 0
Robert’s treats to me $25 Robert 25
Chuze Fitness $25 Discretionary 0
Cell phone service $17 Reduceable 17
Haircut $15 Discretionary 0
Xmas cards $10 Discretionary 0
YouTube Music $10 Discretionary 0
Renter’s insurance $8 Fixed 8
Amazon Prime (student) $7 Discretionary 0
Netflix $7 Discretionary 0
Microsoft $6 Discretionary 0
Goodbudget $5 Discretionary 0
McAffee $4 Discretionary 0
Parking permit $2 Fixed 2
Apple $1 Discretionary 0
Current Monthly Subtotal: $3,579 Proposed New Monthly Subtotal: $2,918
Current Annual Total: $42,948 Proposed New Annual Total: $35,016

At this bare bones budget level, Ann would be on track to save an additional $7,932 per year. This would answer her second question of:

How can I eke out $6,000 a year to put in my Roth IRA?

She could easily take $6k of that saved $7,932 to put into her Roth IRA and still have $1,932 leftover.

Ann’s Question #3: How can I control my shopping problem?

Paper cranes

While the above bare bones budget solves Ann’s first two questions: how to save more money and how to find $6k to invest in her Roth, it likely makes question #3 more of a problem. The challenge I see with this budget is that it’s extreme and miserly and would likely catapult Ann into that feast or famine mindset she mentioned she’s fallen victim to in the past. It seems a middle ground will be more sustainable for her (and anyone) for the longterm.

To that end, I encourage Ann to perform this same exercise with her expenses. She may have different categorizations for each item and different proposed new amounts. What I like about this format is that you can set a goal for how much you want to spend each month and then work backwards to figure out how to get your spending to align with that goal. I can’t tell Ann (or anyone else) what she should spend her money on or what her priorities should be–only she can identify what she values the most. If Ann is able to eliminate anything that doesn’t fit the criteria of being a highest and best priority, her goal should come into sharper focus. She’s already done the hard work of tracking and listing all of her expenses–now she just needs to reckon with which ones matter the most to her.

At work

This feast or famine mindset is a familiar one for a lot of folks. We severely restrict ourselves and then binge in the opposite direction because we feel deprived. The goal of sustainable, lifelong frugality is NOT to deprive yourself–it’s to create a tenable balance between treats and savings. I call it ‘luxurious frugality‘ because the hope is that you’re able to create a budget in which all of your needs are met and enough of your ‘luxurious wants’ are also met. Thus, you’re able to feel abundant as opposed to deprived.

My favorite tactics for getting to this place of luxurious frugality entail frugal substitution and the ruthless elimination of things that aren’t priorities.

Here’s that idea fleshed out in a post I wrote a few years ago titled, How to Create Sustainable Money Habits:

Identify: Think through your typical day/week and identify every juncture at which you spend money.

Disrupt: For every money-spending event you identify, make a proactive plan for how you’ll eliminate or reduce that expense.

For each of these spending junctures, figure out if you can: 1) eliminate it entirely; or 2) utilize frugal substitution. (You can also perform this exercise via spreadsheet with the above expense categorization approach).

Here are a few examples:

    • Frugal substitution: bringing your lunch from home rather than buying it out
    • Elimination: cancelling a gym membership you’re not using
    • Frugal substitution: buying a dress to wear to a friend’s wedding at a thrift store instead of new
    • Combination elimination and substitution: not drinking alcohol on certain days/weeks to reduce your expenditure in that area

With frugal substitutions, we’re not giving something up, we’re just doing it more cheaply. Ann’s utilization of the MVNO Mint for her cell phone service is a perfect example of frugal substitution (affiliate link). She’s not going without a phone, but she’s spending only $17 a month on service, which is drastically less than most Americans.

The line items I encourage Ann to investigate first are Robert’s discretionary spending, her discretionary spending and eating out–those three items total $510/month ($6,120 per year). Again, the goal is not to berate yourself or feel guilty; rather, it’s to interrogate if the return you’re getting on these expenditures is worth it.

Ann’s Question #4: How should I pay for my Master’s degree?

Happy Living Room Arrangement!

I want to pause here to talk about Ann’s pursuit of a BA and MA in English. Firstly, you don’t need a college degree in order to become a writer. You just have to write. While an English degree certainly provides useful techniques and tools, it’s not a requirement to become an author. To that end, I encourage Ann to discern if her goal is to write novels or teach English.

→If the real goal is to teach English, then yes, degrees are required.

→However, if the real goal is to write books, a degree is not required and getting one is potentially slowing down your writing progress.

If the goal is to write books, Ann should utilize her time to write books as opposed to sitting in a class and doing coursework.

I also want to pull apart the threads of Ann’s competing goals:

  1. On one hand, she has identified that she wants to earn more money.
  2. On the other hand, she has identified that she wants to write books.
  3. Unfortunately, #2 is not very likely to make #1 happen anytime soon.

I think most of us will agree that finding a remunerative career as an author isn’t something to hang a financial plan on. I write this as a published author who got paid to write this book a few years ago. It was a grueling, challenging process and I can think of at least 1,000 easier ways to make money.

Write because you love to write, not because you think it’s going to make you rich (or even pay the bills).

Backyard Puffball

As a fellow writer, I’m not trying to rain on Ann’s dreams here, I just want her to be crystal clear about the fact that an English degree and writing books are not great ways to make money. There are A LOT of aspiring writers with English degrees who would be thrilled to make the $25/hour Ann currently makes. And Ann already knows that writing can happen anytime, anywhere–it doesn’t need to be within the confines of your “full-time job.” Plenty of novelists hold down day jobs while working on their craft in their spare time.

Jumping back to the discernment question, if the goal is to teach English, then Ann needs to have a very concrete plan for how that will be accomplished. As it stands, the BA and MA are a tough financial proposition since there’s not a clear trade-off for increased income.

Here are the questions about teaching that I encourage Ann to explore:

  1. What income can she expect as a teacher? It might not be much more than $25/hour.
  2. Will she also need a teaching certificate or degree in order to be hired as a teacher?
  3. Can she be hired as a community college English teacher, as she noted, without prior teaching experience?
  4. Ann mentioned teaching English online to English language learners and I’m almost 100% certain you do not need a degree in English to do this. Ann already has a college degree and that’s likely all that’s needed. I strongly encourage her to explore all of these avenues.

Bottom line: if getting a BA and MA isn’t going to measurably improve your earning potential, it’s a very expensive gamble.

Holistic Financial Overview

Let’s do a complete rundown of Ann’s assets and see where things stand.

1) Cash: $27,125

Diary-Free Truffles from Robert

Between her three checking and savings accounts, Ann has $27k in cash, which is fantastic! At her current spend rate of $3,579 per month, she’d ideally have an emergency fund of $10,737 (three month’s worth) to $21,474 (six months’ worth). She’s over this amount, but I think that’s fine since she plans to move in the near future, which is a notoriously expensive endeavor.

→Action item: move the cash to a high-yield savings account.

Ann’s cash is underutilized at the moment since it is earning 0% or 0.05% in interest. She should explore moving her cash into a high-yield savings account, such as the American Express Personal Savings account, which–as of this writing–earns 3.40% in interest (affiliate link). In that account, in one year, her $27,125 would earn $922 in interest! That’s free and easy money!

2) Retirement: $336,210

Between her Roth and traditional IRAs, Ann has $336,210 in retirement investments. Let’s see how this measures up against Fidelity’s Retirement Rule of Thumb: 

Aim to save at least 1x your salary by 30, 3x by 40, 6x by 50, 8x by 60, and 10x by 67.

Since Ann is 47, let’s go with 5x her salary, which is $260,000 ($52,000 gross salary x 5). By that metric, she is on track. The caveat, however, is that Ann has identified that her salary is too low and her budget too restrictive. In light of that, she’ll want to keep an eye on increasing this number as her income increases to a more comfortable level. Her inclination to max out her Roth IRA every year is a great one and I encourage her to work towards that. For 2023, the maximum contribution allowed is $6,500. Note that this jumps to $7,500 when you’re age 50 and older.

→Action item: Determine her Social Security benefits


Ann should also figure out her anticipated Social Security benefits by following these instructions on how to retrieve her earnings tables from (the government’s Social Security website). Her anticipated Social Security will form the crucial baseline of her retirement income.

3) Taxable (aka non-retirement) Investments: $69,376

My understanding is that Ann intends to use most/all of this for the downpayment on her mobile home, so we’ll consider this money already earmarked for that.

A Note On Mobile Homes

Since Ann plans to buy a mobile home, I want to include a few notes–which she may already be aware of–but I’d be remiss not to mention. My primary caution here is about mobile home parks and their different administrative structures.

Questions for Ann to ask:

  1. What is the HOA (home owner’s association) fee or park fee?
  2. Who owns the park?

This second question is especially crucial since, ideally, you want to buy a mobile home in a park that’s owned by either a non-profit or a cooperative made up of the residents. If a park is instead owned by a for-profit entity, park fees can be hiked dramatically over time. And despite their name, it’s expensive to move a mobile home, so you’re essentially restricted to staying in the park you bought into. Thus, if the park fees dramatically increase, you’re stuck with these fees. Plus, if you try to then sell, the value of your home is reduced because buyers will be deterred by the high park fees. The best way to mitigate that risk is to buy a home in a park that’s owned by a nonprofit or cooperative.


  1. A Current Project

    Perform the expense categorization exercise outlined above and play around with the proposed new amounts to spend each month:

    • Identify which items are priorities, which can be eliminated and which are ripe for frugal substitution.
  2. Identify where to save the $6,500/year to invest in your Roth IRA.
  3. Ensure you’re creating a sustainable frugal budget that won’t lead to deprivation and the temptation to severely restrict and then binge.
  4. Spend time discerning if the goal is to write novels or teach English:
    • If the real goal is to teach English, create a concrete plan for how to get hired and know the anticipated salary and requirements (teaching certificate, teaching experience, etc) in advance.
    • If the real goal is to write books, then the degree(s) are not required and are potentially slowing down your progress.
  5. Write because you love to write, not because you think it’s going to make you rich (or even pay the bills):
    • Ann needs a practical and realistic plan for supporting herself and writing books is not a stable route to that.
    • Income will likely need to come from somewhere else while the book writing happens in the off-hours. Many authors have followed this path to great literary (if not financial) success!
  6. Consider moving all of your cash into a high-yield savings account.
  7. Keep your eye on your retirement investments and ensure you’re growing them as you grow your income.
  8. Determine your anticipated Social Security income.
  9. Research the park fees and park ownership structure of all potential mobile homes.
  10. Update us on all the exciting changes you have on the horizon! We are cheering you on!

Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice do you have for Ann? 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 (

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  1. Hi – I just wanted to say that if you hate Medical because it gives you bad coverage or something, that’s one thing, but if you hate it because you feel bad being on a government program try to wipe that thought away. You’re doing important and undervalued, undercompensated work caring for elders and it’s not wrong to take advantage of available programs.

    1. I second this. Basic healthcare should be a basic human right available for all.

      Ann, great job earning what you spend! It’s so easy to overspend and it’s so great that you’ve built up such a strong cushion for yourself.

      1. Thank you! I actually didn’t build up my investments–I received my divorce settlement in one lump sum. I’m really terrible with money, so I’m embarrassed how how much I frittered away before I got serious with my budget last year. :{

    2. Totally agree. I’m not US based, but the notion of somehow being ashamed in some way, for needing… health cover, is not acceptable. You work hard, you contribute in many ways to society, to your own upkeep. You are a contributing, extremely valuable member of society and deserve any and all social cover that you may ever qualify for. Take every penny to which you are legally entitled, be that medicaid, pension, whatever. All. Of. It.

      All of it.

      You have earned it, and continue earning it.

