Freedom: From the Grind

Previously, I had written about why I chose to stay part-time on the blog, wherein I delved into the benefits of working less than forty hours a week. Sometime in between the writing of that post and today, I got carried away by a desire to reach a goal of ours, at a FASTER pace. It was an all-consuming drive, not too far from the push resulting from a desire to own more. Needless to say, I was swallowed whole by this need, and for a while, it did control a part of my life. Yesterday was the day I said ‘Goodbye’ to that lifestyle on the fast track to disaster. I regained my freedom from the grind! I share my story today, because I believe that we can learn from each other’s mistakes. While Instagram, Facebook, and other social media outlets are there to highlight the best moments of our lives in tiny square boxes and endless scrolling pages, there is a sort of disservice that we do to each other by ignoring the realities of every day living. There, you will see the freedom from the grind, but here, you will read the story about how I got there, lost my footing, and then returned, once again.

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The Desire for More

Embedded in our culture is this desire for more. We want more things in order to satisfy our “needs”. We want more friends, in order to feel loved and complete. We want more achievements in order to be seen as “successful”. Having more, culturally, is a positive thing.

Two months ago, I became obsessed with an idea. It’s an idea that has been brooding inside my mind since I was a young child. Socially ingrained, it was a desire for both a physical object and a psychological concept: which was a desire for a home. Additionally, I was very adamant on achieving another dream, which was, to open a coffee shop. Both required adding more. More work, more responsibility, & more loans (ick!). Additionally, it required more means to fund these dreams. So what did I do?

I voluntarily decided to add an extra day at work. Actually, I insisted on an extra day of work, and my boss warned me that I would get burned out, but he was kind enough to let me figure it out on my own. It didn’t take long for the stresses of a five-day and six-day alternating work weeks took a toll on my life.

The funny thing about adding more, is that in reality, you end up with LESS. I had less time for myself, and if you don’t help yourself first, you will have difficulty helping others. I was able to spend less time with people I cared about, which then put stresses on some relationships. I had less to offer to my patients, since my tired brain and body couldn’t perform to the best of their abilities. I found myself being pretty conservative about treatment, which is fine and good, but failing to give them the alternative of doing more for themselves also has its drawbacks. I had less patience, and poor Mikey got the brunt of all of that. I had less inspiration, since I was so brain dead after work. I had less motivation, since my body just craved crawling into bed every night. Most importantly, I felt less like myself. There was a rigidness to my body, a robotic beat to my motives, and a hollowness to my being.

What you see on Instagram are pictures of our adventures, accomplishments, and hobbies. What you don’t see (what we NEVER see) are the difficult moments. The nights of crying on the floor. The burning desire and the anger for anything that falls short. The zombie-like walk through the house. The frustration of having to do chores. The  mindless decisions we have made. The resentment one starts to feel for their work. These are things we never say. And why would we? People will start to think less of us.

After two weeks, I knew it was bad news bears. But I also knew that I had asked for this. So Mike suggested I try it for four weeks more. At three and a half weeks, I talked to my boss. Earlier that week, I had finished a day of work, only to realize at the end of the day that I had not diagnosed anything. “Observe, observe, observe.” It was a sign that I may have subconsciously been telling myself that I can’t add anything more to my plate. The next day at work, I had difficulty doing simple things. Extractions that should have taken ten minutes took thirty. Kids that I usually am able to do well with were crying. Inside, so was I. By Wednesday, I realized that it was really a mess. It dawned on me that I had not paid rent, which was due the day before. I have never missed rent in the entirety of my adult life. On Thursday, I asked for a day less. My boss, all knowingly, said he thought that was better for my health.

Having more is sold to us as something AMAZING! But is it really so?

The Benefits of Less

On the flip side, having less is seen as not so desirable. When I wrote about Intentional Living: Create Empty Space, I touched on our discomfort with emptiness, and our desire to constantly fill that emptiness. We are raised to “not settle for less”. But having less is arguably much more important than having more.

Having less gives you the freedom to pursue things that you want, or need. Having less gives you the space to create the lifestyle you want. Freedom from the grind restored a healthy balance to my life. I gained back so much of myself that I lost to the rigorous hours. I had a weight, that had just as much a physical impact as a mental and emotional one, lifted from my bony shoulders. I restored a healthy relationship with my husband, who I had been turning to every single day to pick up the slack that I had brought into the relationship due to my extra day of work. Most importantly, I feel as if I can breathe again. It’s important to take a step back and ask the question, “Am I working to live, or living to work?”

I asked for the extra day to work in order to live the life I want. Namely, in order to get a home and have a coffee shop. Ironically, the result was me giving up the life I want (namely, a slow, mindful and intentional life style) in order to work.

Restoring Balance

By taking away the extra day of work, I pretty much am re-instating my previous lifestyle. I am also setting aside that dream of opening a coffee shop. I was obsessed with opening a coffee shop by the following year, but I now realize that slow and steady wins the race. The dream of a coffee shop will have to wait for a few years. However, there are also exciting news ahead! We are currently working on securing a live-work loft in our community!! Our ideal place has always been a loft. Even before we got married, while we were still dreaming up our future life on an Ikea bed with bed bugs in a house infested with termites, we both said that a loft was our ideal space. We have been living in our current one for over two years now, and we love this community and this space. We found a neighboring one that is being offered for sale. So we are putting an offer, like, today! It has a business space on the first floor, which you know, is fantastic for any future business endeavors we choose to do. Meanwhile, our beautiful roomie has decided to stay (we want to keep her as long as we possibly can!), and that’ll still continue to be a win-win co-housing relationship. We are so excited for the future ahead. If everything goes through, we will have a loft, a home, a business front, and a beautiful roomie. All of this on top of paying down the massive student debt in ten years! So please, keep your fingers, toes, legs, arms, eyes crossed for us!

