Finances: How Marriage Can Affect Student Loan Repayment

A few months ago, I had a friend and colleague call me and ask me the following question: “What happens to my student loans if I choose to get married?” In the same breath, she went on to explain that she had been delaying her marriage for months because she was fearful of how that would affect her finances.

I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for her, feeling like she had to choose between marrying the man who she describes as her “number one supporter and best friend”, or her student debt. The concern was that she and he both had student debt, and they were both currently under the loan forgiveness program. Which meant that separately, they were both paying a percentage of their income towards the loans. She feared that getting married meant combining their incomes which would create a higher total income number and which therefore would require them to make an even higher monthly payment on BOTH of their student loans. So here I am, walking through some of the basic info, just like I did with her on that far away phone call. I hate seeing student loans get in the way of, well, l i f e , and I want to say to all of you the same advice I said to her. Life is too short, for numbers to be the only factor. I hope this helps.

Related Topics:

We all know that we bring into our marriages our past experiences, the perceptions shaped by those events, and other baggage (suitcases of?) that we may be carrying. Student loans is more commonly becoming one of those suitcases, or if you’re like me, loads of suitcases. As student debt numbers continue on the rise, it seems to become a bigger deciding factor than ever before.


The fact that student loans are preventing people from getting married seems ridiculous, but it’s a fact that exists none-the-less. My friend was not the first to delay getting married because of student debt concerns. In fact, I frequently get calls regarding student loans after a recent marriage. I have people all of a sudden interested in a CFP after tying the knot, because now, their professional pursuits are affecting other people they care about. More than that, it’s affecting their futures. I’ve spoken openly about how my own marriage is what motivated me to get rid of debt. In addition to marriage, I have had people confess that it’s prevented them from pursuing passions, changing career paths, buying a home, and also, starting a family. But it shouldn’t.

Here’s how marriage affects those under the student loan forgiveness plan.

Will my student debt affect my spouse?

Technically, your student debt will only be tied to your name. Even if you get married, your spouse will not be responsible for paying off your debt. An exception to this rule is if you decide to refinance your loan and have your spouse co-sign. Co-signing puts your spouse on the hook for your loans. I would not recommend refinancing if it requires having someone else sign their name. I wouldn’t want to burden even my worst enemy with this debt. If you refrain from doing this, then the student debt will stay with whoever originally took out the loan, and that’s it.

But it does not mean it won’t affect the other individual. Take my case for example. I have a student debt payment of $6,500 a month for almost ten years. That means that every month, that’s $6,500 less than what my spouse or I can use to live our life. It’s that much less that we can put towards paying down our mortgage, or setting aside to travel. Or, if my spouse hypothetically had loans of his own, then it would be $6,500 less that we can contribute to his debt.

So the short answer is yes. It does affect your spouse and family in the grand scheme of things. Which was my number one motivator to get rid of the debt faster than they can be forgiven.

If both individuals have student debt, should the student loans be consolidated?

They say that when you become married, you become one. Everything gets joined together, finances included. Most married couples decide to combine bank accounts to simplify life. “It’s all half-and-half now anyway.” So some ask, shall we also consolidate student debt.

I would put the brakes on this one. While there are some pros, it could also be harmful too. Let’s consider both sides of the coin.

A positive of loan consolidation occurs when one spouse has a significantly higher credit score than the other. Since interest rates are determined by credit score, the individual with a really low credit score might benefit from consolidation.

Merging debts can also be beneficial in terms of simplicity. When loans are consolidated, you no longer have to worry about your tax filing status when tax season rolls around. Additionally, you would reap similar benefits as if you refinanced your loan. These include lowering your interest rate, lowering your monthly payments, adjusting your length of repayment term, and therefore decreasing your total number of monthly payments. Lastly, it will get rid of having to juggle multiple loan servicers at the same time.

Out of all this, I think the most beneficial aspect (for me anyway) is the psychology of combining student debt. When things remain separate, it sometimes happens that one person will hold a grudge against the person with the higher debt. This can either be a silent sentiment, or one that gets voiced more and more frequently as the time passes. Consolidating loans at the get-go is a symbol of both individuals wanting to work together to get rid of the debt. Regardless of how much there is to pay back, both are putting their hard earned pay towards the loans once they are consolidated, and the adversity can unite rather than divide.