    3. Thank you for your encouragement! I actually hate Medi-Cal because it’s so inefficient, lol! I’m on hold for FOREVER whenever I have to call, and the doctors they refer me to are 30-40 minutes away, and when I try to make an appointment, this particular one only see patients on Wednesdays, so he was booked out for forever, so I started over to get another referral, but this one didn’t accept my insurance, and when I did go for an appointment, I was given directions to the wrong hospital, so I wasted my entire morning, plus $5 on parking. *grrr*

      1. Now THAT’S a good reason for hating it!! What a nightmare and it really would discourage a person from ever seeking medical care for anything other than the most urgent matters, which could actually be dangerous, longer term.

  2. I 100% agree with the advice about writing vs. teaching vs. teaching online. Teaching English online has very low barriers to enter and is probably the most accessible way for her to start earning more money right now. I think it’s unlikely that she would earn much more as a community College professor and the expense to income ratio is not worth the investment. I wonder since eldercare is something she is interested in continuing part time, could she seek out additional training or skills that could increase her hourly wage in her current career? Leaving her time to write if that is her goal.

    1. I agree. I have an MA in English. I would not be able to earn $25 an hour teaching at the college level. Furthermore, most positions are for low paying adjuncts.

    2. I will also note that there way more supply than demand for people with graduate degrees in English who want to teach at the college level. Most likely, her options would be to teach as an adjunct professor, and the amount of pay per course is abysmal.

      1. That is good information to have. Thank you for sharing. I actually don’t want to teach full-time, as I think diversifying my income sources is a good idea. With an English degree, there is a lot I can do online. Editing would be a very good fit for me.

    3. This is very good information about the expense to income ratio–thank you! I was going to go to LVN school, but that’s 18 months of full-time school, so I wouldn’t be able to work at the same time. And I really want a work-at-home job. I did just find out this week that I will be getting a $3/hr. raise to $28/hr. beginning March 1st! My couple’s children really appreciate me. 🙂

  3. Definitely one of the more interesting case studies you’ve had on here. I’m impressed she’s able to live well on that income in notoriously expensive Southern California! As a fellow aspiring writer (with a lack of self discipline and a masters degree), I applaud your efforts to pursue your dream. I agree that all it takes is an idea and a pen to write a book, and you don’t need a degree. Rather, investing in something like Masterclass for $20/ month could actually help more in the short term, or joining a writers guild for accountability. I also agree re: the mobile home. This is happening to my father in law right now, and he wishes he’d waited and saved for a condo. Good luck to you!

    1. Totally agree with the suggestion for Masterclass or another craft-based program, rather than a traditional BA/MA, if the goal is to write books. Your local library may also have free subscriptions to programs like that with your library card. (I don’t know where in SoCal you are, but I just googled LA County Library writing workshop and found a ton of free programs!) As a fellow writer, I’ve found these sorts of craft/workshop based classes invaluable, both for setting deadlines/goals/accountability, and for feedback to improve the work itself.

      1. Oh, I like this idea! I saw a Creative Writing class at the library that looked really fun, but it’s during my work hours.

    2. I’m flattered that you think this was so interesting. 🙂 The problem is that I have to move by September (my roommate situation is *not* working out, and our lease is up in September), and this will be my 5th move in 6 years, and moving is incredibly stressful for me, so I want to stay put after this. I also know I will be much happier in an unattached home with my own outdoor space than in a glorified apartment.

  4. Dear Ann
    I think you have done so well as regards to your retirement funds etc. I am just going to throw a couple of ideas into the mix of ways you might make some more money :
    1. You enjoy crafting, is there a way that you could turn that skill into a business on Etsy ? Take a look around on that website – I bet you there are lots of ideas that you may be able to twist into something you would enjoy making.
    2. Upcycling items that you may find in thrift shops or just on the side of the road, then selling them either at markets or if the items are small enough – then on Etsy – it could be small pieces of furniture that just need repurposing or just a lick of paint, some novel print on drawer fronts or something like that.
    3. With your skills in teaching, perhaps you can offer extra tuition to pupils in English – it is surprising what parents will pay, if you can teach their children to read.
    4. You definitely need a back up plan for your income as the couple you are caring for now , will not be a job you can have long term, as there is a natural end to someone with Alzheimer, however I do applaud you for doing this job, my own mother had Alzheimer prior to her death, it takes a special kind of patience and compassion to care for them. Would you consider setting up an agency with just that kind of help with the elderly that you are providing now ? If you could have people work for you, it could be a good business with a good earning potential.

    On the whole I think you possess so many life skills that you can profit from now, just think that you have raised 4 kids, homeschooled them, you can write – surprisingly it takes a lot of writing to sell things on-line or making any marketing material for any business.

    In hard times I have done various things to make ends meet: made homemade jams + pickles to sell, made corndollies to sell ( old English craft ), sewn baby clothes and sold them. These days I don’t really need to but I still enjoy making jams and I make jewelry to sell ( as there is a limit to how much I can wear myself).
    Remember that every $ you spend, means that you deprive yourself of the liberty you could gain for yourself in the future with that $

    1. Thank you for the encouragement and your ideas! I actually didn’t save up my investments myself, I received my divorce settlement in one lump sum. 🙂
      I have thought about selling on Etsy!
      I look on Indeed every so often, and I will be able to easily find work with a home health agency in the future (although probably not at what I’m making now–I just found out I will be getting a $3/hr. raise on March 1st!)

  5. I agree with Mrs frugalwoods suggestion of figuring out which goal you’re aiming for. If writing is the real goal, Ann could look at going to school for a different line of work to pay the bills and support her desire for more income and writing.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts. I probably didn’t word things clearly enough in my post. My real goal is to work at home, and I think writing my own books would be a fun way to do that. I know I will need some bread-and-butter income, and editing will be a good fit, and I know I have a talent for non-fiction, so maybe magazine articles?? I like the idea of diversifying my income for added security.

  6. Try couponing, and thrift shopping to help curve your shopping addiction. You could cut your household and food budget. I follow on Instagram. She will show you how to coupon.

  7. Ann, you seem like such a lovely person. Thank you for the valuable work you do in elder care! I wanted to echo the advice about really drilling down on why you would go to school. I think one thing I saw absent in your description of life is social interaction outside of work and family. There are literally thousands (millions?) of aspiring writers you can connect with for free on the internet or in local writing clubs. I think it would be really helpful to have that community for feedback and development of your writing skills as well as camaraderie. I also second (third or fourth?) the side hustle of tutoring and maybe other writing based skills like proofreading. Best of luck to you!

    1. Hello Ann! 😉
      Thank you for your nice words. I appreciate it.
      I find it interesting that you noticed my lack of friends. I don’t currently have any good friends. I lost a very dear friend a year ago, and that was a big blow. I definitely plan to diversify–there are so many things I could do online with an English degree that I would enjoy.

  8. There is a huge teaching shortage in public education right now. If you have any bachelors degree and are willing to do an alternative certification, you can find a job almost anywhere in the US right now. They usually give you three years to earn the alternative certification, so you could always give it a try for a year or two to see if you like it. If you do, most school systems will pay for your certification in exchange for working 3-5 years. I know you didn’t mention teaching in k-12 but since you have experience homeschooling your children, you may enjoy it! I don’t know about California, but most states have been increasing teacher pay as an incentive to get more teachers. You could easily start out between 40k and 60k depending on the region and COL allowances that school systems pay.

    1. I agree! Teaching at a k-12 school will pay much more then teaching at a community college. Plus it is a regular salary with benefits. I currently teach part-time at a community college and most instructors are adjuncts. It would be very difficult to make as much as a k-12 teacher. Plus, it is not stable at every community college – if you are needing the salary to live on. You are a temporary employee. After several years some adjunct are made into permanent employees but usually only a few are.

    2. I was thinking the same thing!!! A lot of county offices of education are creating their own intern programs so you can work full time and earn your credential with online and evening classes through their county.

    3. I just have a few comments, as already stated, you obviously are creatively talented and this could be a way of earning additional income while doing something you enjoy. As mentioned, upcycling items is a creative outlet that may potentially earn some money. People discard some great stuff. My cousin has taken furniture people have discarded and just repainted them. I found a great little wooden chair someone was throwing out. Also I love your pictures, photography could be another potential money maker. Some people frame and sell their photos, or potentially you could get paid for photo shoots. Another thought was possibly pursuing a nursing career which would increase your salary. Nurses have so many options. You could still be doing the same elder care but with a nursing degree get paid much more. My cousin is also a health aide in a VA hospital and works extremely hard and if she had a nursing degree her salary would be much higher. This would also be a great monetary expenditure but more in the direction of what you are already doing and would definitely insure many different and creative employment opportunities. Financially I don’t know what Mrs Frugalwood would say about this, but something to consider. I would also really consider the potential of being at the mercy of a mobile home park and the increases of the park fees. I also know shopping habits can be hard to break. It may be an addiction and possibly finding a group that helps with this might be beneficial, like an overspenders anonymous or something similar.

  9. Hi! You are working hard, that’s for sure and I want to extend gratitude that you work in elder care. It is SO needed and you are surely a blessing to your clients and their family.
    I second the “writing books won’t make you much money/you don’t need a degree to do it” advice. I have friends who have written and it is, for almost everyone, a labor of love, not a path toward bills paid.
    However if you have or can quickly get skills as a proofreader/copy editor, there are a lot of remote jobs you can do in that field, especially in healthcare. I would look into taking a couple of free online courses in this field and learning the AMA style guide and Associated Press (typically used for news publications) or Chicago Manual of Style (more common with books and education) guides. Do a search on Indeed and you will be amazed at what’s out there. Once you have some experience and work samples you can show somebody, I wouldn’t even look at anything under $25 an hour. Good luck!

    1. Thank you for your encouraging words! I really appreciate it. You have good advice. Yes, I definitely plan to find online editing work!

      1. UC Berkeley has an online Editors Certificate. It was the best option when I did the research. For what it is worth, I have my MFA in Creative Writing, have one published short story and have taught k-12 in California for 34 years. This is what I know:
        1. Editors make almost nothing unless you throw yourself at it full time. Most of my editor friends have to bid gigs for pennies against other desperate post grads. However it is interesting work.
        2. By far the most money is in k-12. My district has opened an online school. You would have the benefits of a district but it would be online. If you go this route, it might be cheaper to major in education with a built in credential. You could still edit since that requires experience and not necessarily credentials. Authorship , same.
        3. All districts are required to provide free online intervention for k-12 underperforming schools. There are private companies that provide this. it is a lucrative gig. Your numbers would be small.
        4. I have student teacher right now who is 42 with a PHD in Philosophy who has taught at the college level in fine institutions for ten years. He just couldn’t make a decent living so he is getting his single subject credential. He is concurrently teaching online for college. It is a lot of work.
        5. I am studying Gemology for when I retire which is almost guaranteed to not make back the money I am putting into the degree. But life is too short to not pursue creative interests.
        Good Luck.

  10. I’m kind of surprised that anything Robert related is considered a fixed expense. He is, in essence, using her money to buy her treats that she really doesn’t need. That may be her priority for spending money, but when you are close to the edge you need to take a look at ALL expenses. Giving your money to someone to turn around and buy you gifts would be an expense I would evaluate.

      1. I was too, but maybe some grace is given due to their long distance and logistically difficult relationship. Her grocery and eating out budgets are very bare bones already so perhaps this allows for treats she is not buying herself.

    1. I agree with this so entirely. I am not passing judgment on their relationship at all, but the idea of her discretionary spending going to ZERO while he is allowed $200 PLUS $25 to spend on her seems like a way to entirely reduce her own agency and set her up for failure, given her admitted difficulty with overspending. Why not $150 for him, of which he can choose to fund special treats for her if he wants, and even just $50 in discretionary spending that she gets to control? At the very least this needs to be discussed.

      1. That was my first thought too. There may be a reason why Robert’s expenses are really quite generous and considered fixed, while hers are… not, but I really feel, quite strongly, that his could be cut down markedly and some of that money put into things that benefit her personally and directly. If Robert is ever paroled, having a solvent, financially stable spouse and indeed a means to earn an income can only benefit him, and by extension, both of them.

