The Importance of Fun Money in Financial Sustainability

We all know that I talk a lot about sustainability, harboring borderline ad nauseam (debatable). Most oft, it refers to an environmental topic, but once in a blue moon, it will refer to something finance related. This is because tackling a student loan of $550K+ has taught me a thing or two about how to set yourself up for success with paying down debt, one of which is that the looming debt seems to most an insurmountable task that very easily deters a person from pursuing a tackling of said giant. And if you were as crazed as I about financial freedom and you did pursue freedom from debt, I would postulate bet my money on the fact that we are looking at a journey long-term. In other words, opportunities abound for insecurities to start kicking in, and there are many forks in the road that either lead you back to where you started from (in our case, on a 25 year loan forgiveness plan) or to a dead end. So we must talk sustainability if we are to expect a level of success. More importantly, we must talk sustainability if we are ever going to c r u s h this game (which we are!)

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Finding Financial Sustainability

Saving every dollar towards achieving a goal can be a grueling task. Most inquiries from outsiders center around how we survive the suffering. Surely, we must be starving ourselves of LIFE in an effort to be free?

ABSOLUTELY NOT.

Firstly, if you think that’s the case, then you don’t know us at all. I think both of us are averse towards doing anything we don’t feel is right. Read also as anything we don’t want to do. And while that seems bratty at best, it’s actually the perfect recipe towards a happy life.

Secondly, I agree. Anyone who is bogged down by the stresses of meeting payment requirements may have difficulty enjoying “the finer things”, but who gets to define “the finer things”? Only you. So while society spends their hard-earned bucks on Rolexes and Teslas, your idea of a finer thing could be a cup of coffee, a morning of solace, a day outdoors, yeah?

And lastly, even when it comes to purchasing stuff, we have the ability to, but with mindfulness. We don’t have a tendency to purchase things right when we see them anyway, and scoff at that on-demand-pull that gets most people to do some regretful spending. What we do have is a category in our budgeting tool (this link will take you to my course on how to set up your own budgeting tool). We have to thank our CFP (who is no longer doing CFP work but who have been invaluable in sending us on our way to a healthy, financially fit life – see The Value of Having a CFP) for teaching us about the importance of having a category for spending on OURSELVES.

Yes! I am talking about a category dedicated towards FUN money.

Sustainability comes from a variety of inspirations and motivations. Just when the going gets rough, one can find the push they need in a community, in the re-evaluation of perspective, in a reminder of the reason WHY we started in the first place. Sustainability can also be found in a bribe – a reward persay … but a calculated reward. This is what fun money is.

How to Set Aside Fun Money

Fun money is literally a category in our budgeting tool. It sits under the “Wants” grouping, and gets allocated a monthly amount. Nothing large by any means. We are talking $50 a month. If we want something more than $50, then we have to save for a few months.

We have our own separate categories for fun money, and we can spend our fun money however we want. Fun money is spent towards things we want but we both don’t benefit from. So, for example, if I want to buy a book about bread, then that will come out of my fun money fund. Or if he wants to buy a video game to play with his guy friends, then that will come out of his fun money account.

There isn’t anything extravagant about the fun money bucket. Because the amount is so small per month (less than 1% of our entire income), there is no guilt associated with it. Because we each have our own category, there is no blame when one spends their fun money. And because we already planned for the spending ahead of time, there is no buyer’s remorse. In fact, the opposite is true. It starts the habit of serious consideration prior to purchasing, because you realize how long it took to build up your fun money fund, and makes you assess whether there are better methods of spending. In fact, I think fun money is a great way to teach kids about appropriate spending habits, especially if the percentage set aside towards fun money is small compared to what they actually receive from birthdays, holidays, and rewarded chore duties.

How Fun Money Helps With Sustainability

So you can buy a few items. Whoop-dee-doo. How does that help with paying down a massive student debt?!

The psychology of working essentially for free and putting all your hard-earned dollars towards a debt that allowed you to work in the first place is difficult to describe. The taxation on the mind, as well as the emotional roller coaster that one experiences, cannot be stressed. Some days, you wonder what it is exactly that you’ve done. You start to question whether it was all worth it. Eventually, you’ll come around. But the hoops you have to go through to continue on this journey … it’s comical how emo the whole thing is. Like I said, the insecurities roll in like a fog. You don’t realize their coming, but they sneak up on you. It is during these times that you may need a little boost of confidence. Moral support does the trick, but there are days when I feel like no one else TRULY understands. Because how could they? We all travel different paths, and no two are exactly alike. An activity helps as well, but only momentarily, as it steals the mind and takes it elsewhere. The insecurity doesn’t fade, however, and soon you are left where you started. Unless the activity spans a long period of time, all you can do is wait.

However, the human mind responds very well to a reward system. In fact, it responds so well, that many people are obsessed with rewarding themselves, so much so that they suffer from excess consumption. No need to go down that rabbit hole now (AGAIN). Reward systems are involved in positive reinforcement, or in bribing people to do what one wants them to do. So really, I guess I’m bribing myself. Or at least, I am psychologically tricking the mind into resetting to a more positive thinking space.

The human mind doesn’t respond to starvation. Nothing lives after that. But the reward system, the mind understands. Fun money allows me to give myself calculated rewards. Things that I have already budgeted for, the purchasing of which is controlled. I don’t need much, as we already know, but occasionally, I need a push. I need breathing room. I need a break. And then, I can keep going.

Fun money makes this work sustainable. Less scary, somehow. More manageable. It makes me less of an anomaly, and more human. Hopefully, it makes me more relatable, and shows people that this isn’t me performing some heroic. It’s something that’s achievable for others too. I hope it gets them to start on their own journeys, knowing that sustainability is possible, and that fun money doesn’t make you less dedicated, nor does it make you less successful. If anything, I will dare to say that it’ll feed your fire, and make you succeed where others only dare dream.

