Finance: Taking It Slow

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

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

Somewhere in the distance, a buzzer goes off.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“Where do you eat, In N Out?!?!”

Yeah, sometimes.

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

And he would be right.

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


How about shopping?”, he asked.

I don’t shop.

“You need to talk to my wife.”

I think she would hate me.

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


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

Frugal Challenge: Living On One Income

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

And that’s a problem.

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

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

Personal Finance First Step: Mastering the Budget

If you are embarking on a personal finance journey, then let’s get you started on the right footing. Step one begins with mastering a budget. Some may scoff at me and say that I know nothing about becoming rich and getting to financial freedom. They laugh and say that I must not realize that reaching financial freedom lies in increasing income, rather than decreasing spending. But I know something that they don’t know.

You can increase your income, and never be financially free. It’s just a quick fix attempt, and usually, quick fixes do not work. In order to really tackle your personal finance, you need to start with the basics. You can’t just jump ahead to making a ton of money, because without mastering a budget, you’ll likely never see that extra money you make. If you’re like most Americans, you’ll spend it before it even gets to your bank account.

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Now I’m not naive enough to believe that mastering your budget is all it takes. I agree that there are limitations to mastering a budget. One can only cut their spending so much. On the flip side, one can increase their income exponentially…indefinitely, perhaps.

I, myself, am well aware of the need to increase income. I worked three jobs while going to undergrad to increase my income, but I also graduated in three years in order to cut spending. I was one of the few students who worked during dental school, just to make a little extra money. And even now, am a side-hustler of sorts. I work in dentistry, write on my own blog, write for other blogs, walk dogs via Rover, work the midnight shifts as a bread baker with Rye Goods, and bake my own bread to sell (currently I am applying for a license to open my own “bakery”). But before all of this, I mastered my budget.

Here’s the thing. I know many people who are high income earners. I define high income earners as people who make six digit incomes or more. Most of them are also swimming in debt. This debt includes car loans, mortgage loans, student loans, and even consumer debt. Unfortunately, lifestyle creep is real, and unless you’re well-versed in staving off advertisements who are convincing you to spend more as you earn more, you will likely be one of the top targets (and victims) of lifestyle inflation.

There’s a statistic swimming around that 80% of Americans do not have $2,000 set aside in an emergency fund. Eighty percent! The part that gets me is the fact that $2,000 won’t even cover most true emergencies. Medical bills are way more than $2,000. If something happens to your home, or someone loses a job, $2,000 won’t last most people one month in Southern California. While it’s hard to confirm the statistic, for they do have a tendency to appear out of nowhere and start floating around, I can confirm that many patients that I meet don’t have the income to jump into an emergency dental procedure right away. Yet many of them are working their tails off (I can’t tell you how many nightguards I’ve diagnosed to help with stressful grinding habits), and earning decent pay, and still, they have to “save up” to treat a tooth in pain. And trust me, you wouldn’t put off treating a tooth that really hurts, unless you absolutely have to. It’s a feeling one never forgets.

People are working longer hours and making more money, but are saving less and less. We’ve been raised to be consumers. It’s not an anti-consumerist society, I can tell you that. But we haven’t been taught how to be SMART consumers. I was never taught how to ration out my earnings. I was never taught to pay myself first. I was told that good credit is GOOD. Wrong. Good credit is bad, and bad credit is worse. People without credit history probably are the best with handling their money. (This does not mean they are the richest. Just that they are really good at handling money).

All of this to say, you can try to get rich by working your butt off. You can spend all the hours of your day for forty years of your life trying to make enough money, and then some. But you can’t be successful if you don’t know how to manage it. You can try to take the short cut, the quick way to success. But that’s what most Americans are doing, and eighty percent of them don’t have $2,000 set aside for emergencies.

If you were to take my advice, I’d say start mastering your budget. If that’s something you’ve wanted to do in 2019 but haven’t had the chance, check out my free course How to Create a Budgeting Tool, and get started today!

Frugal Challenge: Gather Your Tribe

They say that you’re as good as the five people you spend the most time with. As cliche as that sounds, I can’t deny it’s power, especially when it comes to frugality. The role that being intentional has on your success of accomplishing whatever it is that moves you is huge. And while I joke that Mr. Debtist counts for four of those five people, I can seriously say that I wouldn’t have found as much progress on this journey I call life, if it were not for the humans that I have had the pleasure of interacting with. I would not be able to live my frugal life, if I was always surrounded by spend-thrifts, or worse, the Joneses themselves. Imagine trying to save, but only having friends and family whose idea of hanging out is to check out the latest bar or restaurant… every weekend! It would either be an utter financial failure, or a very isolating life. So for this month’s frugal challenge, I think it’s worth starting with a very important event: Gathering your tribe.

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It may seem extremely unkind to say, but when I started on this path of intentionality, I took a real hard look at my relationships. ALL of my relationships. And while I may not have done it in the most graceful of ways, I pretty much treated relationships as I did things, and I de-cluttered a lot of them in one fell swoop. For those who weren’t very close, I just stopped reaching out, which worked well because they never tried to figure out why we ever stopped talking anyway. But for those who were close, I did have a conversation with them before letting them go. I thanked them for their time and their friendship, and in the same breath said, “It’s not you, it’s me.” It was like breaking up with a loved one, over and over again. I messaged them and told them where I was going and how I could not continue to lead the same lifestyle. I explained what about their lifestyle I didn’t think fit in with mine, and I said farewells with open-ended statements like, “If you ever want to come over and play board games and just hang out instead of getting happy hour every Thursday, my door is open.” For the really toxic ones, filled with hate and stress and just really negative ways of thinking, I explained that I just wanted to detox from negative vibes and am pursuing a path focused on gratefulness and humility.