    2. Yeah Robert has a place to live and food to eat already. Everything Robert-related would have been the very first thing i thought of cutting, not the very last. Basically he is using her money to buy her things she doesn’t need, while she’s struggling to pay basic bills. Does not make any sense at all to cut all her costs and continue to pay for him to do that.

      1. I agree too, that $200 budget for him should go directly into her Roth! Remember, she has a lot of retirement and savings, but she said, it was her ex-husband who was in charge of the finances up until recently. Her sons all live with the ex-husband, he is likely the one who is good with money so it is really good that she is reaching out for help here before it is too late to preserve what she has.

    3. I agree. I don’t see the Robert expenses as essential. Especially when she is struggling to pay all her bills. In addition, if Robert does get paroled, he would likely expect to still get a larger discretionary amount each month than what she has for herself. This would leave their financial situation very off balance. Better to set the right expectations now.

    4. I had the thought that since he sends her $200/month, their agreement might be that that’s his money to spend. For whatever financial restrictions apply to incarcerated people, maybe it’s easier to transfer it to her first. If that’s the case, he’s spending his own money, not hers.

      Either way, I think I would just remove both the $200 income from Robert and $200 spending by Robert from the budget calculations, since it cancels out.

      1. I agree that Robert’s money in and out should equal out given the situation. I would hope that Ann is able to stay focused on her own financial security because she has done an amazing job so far! I can’t think of a good reason to mingle their finances given the situation they are in . Other comments are excellent- be very careful of buying a mobile home instead of a condo because the expected lifespan of the building is shorter in addition to lot concerns.
        Ann clearly has a big heart and I hope she is as cared protecting herself as she is towards others.

      1. Agreed. A loving husband would be fine with having the money go toward things she actually needs and values. It would be good to have those conversations now, and get established in healthy money talks. Their discretionary spending should be equal (at the very least!). If she needs to make cuts, he should be making cuts too.

  11. A college degree may give her much needed self esteem. At her income level she should qualify for pell grants and scholarships that would cover much of the cost.

    1. Your first sentence is spot on. 🙂 And I’ve thought about scholarships, but honestly, I feel that they would take up so much time. Right now, I feel my time is more valuable than money.

      1. Do you mean scholarship /applications/ take time? Independent ones might be essays, which means they are practice in writing. I’m not sure how a scholarship after being received would take time, except to meet the requirements of it, such as keeping a certain GPA.

        Filing the online FAFSA (FREE Application for Federal Student Aid) is not difficult for an adult and is the first step to any government money, loans or grants. It is hard to imagine a college that wouldn’t expect all its students to fill it out. This could make a difference of thousands of dollars of school costs for you.

  12. Thanks for sharing your story Ann. You’re amazing. And as a fellow needleworker, I love your afghan.

    And thank you for doing very important and often unappreciated care work. What you do is very important.

    I have a PhD and teach on a contract basis at a local university. You currently make more than me. I can afford my job because I have a partner who makes a very healthy income. If not, I would need to pursue other work. I don’t make enough to survive solo.

    Where I live, you need to land a full-time position to make post-secondary teaching financially viable, and FT gigs are scarce and highly competitive. If you really want to teach, perhaps explore getting the credentials to teach elementary or high-school English. Or perhaps there is another better paying job you might enjoy while you launch a writing career. If you want to write, then a creative writing degree may help, but I agree isn’t necessary and could be costly.

    I also enjoy writing and belong to several writers’ groups that discuss craft and workshop one another’s material. Perhaps you could explore that option. And just a thought, a memoir of love between prisoner and non-prisoner is a book I would buy!

    1. I love your name, and I love your ideas!
      I’m shocked that I make more than a PhD! But where are you located?
      I’m very encouraged by your last sentence, as I have plans to start a blog about our relationship. But maybe a book would be better?

      1. Hi Ann,
        A blog seems so much more accesible than a book.
        You can set it up easily or go the Creed-Bratton-way and even just start writing in a text document for now.

        You dont have to take the blog “live” for the world to see at this very moment. You can use it for much needed writing practice & if you like what you – maybe even colaboratory – have created.

        It also seems it would be beneficial for you to research earning potentials different professions entail. Best of luck.

        1. Yes, this! => “You don’t have to take the blog ‘live’ for the world to see at this very moment. You can use it for much needed writing practice”

    2. Hi Ann. I agree that your passion for life, work, family and creative expression shines through your words. I also have a PhD in English and want to confirm the advice that community college teaching is not a financially viable path for most people without additional income sources. I teach at in a public high school (something I acquired an alternate certification to do). With my advanced degrees and the union pay scale, I make far more than I would as an adjunct instructor.

      I also write novels and am pursuing publication. I write in my (small) amounts of spare time, but I do write every day. If I am lucky enough to traditionally sell one of my books, I do not anticipate earning enough to replace my income through fiction writing, and I plan to continue teaching and simultaneously writing. The sacrifice of free time is worth it to me– I love writing! But it is also a difficult and painful road full of rejection. Even with an agent helping get my work out there, the nos are still frequent and brutal.

  13. Such a great post! Way to go Anne! I love your story, motivation, pritorities and using your God given talents to earn a living and stay debt free! Elder care! Teaching! Crafting! Writing! You are doing what a lot of people only DREAM of by making a living doing the things you love! Truly- well done! A couple of things I would add (I think this echoes some suggestions from other readers): 1. Your “art” is beautiful! Look into Etsy to sell what you could sell there! 2. Tutors are in HIGH demand! Capitalize on that! Look into the homeschool community. Get on homeschooling Facebook groups in your area. They are great (free) places to tell about your services. 3. IF you feel the need to get a degree (be careful with that! Typically most salary increases don’t make up for the the cost) look into aid available. I would imagine if you qualify for Medical you would also qualify for tuition assistance. 4. I know mobile home was mentioned but might I also add this thought: a mobile home isn’t typically thought of as an “investment”. They depreciate quickly, are hard to sell and if you have to spend $1000.00 a month on a space to put it, you are still paying “rent” and loosing money. And you will still have ALL the maintenance cost associated with it. I would find a real estate agent that specializes in helping lower income/first time buyers as there are many programs out there. I know you said a condo doesn’t offer outside space but maybe consider a ground floor one? If you look at it this way: Would you randomly spend $1000 a month to “rent” an outdoor space? That is what your doing if you buy a mobile home. Maybe consider a condo for now and entertain other ways to be outside- Join a community garden? Find parks in your area? These things are FREE. You get outside and get exercise so then you can cancel the gym membership! As your income increases- look for an opportunity to buy another place that suites your needs and rent the condo. This gets you into real estate like you mentioned. Perhaps find a duplex with the possibility to “house hack”. Live in one side and rent the other with the possibility the rent will cover your mortgage. So many options! Listen to the podcast Bigger Pockets to start! 4. Good elder care assistants are hard to find and in BIG demand. If you love that- and it sounds like you do, Don’t sell yourself short! A number of years ago (in the DC area) I paid 20/hr for elder care and would pay more now, especially to a good provider. I would imagine in Southern California, you could easily get 25+/hour. 5. As a writer, look into blogging and ways to make money by affiliate marketing. A LOT of writers, Mrs F included, make extra money doing this. Some even earn a living. :). Best of luck to you Anne! Thanks for sharing your story!

  14. Question on Robert’s discretionary spending – it says its for things he wants you and the household to have. Do you also buy these items for him? I feel like this is perhaps inflating your discretionary spending category x2 (Ann and Robert buying for Ann). It’s not a lot of money but it could be an area to cut and add to savings instead. If it is discretionary for Robert himself, that’s fine too but there could be a way to merge the two categories I mentioned before.

  15. I’ve taught English online to children in China. California no longer allows indepedent contractors, and so schools that hire Americans no longer hire Californians. Also, China has recently in the last few years changed its allowance of foreign English remote teachers, to none, as far as I know. Teaching English to them did require a bachelor’s degree, and teaching credential, or progress towards a credential. There probably are other companies who are able to work around China’s requirement, or who offer English in other countries. However, the non allowance of independent contractors via CA law may be a limiting factor.
    Can Robert keep all his income and therefore be responsible for the things he likes to gift their household via that income? Can he pay for travel and texting via his income?

    1. Yes, I was confused as to the low cell phone bill but high price for texting/FaceTime. If Mint Mobile doesn’t cover these, it might be worth getting a better plan to offset the cost. Or use a free service like Skype or zoom

      1. You can’t just contact an incarcerated person via Skype … It’s a very profitable, privatized part of our prison system that charges outrageous fees to communicate with incarcerated people. A relative was jailed a few years ago and talking to him for 10 min via phone cost $30+. Looks like, according to her intro, facetime and texting cost $. California must have passed legislation to eliminate the outrageous phone call fees.

    2. So in response to this the only company hiring that teaches foreigners English right now is Cambly and it is 10-12 an hour, often even less because they do not compensate for no shows and there are a lot of no shows on the platform. But they also do not hire CA or NY teachers. Nothing like the old days unfortunately.

  16. Unfortunately there are some factors that did not consider in your assessment and advice related to living in Southern CA. First of all, Anne is independent contractor home health aide she is responsible for declaring her taxes, paying to Social Security which is a huge deduction. Secondly, her ability to buy a mobile home in Southern CA without paying huge space rent is impossible. Example cities of Orange, Mission Viejo El Toro, Fullerton Irvine , Garden Grove Stanton are around 1700-2K month.. San Diego, Los Angeles counties are the same. If you want to live on the CA/AZ boarder in Indio the space rent is lower by 1500.00 with added expense of desert air conditioning. Another factor to consider is Robert’s status as convicted felon to live with Annie. All mobile home parks require background checks to purchase property and for significant others to live with them. Robert will have law enforcement follow up after his release and the mobile park management will be notified of his status. Annie should consider buying property in the Riverside, Imperial area for putting mobile home on for the future Robert.

    Another factor to consider if her current job changes, she might consider relocating out of state with less cost of expenses. She could consider Nevada Arizona for less expensive living. it would be a great option and she would be able to visit Robert more frequently in person.
    As married individual, she apply for conjugal visit . Best wishes for you Annie

      1. Yes, I looked that up and it is true – ‘without parole’ means he cannot be released. Was the ‘without parole’ a misprint? I can’t believe anyone would be under the impression that ‘without parole’ would mean anything other than that. The eligibility requirements for ‘elderly’ prisoners are quite limited and it doesn’t seem like he would qualify for this program.

        1. doubt it was a misprint, it was reiterated multiple times throughout the post.. :\

          To start, a prisoner eligible for the Elderly Parole Program must:

          Be at least 50 years old;
          Have served at least 20 years in prison on their current sentence, without interruption; and,
          Be eligible for parole, such as through good behavior.

          If any of the following applies to your loved one, they would not be eligible under this particular program:
          Are serving under a California ‘Three-Strikes’ conviction.
          Are serving a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
          Are on death row.
          Were convicted of killing a peace (police) officer in the line of duty or in retaliation for the officer’s duties.

  17. Dear Ann, your photos and artwork are so lovely; thank you for sharing them along with your story, and good job!
    I really relate to the drive to spend on something nice for myself when I’m stressed out, and lately I’m trying to be much more strict in that area while we’re paying for daycare. One little helpful practice I’ve started is making lists of outfits I want to wear, crafts I want to make, decor ideas for the next holiday, etc., all with pieces I already have, so I can get excited about the nice things I currently own. It’s kind of working, since it’s scratching that itch of having something to look forward to!

  18. Make sure to check out the laws and PROTECTIONS for mobile home owners in your state. It’s a big issue in our state currently. If an outside company buys up the park and jacks up the rent, tenants are often left with little recourse and few options. It may still be the right option for you, but tread carefully!