Lastly, we couldn’t have achieved any of this without:

Graduate from Undergrad in Three Years and Save $$$

Are you in an undergraduate program trying to plan what classes to take? Or better yet, are you a high-schooler, looking far ahead into your future, trying to figure ways to save? Are you a parent trying to plan your child’s college career, with the hopes of giving them sound advice on how to avoid more student debt? No judgements if your child is still in a crib. In fact, a big pat on the back for you, for considering this stuff super early on! If you fall in any of these groups of people, may I recommend doing something that I myself did as an undergrad?

Try to graduate in three years or less, and save $$$!

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The first step: Stop the Negativity!

You may be saying to yourself some of the following negative self-talk, but I want to address them now and talk you out of that nonsense. Nip it in the bud, so to speak.

Avoid the following negative thoughts:

  • “Graduating in three years requires a special program, which my school does not have.” Not true at all! I myself graduated from a four year undergraduate college, in a three year span of time. All you need to do is hit your particular program’s requirements, and that’s it! Just make sure to plan ahead.
  • “Only Einsteins and nerds finish early because you need to be very smart in order to graduate in three years or less.”  You need to be very organized to finish early, not necessarily smart. It may require a bit more effort, but it does not mean that some people are born with the ability to do this and others are not. Everyone should at least try. If you don’t end up finishing in three years, you should be just as proud to finish in three years and one quarter. Every little bit that you shave off of your schooling counts!
  • “Graduating early means I won’t have my FULL college experience! I will miss out on some of the fun my friends are having.” Actually, quite the opposite! Finishing school in three years freed up that last year when all my other friends were still in school. It gave me the chance to work three jobs, and I had a more flexible schedule than my friends who were still in college! While they had to plan for tests and study for exams, I was able to move my work schedules around to make time for lunch dates, or hang out nights. If anything, I was able to experience MORE than they did!
  • “What difference does an extra year make? Shouldn’t I just take classes that I am interested in or that I enjoy FOR FUN while I’m at it? What’s another couple of thousands of dollars?” If I could kick my young self for having this kind of mentality, I would. Back then, I did not understand the value of compounding interest. I did not have a sense of the value of time. I did not realize that something so small now, can make such a big difference later. The money you save from finishing undergrad early can be invested into something that will give you a higher return over time, rather than be taken out as a loan that will be charged interest over time. Instead of losing money, you could be earning money. Time is on your side, and investing early is the way to go!

Ways To Graduate Early

There were many things that I did to allow me to graduate one year early. If I had a do-over, I would do even MORE, to try to shave off a little bit more time. Here are some tips!

  • Take as many AP (Advanced Placement) or IB (International Bachelaureate) courses in high school as you can. I did the work in high – school. I took 11 AP courses in high-school. The great thing about these is that some colleges accept certain AP classes as credit towards general education college courses! I entered my first year of college as a “sophomore” and had first choice in which courses I wanted to take, which made it even easier to plan ahead!
  • Plan your course of action. When I entered college, I was given a list of classes that I was required to take in order to graduate early. I kept that list throughout my whole college career and when it came time to choose classes, I would simply go through the list and find classes that I wanted to take but were also required. It wasn’t until my final trimester (we were on the trimester system) that I took a class that was not a requirement, for fun. Why did I do that? Because it gave me the units I needed to be considered a full-time student, which had a flat rate and which actually made the tuition cheaper than if I paid per unit to be a part-time student. Go figure!
  • Take as many units as you can handle. The minimum units you need to be considered a full time student was 12 units. You can likely graduate in four years taking 12-15 units a trimester. But I had other plans. I was taking 16-20 units a trimester, and one particular trimester, I believe I took 22 units. The exception was my final trimester, where I took only 12 units, the minimum to be a full -time student.
  • Stay focused. You are here for SCHOOL. The biggest excuse I heard recited to not take more than 12 units at a time was that early twenty-somethings want to enjoy life. They don’t want to be focused on JUST school work. They want to have time to go to parties, hang out with their friends, make new experiences. But you are at college for school. Focusing on that doesn’t mean you won’t get those new experiences, or have a good time.
  • Don’t listen to the naysayers. When I told others that I was going to finish college early, there was a lot of pushback. In the early stages, I had a lot of people telling me it would be difficult to do, that I would stress myself out too much and hate college all-together. When that didn’t happen, they said that I was missing out. As it got closer towards the end of my college career, I started having people trying to convince me to stay. “Just take classes for fun!” To which I replied, “I’d rather live life, for fun.” Don’t listen to the naysayers who think you can’t do it. Don’t listen to people trying to convince you you’re missing out. And definitely don’t listen to those who try to convince you to stay even longer, and spend more money or take additional loans. The person you should be living life for is yourself, and your future self will thank you.

If you need further convincing, maybe math will do the trick.

Tuition Costs Saved by Graduating in 3 Years: $8,000

Additional Money Earned by Working 3 Jobs in the Final Year: $18,000

The Difference: $26,000, which I funneled into student loans and credit card debt. 

 

 

Frugal Challenge: Get Rid of as Many Subscriptions as Possible + Exciting News!

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

Subscriptions are the bane of my frugal existence. Monthly recurring fees for a product is a consistent way to continue throwing money out the door. I dislike them so much because you aren’t just spending money once or twice, but rather, multiple times at a set rate. It’s like signing up for a definite way to lose more money. As you can probably tell, I stray away from subscriptions if I can.

When we were first organizing our budget, we saw that we were doing a lot of wasteful spending. We wanted to trim that down, and the easiest way to do that was to go through our monthly subscriptions and cut as much of them out as possible. We were already really good about not having subscriptions to things such as cable (we don’t even have a TV in our house!), but there were so many other things that we were not very good about (gym memberships, for example).

