Frugality: Celebrating Quarantine Birthdays with Freebies

Remember in March when we circulated memes about those who had to celebrate their birthdays under social distancing and stay-at-home restrictions? Joke’s on us, we who thought we would escape from such circumstances. By now a third of the population has probably experienced celebrating quarantined.

Characteristics may include gatherings of less than ten, standing awkwardly six feet apart, something that gets in the way of the hugs and kisses more than masks do. Candles on a cake anti-climactically put out by a clapping of hands – as if a child saying “ta-da” after making a wish. Also, gifts running belated as shipping companies struggle to continue working in a safe environment despite an influx of online orders.

I myself had to celebrate a restricted birthday, although how happy was I when restaurants opened up for dine-in during that week? Back to normalcy we go – I was sure of it!

So when I asked my husband a month out what he wanted to do for his July birthday, I was quite surprised when he said he wanted to sign up for rewards programs and run around town picking up freebies.

I thought to myself, “Sounds lame.”

His birthday landed prior to a four day weekend which I happened to have off from work and I was imagining a trip somewhere (local, of course). Or at least a sort of beach activity or party. Perhaps a restaurant reservation with our closest friends?

Lo and behold, when it came to the week of his birthday, all of my would-be plans went straight out the window as California was called to partially shut down once again. Due to the rising numbers of COVID positive patients and upcoming holiday, all beaches were shut down, along with dine-in options at restaurants, movie theatres, and family entertainment options. Turns out, his request to get birthday freebies proved to be the only solidly COVID-proof idea.

I thought to myself, “My husband’s a genius.”

To be honest, it turned out pretty nice. It was a sunny Friday, and we started the morning with free bagels (to-go) and coffee, which we ate at home with my brother and roomie for a late morning breakfast. We all were recovering from hiking Mt. Baldy the day before, so it was one of those restful mornings wherein one rolls around in bed, drags feet across the floor, with nary an obligation to rush you towards the next to-do. You know those mornings that feel like you’re on vacation instead of just sitting at home? Speaking of vacation, I need one of those soon.

For lunch, we headed over to a shopping center that had Jersey Mike’s and The Habit. Jersey Mike’s was giving away whatever free sub you wanted plus a 22 oz. drink, which we took away lidless and straw-less to reduce plastic waste. It is, after all, Plastic-Free July.  The Habit was giving birthday celebrants a free burger. Both were wrapped in paper. In the shopping center, there was an outdoor seating area with tables perched ‘neath umbrellas. The tables were spaced out more than six feet apart, with no more than a pair of seats at each table. We plopped ourselves down on cool metal chairs and ate our wins with the first official signs of summer.

In the evening, we had a number of friends meet us at a local park to eat pizza as we sat in a circle on lawn chairs social distancing by household, with an imaginary bonfire in our midst. Excited Santa Anians were shooting fireworks a day early, as mosquitoes bit our legs in the setting sun. It was the first time since February that we’ve seen these faces and it was nice to hear familiar laughs dangling in the night sky. When dusk settled, we packed up our lawn chairs like a bunch of soccer moms and waved our cheerful goodbyes, grabbing left-over pizza boxes and stuffing them in reusable grocery bags.

What’s amazing about the freebies is that they can all be taken to-go and the majority of them last for the rest of the month.

On paper, all of this probably sounds lame. But I can tell you that it was actually extremely fun. I just might do the same next year for the month of June.

For COVID in particular, it was a fool-proof plan to celebrating. If you’ve got a birthday coming up in the next few months, why don’t you try it? Take out and delivery have stood the test of virus and according to a Harvard study, we need to all be prepared to social distance until the end of 2021.

In order to prep for the big day, you should check out a list of Birthday Freebies and sign up for their Rewards program. On your day of birth, each place will email you a coupon or offer with the requirements and the expiring dates.

Below are a few of Mike’s favorites:

  • Denny’s – Free Grand Slam on the birthday month
  • Chili’s – Free dessert for the birthday week
  • Red Robin – Free burger
  • Sprinkles – Free cupcake, redeemable until the month after your birthday
  • Auntie Annie’s – Free pretzel, redeemable until two months after your birthday
  • Wetzel’s Pretzel’s – Free pretzel for downloading the app, and another free pretzel on your birthday
  • Baja Fresh – Free Burrito (with purchase of beverage) , valid until the month after your birthday
  • The Habit – Free Charburger, valid for two weeks
  • Jersey Mike’s – Free Sub and 22 oz. drink
  • Baskin Robbins – Free ice cream scoop
  • Ben N Jerry – Free ice cream scoop
  • Buffalo Wild Wings – Free birthday wings valid until end of the month
  • BJs – Free Pizookie for signing up for rewards and also for your birthday
  • Breugger’s Bagels – Free bagel with cream cheese for signing up and also on your birthday
  • Einstein Bagels – Free bagel egg sandwich with purchase on your birthday
  • Nothing Bundt Cakes – Free Bundtlet valid for one week

It may not be much to celebrate, these free wins, but it sure is a silver lining. There are some things they still haven’t taken away.