  19. Just a thought that may not be possible but could you move locations in a few years when your boys get older? If your boys are all in different places in colleges/work/military you may not be confined to a high-cost-of-living area. In many areas, $1650 a month could get you a LOVELY house that you could sell, gain value etc. Also, I’m not sure where your husband is located but it seems like he is kind of far if it takes you $600 to visit him, so maybe somewhere closer to him would work? Again, if/when your boys disperse here in a few years.

    Your skill set as a caregiver/CNA would certainly be appreciated and needed in most areas of the country I would think.

  20. 1. Are there any live-in healthcare posts available that would reduce your housing and bills costs? I think I’ve seen some people pay a small amount plus provide a room so that someone is there with them overnight – on call if needed. Doing that for a period would allow you to save

    2. Look into TEFL without an English degree needed. Not sure BA & Masters are needed! If you’re doing them cos you want to learn to write, an evening course might be cheaper and more applicable. Here libraries and colleges run similar.

  21. It seems to me that R buying you treats should sit within his discretionary spending rather than being $25 on top. You also need to talk to him about whether he can reduce his spending so that the amount of money he brings in covers a higher proportion of the spending (at least the discretionary plus some of the calls)

  22. Ann the fact that you love elder care so much, (that you want continue no matter what) suggests to me a true calling that you may want to expand upon. Maybe work additional hours in a per diem elder care area to boost your income . I know there are plenty of opportunities to work per diem. I would also suggest maybe before investing a good sum of money in additional degrees taking the opportunity to try out teaching by working as a substitute. I know in the area that I live they are paying up to $200 per day as there is also a great need. There are also opportunities for long term subbing where you essentially act as the teacher including lesson planning and all the other components of teaching responsibilities that will give you a real feel for the job. I think you are a very special lady and I applaud you for all your accomplishments thus far and would hate for you to expend your money or time and maybe find you don’t like it after all. Especially if the there is an opportunity to test drive your future. Good luck

  23. I taught English online and in person abroad to students. Online jobs used to be fun and an had great pay. The CCP stopped allow8ng Foreign teachers in 2021, thus cutting the largest market. There are (lesser) paying jobs: QKids, Cambly or for North Americans, Rosetta.

    They require a Bachelers (in anything) and a TEFL (teach English as a Foreign Language) certificate online. 120 hours and a “legitimate” cert runs under $200. You can even get a passable on Groupon.

    Now, if you can get placed to teach abroad, I would highly recommend it. It’s amazing to be fully emersed in another culture, plus the job is rewarding. The pay vs cost of living is also very good, so it is easy to save.

    You can always tutor locally and see if you like it. There are a lot of programs out there to do so.

    1. Shelly, can you tell me a place to acquire a TEFL online for under $200? I will be retiring in a couple of years and have always wondered if I might want to do this part time. Thanks

  24. Ann, congrats on building what sounds like a really happy life for yourself! I agree with all Liz’s suggestions and have a few more thoughts. 1) If you have to move, can you move closer to your work to reduce your gas expenses? (Not sure if where the couple lives is in a more expensive place so it may not work out.)

    2)As a long term renter myself, I don’t think you should see rent as throwing money away. Home ownership can be very costly in terms of maintenance etc. And especially if the alternative to renting is a mobile home which are notorious for not storing/growing the financial investment you out in , I think renting is a great choice if you’re not liking your other purchase options. Renting gives you potentially lower costs, and definitely more flexibility — maybe especially important to be able to move closer to Robert or start somewhere new together if he is able to get released, and depending where your kids end up you might not feel as tethered to your current area. I don’t mean to be judgmental – I know you’ve given the mobile home idea a lot of thought – but to me it sounds like the worst of both worlds, you don’t have the financial growth or property control that owning a non-mobile home would give you, and also lack the freedom and lower stress that renting gives.

    1. +1 to not “throwing money away on rent”. I know this is a common sentiment but it’s just not true! We are also long term renters by choice and enjoy the flexibility that it gives, in addition to not having to worry about a sudden large expense when some appliance breaks.

  25. I saw where she was earning a degree in English but must have missed where she already had a B.S. or B. A. degree from college. If so, like Ms. Frugalwoods said, she could already teach English on line , especially overseas, if she took the ESL Certification or has TEFL certificate to do so. If she already has a college degree, I don’t see the purpose in continuing school because she can write, and she can teach on line with a B.S. degree. If she started teaching now as her side gig (friends have done it in the middle of the night because of the time difference) and she could really start earning money from the side gig! I commend her for her fabulous savings skills on a low budget. I have owned and lived in mobile homes before and I actually like them, especially single wide mobile homes, or small doublewides, because they are usually less expensive than the larger versions, but only if you own the land underneath them so that the rental costs does not go up. If she gets a mobile home, I would recommend a very basic model, and try not to let the salesperson upsale her. They can be ordered to your specifications much lower than the ones on the lot sometimes. If you don’t do any upgrades, it could be a lot cheaper. I have gone this route. I know she needs to remain driving distance to her elderly couple, and that is a great source of income, and her children, but it would be great if she could either find a spot of land, or a very small condo where she could drive to work. I am just worried about the rental costs of land. Perhaps she could find a good used mobile home out of state and have it moved to in state? It usually costs here about $3,000 to move a mobile home but I bet it is more expensive in California. She does have a great vehicle and major props for having a newish vehicle paid off! .

  26. Nice work, Anne! Others have pointed out that you may be able to use your crafting skills to earn a bit of money. I wanted to chime in and add: It might be worth thinking through using your crafting skills, photography & writing skills, and passion for teaching to produce digital patterns to sell on Etsy and/or Ravelry. The great thing about digital (pdf) patterns is that, once written, you don’t have to continuously produce or ship anything – people just buy and download. A presence in the knitting/crocheting/sewing/etc community on Instagram would be helpful to get your patterns out in the world. If you love photographing your life (which includes your hobbies) and writing, this may not be too onerous of a task! I wouldn’t expect to bring in tons of money doing this but you may be able to cover the costs of crafting and make a little extra here and there.

  27. Having been in the feast or famine cycle before, here are some of the things that I did.

    First I found several passive side hustle type jobs including vending machines (although we had a lot of leftovers that got cycled back into our diet.) Bing Mypoints and Swagbucks: searches and other activities. I did very well with iBotta and other deal apps and sold stuff I got for pennies (diapers, pull ups and feminine hygiene products) Then I had returning customers. I am always willing to take any free stuff which I have sold on Ebay or at yard sales. I had a few seasonal cleaning jobs which helped out because I was scrubbing rugs for Christmas and washing windows in the Spring. I got paid for putting flowers out at the cemetery or traveling with neighbors who just couldn’t do it anymore alone. I also have helped neighbors with errands like picking up mail and dropping off puppies at the groomer. Defrosted a freezer and kept extra food. I have also done respite care for ASD families and the elderly. None of these things got me a lot of money but together they eased my burden. And I earmarked some of the funds for me.

    Second I started doing saving challenges some of which I still do. Save all my change. Progressive challenge (which I am trying again this year) I have done no spend challenges which I was afraid to do but it gave me control over my situation. I also did a challenge where I wrote down on little pieces of paper the things I wanted to buy or do. Then would pull from them every few days. Do not deny your self the small pleasures because they are big and when you do you break down and buy the big ones. I remember one of my “things” was go to the library and pick a book in a genre you have never read before. It was scary but it worked. Learn something new. Take a walk. Eat lunch outside. But add go to Starbucks too. Get a “new” dress – thrift store. Redecorate my Livingroom with only things I already own.

    Sooner or later you realize it isn’t as hard to stick to the budget.

  28. I can relate to this case study so much! Ann, first of all, if there’s any way to get therapy for your emotional spending, I highly encourage you to consider it. I was lucky enough to find government-funded free therapy during the pandemic, and am so glad I took advantage of it! That and blogs like Frugalwoods really helped me kick the habit. Something I read on this blog made it all click for me–roughly paraphrased, it amounted to “when we treat ourselves with unnecessary things, it’s because we don’t believe our goals will happen.” I realized she was so right! I would spend money to comfort myself because I thought my dreams of being a full-time writer and moving to a warm location would never work out. I really wish I’d gotten help and discovered FIRE sooner.

    Second, as others have said, you don’t need a BA or MA in English to teach. I have a two-year diploma and have been teaching at universities and colleges for over five years as an independent contractor, and there’s never a shortage of work. Granted, I have a lot of industry experience, but you could teach about eldercare or some of your crafting initially. Almost every college and university has professional development or adult education/continuing ed. programs that cater to new immigrants hoping to get their permanent residency via the student visa, or domestic professionals wanting to change careers, earn certifications, or enhance their skills. I earn $200/hr in this role, and don’t have to deal with office politics. I can say yes to as many classes as I like, and structure time off when I want/need it.

    And lastly, I’ve made a living from my writing for the past 28 years. It is possible. It hasn’t always been solely novels, but journalism, freelance writing, corporate communications and public relations, marketing, screen writing, editing, consulting and even my teaching stemmed from my writing. As long as you’re adaptable and resourceful, it is possible–and it certainly sounds like you are. Some of the more traditional writing markets, like newspapers and magazines, are dwindling, but I’m confident there are and will be other options. My note of caution is this: there’s a huge industry of people who make a living taking advantage of writers. Beware of anyone offering expensive courses promising to make you a successful author or increase your sales, or anyone who will “publish your book” for you in exchange for a hefty fee. If you need any help or advice, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Good luck!

    1. “when we treat ourselves with unnecessary things, it’s because we don’t believe our goals will happen.”
      That is an excellent point to think about!

      1. This is a good point. Although when I used to think about the times when low-income folks go to buy things on sale or a treat at a quick mart, I wondered if those little treats are what gave them a little pleasure. Although plenty of people overspend, that’s for sure

    1. I want to second that suggestion! You seem to have “an eye” for a good photo, where to find it and how to get it! Could you offer your services, for a fee of course, as a ‘roving photographer’ at events: children’s (or adult’s) birthday parties, funerals (obviously need to be discrete here — but I had a friend take photos of the various folks that came to my dad’s memorial gathering and these pictures become treasured memories); family reunions; other life events? You could take candid shots (and probably a *few* posed ones, too, of the people there, catching them at ‘just the right moment’ (just like the photo of the dog in the woman’s lap) and also the ‘things’ involved in the event (the cake, food, decorations, etc.) The folks involved, even if they’re into taking photographs, are usually involved in the event itself and don’t have the time/energy to get those photos for themselves. Many people can take snapshots, but it takes a photographer to capture the event!

  29. Nothing wrong with getting a degree so long as you are clear on what leads to what, income-wise. I’m personally a proponent of traditional education but there are many paths to writing a book! I will throw certificated reading tutor/specialist on the pile of possible careers. I paid a women $75/hr to teach my son some reading skills for his dyslexia. This would take some time to certify for (after the English degree) and build a client base, but it could be a way to free up more time to write. I’d suggest doing some market research in your area in that first. Education is a growing field with plenty of parents seeking services to supplement home school or public school (which is struggling right now). Best of luck to you!

    1. I am so impressed by Ann’s ability to think creatively about her situation!

      None of my opinions are meant to be a drag, and only she knows what’s best for her life, but I’m a little stuck on the reasoning behind 1. Pursuing a masters (expensive with limited payoff) 2. Purchasing a mobile home (often a not-so-great investment) and 3. Assuming creative writing will pay the bills (it’s very rare to hit it big in the industry and it tends to be high-competition, low reward.) All these particular choices can be high-risk with uncertain payoff. In the end they make totally be the right choice for her but it may benefit her to reconsider alternatives!

