Freedom: In Taking A Month Off When Owning Your Business

About a year ago, I heard of a man who worked for himself as a photographer. During Christmas time, his calendar for booking a photo shoot was entirely grayed out, indicating that there were no days available for last-minute holiday cards of procrastinators. At first, one would think, “Entirely booked for the holidays – he must be doing well!” Until one looked at the bottom right corner and saw an asterisked note.

“*We are accepting no bookings in the month of December in order to dedicate our time to our loved ones.”

To some, they may still come to the same conclusion. “He must be doing well to take THAT much time off.” But to others, myself included, a lightbulb flickers. An “Aha” forms quietly on the lips. And I think the inverse instead: “He’s got it all figured out, that which makes him well.”


R E :   M Y  T A K I N G   A   M O N T H   O F F 

In the month of June, I turn thirty years old, with my date of birth landing directly on Father’s Day, as it sometimes does. Life has been one crazy ride these last few months, and I thought to myself, why not take the month of June off?

Okay, not entirely, persay.

But my time has been disproportionately skewed towards my recent baking venture, and I have been looking for an opportunity to swing things back to a more balanced state. I’ve missed writing, and feel the loss of the introspection that only a year ago predominated my life. Plus, I also miss that slow lifestyle that has so rambunctiously sped up. I’ve quite made up my mind. I want to be like the photographer. I have my own bakery, and no one is requiring me to bake. In an effort to exit my twenties full of opportunity for moments of self-reflection and enter my thirties with half my wits about me, I have decided not to take any orders for Aero Bakery during my birthday month.

Off course, I will still be working as a dentist during part of my birthday month (we leave for a two-week trip to Alaska towards the end – how we get our flights for free here), and I will still continue helping Rye Goods bake off their bread and pastries. But with regards to my own business, I will close in observation of this life event, and in an effort to respect my mind and body which have both been craving time and space.

In addition, I have decided to quit the midnight shifts at Rye Goods after June and focus solely on Aero when I return in July. It was a difficult choice since both gave me so much happiness, but I had to choose between the two, or continue to deprive myself of the lifestyle which I have worked so hard to build. So, you see, I couldn’t keep both. I wished not to keep both. The choice ultimately came down to which one I had more control over, and Aero happened to be the winner. 


R E :   B U S I N E S S   O W N E R S   T A K I N G   A   M O N T H   O F F

I think it’s important to address the freedom in taking time off when owning your business. While it may seem straight-forward, unfortunately, the majority of business owners do not realize this freedom. As with most American dreams, less is not considered more. Closing a business (for a month or more, no less!) is considered business suicide. Taboo, almost. Many suffer from the feeling of, “No choice”. One simply doesn’t do it. Or at least, that’s how they want you to think.

Business owners experience a lot of pressure in competing with other business owners. Held prey to a scarcity mindset (you know, that sinking feeling that if someone else is getting a customer, you are, in turn, losing one), many owners fear taking the time off. In fact, they are less likely to take the time off than a person working for someone else.

I hope to remind you that it isn’t really the case.

It takes a whole lot of courage (and even more trust) in your abilities, or self-worth, or what-have-ye.

But it’s worth it.


R E :   F R E E D O M   I N   T A K I N G   A    M O N T H   O F F 

We talk a lot here about financial independence, and it is this freedom that this life affords.
The ability to say, “No, not today.”
The ability to walk away.
The confidence that it will be there for you when you return,
and if not, then you can build another.
Eventually, I want an entire life built around this freedom.
A simple one, free of debt, so that all I have to earn is the food I am going to eat.
I wish for a life’s work that is in my hands.
A job that we don’t depend on, because we don’t need to make money.
The ability to choose a different path, in an instant, without hesitation.
Eventually, I hope to work mostly for myself.
In fact, I hope to l i v e only for myself.
There. That’s better.


R E :   O W N I N G   A  (D E N T A L)   B U S I N E S S 

People in this space ask why I don’t own a dental practice, so that I may be free from my student debt sooner. But just as I refuse to work full-time as a dentist, I find that owning a practice gives up freedom now for freedom later, and the cost is too great.
I want to do work that is not dictated by money … nor insurances, nor patient wishes.
Currently, I counter-balance the need to fit into a box dictated by what is just, and good, and scientifically-proven, and paid for by insurance, and perceived by the patient, et cetera, with baking for myself, and myself alone. This is kind of where my life is headed. I wanted to be a dentist to be of use to people. I likely will not give up dentistry entirely any time soon, because I find that there is truth in my initial intention. But in dentistry, I cannot say with certainty that the end-product is truly my work. It’s manipulated by other people, factors, institutions, and the politics doesn’t allow for something more pure. It is because of this I do not own a dental business. And there is some pride in that.