Pictured: My most recent purchase, supporting Two Days Off, an ethical clothing line by Gina Stovall based in Los Angeles, CA.

Finance: How We Paid Off $145K in Student Debt in Two Years

On the heels of the previous post, a word on how we paid off $145k in Student Debt the past two years. I think it’s one thing to inspire people to pursue a road less traveled with the hopes of reaching a more ideal life, but it’s another thing to give any meaningful sort of advice on the matter. It is the latter that I wish to address in this post.

I’d be the first to admit that tackling half a million dollars in student debt is a daunting task. However, with a few pointers under your belt, the task becomes much easier. Here are some steps that we took ourselves, listed in the order we took them.

Steps to Paying Down Debt

  1. Figure Out Your Why. The pillar to every debt pay-off story is the “Why”. Why are you pursuing financial freedom? How does paying off the debt lead you to a life you want to lead? What will keep you going? These are the questions you must first answer. You need to build that fire within you, the one that burns so achingly that you’ll never forget, turn around, or give up on the reasoning behind why you decided to take that first step.
  2. Hire a Professional. While not for everybody, I highly recommend this if you are like us and do not come from a lifestyle geared towards financial independence. As you can see from my money egg, I had a long history with money that makes me hyper-aware of excess consumption. Each person has their history with money and it shapes the way you view your finances. I knew when I graduated from dental school that I did not come from a place of wealth, and neither do I have experience with dealing with large sums of money. I also did not want to be the person dealing with a looming debt hanging over my should. I had to talk to someone, and fast! While colleagues were buying homes and cars with their first paychecks, the first thing I paid for was a financial planner. And it changed our lives! If you are swimming in a large amount of student debt like I am, then I would highly recommend a conversation with Travis Hornsby from Student Loan Planner (affiliate link). He helped us save thousands of dollars on our journey, and as you can tell from our Itunes interview (here) he has no problem telling you how to optimize your repayment journey … which is exactly the type of person you would need in order to get great feedback! He broke down why we could optimize our path better (from a financial standpoint) by waiting 25 years and investing our money instead, but I chose to follow what I felt was right, and pay it back aggressively instead. The good thing is, you can discuss options and a good professional will make sure that you are aware of all the ways you can tackle the debt, but in the end, you are the decider about what to do.
  3. Educate Yourself. Admittedly, we did this with a financial planner holding our hands. We learned about budgeting strategies, loan repayment options, ways to optimize our health insurance, options with our retirement funds, and more. Off course, you don’t need a financial planner. There are plenty of books, sources and inspiration out there. The more you get educated on personal finance, the more options you will have. As you learn new ways to battle the same thing, you will become more innovative in your solutions, and doors which you never knew existed will open. Knowledge will only facilitate the process.
  4. Get Budgeting Down. It’s difficult to direct money towards paying down debt when you are always scrounging for money in order to live. Living paycheck to paycheck would indicate that there is nothing left-over to funnel towards your goals (student loans included). Creating a budget and sticking to it will help. Start with my course on creating a budgeting tool, and go from there!
  5. Manage All Other Debts. The last thing you want to do is to focus on student debt so much that you ignore all other debts, or worse, accrue an even larger number of debts! For us, managing all other debts meant paying down higher interest debts such as credit cards. We paid these off within the first month of marriage. However, for those with lower interest rates than my student loans (that is, lower than 6.8%), we paid only the minimum payments. For example, Mike’s car loan has a lower interest rate AND a lower total amount. Therefore, the money would be of better use towards my student debt, rather than eliminating the car loan.
  6. Get a Good Job. Let’s face it, a good job will largely affect how well you can pay off your loans. A job that’s consistent, reliable, and pays well. As much as I would love to explore being a temp, I also know that working more days as a dentist will help us on our repayment path. So there must be a balance. I can’t just cut down dentistry to one day a week and then pursue all my other creative endeavors. And if you’ve got a large debt, unfortunately, it wouldn’t behoove you either.
  7. Consider Side Hustles. Once our spending habits were controlled with a good budgeting tool, I started to think of ways to increase income. Actually, I started to explore hobbies that I like to do, and found ways to use that to make extra money. I started side hustles at the beginning of 2019, and the returns have been increasing steadily. I cannot wait to see where this year of side-hustles will take me.
  8. Be Kind to Yourself Along the Way. Lastly, but most importantly, find ways to make this lifestyle sustainable. The importance of enjoying life, rewarding yourself for your hard work, and having grace cannot be stressed enough. If everything in your journey is harsh, then it will be difficult to continue on when the days get rough. Because they do. I can recognize when I feel bogged down by the weight, tired by the work. When I do, I schedule a day of rest, or force myself outdoors, or meditate to reset. I send all my focus towards taking care of me, and in doing so, the loans find a way to take care of themselves. Ways in which we make this journey more sustainable include finding creative joys – I dabble a lot in the arts, Mike dabbles in music, and we both fulfill recreational activities in the form of travel, hiking, board games, and get-togethers with friends and family. In the end, you have to do whatever it takes to feed the fire.

Finance: The Second Year of Paying Down $550,000 in Student Loans, An Update

I can’t believe how fast time flies! The second year of paying down my student debt has passed, and I didn’t even notice. After the first year, I posted an update that outlined a review of our journey. It seemed to help some, so I decided to do the same for the second year. This year there were some ups and downs (a lot more downs than we thought would happen), but I am so pleased to announce that we are on track to finish paying off our debt in under 10 years. In fact, if we continue on this same trajectory that we’ve been on, we are actually estimated to finish 6.9 years from now, for a total of 8.9 years!! And I have high hopes to bring that number even lower. Read on to find out how we got here, and where we plan to go.

