The Importance of Fun Money in Financial Sustainability

We all know that I talk a lot about sustainability, harboring borderline ad nauseam (debatable). Most oft, it refers to an environmental topic, but once in a blue moon, it will refer to something finance related. This is because tackling a student loan of $550K+ has taught me a thing or two about how to set yourself up for success with paying down debt, one of which is that the looming debt seems to most an insurmountable task that very easily deters a person from pursuing a tackling of said giant. And if you were as crazed as I about financial freedom and you did pursue freedom from debt, I would postulate bet my money on the fact that we are looking at a journey long-term. In other words, opportunities abound for insecurities to start kicking in, and there are many forks in the road that either lead you back to where you started from (in our case, on a 25 year loan forgiveness plan) or to a dead end. So we must talk sustainability if we are to expect a level of success. More importantly, we must talk sustainability if we are ever going to c r u s h this game (which we are!)

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Finding Financial Sustainability

Saving every dollar towards achieving a goal can be a grueling task. Most inquiries from outsiders center around how we survive the suffering. Surely, we must be starving ourselves of LIFE in an effort to be free?

ABSOLUTELY NOT.

Firstly, if you think that’s the case, then you don’t know us at all. I think both of us are averse towards doing anything we don’t feel is right. Read also as anything we don’t want to do. And while that seems bratty at best, it’s actually the perfect recipe towards a happy life.

Secondly, I agree. Anyone who is bogged down by the stresses of meeting payment requirements may have difficulty enjoying “the finer things”, but who gets to define “the finer things”? Only you. So while society spends their hard-earned bucks on Rolexes and Teslas, your idea of a finer thing could be a cup of coffee, a morning of solace, a day outdoors, yeah?

And lastly, even when it comes to purchasing stuff, we have the ability to, but with mindfulness. We don’t have a tendency to purchase things right when we see them anyway, and scoff at that on-demand-pull that gets most people to do some regretful spending. What we do have is a category in our budgeting tool (this link will take you to my course on how to set up your own budgeting tool). We have to thank our CFP (who is no longer doing CFP work but who have been invaluable in sending us on our way to a healthy, financially fit life – see The Value of Having a CFP) for teaching us about the importance of having a category for spending on OURSELVES.

Yes! I am talking about a category dedicated towards FUN money.

Sustainability comes from a variety of inspirations and motivations. Just when the going gets rough, one can find the push they need in a community, in the re-evaluation of perspective, in a reminder of the reason WHY we started in the first place. Sustainability can also be found in a bribe – a reward persay … but a calculated reward. This is what fun money is.

How to Set Aside Fun Money

Fun money is literally a category in our budgeting tool. It sits under the “Wants” grouping, and gets allocated a monthly amount. Nothing large by any means. We are talking $50 a month. If we want something more than $50, then we have to save for a few months.

We have our own separate categories for fun money, and we can spend our fun money however we want. Fun money is spent towards things we want but we both don’t benefit from. So, for example, if I want to buy a book about bread, then that will come out of my fun money fund. Or if he wants to buy a video game to play with his guy friends, then that will come out of his fun money account.

There isn’t anything extravagant about the fun money bucket. Because the amount is so small per month (less than 1% of our entire income), there is no guilt associated with it. Because we each have our own category, there is no blame when one spends their fun money. And because we already planned for the spending ahead of time, there is no buyer’s remorse. In fact, the opposite is true. It starts the habit of serious consideration prior to purchasing, because you realize how long it took to build up your fun money fund, and makes you assess whether there are better methods of spending. In fact, I think fun money is a great way to teach kids about appropriate spending habits, especially if the percentage set aside towards fun money is small compared to what they actually receive from birthdays, holidays, and rewarded chore duties.

How Fun Money Helps With Sustainability

So you can buy a few items. Whoop-dee-doo. How does that help with paying down a massive student debt?!