To which they probably thought, “Bitch.”

But in my head, I was thinking, they deserved an explanation, at least. It wasn’t that they were bad people. They were just in a different place. Maybe I just wasn’t rich enough to keep up. Maybe I didn’t suffer enough to understand. Maybe I was too introverted to socialize, secretly looking for a way out. Perhaps, it REALLY was me, and I was too insensitive to relate. Looking back, maybe I shouldn’t have cut some of them out completely. I should have probably left more open doors. But I was on a mission, thinking more clearly than I ever thought in my life, and I was determined to move forward.

At first, I thought I made a mistake. Until I realized that I was breathing easier, like a weight was lifted off of my shoulders. Like I no longer had to hide or pretend who I really was. I thought to myself, “Okay, now people REALLY know me. And either they’ll hate me, or they’ll accept me.” It was scary at first, but de-cluttering relationships was like jumping from one cliff to the next. You know that the only way forward is to jump. It’s just a matter of taking that leap of faith. But when I did, I landed safely on soft sand. All the tension that I had been carrying with me seemed to melt. It’s crazy how much stress I was adding to my life trying to please everyone and make everyone happy. I realized that I was trying to conform myself to groups I really had no business being in.

The funny thing is, when you jump to the other side, you get up and brush off scraped knees, only to turn around and find that some people jumped with you. This is when I first started to see who my real friends are. Interestingly, it was as if I had changed a part of them too, by talking openly about my life. Suddenly, friends that I used to go out with frequently started taking turns with me in hosting weeknight dinners. I’m not talking about elaborate meals. Some days, one of us would order pizza. Or I would serve grilled cheese on fresh bread. Someone would bring a case of beer, or we would pop open a bottle of wine. We would get together straight after work, and whoever didn’t work that day often prepped the meal. We gathered over board games that would take hours to play, and I opened up to video games that I was surprisingly very bad at. We would sit down and just talk, for hours. I became much closer to my family, too. My brother started working with me at the dental office, his girlfriend became our roommate, and we had dinner with our parents an average of once a week (even though I saw my parents three times a week on top of that). Seeing the results, I started to talk about it more, h e r e , in this space.

I turned around to take a step forward in my journey, and that’s when I started to meet new people. Some of you. I was shocked at how many people thought in much the same way. I met people practicing zero waste, people practicing slow living, people protesting against fast fashion, people trying to live frugal lives and reach financial independence, and more. Amongst all those groups, there was an strong unifying similarity. All of these groups experienced serious overlap. I’d like to think of us as The Outsiders. Outcasts and rebels.

The club that no one wants to belong to is incredibly bonding. Perhaps because none of us wanted to join, we cling to one another.

Option B

Slowly, I began to find my tribe. The place where I really belonged. We aren’t magically born into the perfect cohort. Sometimes, it requires some seeking. Other times, a tweaking. And once I started surrounding myself with people whose hearts beat to the same drum, a snowball effect started to take place. I started to learn about ways to become more intentional, I started to make headway with the debt, I started to gain traction with what I was trying to do, and for the first time in my life, I started to know who I was. I became comfortable in my skin. All the extra noise, the insecurities, the vicious whispers, it all fell away. The monkey mind ceased to exist, and I had the mental bandwidth to make changes that I wanted to see for myself, and for future generations. I was making an impact. But what people don’t understand, is that it was because my tribe was making an impact on ME.

So how does this help one to be frugal? (I always seem to be long-winded with these posts, I know.) It’s easier to be frugal when you aren’t trying to keep up with friends. When you don’t need to feel the guilt when saying “no” to mani-pedi dates, bar-hopping nights, or straight-up gorging over pretty food. When your friends can actually connect and converse with you, without paying for a distraction that substitutes for that connection. When socializing does not equate to spending.

It’s easier to be frugal when you are surrounded by people who are trying to do the same. You become exposed to different frugal life hacks and are inspired by the creative ways in which we can cut back, without depriving. You share with people accomplishments, such as setting up your first retirement fund, or hitting all your budgeting goals, and you drive each other to do better next month. You start to network, and meet people who propel you forward, people willing to help you, say in case you are swimming in student debt. You have a posse, and in having one, create change.

“Resilience is not just built in individuals. It is built among individuals – in our neighborhoods, schools, towns and governments. When we build resilience together, we become stronger ourselves and form communities that can overcome obstacles and prevent adversity. “

Option B

I’m happy to be an outsider. I am grateful for my student debt, because it propelled me down a path that I would never have known if I had grown up having it all. I am proud of my story, and what I’ve done to shape it. But more importantly, I am hyperaware of the influences my tribe has made on me, which I value more than any influence I may make on you. I am constantly reminded that it isn’t I, alone, walking down this road. Next to me are people armed and ready to fight the nay-sayers, with four versions of Mr. Debtist, leading the pack. And that gives me strength to take another step forward.

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.

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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.


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.

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.