That being said, I would be wary of loan consolidation, especially for those under the Public Loan Forgiveness program and the 25 or 30-year Loan Forgiveness Program. First and foremost, loan consolidation of any kind usually resets the clock for the loan. This affects those in PLF because their 10-year service to a company may be reset as well. I have talked to nurses who have been unfortunate enough to consolidate their loans after working at a hospital under PLF for multiple years. By doing so, their previous years’ contributions to the hospital did not count towards PLF, and after loan consolidation, they have to contribute another 10 years in order to qualify for forgiveness!

Additionally, most lenders who will consolidate multiple student loans are private lenders. By consolidating with a private lender, you will lose the ability to qualify (ever-again) with a 25 or 30 year loan forgiveness program! This is all fine and dandy if the private lender gives you a lower interest rate that would allow you guys to keep up with the payments. But take my case, for example. We heavily considered refinancing my student debt, and I drawled on about our wishes to do so in this post. In the end, we did not pull through with refinancing, firstly because they required Mike to co-sign (see above) and secondly, because it would forever prevent us from falling back on loan forgiveness. That would mean that even with a lower interest rate, it would require us to pay $5,500 a month every month for 8 years. Currently, 100% of my dental income goes towards paying down the debt. If something were to happen to me, say I broke my wrist while baking, that would prevent me from working, and we would be screwed! By not refinancing with a public loan lender, my monthly payments are only a small percentage of my income, and we can manage that payment in case temporary (or permanent) disability occurs (applicable also to natural disasters, personal conflicts, and job insecurity).

In the end, we chose flexibility and peace of mind over money. I think that consolidation would be more beneficial as the student loan amount decreases and the pay increases. You have to just run numbers with your own personal situation to see what the risk is, and if it’s worth the cost.

If both individuals are on the student loan forgiveness program, how can they keep their monthly payments to a minimum?

Sometimes, when people choose to get married, both individuals have student debt under their names. If they are both under the student loan forgiveness plan, then they are currently paying a small percentage of their reported income based off of the previous tax year. The concern most people have is that when you get married, the student loan forgiveness plan may or may not consider your total household income. For example, currently, you may be paying 10% of $10,000 (just to make the numbers easy) per month. That’s $1,000 a month towards student debt. And your husband may be paying 10% of $10,000 a month as well. But when you get married, now your household income is $20,000 a month. Will you both be responsible for $2,000 contributions to each of your loans?

Not exactly.

First off, if you both are in this situation, you should probably consider filing separately. If your monthly payments are dependent on your income, then filing separately will help lower the total monthly payment, because it will be based on only one person’s income. Remember that under the student loan forgiveness program, you want to pay AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE, and you want the government to forgive as much as possible.

The Caveat: Not Every Married Couple Should File Married-Filing-Separately

I follow up that last paragraph with this caveat. Not all married couples on the loan forgiveness program should file taxes separately. Here’s the thing. You may get a lower monthly student loan payment by lowering your total income. However, choosing to file taxes separately will likely lead to higher taxes. So even though you are paying less towards your student loans, you may find that your monthly savings will not be worth the extra amount you have to dish out come tax season.

The only way to really know which situation is best for you is to run the numbers. You need to compare the savings you get from having a lower income to base your student loan monthly payments with the additional taxes you would pay by filing separately. Unless you are a tax whiz, this is the part where I refer you to an accountant. Or talk it through with my pal Travis at Student Loan Planner. As you can tell from our conversation at this Itunes Podcast recording, I may know a little bit about student loan repayment, but Travis is the guru. Even he pointed out ways to optimize my own plan, which we used to save thousands of dollars.

There is one situation where your tax filing status does not matter as much. This is the situation Mike and I fell under. My loan is under the loan forgiveness program but we decided to file our taxes jointly. The reason is that although we are under the loan forgiveness program, we are trying to still pay my debt down aggressively and as quickly as possible. We stayed under the loan forgiveness program in case of a financial crisis or emergency… essentially, for peace of mind. However, we have all plans to pay it down like a standard loan payment. By filing jointly, we reap the tax savings of being married. Even though our total household income is greater and our minimum monthly payments are larger, our total monthly payments are aggressive and far exceed our minimum monthly payments anyways, so our total household income becomes null. Which is the perfect example to show that every choice behind what to do with the loans is entirely situational. It requires a good grasp on your financial abilities and your personal goals, while considering the best path for your psychological well-being. For, let’s face it, a lot of the motivation comes from the mind, and any long-term progress will highly depend on how “right” everything feels to you.