Frugality: For Certain Professionals During COVID-19

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This post is catered towards a small niche of professionals which include medical doctors, first responders, military personnel and nurses. If you are within these fields, then you have a huge opportunity to practice your frugal muscles during this time! This is largely due to the fact that these professions get extreme discounts, benefits, and, well, FREE STUFF, as a thank you for the work you are doing during COVID-19.

It seems highly unfair that these professionals are all considered “essential” workers who have (for the most part) kept their jobs, and on top of all that, they get additional benefits, too. I am one of those professionals (dentist) and feel a bit guilty about how much “help” we’ve personally gotten out of this situation. Considering that our need is not as large as those of lower income families, it seems unjust that we get even more discounts than they, as well as a higher EDD payout for my husband. It’s true that in the most trying times, the rich get richer. The system isn’t fair, but at the same time, I’m not one to let opportunities pass by. In all honesty, I feel very guilty of trying to make the most financial benefit out of this situation, but I continue to do so in the hopes of digging myself further out of the financial rut – which is my half-a-million dollars of student debt.

I’m writing about this because it was only recently that I discovered how far the benefits go. I learned just yesterday that there was a time where you can order up to 5 dozen Krispy Kreme donuts for free, get McDonalds meals for free, and even get Starbucks drinks for free. While those food deals are gone, other deals last until the end of the year, such as 20% off of Sonos, $60 AllBirds, 50% off Nike, 40% off Adidas, and more. On top of retail discounts, phone servicers are giving free monthly subscriptions, apps like Headspace are providing free usage until the end of the year, and even car dealerships are giving discounts on new car purchases or future services. Also, until the end of May, you’ve probably heard that many hotels are providing free lodging across the nation for healthcare professionals. Other than the latter, it remains unclear how the rest of these help with the COVID-19 situation except for the fact that it does provide alleviation for people in the aforementioned fields which is a sign of gratitude that I am grateful for.

So why is this a post about frugality?

Because if you are like me, paying back $575k worth of student debt due to a medical profession of your choosing, then perhaps this could help catapult you financially forward. We’ve done things like get FREE tacos from TacoBell four Tuesdays in a row. We’ve saved our EDD payments and are considering buying a rental property. I think it would behoove a few of us trying to pay loans aggressively to cut out the cell phone bill for at least three months. Of course, we shouldn’t be buying new cars or going shopping exuberantly. Although we are guilty of a bit of that, too…

With the 0% interest rate for student loans, grads trying to aggressively pay back their debt are in a very good situation. Make use of every perk available. To avoid taking credit where it’s due, I would suggest just google searching the list of healthcare discounts available due to COVID-19.

Like I said, I didn’t know of this yesterday. If I had, I would have definitely gotten a McDonalds meal every day and brought my co-workers doughnuts from Krispy Kreme. I am just sharing this here in case you haven’t heard it, too.

Frugality: Self-Care

When I first set out to write a piece re: self-care (yet again), my initial though was to create a curated list of small businesses to support, and let support. In the spirit of being helpful to those who may need it most, I then concluded that perhaps doing so would make a thing as vital as breathing itself unattainable for many, especially at this time.

To commoditize caring for the self as it has been by consumer industries seems suddenly wrong and unaligned with what it was originally created to be – that is, a movement that promoted the under-privileged to care for themselves because… who else would, if not them? Which now, knowing the provenance of the term, makes me quite uncomfortable with turning self-care into something that benefits consumer culture.

In an effort to respectably recognize it’s humble intention, I am now sitting down to write of self-care with a different lens. Self-care doesn’t have to be pampering yourself, as defined by most millennials. It doesn’t require spending money buying things or paying for services. As much as the cosmetic industry would like to make us think that our pores and skin are working against us, or the fashion industry  wants us to believe that everything can be cured by a shopping spree, trust me when I say that neither is true and both are baloney.