The psychology of working essentially for free and putting all your hard-earned dollars towards a debt that allowed you to work in the first place is difficult to describe. The taxation on the mind, as well as the emotional roller coaster that one experiences, cannot be stressed. Some days, you wonder what it is exactly that you’ve done. You start to question whether it was all worth it. Eventually, you’ll come around. But the hoops you have to go through to continue on this journey … it’s comical how emo the whole thing is. Like I said, the insecurities roll in like a fog. You don’t realize their coming, but they sneak up on you. It is during these times that you may need a little boost of confidence. Moral support does the trick, but there are days when I feel like no one else TRULY understands. Because how could they? We all travel different paths, and no two are exactly alike. An activity helps as well, but only momentarily, as it steals the mind and takes it elsewhere. The insecurity doesn’t fade, however, and soon you are left where you started. Unless the activity spans a long period of time, all you can do is wait.

However, the human mind responds very well to a reward system. In fact, it responds so well, that many people are obsessed with rewarding themselves, so much so that they suffer from excess consumption. No need to go down that rabbit hole now (AGAIN). Reward systems are involved in positive reinforcement, or in bribing people to do what one wants them to do. So really, I guess I’m bribing myself. Or at least, I am psychologically tricking the mind into resetting to a more positive thinking space.

The human mind doesn’t respond to starvation. Nothing lives after that. But the reward system, the mind understands. Fun money allows me to give myself calculated rewards. Things that I have already budgeted for, the purchasing of which is controlled. I don’t need much, as we already know, but occasionally, I need a push. I need breathing room. I need a break. And then, I can keep going.

Fun money makes this work sustainable. Less scary, somehow. More manageable. It makes me less of an anomaly, and more human. Hopefully, it makes me more relatable, and shows people that this isn’t me performing some heroic. It’s something that’s achievable for others too. I hope it gets them to start on their own journeys, knowing that sustainability is possible, and that fun money doesn’t make you less dedicated, nor does it make you less successful. If anything, I will dare to say that it’ll feed your fire, and make you succeed where others only dare dream.

Pictured: My most recent purchase, supporting Two Days Off, an ethical clothing line by Gina Stovall based in Los Angeles, CA.

Finance: The Second Year of Paying Down $550,000 in Student Loans, An Update

I can’t believe how fast time flies! The second year of paying down my student debt has passed, and I didn’t even notice. After the first year, I posted an update that outlined a review of our journey. It seemed to help some, so I decided to do the same for the second year. This year there were some ups and downs (a lot more downs than we thought would happen), but I am so pleased to announce that we are on track to finish paying off our debt in under 10 years. In fact, if we continue on this same trajectory that we’ve been on, we are actually estimated to finish 6.9 years from now, for a total of 8.9 years!! And I have high hopes to bring that number even lower. Read on to find out how we got here, and where we plan to go.

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To recap, we started off our journey with $574,034.50 of student debt (including the interest that had accrued)! All of which was mine. To date, we have paid a total of $145,128.48 towards my student debt over the last two years, bringing the principal amount down to $481,368.06.

To understand the progress, do recall that after year one, only $28,000 went towards paying down the principle. The rest of the $84,000 that we had paid towards the loan went towards the interest only. This means that only 33% went towards paying down the principle amount of the loan.

In year two, you start to see improvement. Of the $61,000 we paid to the loans, $29,000 went towards paying down the principle. That’s 47.5% of our payments going towards actually making the loan smaller!

Off course, you will see right away that we paid way less towards the loans in year two ($61,000) versus year one ($84,000). If we had paid the same amount or higher, we would have had an even higher percentage going towards the principle balance. So I guess this is a great time to recap what slowed us down this year.

