Frugal Challenge: Don’t Buy Snacks

I am going to be the first to say that I am the least opposed to having a mid-afternoon treat. A firm believer that chocolate fixes all things, you won’t see me denying a cupcake when it’s sitting on the kitchen counter for the taking. My family knows that once you set out the dessert at a holiday gathering, I’m going to be first in line holding an empty plate.

That’s just the problem. It’s difficult to say no to something when it’s taunting you from right underneath your nose. However, it is very easy to pass up on something that you never knew was there. So here is my next, and long-awaited, frugal challenge for the month of October. Stop buying snacks!

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This challenge is not a practice that just recently came about in our household. In fact, it is a habit that we are quite accustomed to. The origin story goes way back to the moment I was diagnosed at age 22 as pre-diabetic, despite the fact that I weighed 100 pounds. You’ve oft heard the saying, “Never judge a book by its cover”? Well, it’s true. A skinny, young girl can be diabetic. At 22, my body was doing a great job at metabolizing all the sugars that I was consuming, but it was also already starting to fail. Without getting too extremely technical, having a normal blood sugar level does not mean that your body is not suffering. Your body can be fighting to keep itself healthy by pumping out a TON of insulin to get rid of those sugars, but eventually, your handy dandy pancreas will not be able to keep up with the work load, and it will start to fail. By the time you notice a high blood sugar level, it is already too late. Your body has had enough.

So when I was diagnosed with pre-diabetes, I knew something had to change. Having been trained to eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (yes, I have done that all in the same day… quite frequently), and growing up in a household where snacks can be found in the pantry every single day, I knew that it was my diet that was causing my body to suffer. I was taught that soda was exchangeable with water, and that juice was “healthy”. Every day after school, my mom would require us to eat merienda, which translates to a snack in Tagalog. Unfortunately, the snack list included chips, cookies, cereal, ramen, mac-and-cheese, and more thoroughly processed goods.

I was in my first year of dental school when I cut out sugar from the grocery bill. In doing so, I nixed mostly every snack possible. I not only said goodbye to my beloved cartons of ice cream, but also the chocolate bars and the cookies and the juice. I even cut out most cereals, with the exception of Cheerios (and not the Honey Nut kind). It was here that I first learned that the most efficient way to cut down the grocery bill is to get rid of junk food. I was grocery shopping for Mike and I, swimming in student debt, and I proposed that we limit our combined grocery bill to $50 a week, a rule which we still stick to to this day. $50 covered at least six days worth of breakfast, lunch, AND dinner for two. That’s how I got through dental school. But that means our limitations couldn’t stop at sugar. We also cut out chips, frozen fries, pizza pockets … even cheese and crackers.

Once we did that, we realized that $50 a week was completely doable. And I am not talking about eating spam or peanut butter sandwiches every day. I am referring to decent, home-cooked meals that taste better than going out to eat! Off course, there are many more perks to cutting out snacks than simply hitting a grocery budget. Here are the top 5 reasons why you should cut out snacks, in general.

TOP 5 REASONS TO CUT OUT SNACKS

  1. Decrease spending. Have you noticed that snacks cost so much for what you get? A protein bar for a few dollars?! A box of fruit roll ups for $5?! You’re practically paying top dollar for useless carbs that will shorten your life span or increase the chances of you needing to pay for medical bills to treat underlying conditions because of unhealthy food choices during your hay day. When you put it that way, all of this pointless eating costs more than the food itself. You may want to cut out snacks to decrease overall spending, for now and for the future.
  2. Cut down on sugar. In case you haven’t heard, all processed foods contain tons of added sugar. It doesn’t matter if they sell it in the form of “agave sugar“, it is still processed sugar that is unnecessary. Cutting down sugar was my number one reason to cut down on snacks. But there may be other reasons as well..
  3. Cut down on cholesterol. My extended family has a history of high cholesterol. When I think about how much salt lies in my once most favorite snacks (ie: Cheetos, Ruffles, French Fries, Ramen, etc), I can feel my arteries clogging up. Decreasing snacks can really do a body good.
  4. Become more productive. Let’s face it. A majority of us use snacks as a means to distract us from work. I remember the days when I needed to study for a test, and suddenly, my mind focuses on food when it should be focusing on the textbooks in front of me. How often do people at work take “snack-breaks”? Work-at-home-bloggers, you know what I am talking about. When I cut out snacks, I find that I eat more regularly. Three meals a day at approximately the same time. I stop “craving” a lot of things, which allow me to focus on my work, whether that’s dentistry or blogging.
  5. Help planet Earth. A majority of snacks are packaged in plastic. When we cut out plastic from our grocery list, we were already primed for success, because we have been cutting out snacks for a few years. Think about it. Individually packaged candies, bags of chips and cookies, even popcorn is in a paper bag wrapped in a plastic bag! We cut out frozen foods completely, as well as jugs of orange juice and bottles of soda. We aren’t only helping our bodies, but we are also helping the planet too.