These days, there are so many monthly subscriptions one can sign up for. It makes sense why companies are creating more and more membership programs. It’s a way to reel consumers in and commit them to their product long term. It’s a way for companies to get your money without having to do any further selling. I would recommend you don’t get into that habit. It may be more convenient, but it’s also dangerous because the recurring payments are pulled silently. Therefore, a once-conscious decision to buy a product becomes increasingly unconscious. When you are unconscious about where you’re money goes, then you have no control. Getting rid of subscriptions is a way to get better control over your finances.

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A List of Subscriptions You May Want to Cancel

There are many monthly subscriptions that you can consider getting rid of in the name of saving money. I know some of these may seem impossible to let go, but I challenge you to flex those frugal muscles!

  • Cable
  • Internet
  • Spotify or Other Music subscriptions
  • Netflix or HBO
  • Costco Membership (also, Sam’s Club and others)
  • Magazine Subscriptions such as Texture
  • Make up Subscriptions such as Itsy
  • Grooming Subscription Boxes such as Dollar Shave Club
  • Clothing Subscriptions such as Stitch Fix
  • Meal Prep Deliveries such as Blue Apron or Freshly
  • Amazon Prime
  • Gym Subscriptions/Memberships
  • Movie Passes
  • Kindle Unlimited
  • Barkbox or other pet subscriptions
  • Wine Club
  • Coffee Subscriptions such as Beanbox
  • Disneyland Passes or other theme park passes
  • Music lessons, Pottery Classes, and other hobbies

Which Subscriptions We Currently Keep

While I would love to say that we have gotten rid of all of those things, we are also human and we have kept a few subscriptions for ourselves. Below is a list of monthly recurring payments we currently keep:

  • Seamless FP – This monthly fee is a fee for our financial planner. I have spoken extensively about his value and the amount we receive from having him versus not having him is huge. I still, to this day, attribute the fact that we have paid $97,000 towards my student loans to him (see wonderful news below!). If we never had his help, I don’t think this blog would even exist, nor do I think that we would be as frugally weird as we are now. Thanks Andrew!
  • Yearly fee for blog – It earns me some income as a side hustle and is something I use every day. The income from the blog offsets the yearly fee for all blog expenses, which include WordPress, PicMonkey, and ConvertKit.
  • Internet – I have actually suggested to my husband that we nix our internet, you know, as a social experiment. I have even created a plan to write blog posts on Word and email them to myself and upload via my cell phone which already has a plan under my parent’s family plan. But as a frequent video-gamer and constant reddit user, he values the internet way too much. So we have kept the internet. That I understand, because I can see the value in it.

The True Cost of Subscriptions

Right now, you’re probably thinking to yourself, what’s $10 a month? That’s $120 a year! Let’s take the example of the Movie Pass which is $9.95 a month. The movie pass gets you unlimited movie screening for that month, up to one free movie a day. Did I watch $120 worth of movies in one year? No! The reason? Because not having a pass does not push us to want to see movies. Sure, it’s considered a “value deal“, if you use your movie pass everyday to see a different movie. But, if you did not have that deal, would you spend $120 at the movies? Do you really like movies that much? We spent $20 in the last year at the movie theatres. Plus, you have to calculate your time too. A movie is 2-3 hours long. If you spend 2-3 hours everyday watching a movie so that you can get the most “value” out of this deal, then I suggest you also enter into your calculation the value of your time. What is your hourly work rate? What is your worth? Multiply that by the number of hours you were sitting in the theatres. Can you use that time to work more in order to get an even better value? The answer is probably yes. Personally, I have priorities higher than watching movies. Such as financial freedom. Would you rather watch movies everyday and work until your sixty five? Not me. Like I said, I don’t like movies that much.

The Impact of Getting Rid of Our Subscriptions

Getting rid of as many subscriptions as possible really got us closer towards our goal of paying down loans. It was a practice that significantly trimmed down our monthly budget. What we found was that the subscriptions are what kept us coming back for more. Once we got rid of them, the products were hardly missed. We only took what we needed, which ended up saving us money. 

Plus, have you ever signed up for a subscription “just to try it”. Maybe you were offered a really good initial deal. Your intention may have been to cancel it before it renews. But life gets in the way and makes you forget. Or it adds stress, trying to keep track of which subscription ends when, and trying to time your cancellations appropriately. I know I’ve been there, balancing getting the most out of the subscription and avoiding another month of the same stuff. I elected for a simpler life, devoid of all that stress. I wouldn’t trade it for what used to be.

The Good News

We are out of the $500,000’s and are in the $400,000s! We started with $574,034.50 worth of student debt. I am so happy to say that as of the beginning of July, we have escaped the $500,000s and entered the $400,000s! This isn’t to say that we owe it all to subscription cancellations. But subscription cancellations are a good place to start. Why? Because it forces you to flex your frugal muscles. Getting rid of things that you have been repeatedly dependent on is not an easy task. Some part of you is going to want to go back to the gym, believing that free exercises at home are not enough. I admit, unless you have the equipment at home, it’s not going to give you the Arnold Schwarzenegger body that someone may have sold to you as ideal. But it’s enough to keep you healthy and fit. Off course, everyone has their own set of “needs”. I simply recommend evaluating those needs, and assessing them for their true value. How do those “needs” get you closer to becoming the person you wish to be, or living the life that you wish to live?