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To recap, we started off our journey with $574,034.50 of student debt (including the interest that had accrued)! All of which was mine. To date, we have paid a total of $145,128.48 towards my student debt over the last two years, bringing the principal amount down to $481,368.06.

To understand the progress, do recall that after year one, only $28,000 went towards paying down the principle. The rest of the $84,000 that we had paid towards the loan went towards the interest only. This means that only 33% went towards paying down the principle amount of the loan.

In year two, you start to see improvement. Of the $61,000 we paid to the loans, $29,000 went towards paying down the principle. That’s 47.5% of our payments going towards actually making the loan smaller!

Off course, you will see right away that we paid way less towards the loans in year two ($61,000) versus year one ($84,000). If we had paid the same amount or higher, we would have had an even higher percentage going towards the principle balance. So I guess this is a great time to recap what slowed us down this year.

THE SET-BACKS

  • In September of 2018, we decided to buy property. Property ownership was something we felt was right for us to do. We bought a live/work space that we hope to utilize in the future for some sort of business. Meanwhile, we are co-housing, or as financial independents might say, house-hacking, our way towards paying down the mortgage. Buying the property did entail two things to happen: We used some of our emergency fund to place a down payment on the home. Because of that, we are now re-building the emergency fund back up to what it was, which decreased our ability to pay back loans. Currently, we are setting aside $1k a month to rebuild the emergency fund and are on track to being back to normal in March of 2020. Also, it raised our total payments towards our housing a teeny bit, since now we pay for things like HOA fees and home insurance.
  • In October of 2018, we were delivered some shocking news. Mr. Debtist’s company experienced a laying off of 80% of the people working there, and even though Mike was one of the “lucky” few to stay, his pay got decreased by more than 50%! It was something we were not really prepared for, so on top of wanting to re-build the emergency fund, we also had to deal with a huge blow to our income. Since we were living off of one income, the change in salary really affected our ability to pay down the loans. But we made it work! That’s part of the joys of being on Loan Forgiveness Program even though we were paying it back aggressively. They still only required the minimum payments. Off course, we continued to pay more than the minimum. We were able to keep up with the interest that accrued and to slowly bring the loans down.

THE POSITIVES

Now that those two negatives are laid out, here are some positive things that happened!

  • A conversation with Travis from Student Loan Planner (affiliate link) is saving us THOUSANDS of dollars. He brought to our attention that we could optimize the loan repayment by switching from IBR to REPAYE. How does this help? Under REPAYE, the government subsidizes the interest at 100% for the first three years for an subsidized loan, and at 50% for unsubsidized loans and subsidized loans that have been present for longer than three years. Which means every month, we are given a free $850 to go towards our loans and help us out! This is fantastic because now that Mr. Debtist has a new job and we are back to our previous income, we also are getting help to pay back the debt. Whereas last year we were paying $6,500 per month towards the loans, we are now sending $7,300 towards the debt with the help of REPAYE’s stipend. And while we were dealing with the smaller income stream for four months, we were still getting that helpful $850 to add to the few thousands that we were contributing to the loan. If you want some loan advice, I really think Travis is your guy, and you can schedule a call with him to discuss your particular situation.
  • Additionally, the side hustle game has been ramping up since 2019 started! Now that we have our budgeting in order, it was time to start increasing our income. I was already writing on this blog and doing some dog-sitting on Rover, but I just recently started as a bread baker, and soon thereafter opened my own bakery called Aero Bakery. In January, I made only $14 in side-hustles, which made sense since we were off traveling in Australia and New Zealand for the first half of January. In February, I made $450, and in March, I made $750. For April, I am on track to make an extra $1,500 in side hustles! Read more about why I am an advocate of side hustles, here.

Why the Future Is Bright

So now, we are not only back on track with making $6,500 payments, but we are actually on track to be finished one year early! How did we do that? By being AGGRESSIVE. The minimum payment for a 10 year repayment plan was $6,063 a month. We set our sights on $6,500 a month. Even with the lapse during those few difficult months while Mr. Debtist struggled with his work situation, we were still able to be at a point where we have only 6.9 years to go! How exciting is that?! And what’s even more exciting is that I predict this will all snowball even more! I turn 30 years old this year, and wouldn’t it be great if this would all be cleared by the time I turn 35? That’s right! I have my sights set on getting rid of this in 5 more years. Here’s what we have planned.

  • Since we are now switched to REPAYE, we are making $7,300 contributions towards the loans, instead of the $6,500 that we were previously doing under IBR. That will vastly improve the trajectory of our path.
  • In March of 2020, we predict to have saved enough for our emergency fund, leaving an extra $1k to be funneled into the loans. That would increase our contributions next year to $8,300/month.
  • Also in Spring of 2020, Mr. Debtist is scheduled to finish his car loan payments. While I was in dental school, Mr. Debtist got a car loan and we currently pay $585 towards it every month. Freeing up $585 will increase our loan contribution to $8,885/month.
  • The side-hustling is just getting started. I hope to continue with many of these hobby-turned-hustles, and we will see how that impacts our payments.
  • Lastly, we decided not to refinance our loan at this time because of the risk of not being able to meet the minimum payments in case we have another fiasco like the job situation. However, when the loan is small enough (say under $300,000), we may still consider refinancing the loan. It’ll be less of a risk at that point, since the monthly payments will be way more doable. If we DO refinance as we get closer towards paying the loans off, then we will be able to attack the loans at an exponentially improving clip.