The moral of the story is this: Instead of fearing marriage as being an impediment to your financial journey, or vice versa, use them as tools to fuel each other. My marriage is what inspired me to be extremely aggressive in my student loan repayment. In much the same way, my student loans have ironically strengthened our relationship. For the first year, we sweated, cried, and rejoiced over battles and victories regarding debt. We’ve learned to work together as a team, stretched our creative boundaries, and really stood our ground, hand-in-hand, against nay-sayers, financial instabilities at work, and plain old exhaustion. We hit walls that we never thought we could surpass, only to climb over mountains. I think everyone can do the same, too. And if you need someone to simply talk to, to rant or cry, know that I am here. And so are all the other people who have reached out to me. We are all going through a similar journey, but I want us all to feel empowered, not struck down by the weight. I want to a be collective, rather than lonely individuals. I want you to succeed, not in being rich, but in your pursuit for a happy life.


Travel: Brekkies in Melbourne

When you go to Melbourne, you don’t just go for the coffee and the graffiti. You also go for the brekkies.  Plates that turn dishes of norm into elevated versions, bursting with fresh ingredients and well-balanced flavors. It seems the coffee shops take as much pride in serving delicious brunch menu items as they do their high quality brews. This we already knew. So each day, we focused on visiting the best places to join the brunching crowd – university students, businessmen catching a lunch break, creative artists trying to nourish souls – with a cup of decent brew on the side. Here are some of our top spots!


♦◊◊◊
Not worth the time.

♦♦◊◊
Good, but ordinary.

♦♦♦◊
Great. Worth a visit.

♦♦♦♦
Exceptional. A must-do experience.

$
Frugal friendly

$$
Reasonable

$$$
Pricey


Proud Mary

♦♦♦♦
172 Oxford St.
Collingwood VIC 3066, Australia
$$

The Potato hashrusset potato hash, poached eggs, thick cut bacon, kale salad, bagna cauda (garlic, cream +anchovy sauce)
Avocado + Kim chi Toastsmashed avo, wombock + daikon kim chi, kohlrabi, fermented sago, sesame vinaigrette, sourdough

Seven Seeds

♦♦♦♦
114 Berkeley St.
Carlton VIC 3053, Australia
$$

Lavender Brioche French Toast with Honeycomb
Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Almonds, Tofu, Yogurt Sauce, and Herbs

Top Paddock

♦♦♦♦
658 Church St.
Richmond VIC 3121, Australia
$$


Western Australian Kingfish Sashimi – Soba Noodles, Seasonal Greens, Daikon, Fresh Lime, Toasted Kombu

Flinders Island Pressed Lamb Shoulder – Flatbread, House Made Pickles, Farm Greens, Garlic and Mint Labne

St. Ali

♦♦♦♦
12-18 Yarra Place
South Melbourne VIC 3205, Australia
$$

Koo Koo Ka ChooCrispy potato hash, roasted mushrooms, porcini puree, poached eggs, 1000 day aged gouda cheese, shitake mushroom & charcoal vinaigrette
My Mexican CousinSecret recipe corn fritters, poached eggs, halloumi, sweetcorn salsa, kasundi, dressed leaves

La Lune Bakery

♦♦♦♦
119 Rose St.
Fitzroy, VIC 3065, Australia
$$

CroissantTraditional French croissant, prepared over 3 days
Twice Baked Almond Croissant The original Croissant aux Amandes, prepared with almond frangipane & garnished with a healthy amount of flaked almonds
Ham + Gruyere A croissant baked fresh with a filling of shaved ham, Swiss Gruyere & seeded mustard

Related Posts:

Freedom: Be A Baker, If Your Heart Tells You

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about freedom, but in essence, this is really what this blog comes back to. Freedom from clutter, freedom from societal norms and expectations, freedom from social obligations, freedom from the monkey mind, freedom from debt, and freedom from financial chains all-together. Even though I talk largely about finance, as my site moniker implies, the wealth will never amount to anything without the freedom. I’ve seen time and again people hung up in the numbers game, that they miss out on the life. They become money making machines (and great ones, too) but at the expense of the things that make one most free. My advice? Sure, you can play the numbers game. Use your knowledge about finances to free you more. But the end goal isn’t to become a millionaire. At least for me, it’s not. It’s to become a baker, if my heart tells me to.

Related Posts:

By now, you all know about my staggering debt, which I took out to pursue a profession that I have wanted since I was 8 years old. You also likely know about my resolve to get rid of the debt. I mean, even Travis Hornsby of Student Loan Planner couldn’t convince me to get off this crazy, wild train of paying down debt aggressively! And surely, if I was concerned solely about the numbers, I could accelerate this repayment by working as a dentist as many days as I can. Or even more so, by buying a practice and putting in some serious hustle, dedicating most ALL of my days to building a business that would yield a large enough profit to accelerate my timeline even more. Yet, I chose to stay part-time.