Frugal Challenge: Don’t Buy Technology Brand New

I have never personally bought a piece of technology brand new. I recognize that the reasoning behind it is due to having the privilege of knowing people who have hand-me-down technology to give. A quickly advancing field, it doesn’t take long before a newer-“more improved” version is released. My advice: Don’t buy into it (literally!). Many other people will, and that’s the whole point. When people around you are buying newer versions of stuff, the older versions will be left lying around. It is quite difficult to properly dispose of tech stuff. You can’t just throw it in the trash. This is where you swoop! Ask around for any older gadgets that they are no longer using, when you are ready for your own upgrade.

My history with Cellular Phones

I got my first cell phone as a hand-me down from my parents when I was 18 years old. I was starting college, and my 17 year old sister and I shared the cell phone. I remember it was an older version than what my friends were carrying. A flip phone with a keyboard. It could not receive texts, nor could it access the internet. So I am not sure what the point of the keyboard was. This was in 2007 when classmates were already checking their emails on their iPhones. But I was so excited, and it serviced me fine.

I remember that in my 3rd year of college, I went abroad to study in Santiago, Chile. I did not have an international cell phone plan, so all of my communication was through this really old computer in the lobby of the hotel we were living in. There were two old computers that gave me an hour of access to the WiFi per day. When I came home that summer, I was shocked to learn that my parents had FINALLY added texting to our plan. This was in 2010, and I had just started to use texting.

Eventually, that phone died, and I needed a new one. Luckily, my then boyfriend and now husband, was very big on keeping up with the iPhone releases. That summer, a new iPhone was released and he gave me his old iPhone. Two years later, we would do the same. When the iPhone 7 got released, he gave me his iPhone 5. They were the best upgrades ever. Ever since then, I am happy to report that my habit of never upgrading just because there are new releases rubbed off on him. He still has that iPhone 7, complete with a broken screen which occurred more than a year ago, due to the unfortunate event of dropping it down two flights of stairs.

One summer, “my” iPhone 5 refused to turn on. It was charging one minute, then frozen the next. Taking that baby to the iPhone store and learning that I will never see that small screen light up ever again was heart-breaking. But I was not ready to buy a new phone. So I went and talked to my dad.

Since I hadn’t upgraded my phone with AT&T since 2008, I was actually able to get a “free upgrade”. He was able to maneuver a deal for me to get a free iPhone6. Currently, I still carry around that iPhone 6 and will continue to do so until it decides to die on me. Since my husband himself has graduated from the habit of continually upgrading, our “newest” phone is a bashed up iPhone7 with a cracked screen.

My history with laptops

I got my first laptop as a hand-me-down when I was 17 years old. It was my dad’s very old office laptop, the kind that takes fifteen minutes to start up. It was a chunky piece of tech, one that I couldn’t carry to class at high school or college. It sat in the same corner of my parents bedroom, and I would have to deal with sitting cross-legged on the hardwood floor in order to use it, because it had to stay connected to that small blue box that wired it to the internet. Yes, our house did not have WiFi at the time.

When I graduated college at 21 years old, my parents gifted me a laptop that cost less than $500. This was a pretty expensive graduation gift! But they knew that I was pursuing dentistry and that I would need a laptop in dental school. The plan was for this to get me through the next four years. That laptop survived five whole years. It had scratches, the corner of it was taped together, and it was slow, like an aged man. I held onto it for dear life. Close to my graduating dental school, my laptop started to give out. I was so bummed, but my now husband, once again, came to my rescue. He had a $400 laptop himself that has seen three years of service. He saw my frustrations with my slow computer, and decided to lend his laptop to me. Eventually, I took over and he had his desktop for his own computer needs.

How I Just Recently Scored on Getting a Free Laptop

Just last month, this super old laptop that has survived six years started to slow. In fact, it started to throw tantrums. After an hour of being on, it would suddenly freeze up. There was no way around it but to turn it off, and lose everything I was currently working on. I worried for my blog’s existence, and started conjuring up solutions.

“I have always wanted an Macbook”, a voice in my head said. It’s true. Since I have never bought a laptop of my own, I have had to make do with whatever brand I was given. But I have always wanted the sleek look of Macbooks. Then the cost dawns on me. Over a grand for a brand new one, almost a grand for a refurbished one. I started to make calculations in my head. I couldn’t embrace that idea, so my husband suggested I spend a few hundred dollars to buy a laptop to tide me over until I could save for a pretty, silver apple. From a valuist viewpoint, I couldn’t get behind that idea either. To buy something I don’t actually want, that is subpar from my expectations just to be cheap is just not my style. So what did I do?

I started to tell people about my woes. How I was in search of a laptop, but I was not ready to buy one per say. Lo and behold, my family had something tucked away in the master bedroom. An unused Microsoft Surface Pro II. This used to be my dad’s work laptop provided by his office. As a person who works from home, his company provides him with the laptop needed in order to do his work. He just recently upgraded to the Macbooks that I myself was yearning for, which meant that his old laptop was no longer being used. This is the laptop I am typing this article on now.

It’s so funny because this is the nicest laptop I have ever owned. I am so excited about its ability to turn into a tablet, the fact that it’s touchscreen, and the pen that I can draw/write with directly on the screen. I texted my friend and told him that I got a new laptop, and his response was, “Hah! That thing is so old.” In my head, I was thinking, “Yes, but it’s free.” I do this all the time, and am extremely proud of it. You can call me a leech, but honestly, I am simply putting to good use discarded and forgotten gadgets that function completely fine.

If you’d like to do the same, here are some actionable tips.

How to Save Money on Technological Gadgets

  • Never buy technology brand new.
  • Ask around for unused or unwanted gadgets.
  • Hang on to your devices until they die out on you.
  • Share devices with people you live with.
  • Challenge yourself to go without, for a while.

If you really want to buy a gadget, but have the flexibility to wait a little longer, try putting a search in camelcamelcamel.com. You can have a notification sent directly to you when something does go on sale below the price point that you are willing to pay. I am sure more techy people can find ways to save. To help the community, feel free to share your own actionable tips in the comments!