It’s quite easy to convince someone that happiness lies on the other side of a credit card swipe (especially when that someone is mentally exhausted or extremely stressed from say, oh, work … or a pandemic!) but come on, we’ve all felt it. That uncertainty afterwards that lingers in the back of our mind. A feeling of guilt that our hard-earned dollars went into someone else’s pocket. Or the regret of not choosing to spend “free-time” in our PJs on the couch, rather than going out to treat ourselves to food and drink. Face it – anything that makes you feel like crap afterwards is NOT self-care. It’s an easy hide-under-the-rug kind of care. An avoidance of care, if we are truly being honest. Another thing to add to the to-do list in order to not-do anything about important things.

Well, you get the gist.

So here we go. A tribute to what self-care was originally meant to be.

  • Make your bed – and other ways to tend to a home (here and here). Something as simple as washing and changing the sheets can be as therapeutic as buying a new bed set, I guarantee, without the stresses of deciding on a new color, where to put the old one, and which of the two you’ll use.
  • Work on your finances. Taking care of your future self in the form of budgeting and saving is an OG approach to self-care.
  • Turn off the phone. Set some boundaries.
  • Take a long bath – no need for bath bombs or richly sensuous oils. Just turn on the water, sit in the dark, light a candle, listen to music with no words. Easy does it. I personally dislike baths, but I do like to clean the bath tub as a way to show care.
  • Nap without guilt – to which my roommates laughed because apparently, some people are able to do just that. I always feel guilt and unrest after waking up from a nap – as if I’d wasted precious time. But I am trying to re-learn that sleep is productive in its own right.
  • Drink plenty of water. If you want to fancify it, add lemon slices or mint sprigs. A mixology fact- tapping a stem of mint leaves on the back of your hand makes it more aromatic. Add ice, if it’s all you got.
  • Write a list of ten things you love about yourself – or what you want to accomplish, or who you care about, etc.
  • Practice breathing exercises or meditation.
  • Alternatively, stretch a few times throughout the day. Body movement is the best way to combat aging. Avoid static postures. Dance, if you must. Like no one’s watching, too – it’s a real mood booster.
  • Reduce your social media follows. Curate your feed. Much of how you feel is dependent on what you see and who you follow. If you follow athletic people to motivate you to lose weight, but they also make you feel bad about yourself, maybe they aren’t the best follow? Same goes for aesthetic spaces, models, clothing companies – everything that makes you feel like worthiness requires something better, or more.
  • Do absolutely nothing. For me, this is the ultimate form of self-care. An activity that takes me a while to get into, it is so much better than any solution you can immediately achieve.

I am sure there are plenty more, none of which requires spending. I’d enthusiastically promote the tabulating of your own personally gratifying self-care activities, and to carry that in your back pocket like arsenal. Because if not you, then who? And if not now, then when?

Financial Advice to Battle COVID-19

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I think it has become apparent to all that the up-hill battle which we face against COVID-19 has only just begun and will not go away any time soon. When whispers of a lock-down first spread two weeks ago, I truly believed that it was a wave we were all going to ride out, and normalcy will once again return within a week, maybe two. But the summit still has not been reached, so I believe it is time to talk about planning for the long haul.

I originally published my Mastering a Budget course here for free when I first heard of people halting work in order to protect the majority. That course will continue to remain free, but apart from budgeting, there are a few other financial topics to be discussed. Advice, if you will.

As always, take it or leave it as it pertains to your particular situation. I do not claim to be a financial guru, neither do I believe in one solid path. However, for the general public, these are my thoughts.