Please note that we are paying back student loans aggressively, but we are also doing it responsibly. We are living within our means, investing in our 401ks respectively, and are diversifying by entering real estate last year. I make myself less susceptible to fluctuating job conditions by having my own dental S corporation, opening my own bakery, working as a dog-sitter, working as a baker for another company, and doing some writing on the side. We are also a dual-income household, which greatly affects the possibility of this success.

If you are feeling lost in your student loan repayment journey, or you simply want to know your options, I would start with talking to a consultant at Student Loan Planner. This path is not for everyone, but it also may be more doable than they want us to believe. For those who just want to get budgeting down, why not start with my free course on creating a budgeting tool?

Finance: Taking It Slow

Yesterday, I was asked by a colleague for some financial advice. The conversation began with a request for a referral to our financial advisor, whom we actually no longer have. While the perks of having a CFP are many, our particular one had decided to pursue other professional endeavors earlier this year and Mike and I had decided to go without. For my colleague, I listed off a number of references that I have found most helpful to our financial journey, including Travis Hornsby (affiliate link) who saved us thousands of dollars in student loan debt, but my colleague wasn’t interested in student loan advice at this time. He was interested in honing in on his budget. In which case, I thought I would help.

His concern is one I often hear: “My fixed expenses are way too high. There is no way I can make ends meet with my income and my expense.” We then did a deep dive into some of his monthly expenses, and it appears that the most expensive recurring payments entail a car payment for a brand new Tesla, an apartment in a complex that offers all the amenities situated in a very popular city in Orange County, CA, and insurance payments. “Surely, none of those we can change.”

Somewhere in the distance, a buzzer goes off.

Maybe not right away. You can’t up and move apartments tomorrow, sure, but these are actually things we can change, if we wished. I suggested he sell their brand new Tesla, get rid of the monthly payment, and buy an old, used vehicle for a couple grand. I suggested he move away from large complexes where they charge up the wazoo for the gym and pool access, and instead opt for a co-housing situation, or at least a cheaper apartment. I also inquired about the possibility of geo-arbitrage. I suggested researching insurances further, to see if there are any options that will save them some money.

And then I saw it. The slight shake of the head, the glazing of the eyes as his focus started to turn somewhere internal. I knew I was losing him.


Talking about finances can be difficult. Hearing the steps you need to take in order to get from point A to point B can be quite daunting. It can make any person shy away, make them believe that frugality is for superheroes, that financial freedom is not in the cards.

I guess I should start with the following: It’s going to be slow. It requires a mindset shift, after all. A lifestyle needs to be upturned, and that is never an easy thing to do. To bridge the gap between the impossible and something more attainable, start with a conversation.

For example, right now, it may seem impossible to just get up in the middle of the night and move to a cheaper place. Plus, the decision to unroof an entire family isn’t up to you. Everyone gets a say, too. But speak up about the possibility. Look ahead to when the lease ends, what options lie ahead. Brainstorm, to get your brain on the same wavelength.

Then, start with one change. Maybe it will take a few months to find a used car to replace the current one. Focus on what you can do now. If you aren’t ready to trade your car back in, then call insurances. That let’s you tackle one thing. You probably won’t switch to a new one this week, but you’ll get a few quotes to pocket for next.

For some, even this may be a bit too much. Big things can be intimidating. Calling insurances requires a lot of research, and right now, there isn’t the time. If this is the case, then let’s drop the big things all together, for now. Refocus, and start small.


So we backtracked. He initiated a new tactic, and I followed suit, not pushing the bigger budget cuts. For now, that leap may have been too great.

He asked about grocery budgets. He shared a number around $800 for a family of four, which isn’t the worst. I’ve heard of more. I shared our goal of $300 for two adults, which also not the most frugal. Then he asked me about dining out. I shared that we have a target of $100 for the both of us per month. His eyes grew wide.

“Where do you eat, In N Out?!?!”

Yeah, sometimes.

He said $100 could not even cover a night of sushi.

And he would be right.

His family spends closer to $800-900 a month in dining out. There. A place where we can work. Further discussion reveals that they dine out 3-4 times a week, versus Mike and I’s once a week. Changing dining out habits, even by simply limiting them, is a much more doable thing than relocating an entire family to a cheaper state. Here, we can begin. And slowly we work our way up.


How about shopping?”, he asked.

I don’t shop.

“You need to talk to my wife.”

I think she would hate me.

Because here’s another thing. Going up to a significant other who enjoys shopping and telling them that they have to not shop the entire year can be perceived as quite near impossible, let alone unsustainable. If any success is to lie ahead in your future, we need a tactic that helps others slowly transition. Perhaps, we cut back on spending this month. Then, we cut back on the number of items next month. Afterwards, we may narrow it down to one. Lastly, we tackle the time. No shopping for “x” number of months. The turtle wins the race.


I think what people need to hear most is how slow the process actually is. There’s no way around it. It won’t be tomorrow that you suddenly quit every pull you feel towards spending. You can’t drop all the bad habits in one go. You’ll make mistakes and buy that dress. You’ll start looking at cars you wish you had. We both did. You’ll want to kick yourself for the slip ups. You’ll feel hopeless when you take a step backwards. You’ll be embarrassed when people hear. But don’t give up then, because that’s the point where your mindset shifts. Even if you can’t see it.

Frugal Challenge: Living On One Income

In this space, I try to address ways in which we can rethink a lifestyle in hopes of saving a couple of bucks. Sometimes, the advice borders insensitive, especially when it doesn’t apply to a particular person or group. Today’s post definitely pushes the bar, since it is glaringly obvious to me that not every household has the luxury of having more than one income. But speaking about finance itself makes us all very privileged. To have the ability to access a computer, to have the time to sit down and read, to have control of where our money goes, to have money worth talking about, these are all very stark privileges as compared to people whose conversations surround how to get food on the table, how to keep their kids safe. May I be the first to say that privilege seeps from my life since the moment I was born, and I am hyper aware of it. That being said, I think it’s important to point the privileged towards a direction, so that we may use money (specifically) to push the needle towards a better tomorrow, rather than spend our excesses flippantly over trivial things for today. Conclusively, it’s important to limit the spending of our earnings on only the things that bring joys that have permanence, and one such way to do that is to dedicate only one income to lifestyle spending in the cases where there are two (or more).