Off course, there are many more reasons not to eat snacks. But these, for me, are my top five. So try it out for the month of October! Extend it past your grocery list and avoid buying snacks at all times. Do you need that mid-day coffee from Starbucks, or that extra bag of chips from the gas station to satisfy you during the commute home? If you do go out for dinner, is it necessary to get the appetizer and the dessert? Or a cup of soda, even though it’s unlimited re-fill? I know that at first, habits like these are hard to ditch. But try it for a month, and see how much you actually save. You may be extremely surprised, in a good way.

 

Dear College Kid: Pursuing Medicine Will Not Get You to Financial Independence Faster

Dear College Kid is a series I decided to write to my younger self. I would send them too, if I could somehow teleport myself via time machine to my late teens and early twenties. I hope other college kids find these letters, and garner some foresight that I myself had lacked. I hope it changes their lives.

Dear College Kid,

Have you ever heard of the term FI? More importantly, do you know of the FIRE community? Standing for “Financial Independence, Retire Early”, FIRE is a concept that aims for the option to be free from needing to spend forty years of your life working. Not to be confused with your life’s work, FI aims to free people of your job, if and when you choose to do so, in order to do your life’s work.

What I am here to tell you is this. If you’re dream is to pursue FI, then the medical profession is not the best, most practical route. I’m a dentist, who graduated from dental school at age 26 with more than half a million dollars in student debt. Now imagine being a doctor finishing residency at age 30, or an oral surgeon finishing at age 34. What you have as a college kid that I no longer do is time on your side. Time to get a head start, time to reach freedom more quickly and efficiently. Time to start opening doors.

At 21, I had no idea FIRE existed. It’s unfathomable for me to even think that I would have understood that work is not necessary in order to live a good life. A 21 year old graduating with zero (or very little) student loans, pursuing a desk job and saving  their income will have a 5-10 year head start on a 30 year old medical professional graduating with hundreds of thousands of student loans and saving none of their income because it is all tied up in debt. I will start at 36 years old at $0 in the bank if I spend all my income right out of school and funnel it to paying down my student loans (something I’ve talked about before). Meaning, the 21 year old with the desk job will have 15 years ahead of me in savings. On top of that, those savings have been racking up compound interest for 25 years. Assuming a moderate 6-7% return rate, those 15 years makes a whole heck of a lot of difference!

Off course, if you are pursuing the medical field, I am not dissuading you entirely, if it is what you WANT to do. The medical field is great! I love my job, but that’s because I did not go into it for the money. If you want to become a medical professional because it’s what you want to do for a long time, then by all means, you will be very happy! If you want to enter the medical field because you want to be RICH and that’s your goal in life, then you will be successful. BUT, if you are pursuing freedom or FIRE, and you think the medical field will get you there quicker because of the higher salary, you are incorrect. There are people in the FIRE communities who retire at 30 years old. If you go into the medical field, unless you have relatives that can pay for your entire tuition and you graduate debt free, well, you’ll still be at net-zero at 30 years old, but at least you have the means to get to FIRE by mid-to-late thirties perhaps. Most parents, however, cannot support med school, and if you graduate with a medical degree AND a ton of student debt, then you’ll be reaching FIRE later than your other FIRE friends. See what I mean?