Financial Advice to Battle COVID-19

  • Start saving, if possible. For some of you, this is beyond what’s possible. Many people have filed for unemployment insurance with the EDD(which I highly recommend if you have suddenly found yourself temporarily or permanently laid-off), and saving is a ship that has long sailed. I understand that. For those who are still fortunate enough to work, I would highly recommend saving every penny possible. Now is not the time to go on an online shopping spree. These are volatile days, and no one really knows what tomorrow holds. For those who are without work, you still can save the dollars you have. Just because you have more time doesn’t mean you should be scouring the internet for sales (there will be many, I would presume). And this advice doesn’t apply to saving just dollars. Start saving pantry items, start saving worn-out clothes, learn to mend your way through. My favorite blogger who writes about working with what you have is Erin Boyle of Reading My Tea Leaves. Work with what you have, and save what you can. Which brings me to my next point…
  • Reduce spending. I am a strong advocate for frugality, and if there was ever a time to practice frugal muscles, well, now would be it. I have published a plethora of frugal challenges, as well as an Ever-growing List of Things I Have Given Up In the Name of Frugality (which happens to be my most viewed post!). Reducing spending is easy, once you get used to it. Like I said above, this is not the time to spend your days-off browsing the internet for sales and new clothes. This isn’t even the time to order delivery for fancy dinners at night. I know you already aren’t paying your cleaners (in the name of social distancing), and hopefully you stopped paying for gas and transportation now that you’re working from home. The stay-at-home mandate actually makes it easier to reduce spending if you are wise about it. Cut where you can, and put what you would normally spend into your savings.
  • Stop extra debt payments. This advice is what kills me most to say, but it is actually the smart thing to do if you are without work or find yourself with less income. If you continue to work like normal and earn the same amount as before the pandemic, maybe you can maintain extra debt payments. However, be sure you have enough in your savings first! You never know if tomorrow you will be so lucky to have the same job as today. Perhaps you will be without work, regretting spending what you thought was “extra money” on paying down debt that didn’t need to be paid. As many of you may well know, I derived my nickname “TheDebtist” after graduating with an astounding student debt – $575,000 to be exact – and deciding to pay it down aggressively. I am here to say that even I have decided to pause extra debt payments during this time of uncertainty. Currently, the President has mandated that federal student loans be waived their interest fee for the next sixty days after March 13, 2020. Therefore, deciding not to pay down the debt right now is a good move because I store that money as liquid cash, available for emergencies. We do not lose anything because the interest is waived and therefore the loan amount isn’t growing. When this is all over and the interest resumes, I can pay that lump sum that I haven’t been paying now towards loans and not prolong my trajectory towards freedom. This isn’t to say, “Don’t pay off debt and spend the money instead”, by the way. Overall, to me, stopping extra debt payments make sense. Now, this is different from not paying down credit cards in full every month. Barring severe emergencies or a shortage of funds, I think that credit card payments are not considered “extra” payments. They are actually the reflection of what you already spent. If cash is tight or if there is no interest rate, then I get it. But if possible, do pay off credit cards in full, otherwise you will simply be accruing debt and make life harder for your future self. Other areas where you may be aggressively paying down debt include but are not limited to: home mortgages, auto payments, and medical debt.
  • Use time wisely. I know, I know. I have been saying this past week that this time off is a much needed gift, something the world has been craving for ages. This is the time we need to take for ourselves. However, this does NOT mean “use this time to turn into a vegetable as you watch Netflix on the couch, scroll through Reddit or Instagram, constantly chat with your friends on Zoom or Skype, create dance videos on TikTok (twenty times over until it’s just right)”, et cetera. This time is meant to be used wisely. A time for self-discovery and introspection no doubt, but also, a time for growth. I shared an ability for my readers to access Skillshare for FREE for two months so that they could learn something new. Some of the skills on there can create a new job for you. If you are recently jobless, it would behoove you to discover what skills you have to share with the world. Create a business walking dogs on Rover. Or make money blogging (here’s how). Read plenty of books, some self-help to inspire you to create a new job position, some fiction to inspire creativity itself. Organize your home, thus organizing your mind, priorities, and the self. Take care of the paperwork you’ve been neglecting, or set yourself up for financial or professional success. Update your resume, or look into refinancing your home to get a lower rate. The world is yours for the taking.


  • Don’t touch long term investments. I cannot say this enough. Do NOT, DO NOT touch long term investments such as a 401K. Try all avenues before even thinking about doing this. The effects of touching these long-term investments are grand. It would make imaginary losses a reality. It would hurt any financial goals you’ve worked on building. Please, if you can, do not pull money out of these investments at all!
  • Create a budget. Off course, with the extra time on your hands, you can FINALLY sort out your budget. If you don’t have one, then I suggest making one ASAP. I personally use YNAB to budget (get your first 34 days FREE here), but if you take my free Mastering a Budget course, you will learn multiple other ways to budget without having to sign up for an online budgeting tool.
  • Stay Calm. Lastly, stay calm. Panic will lead you to rash decisions and regrets. Do not sell all your stocks at once. Do not hoard stuff because you are afraid. Do not sell the house or the car. Just. Stay. Calm. Think about the life you want after all of this is over. Then work backwards and think of how to make that happen using what you have today. Get help, if you must. I am here, for anyone who wants to talk.

Don’t know what in the world to do with student loans? Get help! Student Loan Planner is my number one recommendation for student loan help. Although this is an affiliate link, I am honest when I say that I would not recommend ANYTHING that I do not personally love or have not tried. Travis Hornsby saved us thousands of dollars! Scheduling a call today would be a very smart move. The financial frontier is daily changing, and you definitely need someone with the most up-to-date expertise to navigate through these waters.