      I am a little worried in particular about Ann’s plan to pursue a masters. A couple of my peers followed this very path and the ratio of student debt to potential income opportunities was a huge wake up call after they graduated with BA/MA degrees in creative writing. Ann is so open to spit-balling possibilities that I wonder if she can think more broadly about what she can accomplish with just a BA instead. Remote copy editing jobs may be great additional ways of supporting herself. For example, explore industries like marketing and e-commerce, which often employee full-time remote copywriters. If she is truly passionate about creative writing, that is a wonderful side project. Perhaps she can digitally self-publish to generate a little bit of side income.

      Best of luck Ann, so many exciting things on your horizon!

  30. Hi! I just want to thank you for the care you are giving. Elder care is often thankless work and the pay isn’t great but it is so badly needed. You are making the world a better place. ♥️

  31. Many states have programs that match elderly people with extra bedrooms with people looking for free or very subsidized rent in exchange for providing them with a few hours of help each week to remain independent. Something like that could be a great fit for you and help reduce living costs while avoiding potential mobile home park issues.

    Teaching foreign students English online is generally not a great gig – pay is low, and you have a lot of unpaid prep time. Teaching in your school district or even substitute teaching as a side gig would probably work out a lot better.

    You may want to look into selling your photos as stock images. They look beautiful and very commercial. It likely wouldn’t bring in a huge amount of money, but it could be fun and help a bit.

  32. You’re doing well, keep up the forward momentum!
    If you continue pursuing a degree, definitely look into renting textbooks or free online texts. There are many websites where you can find classroom materials in a borrow or browse format as opposed to purchasing books that you’ll never use again.
    Amazon Prime includes a music and TV streaming subscription, so if those are non-negotiable items, you can combine the costs.
    There are also multiple free streaming platforms you could use instead of Netflix (Tubi, Pluto, Crackle..) plus most libraries let you borrow movies and TV series (including in online formats like Hoopla).

  33. You’ve done a great job with retirement savings and with avoiding debt, which is especially laudable in a HCOL area. I want to encourage you to prioritize, even further than what Mrs. Frugalwoods recommends. You are planning to spread your time and money across so many projects this next year that it’s overwhelming. You are seeking to buy a mobile home (moving and the financial stress will be very real), invest in degrees to set you up for a career change (also time and money), write a book (time-intensive), visit your husband (time and money, albeit obviously important), establish a vending machine business, support your sons, and pursue crafting. This is a lot of change and energy being dispersed to many locations. Can you try to simplify the big picture list rather than putting yourself in this position? For example, could you stay where you are but get a new roommate? Could you look into the k-12 system as people have recommended because that would give you a big salary increase and then you could actually get a condo. If it were me, I would press pause on some of the endeavors just so you can stabilize and build a more solid financial foundation.

  34. I’m not sure if you are enrolled in an on-line or an in-person college? Do look into all the things your school offers. Make use of the career counseling, personal counseling, and all the other services for students. Use your student ID for discounts at area businesses. Look for scholarships for adult learners. Talk to your school’s financial aid office. I can’t tell if you have started classes already? Full-time? Your time-management skills will need to be excellent!
    As several people have mentioned, taking classes does not make you a writer. Taking classes gives you a broader idea of what kinds of writing there are and techniques to writer better, but most importantly for a creative writing program, you should get lots of feedback on your work.
    Are there support groups for women whose spouses are incarcerated? If Robert is released, the adjustment out will be huge. For you living alone now, the challenges are great as well.
    You said visiting Robert costs $1200 for the six hundred mile round trip, or half that if you can plan ahead to trade work shifts. Costs are presumably transportation and motel. Can that be reduced? Travel with another spouse? You precisely worked out your budget for this story, so put that attention to your trip.
    Look for a writers’ group of some kind to give you information about publishing and practice in getting feedback on your work.
    Check if your local boy scout office needs an occasional part time employee, not just a volunteer, including for writing opportunities.
    And best wishes to you!

  35. You’re doing great saving money for retirement and having an emergency cash on hand fund. I don’t think going back to school and getting into debt is reasonable at this time. Have you looked into teaching ESL or TEFL? You can be certified for a small amount of money, and that is an in demand job in California. I wish you luck in all your endeavours!

  36. I agree with Liz’s comment that a degree is not necessarily the right path. I have an education in writing but did not complete a degree. There are so many fantastic ways to make money online – virtual assistants, writing, and marketing. You have a lovely, concise way of writing – I think you’d be valuable to professionals in so many ways that don’t require a degree. There are many companies that need editing, proposal writing, contract preparation, the list goes on. Very best of luck!

  37. As a high school teacher I have a few thoughts on teaching in schools. 1. Do it asap. I don’t know the exact pay in your district but the benefits and retirement you will get will for sure be well above $25/hr. I did the alternative licensure in Colorado (after getting my MA) and it was the best decision I ever made. I didn’t pay for a teaching degree! And my MA was paid for because I taught college as a teaching assistant! Both options for you! 2. Teachers are quitting in droves so lots of positions are open. 3. You will be on the same schedule as your kids. (Part of why I became a teacher) 4. You only work 180 days/year. (Another reason to be a teacher.) 5. It’s super fun but also a TON of work when you first start out- so be ready for that. 5. I say that it’s fun as an extrovert but you’re in introvert… You will be exhausted every day. Lots of introverts are teachers but they basically go home and cocoon themselves every day after school.

    You can make 6 figures as a public school teacher. You just have to find the right district.

    Good luck with all the things!

  38. I hope Ann and Robert are planning for a contingency not mentioned in her post: What if Robert is paroled? How will that change,your life — consider each facet, both good and bad. It’s not unheard of for a convict serving time “without parole” to be paroled — especially late in life.

    You might listen to a recent This American Life segment about a couple this happened to:

    1. My other thought, and I may be a bit jaded, is making sure you are financially protecting yourself. Especially with a spouse who has not experienced real-world stressors and job hunts and… make sure you have your retirement money and savings that is yours and yours alone.

  39. Do you ever have downtime while you are working at your job in elder care? I don’t want to downplay your 40 hours, but I can imagine that there’s some time to be on your phone? I just say this because I have a couple of survey sites that I’m active on that I regularly make some extra cash as my side hustle…. I also find that when I’m side hustling, I’m spending less , or picking what I spend my money on more carefully!

  40. Ann,
    I think you are doing better then most when it comes to savings/retirement. Way to go! I would suggest reducing both your and Robet’s spending money. Maybe you could both get by with $100? That would be a savings of $2,200/year. Also, I’m wondering if it might be cheaper to fly to see Robert? You would get there quicker, less shifts to trade? Also, you may qualify for utility reduction. Each state is different, but it is based on your income-i would look into that! Best of luck!

  41. It hasn’t been mentioned yet, but with your desire to work in elder care and make more money, have you considered going to nursing school? You may get tuition help, and in some states only need 2 years if you have a degree. You can make substantially more money even working part time. I would think it would be a better return on the investment of your time and money.

    1. I agree. RNs are in huge demand. You are already a wonderful caregiver. You could earn a lot of money. You could work anywhere in the country, as an RN for 30 years, I still encourage people to go to nursing school because there are so many options for employment. Best of luck, keep up the great work.

  42. I was surprised that rent was considered throwing money away. Home ownership isn’t for everyone. Not sure how it translates to a mobile home, but owning a home comes with a lot of extra costs vs renting. Personally, I’d consider renting with a roommate IF the goal is to save money.

  43. Maybe I missed it, but do you work directly for the family you care for or are you employed through an agency? If it’s direct, could you ask the family for a raise (assuming you’ve been there long enough)? My mom has Alzheimer’s so I have priced out care for her, and $25 an hour feels low even for here in the Midwest.

    The other thing that jumps out at me is the Robert spending on you. I know he wants to treat you, but I wonder if you might be happier having some of that money in the bank instead. Perhaps it can be reduced (but not eliminated).

    Best wishes for success in whatever you decide!

    1. Also, and I write tactfully, at some point they will no longer need care. Are you employed by an agency or by the family? Will they be able to provide references for you for future work?

  44. You have an amazing life story and you are juggling so many balls at once!

    I agree with previous posters that you may not need a BA to write or edit. But if you love the program you should do it. A pure love of learning is a good reason too.
    I also agree about looking to your beautiful crafts and photos as a source of income through Etsy or similar.
    And it would be interesting in the update to hear about the vending machines. What do you earn from them, net?

    Hang in there! You’re doing very well!

  45. If Ann is still fairly early in her Bachelor’s, she may benefit greatly from going on and taking the courses to earn free CLEP vouchers. Our state colleges take up to 45 credits transferred in (CLEP as well as other transfer methods). This may vary by state or by college…some are even higher! My high schooler is at 29 credits and counting, all free with the modernstates CLEP vouchers. CLEP tests themselves aren’t hugely difficult once you research what worked for other people who studied for them (we use Reddit as a resource for this). Anyways, 45 free credits will save a lot on textbooks, possible tuition and fees, and (most importantly), time. You can knock out a good portion of your General Education credits for free this way. I recommend it to everyone. The Modern States courses are online and are fairly good, but if you are in a hurry you can just answer the quiz questions and submit for the CLEP voucher. If you select the virtual proctoring option, the proctoring fee is waived also and you can test right from home.

  46. I would like to congratulate you also you have done an amazing job on saving on such a low income and you have lots of goals. I have worked cna type jobs for years, currently I work them part time and there is always a huge demand perhaps you can pick up an extra client or work per diem as someone else stated. Additionally picking up items and repurposing them for resale is a great side hustle. I do this with my husband and it’s a great extra income. Finally I have had family members in prison all my life and the financial and emotional toll is hard. Perhaps he can make extra income to help out, I know my family members make money by making hobby craft items to sale, wallets, purses, keychains and jewelry boxes etc. Also they trade items for extra snacks apparently the store runs once a week and most inmates run out of items by middle of the week, so he can probably trade those 2 items for 1, with the cell mates he trust to pay him back. Again letters are a good resource way to communicate and it’s free. Also I know a lot of people who used to ride together to split the cost of gas, maybe you can look into that. I think you are doing an amazing job.

  47. Lots to make one think about here.
    Seems it costs $650 a month to have a relationship.
    Not sure if I would rather have the cash.
    Thanks for the thought provoking case study.

    1. That’s true, but most relationships come with financial costs of one sort or another, particularly long distance ones. However, since Ann is wanting financial stability, to increase her income and so on, and is not a hugely high-earner, with not much safety net in the event of an emergency, I’d suggest that at least some of that money – not all, but some – could be repurposed to feathering her own nest and fuelling her own engine first. I hope that the possibility of Robert being paroled and coming home to her is eventually realised, and it will only benefit both of them if she is completely financially stable and in a good place. It can only strengthen the possibilities for both of their lives. Equally, if he is not paroled, having a solid, stable financial footing will be her safety net.

  48. If one or both of Ann’s elderly clients pass away, the $25/hr. goes away. She should keep an eye out in the background for replacement clients when the inevitable happens.
    ‘Mobile’ manufactured homes generally don’t age very well. and they depreciate in value rapidly. Some parks have a limit on the age of the home allowed in the park, and require older units to be moved out when sold to a new owner. Be really sure the hired home inspector does a very thorough job checking on electrical, plumbing and roof issues. Any fixes needed can be requested to be done as part of the sale. I once purchased an older double-wide that had single-pane windows. I replaced the windows for $1500, and the upgrade to double pane windows netted me an additional $6000 over installation costs. Also check whether or not a park allows small pets, rules about fencing your yard, etc.

  49. Very interesting study and actually lots of helpful comments. The costs in SoCal are so high– in mid-Missouri my brother lives in a mobile home on a very small mobile park (that might be an exaggeration to call it a ‘park’) for $275 a month. The home was also bought used 10 or so years ago for about $7,000. Needless to say, this is not a glamorous setup. But the land rent at least is reasonable.
    The only other cost-cutting idea I have is what about more letters to Robert and perhaps working on the kids book by letter? Of course you’ll still want to talk to him, but I wonder if working on the book over the phone is necessary. I too would cut out SOME of the gifty type things you two spend on each other.
    I really wish you luck, and am most impressed by the amount of money you have saved! Have you thought about buying a used RV type thing and whether you could rent longterm at a camp site for less money?