THE SET-BACKS

  • In September of 2018, we decided to buy property. Property ownership was something we felt was right for us to do. We bought a live/work space that we hope to utilize in the future for some sort of business. Meanwhile, we are co-housing, or as financial independents might say, house-hacking, our way towards paying down the mortgage. Buying the property did entail two things to happen: We used some of our emergency fund to place a down payment on the home. Because of that, we are now re-building the emergency fund back up to what it was, which decreased our ability to pay back loans. Currently, we are setting aside $1k a month to rebuild the emergency fund and are on track to being back to normal in March of 2020. Also, it raised our total payments towards our housing a teeny bit, since now we pay for things like HOA fees and home insurance.
  • In October of 2018, we were delivered some shocking news. Mr. Debtist’s company experienced a laying off of 80% of the people working there, and even though Mike was one of the “lucky” few to stay, his pay got decreased by more than 50%! It was something we were not really prepared for, so on top of wanting to re-build the emergency fund, we also had to deal with a huge blow to our income. Since we were living off of one income, the change in salary really affected our ability to pay down the loans. But we made it work! That’s part of the joys of being on Loan Forgiveness Program even though we were paying it back aggressively. They still only required the minimum payments. Off course, we continued to pay more than the minimum. We were able to keep up with the interest that accrued and to slowly bring the loans down.

THE POSITIVES

Now that those two negatives are laid out, here are some positive things that happened!

  • A conversation with Travis from Student Loan Planner (affiliate link) is saving us THOUSANDS of dollars. He brought to our attention that we could optimize the loan repayment by switching from IBR to REPAYE. How does this help? Under REPAYE, the government subsidizes the interest at 100% for the first three years for an subsidized loan, and at 50% for unsubsidized loans and subsidized loans that have been present for longer than three years. Which means every month, we are given a free $850 to go towards our loans and help us out! This is fantastic because now that Mr. Debtist has a new job and we are back to our previous income, we also are getting help to pay back the debt. Whereas last year we were paying $6,500 per month towards the loans, we are now sending $7,300 towards the debt with the help of REPAYE’s stipend. And while we were dealing with the smaller income stream for four months, we were still getting that helpful $850 to add to the few thousands that we were contributing to the loan. If you want some loan advice, I really think Travis is your guy, and you can schedule a call with him to discuss your particular situation.
  • Additionally, the side hustle game has been ramping up since 2019 started! Now that we have our budgeting in order, it was time to start increasing our income. I was already writing on this blog and doing some dog-sitting on Rover, but I just recently started as a bread baker, and soon thereafter opened my own bakery called Aero Bakery. In January, I made only $14 in side-hustles, which made sense since we were off traveling in Australia and New Zealand for the first half of January. In February, I made $450, and in March, I made $750. For April, I am on track to make an extra $1,500 in side hustles! Read more about why I am an advocate of side hustles, here.

Why the Future Is Bright

So now, we are not only back on track with making $6,500 payments, but we are actually on track to be finished one year early! How did we do that? By being AGGRESSIVE. The minimum payment for a 10 year repayment plan was $6,063 a month. We set our sights on $6,500 a month. Even with the lapse during those few difficult months while Mr. Debtist struggled with his work situation, we were still able to be at a point where we have only 6.9 years to go! How exciting is that?! And what’s even more exciting is that I predict this will all snowball even more! I turn 30 years old this year, and wouldn’t it be great if this would all be cleared by the time I turn 35? That’s right! I have my sights set on getting rid of this in 5 more years. Here’s what we have planned.

  • Since we are now switched to REPAYE, we are making $7,300 contributions towards the loans, instead of the $6,500 that we were previously doing under IBR. That will vastly improve the trajectory of our path.
  • In March of 2020, we predict to have saved enough for our emergency fund, leaving an extra $1k to be funneled into the loans. That would increase our contributions next year to $8,300/month.
  • Also in Spring of 2020, Mr. Debtist is scheduled to finish his car loan payments. While I was in dental school, Mr. Debtist got a car loan and we currently pay $585 towards it every month. Freeing up $585 will increase our loan contribution to $8,885/month.
  • The side-hustling is just getting started. I hope to continue with many of these hobby-turned-hustles, and we will see how that impacts our payments.
  • Lastly, we decided not to refinance our loan at this time because of the risk of not being able to meet the minimum payments in case we have another fiasco like the job situation. However, when the loan is small enough (say under $300,000), we may still consider refinancing the loan. It’ll be less of a risk at that point, since the monthly payments will be way more doable. If we DO refinance as we get closer towards paying the loans off, then we will be able to attack the loans at an exponentially improving clip.