How to Get Companion Pass for 2020

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I wrote previously about how to travel for free using Southwest. I also alluded to the Companion Pass, which allows you to take someone with you at NO COST, neither in points nor dollars! The Companion Pass is by far our favorite perk for travel hacking. We essentially purchase flights using points for one person and the second person gets to tag along for zilch. When done right, it can last TWO YEARS! You can change your chosen companion thrice a year, like a piece of luggage or carry-on, but with significantly more endearment. How amazing is that?!

How to Get Companion Pass

Getting an elite status of having a Companion Pass requires the accumulation of 110,000 points in one calendar year. The Pass lasts for the rest of the year through the following year after. It is more beneficial to achieve Companion Pass status towards the beginning of the year than in the later part of the year. For example,  if you get the Companion Pass in February, you will have 10 months for that year plus an additional 12 months for the following year, summing up to a total of 22 months of privilege! Compare that to getting the Companion Pass in October, which would result in only 14 months of privilege.

The 110,000 points that you’ve accumulated in order to get Companion Pass status goes towards purchasing your future tickets from Southwest Airlines. Even though 110k points sounds like a lot to accrue, it is easily achievable using the credit card sign-up bonuses. It has never been more achievable than now, because for a limited time (until October 16, 2019), the new Southwest Business Performance card comes with an $80,000 sign-up bonus if you spend $5,000 in the first three months! This is the largest sign-up bonus that I have ever seen with Southwest.

How to Get Companion Pass for 2020

Because of this new deal, you can easily reach the 110k points needed by pairing the SW Business Performance card with a SW personal credit card of your choosing. The personal card will give you 40k points in sign-up bonus after you’ve spent $1k in the first 3 months. Together, both credit cards will get you 120k in points, thus reaching the minimum 110k threshold for Companion Pass. It is important to get both sign-up bonuses in the same year, preferably towards the earlier months. The Companion Pass considers when you get the bonus points only, not when you opened the credit card. So if you want to get companion pass for 2020, you can open both credit cards 2 months prior to January and hit the minimum spends IN JANUARY.

Here is a how-to guide for getting Companion Pass

  • Sign up for the SW Business Premiere CC sometime between now and when the deal ends (October 16, 2019). You want to make use of the 80k sign-up bonus deal. If you miss this time frame, you will only get the standard 60k sign- up, which will not meet the minimum 110k even if you pair it with a personal card.
  • Plan ahead on how you will spend the 5k minimum spend within the first three months.
  • Do not spent all 5k in 2019. You want to make sure that you get the sign-up bonus in 2020. For us, we plan to use the credit card for everyday spending, the holiday season, and booking AirBNBs and transportation for our Japan trip in March. We will spend only 4.5k on the credit card, which will give us a healthy buffer that ensures we do not accidentally overspend. In January, we will be spending the first few days of the year on a short trip to celebrate our third wedding anniversary, where we will likely hit the minimum spend.
  • Sign up for the SW Rapid Reward Plus personal credit card in November or December. I like this one because it has the lowest annual fee ($69) with $900 worth in bonus points, which makes it very worth it! If you would like more perks, applying for another personal credit card at a slightly higher annual fee may be for you. The Points Guy details them well in this chart.
  • Spend only $500 on this credit card in 2019. The minimum spend is very low ($1000) and you do not want to go over this amount! If you do, you cannot count these points towards 2020. In the first few weeks of January, you can easily spend the $500 on utilities, internet, groceries, and other everyday spending.

Tips on How to Meet Minimum Spends

If you are having trouble reaching minimum spends, here are some ideas:

  • Pay bills ahead, whether it be utility bills, insurances,.
  • Buy non-perishables that you will definitely use for the home.
  • Buy non-perishable staple food from the grocery store.
  • Purchase big ticket items during this time period.
  • Book future travel plans.
  • Offer to buy gifts for friends/family ahead of time.
  • Offer to pick up the tab for all your friends when you dine out, and then just have them Venmo you their fair share.
  • Ask friends and family if you could use your credit card to make big ticket purchases for them and have them e-wire you the cost. (Of course, choose your friends and family wisely).