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When I think back to my grandparent’s time or farther, I see a period when the traditional family dynamic of a stay-at-home mom and a working dad existed. Raising 8 children in a third world country off of one income could not have been easy. But they made ends meet. Even Mike’s grandparents grew up on a farm, with his great-grandpa owning a diner that sold burgers for $0.10 each. His grandma talks of wearing the same few shirts a week, and keeping her old furniture because it still functions. My grandma takes paper towels at family gatherings, washes them, and hangs them to dry over the sink for re-use later. These little indications serve as reminders that they don’t do it to be frugal, but rather, because that’s how they’ve always done it. It’s a lifestyle born out of a necessity.

I’m not saying that this way of living no longer exists, because it still largely does. But it is becoming less and less common. Today, it is becoming more frequent that households are dual-income, so before we get too carried away rejoicing at the larger sums of money we are taking home, may I suggest we act as if none of it has ever changed? By assuming that we still need to live as if we make only one income, we too can live this lifestyle. I’m not talking about washing your paper towels and hanging them to dry (since nixing paper towels all-together is really the lifestyle I’m trying to advocate). I’m only saying, be less wasteful, of money and other things. But especially, of money.


My biggest gripe with people telling me that I could not tackle my $575,000 of student debt was their assumption that with a bigger paycheck comes a richer lifestyle. “Let the loans grow, and just wait 25 years to pay it all off! I mean, surely you’ll need to worry about buying a grand house, a new car, a dental practice. Forget that the student loans will be over a million dollars of debt by the time your 50 years old, you can worry about all that later.” I see this all the time. People who have double the income are more comfortable with going out to dinner every night, buying new cars, purchasing homes, shopping every few weeks, racking up consumer debt. The people who have to worry about money, somehow, are more capable of getting by without having any debt. Better equipped, I would say.

Mr. Debtist and I both grew up in families with a single income. We had everything we needed to live happy lives and become decent people, even though our families were not exactly the richest family on the block. With this realization, we decided, well, how bad would it be if we lived off of one income? Dentistry comes with great pay, but we will need 100% of that pay for the next 10 years in order to pay down the loans. What if I worked for free for ten years, served my time, and we act as if it was a single income household like it was during our up-bringing? It would hardly be restrained living. We don’t have any kids to worry about if the cat doesn’t count, and Mr. Debtist makes enough money to support two people comfortably despite living in Orange County, California. Plus, we are very simple people.

It was this realization that allowed us to tackle the debt. As you may already know, the naysayers had me on the 25 year loan forgiveness plan for the first 8 months after graduation. It was in this time span that we tested out our theory: Living off of one income will allow us to pay back a debt that no one else believed we could. It only took a few months to prove to ourselves that this will work. The intentionality with money is really what propelled us down this path, and we started to accomplish something people didn’t believe we could. Switching loan forgiveness plans can save you thousands of dollars, but by switching from a 25 year loan repayment to tackling student debt aggressively, it will save us more than $150,000 dollars, and 15 years of our life. Which is why I am willing to risk the flack that I might receive for the insensitivity of this post.

Because nobody told us we could.
There wasn’t ever the suggestion to work for free.
People didn’t think to tell us to act as if we were a single-income household.
It almost felt like we didn’t have a choice.

And that’s a problem.

It’s important to speak about these things, because it’s the only way to empower people. For some, it may be obvious. For others, it may be offensive. But for others, still, it may be the only thing that will free them.

If you’d like to try and see if switching to a single-income household is a good life hack for you, try to start with creating a budgeting tool!

Less Waste: Compost Bins

It’s been a while since I’ve touched on the topic of less waste, but there’s nary a day when I don’t think about our environmental impact nor is there a day that I haven’t spent every fiber of my being to reduce my own carbon footprint. We’ve cut our plastic purchases drastically since starting this intentional life, refusing to buy groceries in plastic packaging, avoiding takeout, and carrying our own reusable cups, utensils, and to-go containers. But still, I wanted something next level. What many people view as waste is actually a source of nutrients. The only real waste is the by-product of non-organic and non-biodegradable stuff, which we’ve tried to cut out of our life. Now that we’ve limited non-organic materials in our household, it’s time I turned my eyes, and this blog’s attention, towards composting.

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It isn’t something recent. I have been in search of composting options in Orange County for almost a year. Tales of composting services in grander metropolitan cities had me enamored. I was imagining a life of compost bins in freezers with weekly (or monthly, I’m not picky) pick-up services. I was drooling over the idea of a local drop-off site that I could walk to. Alternatively, dreams of connecting with local farmers as I help create fertilizer for their fields materialized.

Unfortunately, those thoughts were immediately dashed upon the realization that there are no public composting options in Orange County, AT ALL. I had called the Department of Waste Management, admittedly on multiple occasions, only to be told that there is no current existing composting service and neither will there be one in the near future. I asked the HOA if we could create a composting program in our community. I reached out to local farms, and despite having their own composting activity at their site, they could not welcome more composting from the public due to limited facilities. I read, called, spoke, to no avail. It was time to take matters into my own hands.