Finance: How to Budget for Travel

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

It’s no secret that the number one priority in our lives from a financial standpoint are my student loans. Off course, more important matters such as health, relationships, and happiness trumps that, but really not much else is prioritized before the loans. However, even before paying down the student debt entered the picture, Mike and I had decided early on in our relationship, before we even got married, that a top priority of ours would be travel. That hasn’t exactly changed, as you can probably tell from all the travel posts on this blog. Today, I wanted to go through how it is that we have the means to travel on a very tight budget.

Related Posts: 

Set your priorities

Our ability to travel the world is built on a clear understanding that travel will remain a top priority for both of us. By defining this activity as extremely important, it makes it easy for us to give up less important things if it means that we will be able to travel. From the very beginning, even before we started paying down student debt, this is something both Mike and I felt strongly about. In fact, it was at the very forefront of our conversation when we started to check the feasibility of paying down over $550k in ten years. The first question to answer was, “Will we have enough money to still travel?”

Since this is such a high priority for us, we would give up almost everything in order to make it happen. The only exception, off course, is being free from my student debt. We were willing to give up buying a house, buying things in general, dining out (if it means dining out when we travel), the newest tech gadgets, and so much more. We were already frugalists before, but having travel as a motivating factor makes us even more successful at being frugal weirdos. When your priorities are clearly defined, the budgeting part becomes easy.

Set a budget

It is very important, especially in our particular situation, to plan for travel. I think that budgeting is useful for every category of spending, but it becomes imperative for those categories that will make your life happier. We don’t want to leave the decision of whether or not we can go somewhere to the whims of everyday life. In other words, we want to avoid the excuse “Life happens”, and we actually want our lives to happen.

Our budget for travel changes according to where we want to go. Typically, we decide on an amount to set aside every month using our favorite budgeting tool, YNAB! We will probably continue that trajectory for a couple of months. We treat it like money stashed away in an envelope. We use the “cash” in this envelope to pay for anything that involves travel expenses. If we ever go over, we would have to borrow from another envelope that month. As an example, overspending $50 in travel would require us to pull $50 from our allocated grocery money. In the past six months, we have not over-drafted from our travel envelope. When calculated, 2.6% of our income each month went towards travel.

Keep in mind that this is our top priority! Yet only 2.6% of our income went towards travel. That’ll give you an idea of how frugal we’ve been and how focused we are on paying down my student debt. 100% of my post-tax income in our first year of student loan repayment went towards the loans, plus help from Mike too!

To be fair, the budget is changing every once in a while. For example, since we have a huge three-week trip planned for the beginning of next year (where we will be visiting ten cities and two countries halfway across the globe!), we will be increasing our travel budget to 3.5% of our income for the last 6 months of this year. Nothing wild and crazy, but it is fluctuating as needed.

Have a plan

Call me Type A (and you would be right in doing so), but I don’t like to travel without a plan. Mostly because I find that travelling without a plan can sometimes be very costly. Choices will need to be made in the spur of the moment, and while that is fun at times, it also means limited research can go into choosing the best financial option. Plus, not having a plan makes the previous goal of setting a budget very, very difficult. It is hard to guess just how much money you need to allocate if you have no idea what you are allocating your money to. That being said, this isn’t to say our plans are entirely rigid. We have flexibility and I am the first to admit that our recent trip to Banff did involve cancelling an entire day of hikes in exchange for napping on a hammock lakeside and resting sore legs. And if we come across an ice cream shop that we want to grab ice cream at, we aren’t going to say to ourselves, “Oops, not in the budget. Can’t.” But typically, these changes aren’t so drastic that it throws our financial game plan out the window entirely. Within the budgeting, we have already budgeted for the possibility of a change of plans.

Save for the big stuff.

Usually, when we go someplace, there is one activity that we are uncompromising on. We don’t just visit a place to randomly visit. We went to Germany for Oktoberfest. We visited Mexico City because we wanted to eat at Pujol. I wanted to go to Banff to see what was left of the glaciers while I can. We went to Oregon after hearing about how a devastating fire last year wiped out all of its beauty. And we are going to Australia to celebrate our two year wedding anniversary on New Year’s Eve in Sydney. These are the big things. If you have a particular reason to go someplace, then go ahead and go for that reason! But go knowing that it requires you to save for the big stuff. We scrounge up the savings by giving up some of the everyday spending that a normal couple would make. I always say how easy it is for me to give up dining out regularly, if it means I can dine out when I am traveling elsewhere, and eat local food in a different country. We had no problem celebrating our first year wedding anniversary eating pizza, if it means that on our second year, we will be watching fireworks over the Habor Bridge in Sydney. Interestingly, even THAT is a free event! But you see what I mean. Don’t skimp on the big stuff, especially if there is a specific reason for your travels. Skimp on the little stuff that you could do without. I promise, it’ll make the big stuff that much more valuable.

Be frugal, still.

There is no need to skimp on every adventure. What’s the point of seeing a country when you don’t want to spend to see a country? Off course, there’s transportation that we need to pay for to get around, and food to be eaten. But, where you can, be frugal still. Our budget would not be the small sliver of a fraction of our income that it is without us being frugal, still. Here are the ways in which we save quite a bit on travel money.