Roadblocks You May Encounter

  • Being Denied a Business Credit Card: Gone were the days when you could apply for two Southwest personal credit cards. This method was how we got Companion Pass two years ago but alas, it is no longer an available one. They now allow only one personal and one business card. Thankfully, there is still a way! However, qualifying for a business card may be difficult if you do not have a business. Previously, I’ve written about the cons of depending on a single income stream, and credit-card-hacking-made-difficult is one of them. Off course, your life’s work shouldn’t depending on card hackability, although it’s yet another example why multiple modes of earning money could be beneficial. Often times, as reliable as they are, single income streams may lead one down the path of working for another rather than working for the self. Side hustles, however, open way for your own business. Take myself for example. I opened an S-corp for my dental practice which makes ME and MY SKILLS “the business”. My dental office pays Samantha De Leon Tillapaugh DDS, Inc. via a 1099 who then pays myself via a W-2. But even without that, I could also demonstrate my income and spending reports for Aero Bakery. I could demonstrate the dog-sitting business that I’ve grown via Rover, with letters of reference from dog owners. I can demonstrate this blog as a business, listing the affiliate marketing that I’ve entailed as well as the upkeep spending reports. Those are four “businesses” that I could use to justify the loose qualifying terms for a business credit card. Note how none of those have LLCs. I had a friend who got a business credit card from Chase when he detailed a business he wanted to start, indicating why he needed a business credit card to get the business off the ground. There are many creative ways to do this, and side hustles definitely help. If you babysit children, or tutor teens, you can rationalize why you need a business credit card. If you hold creative workshops or cook for others, you can again rationalize a reason. If you do photoshoots for special events or play music as a DJ …. well, you get my drift. Having hobbies turned side hustle can help avoid this pitfall.
  • Hitting the minimum spend in 2019 – This is definitely not a problem you want to have. Because you apply for the credit card earlier than 2020, you run the risk of hitting the minimum spend the year prior. You definitely do not want to split the sign-up bonuses between two years, because then you will have a very tough time reaching the 110k points. My advice keep track of all spending on the credit card and stop short a few hundred dollars. You can then resume spending on the credit card in January to make sure that both reach the minimum spend in 2020.
  • Not hitting the minimum spend in 3 months – If you fail to hit the minimum spend in three months, then the benefits of the card that would have outweighed the annual fee would be gone. It would defeat the purpose of travel hacking altogether. Since hitting $5k in 3 months may be difficult for frugalists, check the list above to see how you can actually use that $5k to plan ahead and relieve some of your future spending! However, beware of falling into the habit of spending just to spend. The purpose of the credit cards is not to allow you to buy more than you need. Rather, it is a tool to get you what you want without having to spend money for it (travel!). As always, spend wisely and well below your means.

Frugal Challenge: Practice Minimalism

In my life (as it is now), minimalism came first. By practicing minimalism, everything good in my life fell into place, financial clarity being one of them. Every time I choose a life of less stuff, I enforce a habit of not relying on external stimuli to make me feel whole. I am also deconstructing a fallacy that we were taught from birth, one that says we can buy our way to happiness. Minimalism is, after-all, a modern by-product of Zen teachings on how happiness resides within ourselves and the worlds our minds create. Any external stimuli only prevents us from tapping into our inner state of calm or peace by acting as a distraction from true happiness. Without the material things to distract me, I am able to focus on the more important (non-material things) in my life, such as paying down $575k in student debt! I can confidently say that I would not have been as successful with finding frugality and working towards financial independence without first practicing the art of saying Goodbye, Things.

My frugal challenge for the month of October is to start practicing minimalism. After all, it goes hand-in-hand with frugality. Practicing minimalism can cut down costs in many ways. Here are a few!

  • LESS SHOPPING, ERGO LESS SPENDING: After you’ve de-cluttered a lot of your items, you will naturally develop a hesitancy with buying something again (unless it’s something you realized you really need or want). The de-cluttering process, when done right, is a tedious process for the average American because of how much stuff we tend to accumulate. I guarantee that once you’ve really pared down, buying things is not as attractive as it once was, which means you will spend less money on shopping.
  • LESS STUFF MEANS LESS LIVING SPACE: Having less things allow for a smaller home, which usually leads to cheaper rent! Many minimalists find that once they are freed from the burden of material objects, they are suddenly free to live alternative lifestyles, such as pursuing the small space movement! Housing is one of the largest expenses in most people’s budget, so reducing the cost of housing will greatly catapult your path towards financial freedom.
  • LESS UNNECESSARY SPENDING FOR REPAIRS AND REPLACEMENT. Minimalism is a lesson in being grateful for the things we already have. Because minimalists surround themselves with only their most beloved things, they are more likely to preserve, mend, and fix a broken thing than they are to throw it away and replace it. They aren’t going to buy things for convenience sake and they are more invested in maintenance. Because of this, they save more money.
  • LESS KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES’S: Minimalists do not participate in keeping up with the Jones’s. In fact, they think the Jones’s are making a dying, rather than making a living. And minimalists prefer to live life rather than work themselves to death in order to buy material goods. And since minimalists do not participate in upward social comparisons, they are not as easily influenced or frequently bombarded by and with advertisements. They aren’t called upon to be consumers. And if they are, the calling is easily ignored. Overall, they don’t spend money in order to keep an appearance. Minimalists save their dollars, preferring to build wealth rather than build social status.
  • LESS STRESS RELIEF BINGES. When we are stressed, we tend to spend in order to make ourselves feel better. We want to take a vacation to run away from stressful work. We go out to drink during happy hour after a difficult 8-5. We binge on food and eat our misery away. We even have retail therapy. A practice in minimalism leads to more space physically, emotionally, and mentally. Minimalism reduces stress by reducing the external stimuli in our environments. With all this Zen, there is less cost dedicated to stress relief practices.
  • NO EXPENSIVE FRIVOLOUS EVENTS. Minimalists do not want to celebrate big life events with lavish parties, nor do they want to receive a tower of gifts. What will they do with all of this stuff? I may be speaking for myself, but my ideal celebration involves people and homemade food in a warm setting. I like gatherings in small spaces because you can feel the presence of others and there’s no nooks and crannies to hide in and stare lovingly into your phone. A good example of this was our wedding. We got married in an empty warehouse and the decor was handmade. My father tied gold streamers onto a string, and I made a backdrop for the photobooth area. My aunt collected wild flowers and put them in vases, and Mike’s grandmother made cookies and her famous magic bars. Our friends provided local beer for the reception as their wedding gift. We hired a taco truck and had donuts for desert. I’d imagine the same would go for children’s parties, funerals, graduation, & c. No frivolous events means no expensive events!