Am I a crazy nutcase? A dummy who doesn’t realize how much more efficient I can be?

Choosing to stay part-time gave me the space to be able to fill my time on this Earth with other things that bring meaning into my life. Choosing to tackle my debt aggressively relieves some of the dependency I have on my job. Little by little, both options have led me down a path to pursue things such as writing on this blog, dog sitting on Rover, and now, baking bread in earnest.

It is with great pride and an overwhelmingly amount of joy and excitement that I would like to share a recently accepted position as a baker for the company Rye Goods, one that pays little in green paper stacks compared to dentistry, but pays enormously in terms of joy. And while people would gawk at my audacity to add three midnight shifts to my four dentistry days while trying to juggle this blog, I cannot explain to you how much energy all of this brings me. And wasn’t this the whole point?!

All the hours I spent de-cluttering, all the heartaches I delivered de-friending, all the sleepless nights filled with budget cutting, all the effort spent trying to erase the mental clutter and slow the heartbeat’s pace … It wasn’t to live with all that empty space. It wasn’t to deprive. It was to be free. All of this, to allow me to be a baker, if my heart tells me to.

And if you want to follow this crazy train, you are more than welcome.
First stop: financial independence. Then onwards, to the rest of your life.
May I suggest starting here.

Frugality: Avoid the Yoga Membership, Still.

Have you ever noticed that advertising companies never actually sell the product? That’s what makes them so great at what they do. Instead, they sell you a feeling, whether that’s ease, comfort, convenience, or momentary happiness. They hit you where you’re softest, and dig their claws right in. And no matter how brave, strong, or knowledgable you are, you may still fall culprit. I know I have. But I need to remind you when you hear them whisper sweet promises, dripping with sugar and floating like cotton candy clouds, that they have their agenda too.

Here’s a recent story.

For the last month of 2018, I had been mulling over signing up (again) for a yoga membership. I have already written about the frugal challenge of getting rid of all subscriptions, and have listed gym and yoga memberships as one of the things I’ve given up in the name of frugality. I gave up yoga class in January of 2018 when I embarked on my journey of repaying over $550,000 of student debt, and started identifying myself as the Debtist. It has been over one year since I had attended a yoga class, although I practiced in daily yoga in the comforts of my own home (and PJs). Prior to abandoning yoga entirely, I have been practicing yoga in studios for three years. Not for three years continuously, but when I have a monthly unlimited membership, I try to go every day. My frugal instincts, every fiber of them, fight to pay the cheapest amount per class attended.

So after a year of hiatus, one of which I am extremely proud of, I started getting it into my head that I deserved to start yoga class again. UH-OH. Deserved – the most entitled word in every heavy spender’s vocabulary. It started off with random clips of conversations with the bro, who speaks highly of gym memberships as investments for one’s health. And doesn’t health matter above all else? Investments as in, what we put in now will reward us as we age, avoiding costly medical bills caused by a sedentary lifestyle. And this isn’t to put the blame on the bro, for the failure is all mine. But my head started to speak in snake-like tongues, and hiss at my “lack of consideration” for my health. The frugalist writhes, trying to twist itself out of the suffocating onslaught of convincing arguments for why I should be “paying myself first”. Doubt starts to creep its long shadowy hands into my brain, muddling thought processes. How could I have neglected my body for so long. I definitely deserved a yoga membership. After wrangling finances and achieving so many wins, surely I am now at a position to pay for this one thing? A membership will be more beneficial than my meager daily, at-home practice, where I show myself a little too much self-care. Granted, there are moments where it’s easy to move back into child’s pose, as the well-intentioned YouTuber drones on about a more difficult contortion. How could I cut myself so much slack?! Where is my motivation? I’m not doing myself any favors.

And eventually, the frugalist twitches its last struggle, and gives in.

A strong indication towards the mistake I was about to make should have been my reservations on purchasing the membership. My poor frugalist fought the battle for more than a month. But eventually, he lost, and I reasoned with myself that I needed to start investing in my health. I went so far as to justify it as investing in my profession, since dentistry can be so taxing on the body. If I want to pursue dentistry for a long time, surely I need to balance my static huddled postures over patient heads with a number of back bends and bridge poses, am I right? Surely, I need someone walking around the room making sure that I was going to be doing that instead of lying on my back. And I am frugal after all, so if I purchase this, I know that I will revert back to my good habit of going to yoga every day.

When we got back from our trip to New Zealand, emotions running high from the freedom of responsibility and from chasing future dreams brought on by the New Year, I signed up for an unlimited monthly membership.