  • We travel hack in order to buy our flights. I have written about the pros of travel hacking and what that has afforded us in this year alone. Long story short, we have used only points to book all our flights for this year! Our favorite travel hacking credit cards are Southwest Rapid Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred, and the Chase Ink Business Preferred.
  • We opt for AirBNB whenever we can. Typically, we find that those rates are cheaper than most hotels.
  • We book with Turo to save money on car rentals. Turo is the car version of AirBNB and we have had a great experience thus far with this company.
  • We reach out to friends and family in the locations we travel to. Some of our favorite trips are made more special by the company we keep. A plus side would be a place to stay, or a way to split the costs. I stayed at an old college roommate’s apartment when I visited Salt Lake City, UT. We stayed in my high school best friend’s extra bedroom when we visited New Orleans. Both of these friends drove us around everywhere we went! My sister provided an air mattress and shared her bed when we went to visit San Francisco. She also lent us her car for the weekend. Our Munich trip meant a free ride to the Castle Neuschwanstein when we hit up a friend’s cousin’s family. Also, we were invited to their house and got served the most amazing dinner, which to this day, remains one of my favorite memories while traveling. We reached out to my family to see if they wanted to go to Oregon with us, thus splitting the car rental fee and the AirBNB costs among seven people. All of this to show, not only is group travel more fun and entertaining, it saves you money as well!
  • We skip the touristy stuff. As I become better versed in traveling, I have found that less and less attraction lies in the touristy stuff. We would rather fill our days with free tramps through nature, exploring the city by foot, people watching as we eat at a café, and so on. We have found ways to see cities without having to spend much. I used to book excursions on every trip, until I realized that some of the best excursions are free. Our most recent Banff trip was focused around hiking all day. Trips to Calgary and Munich involved mostly walking around the city. Oregon was a mix of both. Skipping the touristy stuff also means that you can explore your way, without having to adhere to someone else’s timeline.
  • We don’t buy souvenirs to take home. Most of the stuff they sell in souvenir stores are absolutely useless and unnecessary. Unless we come across something that we think someone back home would really like, we do not shop for souvenirs for the sake of bringing something back. What we bring back to our friends and family are photographs and stories, mostly.
  • We borrow “just-this-once” items. When we go on camping trips, we borrow sleeping bags. I borrow my dad’s camera lenses when I go on big trips. I borrow clothing from my mom if I don’t have it in my minimalist wardrobe. Borrowing is such an important life hack, because it prevents us from purchasing things that we will only use once for travel.
  • We choose to disconnect. Going to a different country may require signing up for an additional payment plan in order to use your cell phone and other techy gadgets. Whenever possible, we simply go without. A trick would be to just opt for signing into the WiFi in cafes or our AirBNBs. Since a majority of our days are spent soaking in every last little detail of our current surroundings, we don’t really have a need for our cell phones. Planning the night before by looking up directions or the next day’s itinerary makes it a lot simpler too. Choosing to disconnect saves us not only money, but also, time since it keeps us from wasting time being “plugged in”.

These are just some of the ways in which we remain frugal while we travel. But like I said before, none of this equates to deprivation. It simply requires you to analyze what parts of travel you actually value, and what parts are simply excessive consumption. Once you’ve identified those priorities, it is very easy to cut down the spending in some areas in order to have enough in your budget to be able to see that one item on your bucket list. And if you need to, you can always borrow from other “envelopes” throughout the months leading up to your trip!

What about you? What are some ways to squeeze in a little extra money towards travel on a tight budget?

Frugal Challenge: Give Up Alcohol

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I gave up alcohol in June of 2017 and it has been one year since I have participated in what many people refer to as social drinking. There were many reasons why I gave it up, but the reason that I was least willing to reveal  was because I thought that social drinking was a drain at the bottom of my wallet. I wasn’t a crazy party goer or alcohol dependent by any means. I was an occasional drinker, perhaps drinking once every week or two. If it was an especially crazy or celebratory week, I would drink two times in the same week, 1-2 drinks at a time. But still, there was something about the habit that made me really unhappy. I challenged myself to stop drinking alcohol, mostly to see if I could do it, and I told everyone about it so that I would be held accountable. When people asked why I gave up drinking, I gave them the partial truth, which was that after every time I drank, I developed a minor skin rash. While health reasons were definitely a motivator, my biggest motivator was the realization that a beer at a bar costs anywhere from $5-8, and that every time I wanted to splurge on a cocktail, it would cost on average $15 for me to drink what was essentially spiked juice. Mimosa brunches were $30, for OJ and a splash of champagne! And don’t even get me started on paying for a 2 oz. shot.

I also realized that every party we threw involved alcohol for the guests, which increased our grocery bills like crazy. Plus, I really didn’t like the feeling of socializing while drinking. Usually, I felt a disconnect in conversations, a discomfort from the possibility that the conversation is simply the alcohol doing the talking and us humans acting as its platform. I didn’t like that drinking was considered a social event, and I had this feeling that relationships built on “going out to drink” and “happy hour date nights” were very superficial. What I found after I accepted the challenge was that I was not too far from the truth. What started out as a frugal challenge ended up being a decision that has stuck with me, for reasons other than monetary.

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Some of you are probably upset at hearing my suggestion of giving up alcohol. You probably are not liking these frugal challenges that I create. They are challenges because they are difficult. Most of them will be ideas shunned by society. But this DOES save you money. Assuming two drinks once a week, an average order of $20, multiplied by fifty-two weeks, the cutting of the habit saves me over $1000 a year. This is with the assumption that I am ordering one cocktail at the most for my 1-2 drinks per occasion, and beers half the time. Also, the calculation does not yet count the bottles of wine I would buy from the grocery store for my “wine nights” or the alcohol we would have purchased for the parties that we threw for our friends and family. I wouldn’t be surprised if it would be closer to $2000 a year. But let’s be conservative and call it $1000 per year, which I can then use for other things that I value more.

The health benefits of giving up alcohol included the avoidance of a minor skin rash as well as that groggy after-party feeling. Entering my early twenties resulted in longer recovery times, and I disliked the feeling of non-productivity that usually followed these “social events”.