Please note that we are paying back student loans aggressively, but we are also doing it responsibly. We are living within our means, investing in our 401ks respectively, and are diversifying by entering real estate last year. I make myself less susceptible to fluctuating job conditions by having my own dental S corporation, opening my own bakery, working as a dog-sitter, working as a baker for another company, and doing some writing on the side. We are also a dual-income household, which greatly affects the possibility of this success.

If you are feeling lost in your student loan repayment journey, or you simply want to know your options, I would start with talking to a consultant at Student Loan Planner. This path is not for everyone, but it also may be more doable than they want us to believe. For those who just want to get budgeting down, why not start with my free course on creating a budgeting tool?

Frugal Challenge: Living On One Income

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

And that’s a problem.

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

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

Personal Finance First Step: Mastering the Budget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Property Ownership: How to Detect and Avoid Fake Sellers

What is a fake seller and why would anyone want to knowingly waste time and money on something so lame? It may seem like a bogus idea, but fake sellers are out there. Trust us, we know. From our short-lived personal experience to boot! I feel a story unraveling…

From the onset, we knew what we wanted. We have been mulling the thought of buying a property for a year and a half, and we had extensively narrowed down the price range, location, and types of homes we would be willing to consider. Additionally, we had been spying on the market over the course of the last few years. For every home type that we were considering, I knew the neighborhoods in which they were located, the price ranges, and the typical pros and cons of the properties. I knew which agents were specialized in selling those particular places as well. So the time came when we were ready to make a leap of faith, I reached out to an agent who specialized in lofts in Orange County, CA.

Originally, we were very specific in which lofts we wanted. We wanted a loft in our current and exact neighborhood. We specifically wanted one that faced the market and commercial area, rather than one that faced Main Street or Memory Lane, which limited our search to less than twenty particular properties. We requested that she reach out to any owners to see if they would be willing to sell their loft.

She returned to us on the same day saying that there IS one owner who is interested in selling. He isn’t listed on the market, and is willing to do it without opening the deal up to other buyers And by that night, we were looking at the property.

That’s where the good parts of this story ended.

The owner had an asking price that was $50,000 more than the average value of the property. He claimed that there were upgrades to the loft, which was very true. We looked at the property and we agreed there were updates. We pulled up a comp report and analyzed the selling price of neighboring lofts in the last 6 months. They were usually selling for $575-$590k and the seller was asking for $650k. We accounted for the upgrades he had made to the home and the slightly larger square footage, and the comp report analysis returned at a value of $612-$617k. Since we really wanted the space, we offered $620k, trying to work with the seller.

Unfortunately, when the counter-offer returned, we knew this was not going to be the home. He returned with a counter offer of $645k AND we had to pay for all of HIS closing costs. He was using the downstairs space of the loft for a digital business and did not physically need to be here in California. Since he does not live in this state, he viewed the selling of the house as an inconvenience and is not willing to put any effort in the selling of his house. When we confronted his agent about the ludicrous price, he simply shrugged his shoulders. He knew that the loft would be appraised at a lower rate than $650k and that the difference will have to be covered by the buyer in cash. The seller’s agent informed us that this entire thing is an inconvenience to the Seller, to which we replied, “Then why bother say he wants to sell?” And like that, we dropped them like a handful of hot coals.

How to Spot Fake Sellers

So here’s the rub. Fake sellers can easily seem like real sellers. They do all the things a real seller would, such as put the house on the market, place FOR RENT signs on the lawn, have an agent and host open viewings. However, whether knowingly or unknowingly, they waste their time and money doing all of this because they are not really READY to sell. If you don’t know how to detect fake sellers, then you cannot avoid them. And if you don’t avoid them, then you may waste precious time and money to fruitlessly negotiate buying a house that isn’t really for sale.