I attended a wonderful C-2 class.
Oh how I missed the heat of the yoga studio, a wonderful balmy 90-something degrees.
How I missed the sound of sweat, slowly dripping from my forehead to the yoga mat, mimicking the sound of applause from a cheering spectator crowd.
How I missed getting guidance from yoga instructors, pushing always to improve the posture.
How I missed the words spoken, uplifting yogis out of their daily troubles to a more serene place, activated by the internal rhythmic breath.
I came out of the class having likely sweated away all fog and cleared my mind of unnecessary clutter.

I went home, took a shower, and lied in bed. Then I started to cry.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have the $159 fee. Nor was it that I needed it for something else. At first, I couldn’t pinpoint what I was so upset about. Was it depression from having finished our vacay, finally settling in?! NO!

It was because, deep down, the frugalist still breathes, still fighting, still living. It’s because the person inside me knows that I do the same yoga moves at home, minus the heat, and even without the yoga, still benefit from a non-sedentary lifestyle of always being on the move. It was because I could do the same darn down dog without spending money on gas, spending my time commuting, and spending my car’s fumes at the expense of mother nature. It’s because I had designed a life where I don’t need to exercise according to someone else’s schedule. Wherein I have purposefully made my life so as to never need an alarm clock, and yet here I am with a 5:30am wake-up call blaring, so that I could fit someone else’s yoga schedule into my busy day.

It was because I knew that I was fooled into thinking that motivation lies in accountability confirmed by an instructor and yogi mates.

I was reminded of the ways in which we explain to ourselves why we need to purchase services and things.

I remembered who I was and what I stood for.

Talk about a rude awakening to 2019. I come back from vacay and have completely forgotten myself. Mr. Debtist, being the voice of reason, was there to remind me to just move forward. Make the best of the subscription. So I managed six days in a row, until I fell ill with the flu. And that’s when I knew that I messed up. The signs were all there. That’s when I knew the advertisement agencies won. That’s when I found who I was again, and decided I had to share with you.

It wasn’t worth it, it isn’t still.
It isn’t true that you need to pay for good health.
Self-care is not a bad thing.
Accountability only matters when you care what other people think.
And lastly, you will always know the truth.

On Trend: Oil Pulling

I may be a little late on reporting the “latest craze” with this one, but here we are. Oil pulling. When I first heard the term, I couldn’t believe it has nothing to do with gas companies or oil rigs. Essentially, oil pulling involves taking a tablespoon of oil (I later learned that coconut oil was the more glamorous option), and swishing it around the mouth for twenty minutes to reap supposed oral health benefits. Most people opt to take up oil pulling in hopes to replace flossing. My thought? I didn’t even know people could hate flossing THAT much.

Oil pulling - The Debtist

Where did oil pulling come from?

Oil pulling has actually been around for centuries. Previously known as “kavala” or “gundusha”, this ancient dental technique has its roots from India. It is believed that the oil is capable of binding to toxins and pulling them out from the body. It was primarily used to improve oral health but has been applied to other aspects of health as well. However, the oil needs to be in contact for long periods of time in order for it to have an effect, hence the twenty minutes of swishing.

Supposed benefits

The internet is teeming with a number of supposed health benefits to oil pulling. It seems that there are many advocates for this holistic trend spanning social media websites. Below is a list of benefits that I found people were claiming this new trend has to offer.

  • whiter teeth
  • cavity/gingivitis prevention
  • better breath
  • stronger teeth and gums
  • less jaw pain, sleep problems, and sinus issues
  • alleviation of headaches, hangovers and skin issues

My Personal Perspective

No offense, but my first non-filtered reaction was “uhm, ew?!” Just the thought of swishing a tablespoon (why so much?!) of coconut oil around made me shudder. Coconut oil at room temperature is SOLID, and it takes a while for the oil to melt in your mouth due to body heat. Taste and texture definitely makes or breaks the practice, and while they say you can use other plant-based, cold-pressed, organic oils such as sunflower oil, sesame oil and olive oil, I do agree that coconut seems to be the most … manageable? Don’t get me wrong, I love those oils in my salads and I’ve been known to make a famous chocolate chip cookie recipe using coconut oil, but letting them sit in my mouth is just not the same thing. Of course, curiosity kills the cat, and I did try it out for myself. Verdict? As predicted, I was not able to cope. I could hardly keep the oil in my mouth for longer than a few seconds! Forget about twenty minutes. I couldn’t help but wonder, is flossing SO bad that one needs to spend twenty minutes of their day oil pulling instead of flossing for two?! I know, I know, I’m biased. But STILL. I say, more power to the people who are able to do oil pulling successfully once, let alone three to four times a week. Plus, if it were all true and the oils do bind to microbes, hypothetically after twenty minutes of swishing, pushing and pulling that oil into all the gingival crevices of your mouth, you’ve essentially got a wad of bacteria. And still swishing…which to me, seems a bit gross. And that’s coming from a DENTIST!

