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!

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.

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.

Frugal Challenge: No-Dining-Out November

We started our journey to getting our finances in order by reeling in on the spending. There was no other way we would have paid $84,000 in our first year without YNAB! To this day, budgeting continues to be a top priority and really keeps our finances in check. To help with that, we have made being frugal a bit more fun, by creating challenges for ourselves once in a while. In this way, we’ve made saving money into a bit of a game. I am excited to announce this month’s frugal challenge: No-Dining-Out November.

Related Posts:

If you are already on an extreme path to FI, you may already be doing this. Unfortunately, we aren’t as strict about the dining out thing as some. Reason being, we still want to enjoy our younger years, and not sacrifice our freedom now for freedom later. But this month, we will save a couple extra dollars by trying our best not to go out for food.

Typically, we cook about 90% of our meals for the week at home. We will go out about once a week, and most times, it is in celebration of someone’s birthday, or to meet up with families or friends to reconnect over a meal. Before you go running for the hills after my suggestion of giving up dining out completely, let me explain why November is the perfect month to do so.

The explanation goes as follows: Thanksgiving occurs in November. That’s it. Our one saving grace. If you’re like us, this time of year involves gatherings with friends and family aplenty. For example, we have a Friendsgiving event with our closest friends every year hosted at our house. I typically cook and serve a home-made 5 course meal (stay-tuned for what we’ve got up our sleeves this year), and everyone chips in monetarily by paying a small fee ($10-15 per person). On top of that, we have separate Thanksgiving celebrations with my parents, Mr. Debtist’s dad’s side, and Mr. Debtist’s mom’s side. Additionally, I have a Thanksgiving potluck at work. As you can see, November is the perfect opportunity for us to skip on the dining-out while still feasting on amazing food! It gives us opportunities to still meet up with family and friends, and it also has opportunities where we can eat without having to cook the meal ourselves. Plus, Thanksgiving isn’t as hectic as the Christmas season, so with enough planning, it is completely doable to balance work, life, and food.

Helpful Tips:

In moments of true weakness, here are some tips on how to go completely without dining out for a month.

  • First off, decide what constitutes as eating out. For us, even getting coffee or ice cream counts!
  • Get a really devoted, reliable friend to join you on this venture. If you ever feel like dining out, let them know so that they can keep you in line. Maybe take turns cooking for each other. I thankfully have Mr. Debtist for that.
  • Pre-cook some meals and freeze them early on in the month, while your motivations still run high.
  • Every time you feel like dining out and resist, write down the amount of money you saved. When you need a little inspiration, take a look at that piece of paper and count your savings!
  • Avoid the social pressures of dining out. Maybe avoid scrolling through Instagram or swiping through Instastories, to prevent yourself from being tempted by photos that your friends post. It may be that your super expensive dining out habit has more social motives rather than gastronomical.
  • Pack your lunch, but still “go out” with friends. Mr Debtist always packs lunch for work. But that doesn’t mean he sits at his desk by his lonesome when his co-workers go out to eat. He goes with them, packed lunch included! Now, he’s got our roommate doing the same thing! Don’t feel intimidated or embarrassed if you want to eat a packed lunch. You go out with your co-workers to mingle and to relate, not to outperform each other in food spending.
  • Make cooking at home fun! Instead of cooking the same meals that you usually cycle through, take time to try a new recipe together once a week. Leave room for experimentation. Cooking does not always have to be buy the book. Or better yet, simply swing by the farmer’s market and pick up a few items. Challenge each other to make a new recipe using your most recent market finds. Whatever it is that will motivate you to cook at home is good by me.
  • Lastly, just eat! The hungrier you get, the more tempting it will be to get food in the easiest way possible (aka buying it already made for you!). Eating little snacks throughout the day keeps me satiated enough that my tummy isn’t always asking for more. Some voice in your head may be saying that the left-over no longer looks as appetizing as it once did, but once it’s in your stomach, that voice goes away. Remember that we eat to give us energy, to sustain us for what we need to do. We don’t always need to eat to please our egos. Some people eat just to make themselves “feel good”. That kind of thinking won’t get you through this frugal challenge. And I can guarantee you that making yourself your own meal can feel great, too!

A Frugal Approach to Halloween to Make the Holiday A Bit Less Scary

Halloween marks the start of the holidays for us. That’s about the only celebratory sentiment I have towards this holiday. I don’t typically celebrate Halloween at all, except to rejoice that Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years are just around the corner. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I avoid anything that could even remotely resembles scary. I go so far as to avoid YouTube in October, just in case I see one of those ads for an upcoming horror movies. To be honest, I was not introduced to the concept of Halloween until I moved to the United States at 8 years old, an age nearing when it was time to outgrow playing dress up. Additionally, I’m a DENTIST. So I have never passed out candy in my life, and likely never will. It has helped that we live in a live/work loft, since no children walk along the streets of downtown knocking on the doors of businesses already closed for the evening.

Despite my Grinch-like approach to All Hallows Eve, I understand that there are others who choose to celebrate the holiday. And I’d hate to send the wrong message here, because frugal living does NOT equate to deprivation. There IS a way to enjoy your favorite holiday, whatever it may be, without excess consumption. Hence, a brief guide to a more frugal approach.