  • Are the sellers realistic? The number one reason that people cannot sell their homes is because of a grossly high asking price. When you hear that an owner is having difficulty selling their home at such a high price, beware! As with the case of our first loft offer, what it actually means is that the seller is refusing to accept the market’s opinion of what their house is worth. They may have an alternative motive, such as making up for the costs they’ve spent to upgrade their place. Or just to try to get more money from a buyer who knows nothing about the current market. This, by the way, is different from real sellers who mistakenly place too high of an asking price. Real sellers will wise up over time. Fake sellers will not. My advice is to move on.
  • Are the sellers motivated? Getting a seller who is motivated is important. Most sellers are motivated by a life change, such as a job transfer, a recent marriage or divorce, retirement, etc. Having a REALLY motivated seller makes it better for the buyer, because they will have a better chance at negotiation. Our fake seller was obviously not motivated at all, which made it easy for him to be uncompromising. Lack of motivation is a giant red flag. Run the opposite way, especially if you hear them say “they are just testing the market”.
  • Do sellers have a time frame? Deadlines make things happen. If the seller has no deadline, then he is in no rush to meet deadlines. It’s easy for fake sellers to start an escrow process and decide to not meet deadlines and kill the deal. Only because there is no urgency to sell the home.
  • Are the sellers forthright? Genuine sellers are open about the condition of the home and the legal status. Why? Because they are aware that withholding vital information can ruin the sale. Early disclosures of possible problems help indicate whether you’ve got a real seller on your hands.
  • Are the sellers cooperative? Real sellers want to sell their homes. They will look for ways to make the transactions go more smoothly. Inconsistent behavior is another red flag. If seller’s become uncooperative or start missing their deadlines, they may have lost the motivation to sell. When you start to see these signs, ask why they are happening. Otherwise, you may be in for a surprise if the deal ends up blowing up in your face.

My best advice is to do the same as we did. If you find yourself dealing with an unrealistic, unmotivated, and uncooperative seller, it’s time to walk away. Find something else. Maybe that seller will wise up, but then again, maybe not. You don’t want to waste your time and energy trying to coax reason into a seller like that.

Plus, you may find that it ends up being a blessing in disguise and you find a property that checks off even more boxes! Like we did!

How to Decide if Property Ownership is a Good Financial Decision for You

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

Well, we are doing it! We are in the throes of purchasing our first property! Currently, we just started the escrow process, so it’s all new enough to accurately relay our experience on zee blog. I have been MIA on the finances front for a while, but I’ve decided to start a new series on Property Ownership (I say property ownership because, as you will see, we did not go with a traditional home, therefore I think home ownership is too selective of a title), in which I hope to cover a collection of thoughts and well-meaning advice.

The first of which is this: You’ve got to know what you are doing when buying a home. Unless you want to get your money swept from underneath you or risk ending up with a home that you absolutely hate, I highly suggest getting informed before even considering any of this. May I suggest starting with the Home Buying Kit for Dummies? Not saying you’re a dummy, just saying I read this from front to back and felt confident in the home buying process, which went quite smoothly for us. In fact, today’s topic of deciding whether to buy is outlined in their first chapter. Sans my own personal stories and interjections. You’re welcome!

Deciding Whether to Buy

We all make consumption choices in our lives. Whether that’s a cup of coffee, a sustainable product, or an eco-friendly gadget. Sometimes, purchases can lead to buyer’s remorse, especially when they fall short of our expectations. When it doesn’t cost much, you can get over it quickly by either choosing to return the product or deciding you will not make the same mistake twice.

As a very mindful consumer, you likely already know that I weigh the pros and cons of every purchase I make. This is especially important with large purchases, such as a car or home. Sloppy shopping can lead to financial and emotional disaster. And I love the analogy that consumer debt is the equivalent of financial cancer. So, buying a home should not be taken lightly. It should not be an entirely emotional decision. And it is not right for everybody. If that is something you did not want to hear, then I am very sorry.

The goal of this series is to go through the process that Mike and I went through in order to help ensure that we have a home we are happy with, we get a good deal on the property, and most importantly, that owning a home helps us accomplish our financial and life goals.

But before we could have even decided whether owning or renting was best for us, we had to learn the advantages and disadvantages of both!

The Pros of Ownership

Not everyone should buy homes, and not at every point in their lives. That’s a statement I believe in. That being said, there are many pros to owning your own property.

  • Owning should be less expensive than renting!