    1. The RV comment is brilliant! Plus she could drive to robert and not have to spend on flight/hotel/taxi. even with gas costs.

  50. Thank you for sharing your amazing life (and awesome cat shoe photo) with us. Here are a few thoughts that you might find of interest.

    (1) HOME: Live truly mobile – see Cheap RV Living youtube for an inspiring array of approaches and price points. As your sons get older, a home-on-wheels could give you a place to stay when visiting them (wherever they may move) not to mention Robert as well as less expensive vacation options, ways to research places/people for your books, and possibly a strategy for living near whatever job(s) you may have. The nomad community can be a great fit for introverts like us 😉 Also, there’s are many writers and creative folks in that community. I understand that the women’s nomad community is especially connected and supportive.

    (2) WRITING:
    – Take some time to connect with what and why you feel called to write. (Working with Robert is great, but it’s vital that you connect with *your* voice and calling.) This exploration brings clarity and focus regarding the stories you’re uniquely suited and called to create. I found this process took more time than I wanted, but it was worth the time because it resulted in finding richer stories rooted in my unique self/life experience. And rich unique stories (in any genre) are what the publishing world is seeking.
    – Knowing the little that I do about your life experiences, I’d love to read mystery stories that draw upon your lived experiences, for example:
    a) An elder care aid (perhaps one who is crafty and wears cat shoes!) coming across different kinds of mysteries, especially fun if she collaborates with her various clients to solve the mystery. You know all about elder care–the good and the bad–as well as all the people and organizations involved. This has the added benefit of being a fresh new take in a field (mystery writing) that is rife with tired tropes.
    b) A mom who volunteers with her children’s boy scout troop. There’s so few stories about mother-son adventures. So, a mother-son mystery series could be of special interest to publishers. For example, a non-custodial troop mother encountering different mysteries and solve them with the help of her son(s), other scouts, fellow troop parent volunteers and the larger community. The series could include a diverse range of families, cultures, and topics. And we need stories how non-custodial (or otherwise living-apart-from-kids) parents can still be fantastic parents. It’d be pretty cool to have a scout troop mom who doesn’t live with her sons, but is clearly engaged and invested in raising them. Also, this mystery series might be a good way to tell the story related to Robert’s nightmare.
    c) To my knowledge, there are few stories about the real-life impact of this country’s massive incarceration system on the daily lives of individuals, families/friends, and communities. A mystery series featuring a wife-and-(incarcerated)-husband duo solving mysteries together, would likely appeal to a wide range of readers. Also, it could be a fruitful and fun collaboration for you and Robert (e.g., each writing one of the characters, including experiences of those you know in and outside of prison, etc.).
    Note: Stylistically, I’m thinking of character-driven mysteries such as those by Lora Roberts, Elsa Hart, Dorothy Gilman (Mrs. Pollifax series), and Kerry Greenwood (Corinna Chapman series).

    (3) TEACHING: Maybe offer online writing and/or English conversation classes for elders? They’re often isolated, and yet have so much wisdom, knowledge, and joy to share with each other and the world.

    (4) SELF CARE: Have you heard of the “artist date” practice popularized in “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron? She described it as assigned play. Basically, it’s setting aside a specific period of time to do something fun that nourishes your creative artist self. The idea is for it to be solo time, just for you. I’ve done this every week for years. I have a great time finding frugalista no-cost dates which always help me be extra creative and adventurous. Those weeks when I’m ill or otherwise overburdened, I’ll simply look at a favorite picture/art book, mindfully drink a cup of tea, or do something equally easy.

    – Local library: Randomly peruse art books and take photos of for later consideration. Also fun: cookbooks, crafts, picture books, and travel. Library talks/story times so you can experience writing in new ways. Look through a magazine you’d normally never read. Imagine what piece you’d submit to that publication.
    – Unfamiliar stores: wander through, talk to staff; restaurant supply, saris, unfamiliar food markets, etc.
    – Free days: museums, theaters, glassblowing studios. Ushering allows you to see shows for free.
    – Dress up: usher, attend an art opening, visit a speciality store, or some other free activity.
    – Other: visit public art installations, community gardens, local fish ladders, community beehives
    – Walks: what would the walk be like with a sense at a different level; imagine the walk through the nose of a dog; look for a certain something (e.g., color, sound, shape, feeling, etc.).
    Note: Vivian Swift, author of “When Traveler’s Cease to Roam,” is the queen of creative walks and finding magic in the mundane.

    At home
    – Watch: art-making/other creative documentaries from the library; Ken Burns’ “Brooklyn Bridge;” PBS’ “Craft In America” series (; “September Issue” (fashion); “Blown Away” (glass blowing); “Glow Up” tv series (I’ll never look at cosmetics the same way again).
    – Create: in a new genre/medium, try a new skills – flash fiction, haiku, new collage technique, etc.
    – Learn: A dance routine from the internet, How to rap the first paragraph of a favorite book, etc.

    May you keep nourishing your magic. Best of luck on your journey!

  51. Definitely impressed that you have saved that much compared to your income! Agree with everything Mrs. Frugalwoods said, would add about the mobile home, that at least in my state, Michigan, I have heard of people having to sell mobile homes they paid 10’s of thousands for a $1 to get someone to take over the rent, so please heed Mrs. Frugalwoods advice. @LauraVondra above me in the comments said something that made me think: “seems it costs $650 a month to have a relationship” and I wonder if you think about that? At $25 an hour, you work 22 hours a month BEFORE taxes for him. You actual bring home $21.08 per hour after taxes, so you are actually working almost 31hours for him. That made me rethink my first statement and wonder how you were able to save so much, then I read again how you haven’t been as active in your savings and your accumulation, your ex-husband was. So, I will applaud you for something else now, for seeking out help. You mentioned how much movers cost, so you likely have a lot of stuff you don’t need. Facebook Marketplace is a great place for selling or have a yard sale, for me, whenever I sell something for less than I bought it, it makes me sick enough to not buy anything more for at least a month, then I sell more, and repeat. Look for a Buy Nothing site near you when you need something new, or think you do. Good luck.

    1. I agree with you. She stated she home-schooled her children. She does have a certification in Nurses Aid (CNA) however, she does not mention any prior work history. I believe her savings may have come from her divorce settlement. She also stated that she just got a raise and 2 years ago she was making $15 an hour. Regardless, Ann I congratulate you in seeking help through Mrs. Frugalwoods. I am sure you have a very stressful life at this time of your life. A husband you only get to see 4 times a year and all the stress of living in such high inflationary times. Great ideas about selling your crafts, taking a room with someone until you are more financially on your feet. I would hold off buying a house during this time of high interest rates and inflated house prices. The cost of homes is coming done and hopefully we will see interest rates fall in the next 2-3 years. Does your husband have a parole hearing soon? If so, maybe you should wait on spending on anything at this time. You may have a better idea of what life will bring in the future. Hang tight, save your money, and I wish you the best of luck.

  52. do not buy a mobile home! there are absolutely too many reasons not to. your main one, to stop wasting money on rent, doesn’t even apply because you will be renting a space. mobile homes in earthquake country. again, so many reasons.

    1. I agree. A mobile home should be affordable, however, as others have mentioned, monthly rent can increase, while the structure will depreciate. I wouldn’t want you locked into something you can’t easily sell. A condo or townhouse, with a roommate to help with costs would be a better long term investment. You can do writing, on the side, to keep your creative juices flowing. I also like the idea of tutoring for extra cash.

  53. Nora Roberts did not have an English degree. She was home with her kids during a blizzard, got bored and started writing. That was 200+ books ago. If you want to write books, write a book. Start today and write every day for the rest of the year. Join Mystery Writers of America or a similar group in your area. Good luck!

  54. Ann, I really enjoyed reading your story and wanted to say keep up the good work! Also, I work in a K-12 public school setting and our district, like most districts, is at “critical need” level for substitute teachers. In my district, I think all you need is 60 hours of college credit to sub and the rates are much higher than they were in past years. It could be a great way to increase your income, see if you like teaching, gain some experience, and have a job that requires zero prep so you’d have more time to write. See what the districts in your area are offering!

  55. My husband used to teach English online as a side hustle during grad school with an Engineering degree. He also had another remote job editing research papers for students who spoke English as a second language (you needed to be in grad school in a relevant field for that one). So there’s also online English teaching/editing jobs that use special skills, so your medical experience may be useful there.

    Also, if your goal is to learn more in order to improve your writing, I really recommend looking around at online resources. I love the YouTube channel “Crash Course” for learning about random subjects. They’re meant to be like college courses and most of their videos are 10-20 minutes long. I haven’t watched these courses, but they have 3 on Literature, 1 on Linguistics and 1 on Rhetoric and Composition. They also have courses on things you might want to know more about to supplement your writing, like History, Myths and Physical Sciences. They even have courses on how to navigate applying to and learning at college!

  56. I am going to tell you to write, a lot, no need of a bachelor or anything else. Because of your unusual situation( life with parole husband, working as an aide) try blogging, make it real, be personal, get your husband to write in it too. No need for publication, low cost and original. People are looking for real content, life in California far from Hollywood. Writing is also a game of luck, meeting the right people, being in flow with the time. Write a lot of fiction and lots of non fiction. have Robert write a lot, this is a way to get his voice hear and maybe make some cash. Your choice for a partner could not be more different than mine( I got the judge) but make the best out of it. And my living advice would be to buy land and got for a tiny house on your own private land. No HOA, no rental fee and more personal freedom. Best of luck.

    1. And even if you don’t do a blog, it’s important for you and Robert to develop a regular writing practice. One fun way to do this could be through letters to one another. Epistolary novels are fantastic, for example, “84, Charing Cross Road” is the correspondence between a book lover in New York City and a used bookseller in London. Also good are “Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot” and, for belly laughs, “Dear Committee Members” – one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.

  57. Instead of a mobile home, please save up to buy a condo. Condos gain value but like cars, mobile home values drop like a rock. I get the goal: a place of your own where you can close the door on the rest of the world. As other commenters have wisely stated, with a mobile home, you don’t have control over the rental rate on the lot. And, even worse, by the time you’re in your 60s, the mobile home will be at the end of its life expectancy. Later this year, when you move, consider renting a room in a house for a year or two. Radical, yes, and not as comfortable, yes, but you’d be on-target to a much more financially secure life. Best of luck to you.

    1. I agree, very concerned that she will be investing a large percentage of her net worth into a structure that will not be a long term home. I would rather see her spend more to rent a studio apartment by herself, even if it meant dipping into the down payment funds. She will be trading rent payments for lot rent payments, except instead of a one year lease she’ll have an ongoing commitment that could be difficult to end. I get wanting to have a small yard as I am an enthusiastic gardener. Yet maybe she could get a place with good light so she could grow indoor plants, or a place with a balcony – I’ve had to make do with both those options in the past.

      Also, no one seems to have explored the large number of roommates over the past few years. While I think renting a room from someone is her best option, she’d need to first look at why her current and past roommate situations haven’t worked. Is she not clear about how much interaction she wants? Is she, or are her roommates, not able to set and follow rules for maintenance of common areas? Are there issues around quiet times? As someone who always had roommates before I married, I always had good roommate experiences. But I’ve known other people who did not. Knowing your lifestyle is important, as is asking the potential roommates about their lifestyles. It’s scary to state your preferences clearly and to ask about a roommate’s true way of living, but much better to realize you are not good roommate matches before signing a lease together. The nice thing about renting a room month-to-month is if you’ve made a poor decision about compatibility, you aren’t yoked together for a year. Renting a place by yourself for a year, even if it means spending more than you make, may give you the time you need to figure out another living option.

      And I definitely support the idea of trying to find a live in situation! It, too, might not be long term, but give her time to access all her options.