We currently live in a two-story loft with no land of our own. Research regarding composting generally led to the reminder that we are lacking garden space (see also: fruit and vegetable garden patch dreams). And while I’ve come across posts on how to compost in a plastic bin numerous times, I had my doubts. Yet, here I am. Desperate times, I suppose. Or rather, it’s about time I stopped wallowing and started doing.

As with any first-time experimental venture, I did “extensive research”, which really only entailed googling the words “at-home-compost” (or something to that effect) and reading the first few websites. Thankfully, a sweet girl that I had met at a local farm tour dedicated some time to walk me through the entire process and patiently answer my questions. She began the conversation with, “For many people, it is very difficult to get composting to work in an apartment space.” Challenge accepted.

I purchased a lidded plastic bin (the irony doesn’t escape me), with drill holes in the bottom of it that remains open to another tub that catches, who knows what. Dirt perhaps? Runaway worms?

Oh yeah. That’s the part I forgot avoided to mention. It’s a worm bin. I took some dirt from the aforesaid farm’s existing composting site at the lovely girl’s suggestion, in the hopes that I’d also gather some hidden worms in the process. To my dismay, they weren’t so hidden. To my other dismay, they also weren’t quite enough, which then required me to purchase worms from a farm supply store in Orange County. I picked up 300 Red Wiggler Worms, and the name itself gives me the goosebumps. I’m not the girliest of girls, but snakes and eels are my biggest fears, and worms and other legless things are close contenders. But they are enthusiastic eaters, eating their weight in waste per day, so I knew they had to be the ones. I walked away from the farm supply store holding a bucket of worms at arm’s length. That’s how determined I was, yet not so determined that I didn’t wait for my husband and roommate to get home before having THEM do the transferring of worms from one bucket to the other.


Before detailing how to fill the bin, may we dissociate from what can and cannot count as compostable materials? Two types of waste can enter the bin: green waste and brown waste. Green waste includes things like coffee grinds (aplenty at our residence), egg shells (a common by-product of a baker), and vegetable and fruit peels and scraps. It is imperative to point out that not all food waste can go into a composting bin. Meats, dairy products and oils are foods that one must avoid putting in the bin. Brown waste, on the other hand, involves things such as egg cartons, cardboard, paper, and dead leaves fallen from indoor and outdoor houseplants. It should go without saying that anything with a plastic film cannot be de-composted.

Setting up the bin is theroretically easy. It involves a layering process. The formula that I followed was a layer of brown waste at the bottom, followed by a layer of dirt from the farm. I then placed a layer of green waste, followed by Red Wiggler worms. After the worms, I added a layer of moist brown waste that covered the bin entirely and was at least 2-3 inches thick.

Subsequent additions to the compost bin require a layer of green waste, topped by 2-3 inches of brown waste. Since our bin has limited space for a household of three people, we maximize our layers by placing a bowl in the freezer to collect green waste over the course of a week. The freezer keeps the green waste from rotting until we add it to the bin. Junk mail and egg cartons as well as cardboard have been sufficient in providing the necessary brown waste, which we collect in an old shoe box in the garage.

Aforementioned research indicates that frequent turning of the soil will improve the de-composting process. We plan to turn the soil at least once a week, just before adding more green waste, using a trowel. For the brave, bare hands or a stick will do.

Airflow is equally important. By using brown waste that are a bit bulky (shredded newspapers and weirdly shaped egg cartons), we allow air flow to occur. We never mash down the brown waste when we add it. I have also read that too much of one thing will prevent a successful compost bin. You don’t want a bin dedicated entirely to coffee grinds. It’s helpful to add a variety of green waste, to provide a large array of nutrients to the soil.

So now the question to address is where to keep such a bin in a tiny home? Suggestions included underneath the sink, but the thought of flies and bugs and worms in the kitchen will prevent me from peaceful sleep. Another suggestion was outdoors, but since we only have a tiny balcony, we decided against it. Plus, I think outdoor bins may attract more bugs and flies than indoor bins. Eventually, we settled on the garage, in the hopes that people were honest in saying that composting does not result in flies or stray worms. Only time will tell.

Overall, the process to set up was easy. I think the hard part comes next. Just as learning to understand plant growth takes time and experience, so too will composting have a learning curve. Some cons include limited space in our bin, which may run out more quickly than in other households considering how we cook everything from scratch. Another downside is the need to spend money in order to get this set up. It isn’t expensive by any means, but it isn’t free either. Lastly, the need to purchase a bin of some sort irks me. Plastic seems to be the best material, but I haven’t calculated whether the composting process would offset this initial ‘investment’, if successful.

Updates coming your way soon.

For those in OC wondering where we got our bin, visit the ecology center in SJC.

Slow Living: Early Morning Routine

Early mornings speak to me, and always have. This isn’t to say that I have always been the first one up at the crack of dawn. That would be my sister. And admittedly, I have a history in my family of sleeping in when I can. But I am the person who is quick with getting up. Not in the rushed sort of way, but when my eyes flutter open and I wipe away the sleep, my energy levels are already almost at one hundred percent. There isn’t any need to roll around in bed, dawdle in the covers, pretend that it was still night time. And stepping outdoors in the wee hours when the sun has just peeked over the horizon to lend the few stray rays of light is probably one of my favorite feelings in the world. Granted, it’s California, and there’s no need to fight off a bone-shaking cold (most of the year, anyway), but there’s something about the way mornings smell that really attracts the soul. It smells fresh, and full of opportunity.


As of late, I’ve definitely honed in to a new early morning routine what with taking on the early morning baker’s shift at Rye Goods. Three days a week, I begin my days at one thirty in the morning, early enough for the late night party-goers in downtown Santa Ana to still be mingling back to their cars on their way home. Although the getting up is a bit rough, I set my alarm at the very last second so that there isn’t any other choice but to get up right away, and once I’m up, I’m going. My first few hours of the day entail baking off over one TWO hundred pastries and loaves with a fellow baker. This may seem like a fast-paced job, but there is a slowness to bread that only a baker will understand.