These are just a few ways that minimalism can help build a frugal lifestyle. The truth is, minimalism goes a step further than frugality. When I became a minimalist, I reduced the distractions in my life. I honed in on who I was and what made me happy. Because of this recently tapped in energy, I performed better at work and increased my income. I then found a few interests that became side hustles (writing being one of them). This further allowed me to make more money. And as I became happier, I also became less dependent on buying my way to happiness. My work made me happy, and I funneled even more time into my passions. And so the cycle snowballed, and slowly, our debt repayment changed from 25 years to 10 years to 9 year, to 7 years, to hopefully less than 6 years! All because I got rid of my things.

As all minimalists argue, if minimalism involves shedding physical burdens in the form of material possessions in order to be liberated to live the life that really matters, why isn’t is called maximalism? Frugal maximalism.

Frugal Challenge: Getting Rid of a Daily Commute

I cannot believe that I can finally say this, but I have now created a lifestyle where I have gotten rid of a need to commute! Two years ago, I heard about this concept of creating a lifestyle where there is no need for a car, which is unheard of for most Americans, let alone those who live in California. The average commute for an American is 16 minutes, but for those who live in California, it is not uncommon for the commute to be thirty minutes or more. At first I thought to myself, “How impossible!” I mean, if you Google “How to Get Rid of Your Commute”, most sites don’t actually tell you HOW. Rather, they tell you that even though commutes are “unavoidable”, there are better ways to cope with it. I initially thought the same thing. My whole life, I’ve driven to places regularly, such as work, the groceries, and the bank. Yet over time, as I transitioned into more like who I am today, the concept of driving places really started to bother me. The depreciating cost of a car, the cost of maintenance and repair, the cost of insurance, the rising price of gas, the hours wasted getting from place to place, the health repercussions of a static posture, and the environmental impact… all of which emptied our bank accounts, risked our health, and slowly killed the Earth. And for what? Convenience.

Ahh, that word convenience. Everything that slow processes fight. Okay. I’m not anti-convenience. But I AM against unnecessary conveniences when the costs are too great. When the balance becomes off kilter, for the sake of speed. And as time passed, the thought of driving my lazy self from place to far-away place bothered me more and more. Why am I living this way? Is there something we can do better?

Off course there is. And there are limitations to those things, too. But I find that, in life, if you want something bad enough, it will eventually come. Not because there’s a magic genie somewhere answering your three wishes. Rather, it’s because you are living with your eyes open. A sense of awareness keeps you poised to strike when an opportunity presents itself, and usually, those that have their eyes open and searching are the first to take advantage.

So no. Maybe today is not the day that you implement the no-car-frugal-life-hack. It took me TWO YEARS to finally get it down. But I just kept moving towards a direction, you know?

What we haven’t touched on yet but what I want this post to mention was the amount of savings we make by getting rid of my commute. We are all about pinching pennies and redirecting them to something more meaningful (aka: this debt). I mean, if you think about it, I used to need 1.5 tanks of gas per week to get my normal activities done. 1.5 tanks cost me around $55 in a Scion XB. Which meant that each week, I spent $55 to live. This equates to $2,860 per year, without including all the driving I do for FUN. I understand it’s California, but MAN! I just couldn’t stomach that! Can you? Now that I’ve found a way to get rid of it, I never want to go back!