This does NOT mean, pursue a desk job that you hate in order to reach FI. We reach for FIRE in order to be happy. There is no point putting yourself through misery in order to get to FI because you’ll be giving up happiness in order to do it. Some people say, “Well, I’ll just put in the work and hate my job but get to FIRE faster and THEN I will be happy.” But will you really, though? Reaching the end and never working a day in your life does not guarantee you will be happy. True FIRE pursuers recognize that it isn’t about the end goal, but the journey. It’s about gaining your freedom in the future, without giving up your freedom now. Otherwise, you’ve read FIRE all wrong.

Alternatively, FIRE is not entirely about Retiring Early. It’s about having the option to not work at a job, in order to pursue something else in life that will lead to more happiness. Ultimately, this all boils down to entering a profession for the right reasons. If you find a profession you love, you may not need to retire at all. I find myself happier than a lot of my colleagues, some of whom have only been out a few years and are already “sick of it”. They want out! Unfortunately, they are far from being free because of their lifestyle, or their debt, or a combination of the two. I am happier because I did not enter the field solely for money. I am happier because I do not need as much money in order to live, and can therefore choose how much of my life I need to give up in order to live a happy one. As I’ve said many times before, having money dictate the way you live your life is not a good thing. Whether that’s a lack of money, or a plethora of money. My dream is to free myself from student debt, go FIRE, and eventually travel the world and work for free as a dentist in third – world countries. To give back to communities that dentists never touch. I will likely never be “rich”, but my life will be. I am very, very happy, because I am doing what I love.

So in summary, enter the medical field if it is something you are very interested in or really want to do. (Sage advice: enter ANY profession because it’s what you want to do.) Do NOT enter the medical field, thinking it is the quickest way to get you to financial independence. It’s not the fastest, and it’s not the easiest, either.

For those just hearing about FI, here are a few of my favorite blogs and podcasts:

Welcome to the rabbit hole.

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!

Freedom: From the Grind

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

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The Desire for More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Benefits of Less

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

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

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

Restoring Balance

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

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

Frugal Challenge: Give Up Alcohol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My advice?

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

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

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

 

Finances: Why We Are Refinancing and Leaving IBR Behind, For Good!

Before we head off to Portland, OR, we wanted to share with you guys some very exciting news! We are finally pulling the plug on student loan forgiveness, completely! We are in the process of refinancing our student loans, and leaving IBR behind, for good!

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Why haven’t we refinanced sooner, you ask? Well, there is a clause in the student loan forgiveness program IBR that states that once we refinance our loans, we will no longer be eligible for the student loan forgiveness program in the future. Meaning, if something happened, like one of us lost our jobs, we would still need to continue to make the $6,500/month payment from now until forever (or at least until we are free from the loans). If we stuck with IBR and one of us lost our jobs, we could revert back to paying the minimum payment under IBR (which is calculated as a small percentage of your income), until we could dig ourselves out of the rut. You can see why refinancing can be a tricky thing. A life event that changes our financial situation could immediately cause us to get in trouble with the IRS if we cannot maintain that $6,500/month payment. In other words, we were giant wussy pants and scared of what could happen. We were not quite ready to leave the safety of IBR when we decided to pay down our loans a year ago.

However, under the IBR program, my student loan with Great Lakes is charged an interest of a whopping 6.7%! By refinancing, we could lower that down to about 5.5%. It doesn’t seem like much, but on a loan this huge, it makes a big difference. To give readers an idea, for a 10 year refinance at 5.5%, our monthly payment would decrease from $6,500 to $5,300! Or, put another way, if we continued the course of paying $6,500/month, then we will be done with our loans in 7.5 years! I don’t know about you, but both perspectives are extremely exciting and extremely enticing.

I have spoken about us paying down $84,000 towards my student debt of $550k+ in the past year. Initially, we didn’t know at the start of our journey whether we would be able to make the large monthly payments. We wanted to try it out, but were afraid that we would not be able to support the lifestyle we want and still have enough for the loan amount. What we found was that we were able to alter our lifestyle in order to make our payments, and our lives have much improved from it. After one year, we are extremely confident that this is the path we want to take, and that we can do this! We are no longer afraid of the what-ifs and are ready to take a leap of faith (in ourselves) and just turn our backs on student loan forgiveness for good!