Our mission: to be finished with baking by five thirty in the morning so that the delivery crew can get these baked goods to local coffee shops in time for opening.

Our job: a smattering of duties that requires presence of mind, but at the same time, has become memorized by rote motions. The danishes get a dash of sugar, the cookies get sprinkled with sea salt, but oh, do remember that there are five minutes left for the pop-tarts before they start to turn too dark of a color. We have a timeline, but the baking can’t be rushed. The pastries will proof on their own time, the bread will take almost half an hour to rise, and you can’t cut the banana bread until it’s calm and cool.

At six in the morning, I leave the bakery smelling like bread, and you would think, tired from lifting trays of pastries, juggling sixteen lodge pans, and washing a ton of dishes. But in general, I walk out with a smile on my face to the sound of birds chirping as they wake to greet the morning sun. I see the lights inside neighbors’ homes, turned on as they prepare for a day of work. I catch a hint of the first few rays of morning light. Sometimes, I even finish my shift before the sun is ready to get up. I walk to my car with a sense of peace.

On these mornings that I bake bread, I come home to a cat, ready and begging for his breakfast, and a still sleeping husband who stirs when I walk up the stairs. I feed the cat, turn on the coffee machine in case it’s an espresso kind of day to allow it to heat up, and feed my starter. I’ll either do a smattering of movements around the kitchen, like put away last night’s dishes or organize a few things, or sometimes I’ll change out of my bakers clothes and sidle into bed for thirty minute rest before my husband wakes.

When he gets up for work, I usually get up, too. I prepare breakfast, pour coffee if needed, and write down a to-do list in my planner. We prepare our lunches (usually, baker days are my days off from dentistry), sit down for breakfast, and talk about what we have for the day or what we dreamt of at night while sipping from mugs of coffee. Occasionally, our roommate joins us as she prepares her lunch prior to heading off to work.

By eight thirty, they both leave for work, and I wash our dishes, pick up the the cat litter, clean around a bit while my energy is still high, and then when the house has quieted from the absence of both my husband and roommate, I lie down to make up for lost sleep and nap for a few hours.


On days when I am not a bread baker, I also practice slow mornings. After a good night’s sleep, I wake up around the same time that I would be getting home from my bread baking shift. If I am a bit sleepy, the cat is sure to let me know that it’s time to eat. I usually slip out of bed, and the first thing I do is pick up the glass of water by my bedside. I finish the left over water, which usually is full from when I’ve placed it there the night before, and walk to the kitchen counter while the cat runs and meows. I refill his kitty bowl, and when he’s busy eating, I refill my glass, and walk slowly back to bed. The cat will join us when he’s done.

It is at this time that I pick up the book that I had lain on the floor by my house slippers, and open it up to read. If I’m lucky, I’ll get thirty minutes before my husband wakes. Thirty minutes of reading is a habit that I started to require of myself this year. It’s a way to give myself that self-care. Thirty minutes is never enough.

By the time my husband is out of the shower, we repeat some of the same activities that we do on my days off. However, once the morning conversations and tidying up has ended and the house is all to myself once again (my dentistry shifts don’t usually start until 11am), I usually sit down on my yoga mat and do my daily hour of yoga in the first few hours of my day. (On baker days, I reserve yoga for the first few moments after I wake up from my morning nap). I don’t do yoga as a chore to be done, another check box to be addressed, another golden star next to my name. I do yoga to take stock. To notice how my body is feeling, to gauge how I should treat myself for the rest of the day. If there’s a soreness, then I need to be slower in my movements. If there’s a tension, then I need to be lighter in my mood. If there’s impatience, then it’s a day to practice grace. Once I’ve figured out what I need for the day, it begins.

I sit down at my computer and write. Not always for this blog. Sometimes for others, sometimes, only for myself. Sometimes I pick up a pen, and other times, I turn on the screen. Not always in paragraph form, sometimes I write short poems to share, mini-monologues for Instagram, lists of dreams for my planner. Sometimes, I even do the bland and write e-mails.

And therein lies another habit that I gift myself. First the reading, then the yoga, now the writing. All of these I try to do daily, and all of these I sneak into my morning routine. Notice that when you add bread to the mix, I essentially do everything that I love in during my first few waking hours. I set up my day not for success, as would be ideal for most people, but for a bit of happiness, a bit of calm, and a whole lot of life.

I make a huge effort to not pick up my phone in those first few hours. The phone used to be the first thing I touched when I opened my eyes. It’s the first thing people do, judging from how many people view my Instastories after an early morning baking shift. Don’t worry, I’ve been there too. But embracing slow-living means avoiding the fast-paced interruptions of social stories, advertisements, and overall digital consumption that goes hand-in-hand with a phone. In fact, since we’ve moved to this home (six months ago!), my phone has not rested at my bedside table, but rather, at a far-away-sill where one must get up with awareness to go and pick it up.

I also make an effort to not open my emails until I’ve done other things. I’m not ready to jump straight-away into doing what other people need from me. I want to have the time for myself, for my life. The e-mail requests can wait a few hours. My mind needs the reset.

Lastly, I like to avoid additional noise. My sister and brother love to turn on music in the mornings, especially during their morning shower. My husband loves to peruse reddit and watch videos once he can pry his eyes from sleep. My dad turns on the TV. I avoid all forms. I’m not exactly a music hater but for the past few years, I’ve really embraced the silence. Even my commute to work is quiet. I would occasionally listen to a podcast, but most days, I drive without distraction. I’d prefer to be without cacophony. So it makes sense that no music plays in the early mornings. The sounds you would hear would be the birds chirping, the cat meowing, the cars on their work commute driving by the window, the keyboard click-clacking, the coffee dripping, the sound of me crunching on a slice of toast, and maybe the computer humming.