This is the first guideline that Mike and I wanted to follow. We have thrown away so much money in rent. How much, you ask? Our first 18 months, we paid $2,800 a month for our beautiful 1,599 sq. ft., 2bed, 2ba live/work loft in Orange County, California. For those of you thinking we are financially crazy, I just want to point out that an 800 sq. ft. 1bed, 1ba apartment in an apartment complex runs around $2000-$2200 in our area. I agree, it is crazy expensive to live here. I also agree that we weren’t exactly financially savvy when we started out. The next 8 months, we received a huge rent reduction to our space. We made a bargain with our landlord which stated that we ourselves will fix any problems (that totaled to no more than $200 per month) that came up, and she reduced our monthly rent from $2,800 per month to $2,600 per month. Additionally, we took on co-housing and we further reduced our rent to $1,900 per month, while giving our roomie her own bedroom, bathroom, and access to the entire house for $700 a month. She was happy because she avoided having to hemorrhage $1,500 for an old, run-down studio space, and we were happy because our rent went down almost $1,000 with those two simple changes. The savings of $900 over the course of 8 months was $7,200! YAY US!

All of this to say, that over the course of the last 26 months, we have spent $65,600 in rent. If we didn’t have our roomie, then we would have spent $71,200 towards rent, with nothing to show for it. Now if it seems like your monthly rent looks way smaller than the price of a home, which is likely to be hundreds of thousands of dollars, think again.

A very simple calculation of the home you can buy that would have approximately the same monthly cost as your rent can be completed using the following equation.

$______________ per month x 200 = $ _____________________

Example: $2, 800 per month x 200 = $ 560,000. The property we decided to put an offer on? $499,900.

Another consideration between the cost of buying and renting is the cost of doing so today versus the cost in the future. As a renter, you are fully exposed to inflation rates. A reasonable annual increase in rent is 4% per year. Remember that if you pay $1,000 in rent per month, that is the equivalent of buying a $200,000 home. Well, in 40 years, with 4% inflation per year, your rent will balloon to $4,800 per month, which is like buying a $960,000 home! On the flip side, after buying a home, your housing costs are not exposed to inflation if you use a fixed-rate mortgage to finance the purchase. So only the comparatively smaller property taxes, insurance, and maintenance expenses will increase over time with inflation.

This isn’t to say that you must buy because of inflation. But, if you are going to continue renting, you must definitely plan your finances accordingly.

  • You can make your house your own

This is a great pro to all the creatives out there. However, a word of caution:

Don’t make the place too unique. I understand that you may have a distinct taste or style. And while that may lead you to a happy life in your home, it could make it very difficult to sell in the future. If you do make improvements, focus on those that add value, such as adding skylights, energy-efficient  upgrades, and updated  kitchens and bathrooms.

Avoid completely running yourself into financial ruin. It’s easy to get carried away in the emotions associated with owning a new home. There is this urge or pressure to make it look picture perfect straight away! There is nothing wrong with making your home a dream one the slow way. When you feel the urge to throw all your money straight into renovations, think of the things you already have. Say, a roof over your head?

  • Avoiding Landlords You Can’t Get Along With. Mike and I have never personally had an issue. However, we have heard stories of landlords who neglect their tenants needs or continually refuse to fix rental units that are falling apart.

The Pros of Renting

  • Simplicity. Signing up for a place to rent is definitely easier than going through the process of securing a home. You don’t have to deal with financing, inspections, and other possible issues like you would if you were buying a home.
  • No upkeep. When you have a rental property, your landlord will be responsible for property maintenance and upkeep!
  • You have flexibility! This was actually one of our initial reasons to continue renting. Renting allowed us to not feel tied down. In the last few years since we got this place, we were going through so many changes. We got married, Mike got a new job, we started tackling our student debt, and we wanted to travel the world. I just started work and Mike and I did not know if we would like our new jobs and if this is the area we wanted to stay. Luckily, since then, we have fallen in love with our city and our jobs. We have proven to ourselves that tackling the student debt is doable, and we are comfortable enough to now tackle on housing. But if you are at a stage in your life where you need any sort of flexibility at all, then maybe renting is better for you right now. If you plan on not keeping your property for more than five years or plan to move soon, buying and then selling a property is not the way to go.
  • Increased liquidity. Many people buy their first home and wipe their finances clean with the down payment and the closing costs. Plus they have to make their monthly payments. Renting will help prevent you from being financially stretched.
  • Better diversification. Buying a property could mean that your wealth is tied up in the house. As a renter, you can invest money in a variety of investments, not just one.

