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.

Related Posts

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.

Related Posts:

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).

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!

Related Posts:

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.

Related Posts:

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.

Related Posts:

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.