So what happens if some life event occurs that dramatically impacts our finances? We haven’t forgotten about the possibility of one of us losing a job, or a natural disaster happening, or a family emergency occurring, although cross our fingers, legs, toes and arms that none of these ever come to fruition. But we HAVE thought through a series of possibilities that could help us in such scenarios.

  1. Have an emergency fund. Over the past year, we have built up an emergency fund that could support us for 2.5 months if one of us loses a job, or for a little under 2 months if both of us lost our jobs. We will continue to add to this emergency fund and over time, it should be a very big safety net for us (or it could help us pay down loans faster towards the end!)
  2. Make use of the lower monthly payments. There are TWO ways we could make use of the lower monthly payments. The first is to pay the $5,300 per month minimum payment, and stash the difference ($1,200) in the emergency fund every month. Although a viable plan, that isn’t the path we are going to take. The other is to continue paying $6,500 a month since we can support that payment, and plan to be done in over 7 years. Because we would be paying extra $$ a month, we would be paid ahead. Meaning, if something were to happen, we would have accounted for future payments already, and would likely have a buffer of time before we are back to our originally determined schedule.
  3. Rely on the loan’s forbearance policy. Loan companies want to get paid. If someone really cannot make payments, then the loan’s forbearance policy will temporarily allow non-payment for a set number of months. The interest will still accrue, but it is a back-up!

Luckily for us, our jobs are very flexible and we don’t really see ourselves without work for long periods of time, but you never know what the future may hold, and sometimes life gets out of control. So, yes, it IS still wildly scary for us to be doing this! Too risky for some. But I believe in our abilities and focus and determination. And we want to inspire other people to feel like they could be freed too.

How about you? Feel like this is too crazy a venture, or would you be willing to try too?

The Value of Having a Certified Financial Planner (CFP)

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

Today, I wanted to pose the question, “Is having a CFP right for you?” When I first graduated from dental school, I was absolutely lost. Along with the feelings of excitement and pride with my recent accomplishments came a subtle (but over-powering) dread, and a very heavy, invisible weight. I knew I needed guidance, but did not know who to reach out to. I did not exactly have adults in my life who could act as good financial role models (my long historical relationship with money detailed here), and there are very few people I know (outside of my fellow graduates) who really had the problem of paying down half a million dollars in student debt at 26 years old. So I reached out to Andrew Davis, the CFP behind SeamlessFP, who happened to be the husband of a dental classmate, and whose work focused on guiding newly-graduated dental students, specifically. I think it was the best decision we ever made.

On the flip side, there are people who would argue that CFPs are a waste of money, and that money could be used elsewhere. Which is a fair argument. I myself am a big fan of avoiding outsourcing tasks as much as possible. It will take a bit of work, but handling your own finances is totally a doable thing! However, it requires time, which I have value over money. Delving into research isn’t such a scary thought for me, but spending all my free time learning the nuances of taxes, S corporations, estate planning, investments, and more is NOT an enticing thought. So what I want to discuss today is the value of having a CFP to us, and then I leave the decisions to you.

The value of having a CFP

The list of pros for having a CFP versus not having one is quite long, which is a good thing!

  • Pro: Outsource financial planning to free up time, in order to pursue interests, hobbies, work, etc.

As mentioned before, outsourcing financial planning frees up a lot of our time. Time is a resource scarcer than money in the modern world. People seem to always be running out of it, but are still quick to occupy it with tasks, necessary or otherwise. When you think about how much your time is worth, in dollars, can you really put a price to it? Time is the one thing you are constantly running out of, and will never be able to replenish, making it an extremely valuable resource. Being intentional with the tasks I choose to occupy my time is very important to me. Spiritual uplifting, emotional replenishing, mental healing, these are the things that matter and make it a life worth living. NOT constantly worrying, thinking, and dealing with money.

  • Pro: Peace of mind that we are hitting our financial goals in a very step-by-step (and legal) manner.