The most surprising consequence of quitting alcohol, however, was the revealing qualities of my relationships. It helped me determine which relationships I wanted to keep, and which I did not. Going out to the bars and getting happy hour are activities so ingrained in the millennial culture, that it has essentially replaced ACTUAL hanging out. When I gave up alcohol, I found which friends I was not able to hold relationships with when alcohol was removed from the equation. I found out which friends were interested in still hanging out with us sober, which had similar values, and which ones can carry a decent conversation. I became more conscious of those who lived their lives based solely on comparisons, those who spoke badly of others when they weren’t present, and those who were vastly invested in appearances. I also became aware of the way I had been acting, trying to fit in and to get along with groups of people that I did not really value. I became more selective, because hanging out with unkind people is ten times more unbearable when you are a hundred percent sober. I started turning down invitations to hang out with people at events that are centered around drinking. Interestingly, that got rid of 80% of the events I had been going to. By saying no to these events, I had more time to build stronger relationships with those who were willing to come over for board game nights, or to kick a soccer ball at the park. I became much closer to my family as well. I started seeing family members once a week, which I hadn’t done since I moved out for dental school. Slowly, I was able to create a social circle that was more close knit and in-line with my values. There were no more situations where I felt pressured to go out, even though I did not want to. I started to understand who I was, by deciding who I wanted to be around. Interestingly, the people I used to drink with, I hardly see anymore.

For me, giving up alcohol was VERY easy when I put it from a frugalist’s standpoint. I was vested in funneling as much money as I can into my loans. All I had to do when I was tempted to order “just one” cocktail, was to think about the number of years I have to continue making these payments. That made the decision-making a no brainer. After a few months, it became a habit, and the feeling of wanting to “socialize” by drinking went away.

This isn’t to say I haven’t made any exceptions. I have made a limited few, mostly when it is a special occasion or once-in-a-lifetime type of opportunity. For example, I had one beer when we went to Oktoberfest in Germany. As in, THE Oktoberfest. I also had one cocktail when we dined at our first Top 50 Restaurant in the world in Mexico City. Lastly, when we were in Oregon, I made an exception for the Multnomah Whiskey Library. That last one was a “just because”. These are the exceptions I have made since I quit. I am not completely anti-alcohol or anything puritan like that. I just simply recognize that choosing to drink is keeping me from financial freedom that much longer. Now that one year is up, I wouldn’t want to go back to being a social drinker. Especially after creating the social circle that I have now. My life is so much more valuable surrounded by true relationships, that I am not hankering to go back and add a boozy filter to that part of my life once again.

My advice?

+ You don’t have to go ham all at once like I did. Give yourself a trial run – say one month at a time.

+ If  you slip up, no big deal. Forgive, forget, move on and try again.

+ Have a “why”! A motivator is what will get you there. I just have to think about the years I have to keep paying down debt, and that’s all it takes for me to not feel like drinking anymore.

 

The Student Debt That is My Privilege to Own

I frequently write on the blog about the effects that my student loans have on my lifestyle. Specifically, the weight of such a heavy thing to bear, and the astounding cost that it takes to pursue a dream career. It’s shaped so much who I’ve become, that I have even adopted the cheeky, and equally lame, pseudoname “The Debtist”. Amidst the writing, one thing in particular may have been misconstrued. That is, this whopping student debt, though extreme to say the least, is my privilege to own.

I never spoke about this before, but my mother wanted to become a doctor. It’s hard to say which came first. If she wanted to become a doctor and that’s what led me to decide on dentistry at a young age of eight years old, or if I voiced my dream to become a dentist which prompted my mom to share her own aspirations to become a doctor. Either way, one dream came true, and the other remained just a dream. My mom is a very highly motivated and smart person. She was the top student of her class, from kindergarten until high school, which, in the Philippines and in the 70’s, having a female as the top of the class was not a common thing. She was the first feminist I have ever met, and I would say that she was way ahead of her time. In the Philippines, there is no such thing as undergraduate school. After high school, you go to college for your chosen career and work right out of college. When it came time to applying for college, my mom applied to two majors: one was medical school, and one was engineering school. Why did she apply to both?

She was born to a family with eight children. Of the eight, she was the middle child. Despite being a relatively well-off family, providing for a family of eight with one working person in the Philippines is still not an easy feat. Money can be tight, at times. Back home, there was no such thing as student loans. In order to go to medical school, one would have to pay for the tuition costs up front, in cash, 100%. And medical school is very, very expensive. If my mom were to go to medical school, she would need to come up for the money herself, because her parents were busy trying to keep a family alive.

She remembers the story well, and every time she re-tells it, it makes my heart sink. She chose engineering as a back-up because it was inexpensive, and still a math and science related career, the two subjects she excelled at most. The day they found out if they got into their schools of choice, the results of the engineering school were released first. A list was posted on a school wall with the names of the students that were accepted. When she found out that she got accepted to the engineering school, she immediately accepted it and never looked back. She never did look at the results of the medical school, which were released later that day. I asked her why she never looked to see if she got in, and she says, “Why would I? There was no way I would have been able to go anyway. I might have just been sad my whole life knowing that I was accepted and could not have gone.”

Having student loans is the reason that I am a doctor and my mom is not. Although it does not cost half a million dollars to become a doctor back home, there lies an even bigger barrier, which is the lack of access to an opportunity to create an equal ground for all citizens. Student loans are a heavy toll, but they are what allowed me to pursue my dream in the first place. Because without them, I would not have been able to afford dental school, either.