Costumes

Create Your Costume

Remember in college, there were Halloween parties to go to, but most of us were broke? I think being poor really does require one to tap into our most creative selves. If my memory serves me, almost every costume at a college Halloween party was home-made. Why not have some fun and re-create those days? I remember one year, I had a witch’s hat and a name tag sticker that said “Hi! My name is Sam!” and I went as a Sam-witch. Another favorite was a classmate carrying around a cereal box and a knife, calling himself a “serial killer“. Cheesy?  Yes. Punny? Absolutely! A conversation starter, at the very least. If you’re interested, here is a list of clever, last minute Halloween costumes.

Borrow A Costume

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As a zero waste advocate, I am all for borrowing! Not only costumes, but everything else, too,  from vacuum cleaners to clothes steamers. Since this is a Halloween post though, let’s talk about borrowing a costume. I may not like Halloween, but there are people who live for this holiday! I have a dental assistant who loves it so much that she goes to multiple parties and wears different costumes to each one. I happened to mention to this particular assistant that I did not have a costume to wear to work, since we were required to dress up for the kids. I inquired if there was a costume I could borrow. She immediately listed off a number of costumes that she had on hand, and we decided that I would go as a pizza slice this year, because I like pizza. It’s that easy. Another assistant of mine mentioned that they were doing the same as I, borrowing their sister’s costume from a previous year. Props for those friend circles who create a chain of borrowed costumes. Gather a group of people and trade amongst each other, to have “new” costumers for multiple years without spending a dime!

Wear a Hand-Me-Down

In line with the previous thought, there are many people who refuse to wear the same costume twice. Offer to take their hand-me-down costume for the following year. If you create a loop with such a friend, you may get a “new” costume from her every Halloween, and she has a way to de-clutter her costumes without throwing them directly to the trash. I would consider that a win-win.

Re-Use the Same Costume Every Year

This is the one advice that I get the most push back on, but I think it’s worth considering. For four years, I wore the same teddy bear costume. For three years prior to that, you could rely on me showing up as Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas. Part of the reason definitely had to do with the fact that I did not put much thought into Halloween and ended up having to make do with what I already had whenever I would get <s> invitied </s> dragged to a Halloween party. The other part? It saves money!

Decorations

I cringe whenever I walk by houses decorated with all sorts of fake cobwebs and plastic spiders and inflatable black cats and flying witches. Cringe because, firstly, they DO give me the creeps, and secondly, because I think of all that plastic waste. I can guarantee that very few people re-use cobwebs that have been sitting in their bushes for a month. In fact, those fake cobwebs may be intermingled with entirely real cobwebs. Here are a few thoughts I have on decorations.

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Pumpkin on the Porch

I’d like to pose one simple question. Will lack of decoration stop children from trick or treating at your house? I don’t know about you guys, but as a child, even if no decorations were up, I still walked right up to the door with my siblings and tried my best to solicit candy. Call it hopefulness, or ignorance, but children will still want to TRY. So a lack of decoration will not deter a child, unless mom or dad is with them and is telling them to respect the privacy of that one particular home owner. Therefore, the simplest way to decorate your home and signal to little beings that you’ve got candy in store is a single pumpkin on the porch. Okay, or maybe a few pumpkins on the porch, and some in the windowsill. Carved pumpkins optional, the use of its insides non-optional. (Who doesn’t love pumpkin cake?) In fact, when I was young, this was how most houses were decorated. There was no excess consumption of plastic skeletons, and scary moving ghouls. No myriad of plastic webs on the front yard. Plus, kids who trick or treat are only thinking about one thing: The treat! They aren’t judging who’s got the best house on the block. I’m just saying.

YouTube Videos

If a pumpkin on the porch just doesn’t cut it, or if you are looking to be a bit cooler than that, try adding effects using a projector. We happen to have a projector at home, in lieu of a TV, so we could easily point the projector towards the front of our house and play music or an image that we film on repeat. Try projecting Singing Pumpkins or a Zombie Invasion.

Use Yourself as Decoration

Is projected imagery still not enough? Want your house to be really scary? How about using yourself as decoration? This isn’t to comment on your physical appearance, but rather, at your ability to disguise yourself. I remember the days of walking by a porch with a lone monster or ghoulish figure sitting on a wooden stool or chair. Those were the houses that I knew were the scariest, because you never know when the monster would come to life and get you. The bowl of candy is by his feet, or worse, in his lap, and the sugary sweets are calling to your sweet tooth. But is it worth the venture onto that porch? If you are looking to scare little kids with decoration, why not use yourself, dressed up in the scariest possible way? Or get a group of friends and create a themed look.

Au Natural

Lastly, have you noticed that fall decor consists mostly of dead things? How appropriate for Halloween! In addition to pumpkins on the porch, why not gather organic elements and create a house worth visiting? Grab some fallen pine cones on your nightly walking path. We’ve got tons at the park, so you may too. Display them amongst the pumpkins. Gather a bunch of broken twigs and sticks, and tie them together with twine to make witches brooms. Collect some “poisonous” apples and throw into a cauldron or basket. Or better yet, bend the thinner twigs into a wreath, and collect autumn colored leaves to make a fiery statement on your front door. Got paper? Cut out spider webs and bats to hang from the ceiling and walls. A combination of all these natural, bio-degradable, and sustainable elements is enough to make any person want to swing by! Hey, if you have a black cat, maybe he’d like to perch on the window sill all night, too. Who knows?