  58. You can’t just contact an incarcerated person via Skype … It’s a very profitable, privatized part of our prison system that charges outrageous fees to communicate with incarcerated people. A relative was jailed a few years ago and talking to him for 10 min via phone cost $30+. Looks like, according to her intro, facetime and texting cost $. California must have passed legislation to eliminate the outrageous phone call fees.

  59. I just have a quick question to Ann hoping to learn something as a single middle aged woman living in Southern Cali. How on earth, are you keeping you grocery bill at $200/month? I mean, where are you shopping and what are you eating? if you could share that briefly I’d really appreciate! Thank you in advance!

    1. We’re a family of four in SoCal, but our grocery bill averages out to about $200/person.

      Some reasons:
      1. My kids aren’t adventurous eaters so we mostly eat the same simple (and boring for me!) meals every week. Breakfast: cold cereal, oatmeal, pancakes, occasionally eggs
      Lunches: bagels/sandwiches or dinner leftovers
      Dinners: Burgers, tacos, chicken and rice, pasta, pizza, repeat.
      2. Half of us are vegetarian, so we have meat on the menu maybe once a week. Maybe this is the main reason our bill is low? I’ve been vegetarian all my adult life so I have no sense of what eating meat regularly adds to a grocery bill.
      3. I like to bake, so lots of cheap homemade cookies/bread/muffins. (This is less helpful for people who don’t have time or inclination for baking!)
      4. I rotate where I shop for groceries, and buy the things that I know are cheapest at each store. Obviously this only works if you live in a neighborhood with multiple options nearby (for us, it’s Sprouts, Vons, Target, and Costco)
      5. For whatever reason, everyone in my family has a small appetite—I can’t take any credit for the savings from that part!

      Hope some of that is helpful.

    2. I’ve worked really hard to get my grocery budget down so low. I shop at Food4Less and Grocery Outlet. I eat brown rice cooked in broth and 2 fried eggs for my dinners at work. That’s my main meal. (I don’t get bored with food that I really like.) I also eat chicken. When I buy a rotisserie chicken, I eat everything–crisping the skin and making broth from the bones (gotta stretch that $9!). I portion the meat into 2 oz. portions. Whole wheat English muffins or other inexpensive non-sandwich bread, avocados, in-season & inexpensive fruit (currently Cuties), and bagged salads make up the bulk of my food. I also buy ramen (but use just the noodles and make my own sauce), oatmeal, yams, and cabbage. I buy peanuts if I want nuts, and I buy popcorn kernels and pop my own for my snacks. I don’t buy expensive ingredients. (I also have a dairy allergy.) Lately I’ve been eating toasted sourdough spread with avocado (bought cheaply at Grocery Outlet) and a fried egg on top. I do buy ice cream and sodas for my boys when they come over, but I buy the ice cream at Grocery Outlet, so I can usually get it for about $2.49/pint. I hope this helps!

  60. I love the no judgement zone that is the frugalwoods community but can I ask a question? Is Robert in prison for a crime against a woman/ past partner? If so, please think about funding his lifestyle.

  61. What an interesting case study! Thank you for sharing, Ann.
    I will add to the chorus of people with a BA in English who are making a living at something that doesn’t require the English (but does require the BA). And even if you find a community college job that pays a bit more than what you make as a health care aide, it would probably be only for 10-15 hours per week, not full-time.
    That said, if you’re pursuing the BA because you enjoy it, go for it, since it seems pretty cheap!
    I would recommend looking into whatever supplemental assistance you might be eligible for (food assistance and esp low-income housing). Not sure based on your income but given that you live in such a high COL area that might be an option.
    If you’re moving soon, can you see if your sons/ the boy scout troup could help with moving, instead of paying movers?
    It seems like there are a lot of non-negotiables in your budget/ lifestyle (have to live near sons, can’t have shared walls, Robert money can’t be cut…) While it’s great to know what you want/ need, maybe you’re narrowing your options on some things that you could compromise on. Like some of those might really be non-negotiable; some might have some wiggle room.

  62. Ann, a little backstory and then I’ll make my points. Both of my parents developed random neurological diseases when I was little. My father died. My mom couldn’t work (or drive). She didn’t have a high school diploma (due to having to drop out of school to care for her dying mother). Our family had 5 little kids barely surviving on welfare and food stamps. We lived in a rural area, in a mobile home, no car. We had to depend on a church friend for YEARS to drive us to the grocery store. We lived in absolute fear of an unexpected expense. Sometimes we ate popcorn and potatoes for meals. We had no money for anything but absolute necessities – for example, our carpet was so worn there were huge holes in it (like 3 feet wide). This was before credit cards were prevalent, no internet, etc. and you had to live on that set amount of public assistance with nothing more.

    My observations:
    1. People who need assistance often feel bad for using it and I sense you might feel that way from your comment about the medical benefits you receive. Please stop feeling bad. In fact, I encourage you to look into other benefits while you are going through this transition period. Can you get food assistance (food stamps or food bank)? Utility assistance? Rent assistance? Prescription drug assistance? Tuition assistance? That is what they are there for. I’ve gone on to a profession where I make high 6 figures in income. I tell my siblings I have paid back EVERY SINGLE PENNY of the public benefits we received — 100 times over in taxes — and they should not give it another thought. You are exactly the type of person I want my taxes and donations supporting. The next time you get some sort of assistance, think of me and know that it’s been paid for by someone who WANTS YOU TO HAVE IT.

    2. Look for big impact items. You are living frugally. Very frugally. Yes, you can make a little money selling crafts, etc. and it’s great if you have free time. But you have a lot on your plate. I suggest you figure out where the big money is – getting a roommate, transitioning to a teaching job, getting a higher paying job in your current field, asking for a raise, etc. A phrase I like to use is “you can do anything for a short period of time” when I set out to do something difficult and uncomfortable. Writing is great and I love the idea of the mystery novels but sometimes people get fixated on a hobby being a profession. Maybe writing is your forever hobby and it brings you joy but you need to do something else to pay the bills.

    3. I feel like you are underpaid, especially in California. A rate of $25/hour seems very low if you are caring for two people. If you are negotiating with their child, I suggest you ask for a minimum 8.7% inflation increase from 2022 (to $27.20). That just keeps your earnings even to last year based on the increase in prices of food/etc. If these individuals get Social Security, know that they got a 8.7% raise in their payment for 2023. I imagine it’s hard to negotiate if it’s a family arrangement but you HAVE TO DO IT. Picture yourself asking on behalf of someone else if that makes it easier to discuss it.

    4. My brother spent 10 years in prison (our extreme poverty sent the kids into very different life situations). I know how prison life often shapes the way a person communicates with relatives, friends and others. The reality once they are released is often not the same as the person they are behind bars. I want you to know this from someone who also loved a person who was in prison.

    I want you to be safe financially.
    A. Please make a promise to yourself that your retirement money will not be withdrawn to support anyone other than yourself. If you feel pressure, say that your financial advisor won’t let you do that.
    B. Make sure your retirement accounts and other financial accounts list your children as beneficiaries (this is easy to do by contacting the company that holds the account). If you don’t have a will, this is the easiest way to protect the money in the event you pass away.
    C. Related to item B., do you have an estate plan, in particular, a power of attorney in the event you are incapacitated? If not, look on the “California State Bar” website or call their general number to find someone who can help you or provide you with a form document (for free or almost free). Your husband should NOT be that person. Name an adult child or other close relative.
    D. VERY IMPORTANT: I’m concerned with California being a community property state and your husband having a legal right to half of your retirement and other accounts (at death, divorce, or otherwise, even if you designate other beneficiaries). Please ask an attorney how you can document those accounts as being separate property that you held prior to the marriage or whether you need a post-nuptial marital property agreement. Do not add his name to any of your accounts and limit what accounts you use to pay for any support for him (or in which you deposit any money he might send you to a very small balance account). If you can’t find a free attorney using the State Bar, call a small law firm in your city that advertises for family law/estate planning and tell them you want to meet for a consultation (which may be free or $250-$500). This is a good use of your money and shouldn’t cost more than about $2,500-$3,000 total depending on what they do for you.

    5. Another of my brothers went into the armed services — thank you for your son’s service as well. It’s a great profession with a wonderful pension and education benefits if he sticks with it.

    Good luck to you! I will be thinking about you.

      1. Ditto. These specifics of how to protect herself financially are extremely important for any second marriage.

        On a happy note, Ann mentioned above she is getting an hourly wage increase.

  63. I would caution you on buying a mobile home. They tend to go down in value very quickly. If you are set of buying one, don’t get a new one. I’ve lived in one. They’re cheaply made and need constant repairs. Then if you have to pay park fees, it seems even less practical. A condo will increase in value. A mobile home will not.

  64. Hey Ann! I think you are doing great. You have a meaningful job, relationships and hobbies. That is huge! You also have a lot more retirement savings than most people. I am wondering about the mobile home purchase. Mobile home communities can be very predatory with their monthly fees. It would be better if you could put a mobile home on your own land but I imagine that is not possible in California. I wonder if you have considered something unconventional like a camper or tiny home. Also, is there a possibility of transitioning to live in aid care. That would help with housing expenses as well.

  65. Just wanted to throw out one side hustle idea from a fellow crafter: you could create your own knitting and crochet patterns and sell them on Ravelry, Etsy and similar sites. I would love to buy a pattern for that gorgeous crochet afghan that’s pictured, for example. It takes time to create them, test them and put them into a nice format, but after that it’s purely passive income.

  66. Everyone that wants to rent or buy in CA right now faces major challenges made worse by the housing shortage. I see nothing wrong with the mobile home idea. I have never heard of mobile home prices not being in sync with the rest of real estate in CA. Making $25/hr isn’t enough for most cities in CA to buy a condo. Where I live condos are $500k and I don’t live in a HCOL area. It’s unrealistic to save up until she can buy a condo. I use to live in a condo with NO shared walls, just the garage wall was shared. Typical condo fees are $425/mo. I agree completely that Ann should stay near her kids at least until they are grown. A mobile home will allow her to have her children over in a normal fashion vs a camper or tiny home. Mobile homes are a bargain compared to other options, even with the space fee. Some mentioned buying land and putting your own mobile home on it. That is unrealistic in ANY city in CA in this current market, but it could work if Ann wants to move to the desert or country areas of CA. But, then she would be too far away from her current life.
    Buy your mobile home Ann and if money gets tight, you can always get a roommate as a back-up plan. You can get an occasional short-term renters, too, like a traveling nurse or an intern. I have a friend that rents her 2 spare bedrooms for $800/mo each in the summer to student interns at her company. She makes $4800.

  67. Such an interesting case! My two pennies:
    1. My platonic buddy is a lifer- commissary is going up, up, UP! $5.24 for a 12 oz bag of folgers coffee, double to snacks. I would def re-eval his spend on you $. Maybe re-phrase it mentally as money for a sooner in person visit!

    2. I *LOVE* mobile homes but they are a racket and a half unless you own the land. A lot fee that can go sky high and the parks now are getting more consolidated than ever. Large companies are buying up ma and pa mobile parks and making their lot fees go through the roof through all their add ons. Just buyer beware. I am constant browsing mobile homes. The mortgages are very affordable but when you add in a 600-800 monthly lot fee.. oof!

    Renting always gets a bad rap and it shouldn’t. You aren’t wasting your money if someone else has to deal with all the major problems. If you are dead set on buying something, I’d encourage you to reconsider a condo. Of go rogue with an RV (knowing that can also be a losing bet. if your home needs to go into the shop if can put quite the damper on where to live in the interim) Renting can be so non-committal where buying can fee like a maze you’ll never get out of. The grass isn’t always greener.