This is for the DIYers out there. I am a lover of DIY projects and take pride in my ability to be self-sufficient. However, no matter how much of my free time I put into studying the nuances of finances, I cannot possibly keep up to date with the ever-changing rules and regulations. Mike used to do his own taxes with TurboTax and that worked sufficiently well, but once we got married, added in an S-Corporation with its own separate payrolls, well things got too complicated. We started asking ourselves, “How do we know we are following all the rules? How do we know about the fine-print clauses that benefit us? Who will be flagging our attention with every change?” A financial planner gives us peace of mind, knowing that we are on track to hit our goals in a efficient (and legal) manner. There are many minute details that one could miss, but it makes us feel better knowing that we have someone else helping us with that.

  • Pro: Keep up to date with new changes.

The new Tax Bill that passed last year is a great example of this. Even now, nothing is quite set in stone as to how these changes will apply to us. By having a financial planner, we were alerted to the possible beneficial change for S Corporations in the upcoming year, something we would never have known, but definitely can impact our financial plan.

  • Pro: A resource for learning more.

This, by far, is the most beneficial to me. Andrew has been instrumental in educating us about our finances and different paths we can take to achieve financial freedom. He has recommended books, blogs, podcasts, and other resources. He was actually the one who introduced us to the FI community: a community dedicated to reaching financial independence by using life optimization “hacks”. We would not have gone so far on our financial road to freedom without life hacks such as co-housing, travel hacking, YNAB, and more!

Financial planning VS Investment Planning – What’s the difference?

It is important to differentiate between financial planning and investment planning. We do financial planning, which requires a long-term life plan, created by the marriage between our financial past and our dream futures. Our first meeting with Andrew was not something we expected to have. It began with a meeting dedicated wholly to gaining a deep understanding of our personalities, goals, and dreams. It almost felt like a therapy session, with questions such as, “If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you spend your time doing today?” Don’t let that deter you. I think that first meeting was essential to setting the foundation on which we created our entire plan. The process continues to be a constant reassessment of life. Initially, we listed our priorities as traveling, buying a house, yoga subscriptions, guitar lessons, sticking with loan repayment program, and working until we were 65 years old. Now our life still includes travel, but our goals have shifted to standard repayment, renting for the next few years, working less hours, being a blogger, opening a coffee shop, and early retirement from our lines of work, which would possibly lead us to newer lines of work. In this respect, Andrew acts as more than just a financial planner. He is a psychologist, therapist, educator, mediator between spouses, confidant, & friend. This is NOT to be confused with investment planning, where someone advises you where to invest your money. That is included with financial planning, but not the other way around.

The importance of being a fiduciary

A fiduciary requires that someone acts in the best interests of a client. It is important that your CFP is a fiduciary in all aspects. Conflicts arise when CFPs have affiliations with third parties that may sway their advice towards promoting something that benefits them. For example, a person can receive a profit for selling an affiliate insurance. The insurance may be great, however, that person has a motivating factor that would make him want to promote that particular insurance. Even though it can be beneficial for you to sign up with that insurance company, the decision was not completely unbiased. We did not even realize the importance of being a fiduciary until we learned the concept from Andrew himself. 

If you are not sure whether your CFP is a fiduciary, ask! Try to find a fiduciary in all aspects. You want to ensure that you are being treated fairly at all times. Do not be afraid to ask how they get compensated, so that you can truly see where they are getting their money. It may seem awkward to inquire about it, but it is your finances on the line.