Oil pulling - The Debtist

My Professional Opinion

There is little formal trial data that supports any of the health benefits claimed by oil pulling. While it may be true that oil pulling pulls toxins out of the body, we must remember that causes of cavities and gingival disease involve acid produced by bacteria, not toxins. Therefore, the pulling of toxins does not necessarily have anything to do with cavity prevention. Some may argue that vitamin E resides in coconut oil which have antibacterial properties, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing. Vitamin E does not select for the bad bacteria and may actually be doing as much damage if it is also removing the good bacteria. Our oral biome consists of both the good and bad, and if we take away good bacteria, we will give the bad bacteria an opportunity to thrive. Because Vitamin E isn’t proven to be selective for removing only the bad bacteria, I don’t think this argument suffices for supporting that oil pulling reduces cavities and gingival disease. Lastly, some people claim that oil pulling is as effective as chlorhexidine in treating bad breath, but may I suggest that swishing WATER around for twenty minutes would result in better breath too…

I am not here to completely shut down the idea of oil pulling. But I am here to say that there is not enough scientific evidence to support this ancient dental technique. There are studies, but most have been found to have flaws in their methods. I would still consider oil pulling as a possible supplement to brushing and flossing, but not a complete replacement. As of now, the American Dental Association has deemed insufficient clinical research to support oil pulling as a stand alone preventative treatment that works. Sorry, but yes this means that you still need to floss. Yes, you can roll your eyes at me.

Giving Oil Pulling a Try? Things You Should Know:

If you are going to try oil pulling, may I recommend the following?

  • Still floss! Just as water flossers cannot fully replace flossing, any oil you swish in your mouth cannot get in between tooth contacts!
  • Swish gently. Twenty minutes is a very long time and vigorous swishing can result in jaw pain and tension. Headaches have been reported as a side effect of oil pulling, which can be due to the stresses placed on the temporal muscles. Headaches are also common in clenchers and grinders who undergo similar long periods of muscle tension. Take it easy, take it slow.
  • Do not swallow the oil. If the point is to bind to toxins, we do not want to ingest all those toxins you’ve collected by swishing the oil around.
  • Once you are finished, spit the oil into the trash, not the sink. Oils can clog up the sink’s drain pipes, and explaining to the plumber why you’ve got clogged pipes will surely be interesting.
  • Brush as you normally would after a session of oil pulling. I would feel much better knowing that you’ve removed all the oil after the swishing, just in case. Plus, I am sure brushing will help to remove that slimy, oily feel and taste that I just couldn’t take. I guarantee your cup of coffee would taste much better if it wasn’t chasing coconut oil from a morning’s session of oil pulling, wouldn’t you agree?

Travel: The Hooker Valley Track, New Zealand

There are countless day hikes to choose from in New Zealand, especially in South Island. It was difficult to narrow down which ones we were going to do on such a short agenda, but I knew that The Hooker Valley track had to make our list of day walks this time around.

Located in the Canterbury region of New Zealand, the Hooker Valley track is an hour’s drive from Twizel or Tekapo, two perfect places to stay if you want to explore the Mt. Cook area. The track starts at a campground and makes its way past Mueller Lake and ends at Hooker Lake. The entire time, you have magnificent Mt. Cook as your backdrop.

The start of the track.

The track begins as a flat path through some shrubbery and trees. You will look back and see the valley floor, and when you look forward you will see Mt. Cook. There are three bridges to take you across wide glacial rivers. The first one crosses Mueller Lake, and is a fantastic sight to behold.

The first of three bridges.
Mueller Lake and what’s left of the glacial wall.
Me crossing the second bridge, which was my favorite.

The track is well maintained. I would say that even beginner hikers and young children can enjoy this track. A majority of it is either gravel or a wooden walkway with a wire mesh to improve footing in the colder, icier months. Most of the track is open, which makes for great views, but could get hot on a sunny day. Make sure to pack layers of clothing, as weather in this region can change very quickly.

Views from the third bridge.
A well-maintained track makes this hike doable for beginner hikers, the elderly, and children.
A man contemplating life.