Do NOT Fall for the Following Pitfalls

  • Renting because it seems cheaper than buying. You must consider the monthly cost as well as the future cost. See discussion above.
  • Buying when you expect to move soon. Additional costs that come with buying and selling a home are pretty large. Unless you plan on keeping the home for a while after you’ve moved, it may be better to wait until you are more sure of where you will be one year from now.
  • Allowing salespeople to sell you something you don’t want. Many people in the biz have a vested interest in getting you to buy, because they work off of commissions. But remember that when you buy a property, you will be the one coming home to it every day. You will be the one paying for it. So make sure that you do you!
  • Ignoring logistics. You should probably think through how every aspect of your life is affected by your home purchase. Imagine buying a home that has everything you are looking for and is within your price range, but which adds an hour commute to work. How much would you resent that home? Or imagine having a home that happens to be located in a loud neighborhood, and you are a light sleeper. These are important things to consider!
  • Don’t become house poor! Either you own a home, or it owns you. Nuff said.
  • Being peer pressured. This is a toughie. Typical me, I had to really dig deep and figure out why I wanted to buy a home. Was it entirely socially ingrained? Was it purely from a financial perspective? Was it part fantasy? I had to rationalize and confirm (and re-confirm) that I was not being peer pressured into this. That this is something Mike and I decide to do, for reasons of our own. Just because siblings, friends, and co-workers are buying homes, it does not mean you should too. Maybe they own a home, but have no finances left over to travel. Maybe their house is keeping them from quitting their work and pursuing a passion. Don’t assume their life is better than yours. And as always, never compare your beginning to someone’s middle.
  • Misunderstanding what you can afford. To be honest, if you haven’t gotten a feel for your financial situation and life goals, you are just guessing how much you should be spending on a home. So having a good grasp on your financial stance is the place to start. Also, unless you are a high-income earner, if you do not have a back up plan for unexpected life occurrences, you may find yourself in a tight situation. A job loss, family emergency, or natural disaster can make you house broke in an instant. Understanding all of this and having a back-up plan is very wise!

Given all of these pointers, only you can ultimately decide if buying a home is right for you. Not me, not your peers, not your real estate agent, and, no offense, but not even your parents. More importantly, you must analyze whether NOW is the right time for you. It may be that waiting until you have a bigger down payment, a more stable job, or a better financial back up plan is the best option. Something we as humans tend to avoid thinking about is the worst case scenario. But think about it you must.

Also, learning about the property buying process is quite necessary. If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed after reading this post and need a place to start, start with this book! I highly recommend it. Do you have other recommended reading for first-time home buyers?  Feel free to share with the community in the comments below!

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

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

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

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

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

Related Posts

A List of Subscriptions You May Want to Cancel

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

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

Which Subscriptions We Currently Keep

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

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

The True Cost of Subscriptions

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

The Impact of Getting Rid of Our Subscriptions

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

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

The Good News

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

Finances: How YNAB Helped Us Pay $84,000 Towards Student Loans in One Year!

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

Looking back on it, it seems absolutely nuts that we have been able to pay $84,000 towards our student loans in the last year. Prior to getting our finances in order, you could say that I was not one who was highly motivated in monitoring my spending. Or rather, I may have been highly motivated, but not entirely good at it. Honestly, I did not know where to start.

I was never afraid of budgets. Some people are. They are afraid that it would be too limiting, or depriving, to set financial constraints on their having fun in life. I get it. YOLO, right? But honestly, that’s just the rub. YOLO. You only get one life, and I don’t want mine consistently anchored down by debt. I want to be free. So it was not the budgeting that scared me, but the lack thereof. In fact, I was always in search of ways to budget. However, I had no idea how to do it efficiently.