What a CFP has done for us, so far

  • Budgeting Help: Our CFP introduced us to budgeting, setting up our YNAB budgeting tool, and helped us develop good budgeting habits. 
  • Analysis between two potential jobs: When Mike was considering making the move from one company to another, we needed help analyzing whether it was a reasonable financial move. It was not simply a comparison between the two different income, but also required factoring in 401k investment matching, health benefit options, life insurances, difference in commute, and level of interest in the line of work.
  • Investment Planning: He has given us advice on how to manage our 401k portfolios as well as given us other investment tips when we reach out for help. We retain full autonomy as to where we want to invest and how much, but having a third person to go over the pros and cons at each step has been helpful. 
  • Health Benefits: We needed help deciding on a health plan, and have chosen one that works well for us thanks to Andrew’s help. After an analysis of our options, an HSA option was also open to us, and we decided to take advantage of that privilege.
  • Renter’s Insurance: Prior to our new place, we did not have renter’s insurance. After seeing the benefits of having that extra coverage at a small monthly cost, we decided to sign up for one right away!
  • Connection to a CPA: Taxes for SCorps can be a bit tricky. A CPA is advised so as not to miss a thing. Initially, I was going to go with the same person my parents have used for years. But after an hour-long interview with him, it became clear to me that he did not know much about taxes as they applied to dentists specifically. He did not even know about the different student loan forgiveness programs, or how an SCorp can be used for tax deductions. It was useful to be referred to a CPA who frequently does taxes for dentists specifically.
  • Set up my SCORP: This was so beneficial to me! It is possible to create a corporation easily online, however, he walked me through the pros and cons of having an SCORP so that I could make an informed decision as to whether this is something I wanted to do. The application for the SCORP was easy but we did meet some humps along the way that he quickly helped me to resolve. 
  • Setting up Gusto and ways to automate my SCORP: Once the SCORP was set up, our CFP took care of creating an automated payroll for me. We use Gusto to manage my payroll, and once it was set up, he easily walked me through the different ways that we can keep track of the payroll via my SCORP. All I have to do is wait for my payments, the system takes care of the rest!
  • Introduction to financial life hacks: I learned tricks such as travel hacking from Andrew and it was he who introduced us to the FIRE and FI communities.
  • Analysis of student loan repayment options: This is the part about our finances that has most affected our lifestyle. He walked us through the different student loan forgiveness programs that we qualified for. After a thorough explanation of each, he created an extrapolation of our financial futures under each repayment option. By using physical numbers, we were able to predict the lifestyle changes associated with each student loan option. Once we had our budgeting in order, he brought to our attention that we were able to pay down student loans without the forgiveness program, thus saving us more than $100,000 in the long run, as well as buying our freedom 15 years earlier than planned. That decision itself was so life-altering for the better, and we would have never gotten to that point on our own. 

We personally benefit from SeamlessFP

Andrew Davis is the CFP behind SeamlessFP. He focuses on helping newly graduated dentists create a financial plan. He does work with non-dentists occasionally, or dentists who have been practicing for a long time. I only know this because we have referred people in those categories who now are working with him too.

There are multiple options one can choose when working with SeamlessFP. A person can do a one-time consultation in order to gain help on a particular goal or project, or they can choose the full life-planning package. We chose to do the latter option. I did not want help with simply setting up an SCORP. I wanted a more thorough analysis of all of our financial details. I was determined to tackle as many aspects as possible to optimize our financial situation. After every meeting, he will upload a list of tasks via an online portal to be completed. This is helpful for people who need someone to hold them accountable to ensure that they continue moving forward with their financial path. Together, we re-analyze continually to see what we can change to optimize even further. A yearly re-cap meeting is held as well, where we go over our dreams and goals for the future (5, 10, 25 years out) so that we aren’t dully following a pre-set path. Besides, a lot changes in a year!

What I like most is that he is eager to help clients learn more about their financial options and situations. It is clear that having his clients make their own decisions (given the facts) is important to him. I can ask him one question, and we will go over the entire topic in detail, prior to him answering my question just so that I know the reasoning behind his answer. It’s scarce to find that these days, and I wholly appreciate it.He may give suggestions but he really makes sure you know that ultimately, the choices are still completely yours to make. It’s easy to see that his goal is to help his clients find the happiness they seek, by eliminating financial stress from the equation. It also helps that he is very accessible via email or text. Typically, responses occur within one day. Additionally, if you choose the latter option, there is unlimited access. Anyone who knows me will easily tell you that I am the type to ask multiple questions, always in search of a deeper understanding of all things. So a CFP who embraces that is gold. Off course, you want to make sure that the CFP you choose is right for you, if it’s right at all. If you have any interest in learning more about our friend Andrew, you can easily set up a one-hour phone call to speak with him and see what services he can offer you and which package is best for what you are trying to achieve.

Overall, I just wanted to shed light on how a CFP has changed our life in this blog post. As always, you do you.

 

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!