I became a dentist because of a deep interest in helping others. I was recently asked in an interview whether I knew what I was getting myself into. Specifically, if I knew the cost of dental school prior to applying and if I knew the average salary of a dentist in my area that I would be making when I got out. My answer was no. It may seem absolutely foolish to enter a career without knowing those facts, but at the same time, I didn’t become a dentist to be rich. So to me, money was not at the forefront of my thoughts. The implication was that I did not know what I was getting into and this is why I am in this mess in the first place. But that isn’t true. Money was not my motivating factor, so I doubt it would have been a deterring one either. Money never made it into my life equation. The minute money dictates whether one pursues a dream is the minute that money wins. I was going to become a dentist so that I could help those in need, no matter the cost. Even now, I look at my loans and realize that 100% of my income goes towards paying for my education over the next ten years. Essentially, I will be working for free until I am in my mid to late thirties. However, I simply attribute that as a medical professional’s responsibility, to sacrifice a bit of our lives for others. Don’t get me wrong. The high cost of education still irks me, and I still question the value of the money that goes into the schooling in terms of what you get out of it, but I understand that this is just part of the process of becoming who I am in this particular educational system.

If anything, I have my loans to thank for creating such a meaningful and intentional life. I can’t say for certain that I would have ever created such a disconnect from material goods and money, or a heavier importance towards gratitude, giving, and general non-maleficence if it didn’t come from a necessity to live with less. The loans have forced me to live without the trivial things, thereby adding value in the form of the priceless. This is why the loans are so much a part of who I am, and why I am willing to identify myself as a Debtist. In the interview, I realized that the loans were misunderstood as something that is all-bad, but they are not. Instead, I am using them as my driving force for good.

I would like to thank my mom for being the inspiration that pushed me through with my decision to pursue dentistry. Even though I may not be financially free, I am grateful to have had the freedom to become whoever I wanted to be, with the understanding that being able to pursue the thought of financial freedom is a privilege in and of itself.

Frugality: Co-housing, An Update

It has been six months since Mike and I decided to take on a roommate and give co-housing a try. The verdict? It has been such an awesome and wonderful experience! We could not have been happier with our decision, and today, I wanted to share an update, for those who may be considering it themselves, or for those who have never thought about the possibility but are looking for options.

All too often, when we tell people that we have a roommate living with us, we get these incredulous stares or looks of confusion. They ask questions like, “But you’re married, right?” or “Isn’t that weird?” Which implies that there is this societal expectation that explicitly states in a rule book somewhere that a newly wedded couple should be living on their own. I don’t know if the concept is tied to the idea that a couple should be independent, or if it’s a sign of being able to provide for yourselves and therefore is more so tied to responsibility. Whatever it is, I think this expectation is just as detrimental as the idea that once you are married, you are “ONE”.

I believe that it is important to retain your individuality while married. It’s important to discern the difference between finding someone who adds to your life, and finding someone who completes your life. I do not believe in the latter. I do not believe in molding into one, but rather, in retaining our individual two-ness and working together, contributing equally, in our own unique ways. When we see ourselves as a single entity, it is easier to shut the rest of the world out with this “Us VS Them” mentality. When you consider yourselves as individuals, then it is easy to open up your life (and space) to other individuals as well. And maybe this is where our thinking differs from the rest.

Either way, the benefits of having a roommate are multi-fold, and I would like to address the ways in which it has enriched our lives.Obviously, having an additional roommate really helps with the finances. Before we welcomed K into the downstairs floor, we were looking for ways to decrease the monthly recurring rent payment,  which in Orange County, CA is not the easiest thing to do. We were looking at 450 sq. foot apartments that would decrease our rent to, well, what we have now. Adding a roommate allowed us to stay in the 1600 sq. foot space that we love, that was ideally located for both of our jobs, and that had a two car garage. Numerically, the savings have been over $4,000 in the course of 6 months! And it isn’t just on our end. I am not sure I ever mentioned this on here, but K is my younger brother’s girlfriend. She found a job nearby so she was looking for a space and we offered her her own floor downstairs at a much much cheaper price than if she rented a space on her own. It saves her money too! Everyone wins. But there is more to the story than just the finances…

On top of adding an additional person to talk to in the evenings, I actually get to see a lot more of my younger sibling too, which is awesome! I have really enjoyed the Sunday coffee dates we host at home, or random weeknight dinners, or occasional boardgame nights. I think for Mike and I as well, it has been such a difference having a third person to talk to. When it was just us two for the first year of our marriage, there came a point where we had squeezed out every last little story we had to tell. When you add a third person to the mix, the stories abound anew. There are so many fun discussions to be had, different perspectives to be told, and always, a mediator between two people. It’s a reminder that we as humans really do benefit from social interaction. Mike and I learn new lingo from the younger crowd, K teaches us about finance through her her business and accounting background, while we share with her our financial experiences and mistakes, and Mike and I share a lot about bread and coffee (although I am not sure that’s such a fair trade-off). But really, we have so much to share with each other and I just feel like Mike and I have grown so much more by adding someone back into our home.

Also, there is the perk of always having someone to house sit! Mike and I are constantly traveling, and I guess so is K. We usually have someone watching over the loft every time one of us is away, which is a perk I actually never thought about before. When we went Hawaii last year, we returned to a sprinkler flood on the first floor that was occurring for who knows how long. When we returned from Germany, we came back to the annoying, high pitched beeping of a fire-alarm battery dying. We hoped that was not going on for the whole week that we were away! Having someone watching the house allows all of us to go on vacation, worry-free.

We have enjoyed co-housing so much that we decided to renew our six month lease again, with all three of us on board! Which means another $4000 in savings, another 6 months of after-work stories and long chats and weekend adventures. I first learned of co-housing from a documentary about Denmark, one of the happiest countries in the world. I am surprised it is not more popular here. I think a lot of our stress comes from our isolation from others and co-housing is a way to decrease some of that unhappiness. I say try it! It’s not much different from living with roommates in our college days. Weren’t those the best days of our lives?