R E : C A P

Regardless, looking forward to having a month sort-of-off. Looking forward to a lot of memory hashing and story-telling. Looking forward to, well, looking forward. My twenties were chalk full with life-affirming moments. I wish for my thirties to be filled with much the same. And much less ranting. As, I am sure, do you.

 

 

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?

Finance: Taking It Slow

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

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

Somewhere in the distance, a buzzer goes off.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“Where do you eat, In N Out?!?!”

Yeah, sometimes.

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

And he would be right.

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


How about shopping?”, he asked.

I don’t shop.

“You need to talk to my wife.”

I think she would hate me.

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


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

Frugal Challenge: Living On One Income

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

And that’s a problem.

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

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

Personal Finance First Step: Mastering the Budget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frugal Challenge: Gather Your Tribe

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

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

To which they probably thought, “Bitch.”

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

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

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

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

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

Option B

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

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

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

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

Option B

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

One Income Stream is Risky Business

There’s a recent happening at the Debtists’ residence that we have not yet spoken of. It’s one that I hope you consider heavily, and it emphasizes the risky business of relying on a single income stream. After revealing the going-on’s at our home, I sure hope it convinces you to re-think the way you look at yourself and your job, and to possibly start on this path towards adding side hustles to your resume in 2019. 


Real talk: A year and a half ago, Mr. Debtist pursued his dream job at a start up company working on electric vehicles. As with any start-up, there is risk involved, and one never quite knows if anything will come of it. Last year, we went through some difficult times with the company, and for a month or so, we didn’t know if there was any more growing left to be done. Luckily, they pulled through and at the beginning of this year, there was hope of moving forward.

Unfortunately, mid-October, we (and the rest of Mr. Debtist’s company) were blind-sighted by a turn of events that resulted in a laying off of 20% of the company, followed by a mandatory furloughing until further notice of anyone who joined in the last six months. A 50% cut on everyone’s salary was implemented, which is hardly the worst part. Last week, another wave of mandatory furloughs was issued, getting rid of all of Mr. Debtist’s friends at work, but one. All that’s left of Mr. Debtist’s team is him and two other mates. Now I am not ungrateful for the fact that he was kept on and still has a job, despite the 50% cut that he’s been working under the past two months. But it is a depressing thing, to see your company degrade, your co-workers leave, and your paycheck smaller than when you first graduated from college 8 years ago. I share this with you all to prove one thing: Having one income stream is risky business.


Sometimes, “what you do in your 9-5 is not as important as what you do in your 5-9”, my favorite quote from Side Hustle Nation’s Nick Loper. We need to stop thinking of ourselves as someone employed by a company who works in the 9-5. Rather, we need to start thinking of ourselves as entrepreneurs, who may be doing particular work from 9-5, but who are our own employers from the 5-9. Because we are our own employers, we are responsible for creating other income streams for ourselves outside of our 9-5. By doing so, we no longer remain dependent on a single job, or on an employer for that matter. Even if you own your own company and you work for yourself, you cannot assume that your single source of income will be there a year from now. You cannot assume that you’ll still be satisfied with the same work after a year. And who likes sticking to a job that they hate? We only have a limited number of days, and our lives have to reflect that. With other sources of income comes more freedom from any potentially unfavorable turn of events, and more power to call the shots as to what takes up your precious time. The minute you become an entrepreneur, you become your own person.

Even as a child, I knew deep down that I did not want to depend on anyone. In fact, I hated it when people told me what I could and couldn’t do. That’s just who I was. No one else but me gets to say how my life is going to be. I mean, should anyone else be given that right?! Here in this space, I write about ways in which we can live intentionally. Part of that requires ensuring that we are living for us. That our actions are shaped by neither our histories, nor our relationships. That we leave our own legacy behind, and not an empty shell of a life made busy with what other people thought defined our success, or worse, defined us.


For Mr. Debtist and I, we are absolutely lucky in the fact that we do not rely on one income stream. And I am not referring to the fact that we are a dual-income household. I would say that we are a hexi-income household, because we employ a number of different side-hustles to increase our income. And while we cannot necessarily replace our 9-5 jobs with the other income streams, we can stay afloat. We prove to ourselves that we can come up with something to replace it. We (hope to) inspire others to have the courage to make it work. If all of this jives with you, here are five income streams for myself that have helped offset the dramatic pay-cut. 