We used to implement that all-too-familiar way of assessing our spending by guessing, eye-balling, rounding up and down (depending on our mood), or sometimes, ignoring all-together. Additionally, much of our analysis was performed retroactively. As in, “Oops, I spent too much on groceries last month! Roughly $100 too much.” The estimates, off course, were always too low, and the recognition harbored a bit too late, after the spending was already a done deal. Yikes!

Enter YNAB. YNAB is kind of like that high-school teacher that slaps your wrist and sets a vagabond teen straight. The acronym stands for “You Need a Budget“, and is better than an angel on your shoulder keeping your finances in check. It is a very easy system that is based on the age-old envelope system of budgeting. It used to be that, without computers and programs such as YNAB, people would use envelopes to budget their money. Each envelope would stand for a category. For example: “Groceries”, “Rent”, House Maintenance”, “Savings”, etc. With each incoming paycheck, a person would split the cash in between envelopes, allocating a certain amount towards those categories for the upcoming month(s). One can never accidentally overdraw from an envelope, because once the money runs out, that’s it! In order to overspend in a category such as “Dining Out” for example, one would need to proactively choose to take out money from another envelope, thus consciously deciding to decrease spending elsewhere.

With the invention of things such as credit cards, this becomes an obsolete practice, but I think it is one that is very useful. Instead of retroactively analyzing our spending, we should be proactively planning for our financial futures. In YNAB, you can create categories of your choosing that would be equivalent to those envelopes. You can be as precise or as general as you would like. We prefer to be more general, because it makes categorizing easier. Our categories are separated into “Needs”, “Financial Goals”, and “Wants”. A few examples include:

Needs – Rent, Auto Insurance, Utilities, Cell Phone, Groceries

Financial Goals – Student Loans, House Savings

Wants – Activities/Hobbies, Travel, Mike’s Fun Money, Sam’s Fun Money, Dining Out

So as paychecks roll in, we are proactively placing budgeted money into each category. Every dollar we earn is accounted for, down to the last penny. The goal is to budget appropriately, so that none of the categories need adjusting during the month. Metaphorically, you don’t want to borrow from any of the other envelopes. It did take us a while to get a feel for how much we spend in each category, but that’s the fantastic thing about YNAB. It summarizes previous spending in the months prior really well. Over time, we were able to know exactly what number we would need to budget in each category to be absolutely prepared.

A word on those summaries. This is a wonderful way to get a picture of how much of your spending is going towards your “Needs”, your “Wants”, and your “Financial Goals”. For us, because of our student loans, 50% of our income goes straight towards hitting our “financial goals”. We try to keep “wants” to a low 10% of our income, travel included, which is why travel hacking is so important for us. Also, there are graphs to show you how much your net worth is rising, as well as comparisons of “Income VS Expenses”, if those are motivating at all for you.

All of this can technically be done on an Excel sheet, but it would take a lot of time and effort. What I love about YNAB is that it can link to your bank accounts and automatically record every transaction, whether that’s money going in or money coming out. The only thing left to do is to categorize each transaction. Also, YNAB will remember which transactions fall under which category. For example, we frequently shop at Mother’s Market and Whole Foods for our groceries. I no longer have to categorize those things, since YNAB will automatically do that for me, thus making my job easier.

Off course, YNAB comes with a fee, which luckily for us, is waived by our financial planner. The cost to use YNAB is $89.99 annually, which seems like a lot, but when I look at the number we paid towards student debt ($84,000), I don’t feel bad at all! I think that fee is totally justified, plus it makes the whole budgeting process easier and much more motivating than if I had to go through all of our bank accounts and credit cards and physically input each and every transaction, create analytical comparisons and graphs and pie charts, and let our financial situation take up all of my free time.

If you are someone who wants to know where their money is going, wants to plan for the future, or is already doing both but wants a simpler process, try out YNAB. I hear too frequently the saying, “I don’t know where my money goes!” It’d be nice if we never have to say that ever again. Plus, once you know where it goes, you have the power to redirect it, kind of like we have!