    3. Tough love but if you are dedicated to writing you’ll do it without a degree. And if you are dedicated to losing weight or getting more fit you can do it without a gym membership. You can do it 🙂

    Unpopular opinion but I wouldn’t look at taking on any more work. I’d just whittle down spending and use what you do have. Then re-evaluate. Cook from home and make food to go for long days or dates with the boys. When you want to treat yourself with food then get swanky frozen food at the grocery store for those lazy cooking nights where you would LOVE to go out for dinner or grab something on the fly. Get inspired and say screw it- go to the library and just type and write something. Think early pandemic when we were marooned at home. Got projects? Do them. Got time? Spend your time over spending your money. Then bank that money!

    It seems like you have a very realistic handle of how to live and you have been doing a rockstar job of it. If you want to write then write. I am 36 along with partner. He is working FT and going to school in person at nights for a MS in counseling. Bestie is working FT and going to school FT at night online. Both are completely miserable. School is sucking the life from both of them. Extra time? Doing assignments, reading textbooks. These aren’t going to be glorious salaries either. I’m poorly articulating it but going back to school as an older adult when you have a career already is going to drain you during the best years of your life. There- I said it.
    Can you use your extensive care experience to transition to a different role in your healthcare specialty? Like admin for a caregiver group, recruitment for a eldercare service, ect. Or add a different certificate and avoid traditional college setting? Would a phlobotomy cert be helpful? Pharmacy tech- something that wouldn’t require years of your life at this point? Plus, as an older student you are graduating older and have 20 years less experience than someone with the same degree. Low man on the totem pole. Vs staying in the same field or a similar healthcare related field where you can already say you, “have xyz years with direct patient care.”

    Also, the idea of school as an older adult- especially as someone that seems to value the relationships with your children and working with Robert’s schedule of allotted phone times… school is going to not be a fun ride. That said, like another person mentioned, your patient care and compassion may be an easy shoe in for a 2 yr community college degree in nursing with your AS if you are hell bent on school. Likely could all be paid for by the state (or greatly subsidized), you have a background for it, RNs are in demand, and if/when you move eventually you could work anywhere and have a job. Going back to school to double your salary is an easier pill to swallow than to go back… and hope it all works out?

    My Dad used to say if you don’t know what to do then do nothing. Don’t make major decisions. Just slow down what you can and reduce spending. It is easier to cut back than run around and make more. You have such a phenomenal handle on things already. I’d hate to see your creative spirit drug through the mud just trying to make more money when you can have your money work more for you now. I’m sure Robert knows how hard your working here on the outside and would support you with cutting back on expenses to see you more often.

  68. Anne, it sounds like you are already in on the ground floor of two careers that are reliable sources of income/benefits AND are currently in very high demand: K-12 teaching and nursing. All of the other possible sources of income (writing a children’s book, selling crafts, paying for a BA in the hopes of teaching at a community college, etc) are a bit of a gamble, but with less money and time you could be qualified to sub or teach English in a K-12 school or get a nursing degree. My brother had a BA, got a nursing degree in 2 years, and it paid for itself in 6 months because of how high demand and salaries are. Invest a bit in what you are already doing and the reliable higher salary will give you time to focus on other passions that are less likely to pay off but bring you joy.

  69. On a very practical level regarding Robert; either he stays in prison and at this rate Ann is basically giving him $24,000 in living expenses she can ill afford; or, he gets out. Will he, as a convicted felon, be able to get a job to help support them? Or will he be more of a financial drain as he will want/need more than $200 per month? Also, will there be restrictions on where he can live based on his reason for incarceration? As to career opportunities for Ann, as many have said, teaching at the community college level is very poorly paid. Either teach in an elementary or high school level, or based on her love of caregiving, get a RN and really become financially independent. Sorry if this sounds harsh, I give credit to Ann to reach out to get her finances in order. She’s only 47 and has a lot of earning potential and living ahead of her.

  70. Hey Anne,
    Home care is under valued and your gift of care and dedication cannot be translated into dollars, especially for the family you help. I like the ideas about sourcing your writing craft outside of University education..College degrees are not all equal as some have demonstrated here. The K thru 12 teaching may provide value for you even if you choose substitute placement as another income stream.

    As an RN working in a State Prison, I guess I’d like to know if Robert has a job inside? The pay is paltry but it is a job and allows him to support himself in a small way. He can save and send little gifts to you that are solely from his money. And do look into the organizations that support families of incarcerated people. That have resources and ideas you may not have considered that may decrease those high costs of communication and visits.

    Finally, consider getting another roommate if it is palatable. It will immediately decrease your costs, even if you do purchase a mobile home. Good luck, stay strong and believe in your dreams.

  71. Ann, working remotely is also a big priority for me! Understanding that remote work is your main motivation behind the English degree, I think there are some financially better ways to achieve a remote position than getting a degree in English. Check Indeed for postings for Patient Service Representative, Patient Service Specialist, Intake Specialist, Prior Authorization Specialist, etc. with healthcare companies. These positions are often remote and require a HS diploma or GED and experience with direct patient care. Those types of positions are decently well paying, probably not as much as the $28/hour you will be making with your raise, but VERY likely more than you would make with freelance writing and editing.

  72. OK Ann so here’s my 2 cents. I am a retired paralegal and LPN who dated a felon who was not imprisoned. He eventually had his conviction forgiven because of the type of felony. I thought he was a good guy although he really wasn’t. I loved him deeply. I too like to write and occasionally get published. I have 2 authors I love. Echo Heron writes about the challenges of modern day nursing and Barbara Kingsolver who is a publisher prize winning author. Barbara’s novels are like seeing a beautiful painting. Her words just paint paintings about life. They leave me breathless. The poisonwood Bible is one of her novels and it is based on her life as a child of missionaries who lived in the Congo. It was based on her life. I’m with many of the others. Writing is a hobby unless you run a blog or just sit down and write your book. Find authors you love and write about things in your life of importance to you. As far as traveling to see Robert and cutting costs. Do air bnb. I visited my stepmother in Florida by cutting the costs on housing. I found a superhost with a very high rating and she rented a room to me for $30 a night. It had a mini fridge and microwave. I shop at aldis and was able to cook in my room. No TV so I watched TV on my phone. I have a small 14 pound dog and took her with me. You can take the plane or the bus and not run up mileage on your car. I live in a Midwestern state that is not exactly wealthy and not many folks here are college educated so there are not a lot of folks I have a lot in common with. Despite that I walk the dog garden go to the library garden and the list is endless. My best friend who was smarter about planning for her retirement rents me a house for peanuts. I am visually impaired so I wanted a house where I could walk to stores if need be. I am constantly using my mind to stay on a very tight budget. I. Fact I am saving money even in retirement. I live in a 900 Sq ft house with a tiny yard. I mow the lawn with a push reel mower. I rake the leans with a rake. I shop at thrift stores. Recently I needed a clothes dryer and found one that has worked for 6 months now. My refrigerator began dying or at least the freezer section was so instead of buying a full size one I purchased a mini fridge with a freezer. I use the freezer in it for frozen food. The neighbor down the street grows bell peppers and shares them with me. I make a vegetarian version of stuffed peppers with goat cheese and brown rice. I use vinegar water and dish soap for cleaning. You can use it anywhere on hardwood floors and glass. Dish soap will keep your toilet from backing up. Let it sit for an hour or over night before flushing. Use everything you have. Take PA e flights on a discount airlines in the middle of the week. Go to their website to find the best deal. Look into an rv park rather than mobile home park. Fees don’t go up in the same way. Tiny homes may not be be the greatest however they can be less financially devastating. Use your mind. Look into frugal thrifty living websites. The other thing I should mention use legal services in your community for low cost legal advice. Ours has information online and has a huge library full of resources. If you do a tiny home spend a lot of your time on your front steps or on your paver patio in the back yard. I spend $30 a month on 25gb of data and have no internet or cable.except for my phone internet. I am perfectly content most of the time. Figure out what you can live without or how you can make do with what you have. I have had problems with arthritis recently so I used a patio chair as a shower chair. It works fine. Look into shoes. OK I’ve rambled on enough. Good luck! Becky

  73. thanks for sharing your interesting story! A couple things I thought of: You mentioned the trip to visit your husband sometimes costs $600 and other times $1200 because of the ability to get your shifts covered or not. Is it possible to only visit him when you get your shifts covered? I don’t mean go less often, but it might just be a different date/week when you make the trip based on when you can get someone to trade shifts. That could be a potentially huge savings without any real sacrifice!

    Another thing is perhaps you could do physical activities while you’re working with your clients? You could do simple things with them within their own abilities like taking them for walks, or different chair exercises. You could do harder versions (like with weights) and they would do easier versions. Then you don’t have to pay for the gym and will actually get paid to stay fit and keep your clients entertained as well!

    Have you considered doing overnight live-in care work in addition to your current job? I realize that would be a lot of “work” hours, however, perhaps there is a client who just needs someone there for the occasional night time event or maybe they wander and just need someone to make sure they’re safe, but don’t require a ton of hand’s on care. Then you wouldn’t need a home base at all. I know that’s maybe not an ideal scenario but it could be a great option to get yourself ahead even as a temporary thing between your current rental situation and your hope to buy a home.

    Could you combine your hobbies and gift budgets? Then make homemade gifts in your free time to save some money.

    Could Robert’s money go towards covering most (or at least half) of the communication costs?

    Also noticed you pay for music on both youtube and amazon prime – perhaps you could get rid of one which, added up over the year, is nearly equivalent to a whole day’s wages!

  74. I don’t have any particular expertise here, but would bookkeeping be a possible career/side hustle? With the stat of the case study, that seemed like a natural fit.

  75. So I read back thru my post. At the end it should have said look into shomes which are shed homes. I have auto correct on my phone lol. Becky

  76. Getting remarried may not have been the best financial move. If you were with your ex for at least 10 years you would have had the option of taking the amount of his benefits or your benefits (whichever is higher). This does not affect your exes benefits. Sounds like you weren’t working and he was. He will most likely have been paying into social security longer and at higher amounts. Getting remarried negates this option.

  77. I hate to rain on Ann’s parade or future goals but ESL online is not as lucrative as it used to be. I have been in this field for almost 6 years and Chinese regulations in 2021 really impacted the industry. Where I used to be making 21 an hour I am not only making 12 ish. I would also mention that law in CA have made it so companies no longer will hire from CA or NY. So she would need to move out of CA to even get hired.

  78. Hi, Ann, I didn’t see this mentioned already: many colleges have a food pantry/food bank where you can choose food weekly. You can also buy over-the-counter medication quite cheaply via the Student Health Center. Both of these are ways to cut expenses rather than taxing your already-impacted and most important resource: time.

  79. Ann, I am also a writer — with a M.A. in English Lit. I’ve written 8 books (self-published 3 of those). While I appreciate having the degrees, and they certainly opened some doors, I agree with our dear Frugalwoods host that they are not a guarantee that you’ll have more success as a writer. How do you succeed? Because you can’t help writing. Because you have something to say that you want to tell others. And if you’re lucky, it will be accepted, and you’ll get royalties. (I write in the nonficton and craft worlds, and have yet to get an advance. Just toyalties.)
    Please consider starting a blog. It will keep you in practice. Then consider self-publishing the book you’re working on. I would also start another book now, without Robert’s help. Take Stephen King’s advice: if you want to be a writer, WRITE. (He also says READ. Check out his book ON WRITING — it’s one of the best on the subject.)
    Instead of a trailer, have you thought about buying a small RV, instead? It is easier to move, and you don’t have to live in a trailer park. (In other words, you could save some of that $1000/month rent you’re talking about.)
    I also thought about how you could help keep yourself from impulse spending… perhaps by giving yourself a monthly allowance to spend any way you like? I hold mine to $20 monthly. It doesn’t sound like much, but it really helps, especially on tight months. I also would consider ways to reward yourself/give yourself a treat, other than shopping — even if it means you must put your credit cards where you can’t get at them for a while. So maybe…a hot bath and new book, or a piece of imported fruit you’ve been wishing to try. Something like that. Treating yourself doesn’t always have to mean spending money. Good luck, I and others are rooting for you!

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