So how did I do it? I presume actionable tips are what you’re searching for.

Live in a central location.

Well, for starters, we bought a house. Some might not even consider it a house. In fact, we bought a live-work loft situated in the heart of downtown. The house has many benefits, one of which is its location. While a few may look down on the transient dwellers and the busy streets, the loud music from the clubs next door and the occasional trash after a staged concert in the parking lot across the way, there are many perks that living downtown presents. For example, we have FOUR stellar third-wave coffee shops within a two block radius from us. Not that we buy coffee everyday since we prefer to make them, but we do love a weekly coffee ‘splurge’. We have dining options galore, and a few microbreweries and pubs. We don’t go out to drink on weeknights but there ARE free trivia nights and stand up comedies at these locations. Come one, come all! We have clubs, one of which is not more than 500 feet away from our front door. Not that we go clubbing. We’ve got groceries down the block and we can see the city hall and government buildings from our second floor bedroom window. We can walk ten minutes to get to where we got our marriage license, and also where I got my citizenship approved. We are situated across from the Yost Theatre, and are a short walk from the post office and the library. Events plague our calendar, and I have watched concerts for FREE from my bed. Social gatherings are easy to come by as we invite friends to talk over coffee, attend the free Trivia night, join pinball tournaments, and more.

All of this to say that by moving into the heart of downtown, we have surrounded ourselves with all essentials. That was the first step.

Make work close to home.

This is the second biggest hurdle, and probably the most difficult to accomplish. Most people cannot work just anywhere. I was actually very fortunate in that I have been working with the same dental practice for almost three years and have known my boss for almost ten years. There are two offices, we bought our home 0.6 miles away from one office. The other office resides at a location 26 miles away from our home, but less than a mile away from my parent’s house. So either way, I have what I would consider home within 1 mile from both offices that I worked at. For the last two years, I’ve split my time between the two, but when an opportunity arose to become full-time at the one closer to my house, I decided to take it. It came with a price cut, that’s for sure. I will no longer get to take my lunch break with my parents three days a week. And the production will be much less. But it was more in line with the community I wanted to serve, the one that I really belonged to. It also aligned with my dream to nix my commute.

So I made work close enough to home that I could walk. It takes me 12 minutes to walk to work on a regular day, and ten minutes when I am running late, which I often am.

Make work AT home.

This was the next step. As you know, dentistry is not my only job. I also am a baker and a dog-sitter. However, you likely also already know that I try to structure my life in the most ideal way possible. I used to work my midnight shifts at a bakery that I loved, but I recently got rid of it for multiple reasons, health being the most prominent but the commute not much farther behind. At the time, it was the only other thing that prevented me from claiming my zero-commute life. It was a nice cherry on top to say that I now own my own bakery and do ALL of my baking in my own home. Any pastries I sell are either within the local community and delivered by walking or are scheduled for pick-up. On top of the bakery, I am a dog-sitter on Rover.com. There are many services that one can offer on the site, including dog-walking, house-sitting, and checking in on a pet. However, those all require you to go to someone else’s house. I only offer one service, and that is dog-sitting at my own home. Pet owners must come to my home to drop off their pets and they must swing by after their vacations to pick them back up.

What about all else?

Now I know what you may be thinking. Commuting encompasses everything, including vacations and going to social events, et cetera. There is no absolute way that all those things could occur in the vicinity of your home. But what I said at the very beginning of the post was that I have gotten rid of the need to commute. As in, if I got rid of my car, I would still survive, make money, have a place to eat, and ways to entertain. I did not say that I have gotten rid of the want to commute. But! I generally never want to commute anymore these days. When we DO drive, we try to rope together errands with pleasure. It helps that we typically have only one day off together (Sundays), so we do our weekly trip to Neat Coffee to get our free drink, our Whole Foods or Farmer’s Market run, our PetSmart run (across from Whole Foods), and any trips to the beach or to our parents’ house all-together. This entire route consists of a loop that passes by each of these locations. Yes, occasionally we will drive out of town to visit a friend. But in all honesty, we are kind of a pair of home bodies. We aren’t going to be driving around town in search of brunch or in hopes of experiencing a new restaurant or bar. No. Our form of entertainment involves board game nights, or movie nights, or reading on the bed. He likes to dabble in video games and guitar, I like to spill out and consume words. It seems like all the things we’ve been building in this intentional life just happen to connect with nixing a commute. It might be too soon to tell, but I don’t think I’ll miss it.

How about you?

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!