If you are lucky like us, you will encounter Kea along the way. A special New Zealand dove, these Kea are known for their curiosity and smarts. They say that a Kea’s brain is as developed as a two year old human’s brain. These fun and flighty birds will come up to you real close, but be careful. They are mischievous, and love stealing personal belongings or trying to get inside your cars. You can’t help but love them though, what with their beautiful green color and bright red under-wings. Plus, they’ve got a beautiful bird song, to boot.

These guys are not shy!

At the very end of the track, you reach Hooker Lake. There are picnic tables for eating lunches, and an opportunity for you to walk right down to the water’s edge. Along the lake, you will see icebergs floating, even on a warm summer’s day. Mike made use of the quiet lake and skipped some rocks that he had been collecting on our trip.

Rock skipping on this serene lake. Can you spot the icebergs?
Quiet and calm at sunrise.

The best time to walk the track is very early in the morning. We headed out at 6 am, and were rewarded with the sun peaking out from behind the mountains. It was such a treat to be able to walk the track peacefully, what with just us two to enjoy most of the way. Be aware that especially during peak season (December to February), the track can get very busy as early as 8 am. For us, it isn’t as enjoyable with the crowds, so it was good that we set out so early.

Benefits of an Early Start
Postcard Photo

I think that this was one of the best day hikes that we’ve done in New Zealand. It had rewarding views without being too strenuous. There was animal encounters, as well as plenty of great scenic views. If you are staying in Twizel or Tekapo, this is definitely worth the drive! I would highly recommend this hike to anyone exploring the Mt. Cook area, and would love to return and do it again in the future.

Why You Need A Budget

I always tell people how having a budget helped turn our life around. For some people, just the mention of the “B” word makes them cringe. There are many negative implications attached to budgeting, but I am here to tell you that they are not true. Many people believe having a budget is limiting, as if it will tell you what you can and can’t do. I completely disagree. I think having a budget is freeing, because it allows you to finally tell your money where to go. When you have a budget that works, you will have your money working for you, instead of the other way around.

You will never know how you are doing financially without measuring it in a factual manner. Likewise, you cannot improve if you don’t know what you need to improve upon. Numbers don’t lie, and your budget will be the best reflection of how well you do with controlling your spending. The first question I ask people who tell me they have difficulty saving money is, “how much are you spending each month on _____?” If they can’t give me a definitive number, then therein lies their problem. I liken it to people who say they can’t lose weight. If they don’t know how many calories their taking in and how many calories they’re burning per day, then how do they expect to have any grasp on the things they can improve on in order to see results. A budget is necessary in order to track progress. People will usually try to ball park their spending, but it never works. Why? Because we always underestimate how much we spend. It’s human nature. It’s difficult to understand what’s keeping us from financial freedom if we do not know what we are doing with our money.

Budgeting will teach you more about yourself, what you value, and what you want in your life.

There are many reasons why you may want to master your budget. Here are some ideas.

  • To free up your time. You may feel as if work is taking up all of your time. You may want to cut down on work or change jobs completely but you can’t do so because there are bills that need to be paid. A lifestyle needs to be supported. Getting your budget in order may be just want you need to decrease your spending, thus allowing you to take that part-time job or cutting down on your work hours. Some people even want to become so financially savvy that they can pursue complete financial independence and retire early!
  • To relieve stress. Having a shortage of money can be very stressful. However, if you budget correctly, you should never run into that situation. Mastering your budget gives you more flexibility and allows you to be better positioned to deal with unexpected expenses.
  • To have more freedom. The more financially secure you feel, the more freedom you will have when making life decisions such as changing jobs, quitting work, traveling the world, starting a business, starting a family, and more. When money is tight, these things may seem very risky. But when you have a grasp on your budget, you can predict how much freedom you have in pursuing your passions. For example, if your dream is to time off and travel the world in 2020, you can definitely make that dream happen but planning ahead and using your budgeting skills to prepare yourself for that.
  • To support yourself and your loved ones better. For me, this was MY “why”. I was graduating from dental school with over half a million dollars in student debt, and was also about to get married. I knew what a burden I was choosing to bring into our marriage. He didn’t mind it, but I did. I was propelled forward with this drive to release us from this student debt, so that we can be free to pursue the lives we want to lead without being tied to working in certain fields to support large loan payments. It isn’t fair that the person I most love would be affected by debt because of the career I chose to pursue. So I embarked on a journey to get our finances in tip top shape, and we have mastered our budget so well that what people once told us would be impossible to do is being done! They said we wouldn’t be able to pay off our debt in under ten years considering the salary we would be making. Well, we are on track for eight years, and it all started with mastering our budget!