  • Work for 2 dental offices (and stay open-minded to help out fellow dentists in need at their offices). I work for two different dental offices in two cities about twenty five miles apart. One is three blocks from my home, the other is a five minute drive from my parents. Working for two offices gives me flexibility, but also, safety. Imagine one city suffering from a fire, or an office suffering from a sudden loss of staff. Dispersing my dependency between two offices that serves two different communities gives me a stronger sense of stability. Additionally, I have colleague dentists who occasionally message me and ask me to help out with their own private offices once in a while. If I have a day off, I am more than happy to work for them for that day, to help alleviate the work load or to give them time to take a vacation.
  • Act as landlord and rent out a room. We started this idea of co-housing in January of 2018. After having an emotional break-down over the stagnancy of our finances given the large student debt that we had to overcome (referring to myself, not the Mr. Debtist, regarding the debt AND the breakdown), we decided to co-house to alleviate some of the financial load, and more importantly, allllll of the stress. Another way of thinking of co-housing is as an additional income stream. Renting out a room in our home gives us an additional $700 a month! It’s actually the biggest thing that got us out of our stagnant stages (along with YNAB which helped us get our budget in order), and it was the best decision we ever made!  
  • Dog sit via Rover: This is a recent side hustle that I started to do and I think it has great potential. We do not have kids of our own, and while we love our toothless cat, we also enjoy the additional company of other pets, too (even though Theo may not). Dog sitting is a great side hustle because it does not add much to your plate. It is flexible in that you can create the timeline that works for your already existing schedule to feed and walk the dogs. For us, it is a great opportunity to play and love dogs who would otherwise be sitting in a kennel overnight. The dogs are welcome to sidle up by us on the couch during the day or on the bed at night. It gets us to go out on a walk three times a day, forcing us to exercise, but also giving us the opportunity to connect. With this side-hustle, I charge $30/night to dog sit, giving us the earning potential of an additional $900 per month. Via Rover, you can also choose to day sit, take dogs on a walk, check-in on someone’s pet, and more! You control your own calendar, making it easy to do without sacrificing your current obligations. For example, if you have a vacation planned, then you may block that day off from your availability. If you love pets as much as I do, then this is a great hustle to look into.
  • Use affiliate linking to generate income from the blog. This is fairly easy to do when you have an existing blog or social media platform. You can become an affiliate for a number of companies and help others by linking them to that company’s programs or services. Off course, I do not link to every company out there willy-nilly. I only choose companies that are in line with my lifestyle and my values. Most of the time, I have tried the product myself to verify that they make a good fit. For example, in an effort to help others who are attempting to wrangle their student debt, I have partnered with the following refinance companies (Laurel RoadELFICommon BondSofiSplash FinancialEarnestLendkey) to help people get lower interest rates on their loans. It’s a win-win situation, because I make financial independence, zero waste-living, and sustainable products easily accessible to my followers, and at the same time, I receive a small percentage commission from the companies I work with.
  • Take bread orders and sell bread loaves and croissants. Baking bread is like a science. If I am being honest, it took me quite a few experimental bakes before I even got to what I would consider edible bread. Eventually, I got to bread that was soft enough to digest, let alone bite into, but I still wasn’t satisfied. When I got into a bread baking habit, I wanted to improve my skills without wasting so much bread. A gal can only eat so many loaves in one sitting! So what I started to do was sell my bread to friends, family, and co-workers, which gave me the ability to practice honing in my skills without wasting resources. In return, they received fresh loaves of organic bread, without any preservatives of any kind, at a hugely discounted price. Even though I have stopped baking bread loaves every week once I developed a recipe that I was happy with, I occasionally still do get orders and requests. This isn’t to say that bread baking will replace our real 9-5 income. Rather, it’s to show you that you have hobbies and talents that people are willing to pay for. At absolutely no expense to you. Let’s say you love to read. Offer your services as an editor. Let’s say you like to cook. Sell your most popular meals to friends and family. Or better yet, start a blog and share your recipes with the world. If you like calligraphy, use the holidays or weddings as opportunities to make some income. If you own a camera, become a free-lance photographer on the side, starting with close friends and families to build a portfolio. Trust that you hold value , and share your interests and skills with others in a way only you know how.

We took over a $55,000 pay cut two months ago. But we aren’t going to quit. We will keep up the student loan payments and dig our way out of hyperdebt. We will flex those frugal muscles (a year of working out those frugal muscles has prepped us for this!). And we will not jump desperately to the next corporate job offer. We will stay afloat this crazy ocean ride. Why?? Because it is important (to us) to build a lifestyle by design. Part of that means that it is important to do meaningful work, however that’s defined by you. We knew the risk of a start-up company, but electric vehicles is what he wanted to do. He loves cars, and he believes strongly in a future of autonomous driving. Despite the unexpected turn of events, you don’t ever regret a decision like that. If you find yourself in a similar situation, I implore you to seriously think before you jump into the next job life throws your way. If it doesn’t align with your lifestyle or your values, why chain yourself up? 


We only have a limited number of days, and our lives have to reflect that (see paragraph 4).