It goes without saying that the early mornings are for me, and me alone. And that slow living requires not so much that you do things slow, or that you do less. Only Instagram would have you believing this is so. Slow living is really, at the root of it, about intentionality. And I live every morning with as much intention as I can muster. Only the most important things are allowed in those first few hours. It sets up the rest of your day for, maybe not success, but something much more important which is happiness.
Whatever happens to the rest of the day happens. But it’s nice to know that by 9am, you’ve already lived your very best.

More importantly, what about you guys? Morning routines to share?

Hummingbird Birthday Cake

When it comes to birthday celebrations, I am a firm believer in home-made cake. Anyone can go to the store and pay for a cake, but it will likely be missing some of the magic. There may be some joy in the tippy-toeing over counters and selection of icing color, but there won’t be that love and care delicately (or not so delicately) folded into the flour, tucked underneath the frosting. I think the best presents come in the form of chocolate cookies made from scratch, so it just follows that the cake must also come from human hands, not a machine. All the better when it’s from someone dear.

Last week we threw a birthday party for my mother-in-law. We hosted a dinner with both our parents and the grandparents, gathering around a table of freshly baked brioche buns, home-made turkey patties, and fresh produce in that construct-your-own-hamburger kind of way. Obviously, I baked a cake for celebrations sake, one that I think is worth sharing. The recipe itself isn’t my doing. I must admit that I stole that from The Kinfolk Table, a book that we saw sitting on the shelves of an AirBNB in Melbourne and one that I am currently going through, trying one recipe a week. All have been wonderful additions to my stash of recipes, but none have been as fitting or fantastic as the Hummingbird Cake.

The Hummingbird Cake is the type that one reserves especially for birthdays. Don’t ask me about the name, because its source is left unknown. It has all the special-ness without, say, the fuss. It can be whipped up in a jiffy, and the steps can be broken up around the gift-wrapping and the house-decorating. The ingredients are easily accessible year-round, and the decorating is made easier by the handful of pecans scattered on top to cover the frosting technique. In other words, it’s newbie-baker approved.

I made a few alterations to the original recipe, but the basics still stand. I knew it was a doozy when my roommate ate half of the excess cake that I had sliced off in order to produce flat cake layers. She said it was the best thing she’s ever tasted, and diligently ate away at the left-over cake crumbs, sans icing. I knew it was a killer when our 82-year old grandma exclaimed, “I would literally DIE for this cake” after her first bite. Someone who just survived a recent-knee surgery shouldn’t be making jokes like that. The true test, however, was when our picky grandpa who does not even eat CHEESE or anything more adventurous than beef and potatoes finished his entire slice without a word. That alone says enough.

For me, I think it holds a hint of a memory that is buried in the recesses of my happy, unhealthy childhood. Mornings spent with my mama’s banana bread in hand, or cutting into a fresh pineapple cake. Also, there’s nothing as sentimental as the way my mother-in-law’s eyes lit up when she saw that I had baked her a birthday cake, and the way three colorful candles looked alit atop. The birthday song sung by everyone in the room in the dim kitchen lighting really set the tone for this cake and what was once reserved for someone else’s family’s traditional birthday cake now became one of our own.

May all your birthday cakes be baked by someone you love, for all the future birthdays to come.

Hummingbird Cake

Ingredients:

For the cake:

  • 28 g unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 460 grams Bob’s Red Mill Pastry Flour
  • 350 grams bananas
  • 400 grams granulated sugar
  • 3 grams baking soda
  • 3 grams ground cinnamon
  • 6 grams salt
  • 3 large eggs, beaten and at room temperature
  • 360 milliliters vegetable oil
  • 227 grams crushed pineapple
  • 7.5 milliliters vanilla extract
  • 255 grams organic pecans, chopped

For the icing:

  • 227 grams cream cheese at room temperature (equivalent to one 8 oz packaged cream cheese)
  • 113.5 grams unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 454 grams confectioner’s sugar
  • 5 milliliters vanilla extract

The Process:

For the cake:

  1. I make this cake with two layers, and icing in the middle. I use two 9-inch round cake pans in order to achieve this, and spray the insides with coconut spray. Preheat ovens to 350 degrees F and place a rack in the center of the oven. It is here that you will bake off both pans.
  2. Finely chop the bananas. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Add the eggs and oil and stir just until you no longer see any specks of dry ingredients. Fold in the bananas. Stir in the pineapple, vanilla, and half of the pecans. Reserve the other half of the pecans for topping the cake.
  3. Divide the batter equally between both pans, ad set them on the middle rack. Bake, rotating halfway, for a total of 30 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center of the cakes come out clean. Transfer the cakes to racks and cool in the pans for ten minutes before inverting out. Inverting too soon can compromise the structure of the cake. After cooling, invert them directly onto a rack and cool for at least one hour.
  4. After the cake has cooled, trim off the excess on the tops of the cake, to get nice flat cake layers.

For the icing:

  1. While the cake cools, beat the cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Decrease the speed to low and add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla gradually. Beat until light and fluffy, about another three minutes.
  2. To assemble, start with a bottom cake layer. Spread the frosting on top of it and sprinkle with some pecans. Then stack the second cake layer on top. Ice the cake on the sides and the top with the rest of the cream cheese frosting using a spatula. Sprinkle the remaining pecans on top of the cake, to cover a newbie frosting job.
Can’t frost to save your life?
No problem! Its a home made cake. Proof is in the icing.

Repeat for special birthdays to come.