So, do you have a budget? What’s stopping you? If you want to kickstart your budget and start telling your money where to go, check out my FREE course, How to Create A Budgeting Tool That Works, and start achieving your life goals sooner. I hope it helps you with your financial journey as much as it’s helped us.

Cafe Nico

It’s winter time and citrus fruits abound. Sweet, juicy, and bright, the perfect contrast to gray weather and chilly bones. Hence, just the right time to share an orange infused latte recipe (‘cuz it’s been a while), as inspired by our favorite local coffee shop, Hopper and Burr’s, Cafe Nico.

This drink has it all. It starts with orange peels, simmered and candied with sugar and water to create a lusciously subtle homemade orange simple syrup. Nothing like a little zest to give you that early morning kick, much appreciated after an invigorating 6 am yoga session. A few teaspoons (plus or minus a dash) coat the bottom of a shallow mug, or better yet, a small 4 oz. glass, followed by a rich and creamy espresso pull. Currently at our house, we have the Decaf Sumatra Mandheling from Portola Coffee Roasters, with dark fruit, earthy, chocolate, and herbal notes, or the Karinga AB, also from Portola, with black currants, melon, lemon-lime, and herbal tones. The latter imparts an additional layer to this citrusy drink. To round everything off, we sprinkle the top of the espresso pull with a dash of cinnamon, to add warmth to the winter season. If you are feeling up for it, I would mix in some orange zest with the cinnamon prior to adding it to the coffee. Off course, the drink wouldn’t be a latte without a little bit of steamed milk. I find that the ratio of a 4 oz glass allows for equal parts orange syrup and steamed milk, which is my preferred combination. The latte will appeal to those looking for just a hint of orange zest. Whether you choose to drink in one gulp or in tiny sips, it is sure to take you to the warmer summer days ahead.

Tools You Need:

There are a few gadgets that you will need in order to make a Cafe Nico at home. These are some of our gadgets that we are impartial to.

  • Scale – I own this one, because it weighs heavy-enough things for bread-making as well. I also like this because I can toggle between grams and ounces. Mike has this one that he uses for coffee exclusively, which is what we mostly use when measuring coffee bean and water weight. It is especially useful since it has that timer, essential to latte pulls and drip-coffee!
  • Grinder – The grinder plays a huge role in the quality of your brew (or espresso, or latte, or what-have-you). We used to just live with the results of a sub-par grinder, until last Christmas, when our gift to each other was a high quality grinder that has been spewing out delicious pours ever since.
  • Espresso Machine – We humbly have a simple espresso machine, which also makes it affordable for the newbie or occasional coffee drinker. One day, we would love to up to a Marzocco (I dream of white), but until then, this espresso machine of ours makes some great espresso shots.
  • Tamp – Mr. Debtist has been dreaming of upgrading our tamp to, say, one that actually fits. Just recently, we did just that and it has done wonders for improving the quality of our espresso shots. This is the one we own. I love the look of it, but more importantly, the feel too, as it’s got a nice weight.
  • Portafilter – We upgraded to a bottomless portafilter over a year ago. The biggest pro is that it allows us to check for the evenness of our tamp, ensuring that the coffee is well distributed under the correct pressure, and thus improving our shots to a more even pull of espresso. All that jargon to say, it makes for a tastier and more consistent shot of espresso.

Ingredients:

  • 4-5 teaspoons of homemade orange simple syrup
  • 18 g of coffee of your choice, pulled as an espresso shot
  • Steamed milk of your choosing, the original recipe calls for half – and – half
  • Cinnamon (a dash)
  • Orange zest (optional)

The Process:

  1. Prior to making the coffee, I would pre-mix some orange zest (if using) with the cinnamon. The last thing you want to do is allow the coffee to cool while you scramble for this mixture. You want it to be prepared with a mesh strainer set aside or placed in a shaker for easier sprinkling.
  2. Place 4-5 teaspoons of homemade orange simple syrup at the bottom of your cup or glass. This is the part that allows you to control how citrusy and sweet the drink actually is. Mr. Debtist prefers only 3 teaspoons, whereas I almost always do the full five.
  3. Pull your espresso shot OVER the simple syrup. I use 18.5 grams of coffee ground at the setting of 6A using our Baratza grinder, extracted for 25 seconds to pull 1.5 oz of coffee.
  4. Sprinkle the top of the espresso with a dash of your cinnamon mix.
  5. Steam milk, and top off the drink.
  6. Allow this drink to get you through the winter. Summer is coming.