Multiple Generations Under One Roof With Financial Tortoise | Ep 186

Tae, from the Financial Tortoise, shares his money story from the perspective of the sandwich generation.

  • Tae and his wife realized that they had accumulated a total of $105,000 in student loan debt shortly after they got married. At that point, they found Dave Ramsey’s message and decided to focus on paying down their loans quickly. The couple was able to pay down $105,000 in student loan debt in three and a half years.
  • While paying down debt, the couple also started to develop good money habits. They started with a cash envelop system and then moved to a digital envelope system in order to take advantage of travel rewards.
  • Tae and his wife’s first money conversation happened after they were engaged. She approached him to share that she had $18,000 in student loans. He quickly assured her that was okay because he has $87,000 in his own student loans.
  • In Tae’s culture, the idea that the children will take care of their parents in retirement is very normal. The logic is that parents worked very hard to get their children to the college line, but beyond that, they would need to look after their parents at some point.
  • The decision to move in with Tae’s parents was first broached by Tae’s father. With a new baby on the way, it seemed like a mutually beneficial decision for Tae and his wife to move into the home and assume the financial responsibilities. Tae’s parents would be taken care of and they could help watch the new baby while Tae and his wife built their careers.
  • Living with your parents as you raise a family can be interesting. It is important to communicate with each other clearly and respect boundaries along the way. Find out what is important to the other person and do your best to be empathic.
  • Try to approach your parents about their finances in a nonjudgemental way. Instead, share your mistakes and work through their struggles as a team.

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Meet Tae

Jonathan: Hello, everyone. On today's episode, we're going to be speaking with Tae from financialtortoise.com, and we've got an interesting setup, and one that we realized we have overlooked.

In the several hundred episodes we have done up to this point, we have spent very little time talking about the “sandwich generation.” Now, some of you may be familiar with this term, and others are being introduced to it for the first time. But it's this idea that you find yourself with both kids and parents, and there is a possibility for many of you that you are responsible for both of their care in some capacity, hence the sandwich generation.

And so, I think that is going to pose us with an interest opportunity to probe Tae's own specific situation and what he has realized and analyzed about this. And really, as he's found a way to not just survive, being in the sandwich generation, but thriving.

I think it's going to be valuable for so many people in our audience who might, if not now, over the next several years, find themselves in a similar situation.

And, to help me with this, I have my cohost brad here with me, today. How you doing, buddy?

Brad: Hey, Jonathan. I'm doing quite well.

Yeah, I had the good fortune of meeting Tae at this past FinCon. And, in a conference like that, I meet hundreds of people. But, Tae was someone who I actually went back with and had multiple conversations with. He was just one of those guys that stuck out to me.

In one of those conversations, he mentioned, “Hey, I think this is an interesting topic. This sandwich generation is an interesting topic for ChooseFI that you really haven't discussed before.”

And, I think, for you and I, Jonathan, it's about expanding our horizons and expanding the horizons of our audience.

Tae mentioned that his family is of Korean descent. This concept of caring for your aging parents, not only maybe physically, but financially as well, is something that is deeply rooted in their culture.

Again, expanding horizons, that was just something that had never crossed my plate before, and I think it's something we really do need to bring to the audience because, undoubtedly, there is a significant percentage of the audience who is grappling with this, and, to have someone like Tae talk about it, I think, would be really valuable.

So, Tae, with that, welcome to the ChooseFI podcast.

Tae's Money Story

Jonathan: Tae, we're going to dive in and talk a little bit more about this concept of the sandwich generation, but I want to go back and discuss a little bit of your money story just because I know you and your wife actually paid off just about six figures in student loan debt in right around three years. I feel like anybody that has accomplished that feat has some tactics they'd like to share with the audience.

So, how did you even become aware of personal finance? Why did you prioritize this decision when so many people are willing just to make the minimum payments and let their student loans outlive them?

Tae: Yeah, so, just to start off with our personal finance journey. So it started out when my wife and I got married. We got married about nine years ago in 2011, and it was an interesting time because I just turned 30. I didn't think I really had a good understanding of any money management skills up to that point, so I think this is … I don't want to make a broad generalization, but what you see oftentimes with a lot of immigrant children.

So, my parents, they immigrated here. We came here in the '80s, and it's very typical of a lot of first-generation Asian parents; they start out with liquor stores, laundromats, a lot of those hourly jobs, and they sacrifice a lot so that their kids can have a career, a future here in the United States.

But, beyond college, beyond advice that you should go to college and have a career, there wasn't really much else they could provide in relation to money management.

So, I jumped into the career. I joined the army right after college. I did ROTC when I was in undergrad. And in my 20s, I had a good career, but I really didn't know how to manage my money.

I joke around how I write about personal finance today because I've made every money mistake there is possible. I've leased an expensive car. I've got expensive student loans. I didn't have a budget, any of those things.

When my wife and I got married, that was a wake-up call for both of us because we, combined, had about $105,000 of student loans that we realized after we'd gotten married. We've pretty much expended all of our savings on the wedding itself.

I joke around how I write about personal finance today because I've made every money mistake there is possible. I've leased an expensive car. I've got expensive student loans. I didn't have a budget, any of those things.

When my wife and I got married, that was a wake-up call for both of us because we, combined, had about $105,000 of student loans that we realized after we'd gotten married. We've pretty much expended all of our savings on the wedding itself.

For me, I think it was a realization that we were razor thin from any major catastrophe. If one of us lost our job, if an unexpected expense came up, then we didn't have any safety net whatsoever.

For me, I think it was a realization that we were razor thin from any major catastrophe. If one of us lost our job, if an unexpected expense came up, then we didn't have any safety net whatsoever.

Thankfully, one of our friends introduced us to … as you guys are familiar with Dave Ramsey, we went to one of his conferences, and he really helped to debunk a lot of the perceptions that I had about money, that in order to have good personal finance, you've got to make a lot of money; it doesn't matter about savings. It doesn't matter about budgeting, but you've just got to make a lot of money.

But, he really talks a lot about, “What's the car that you're driving? Do you have a budget? Do you have these loans?” So, it was a good wake up call for us. My wife and I, she uses this term called, “You got to get gazelle intense.”

So, we drank the Kool-Aid, and then for the next three-and-a-half years, we followed all of his advice to a T. We did the whole envelope system. He talks about, “If you don't have a good money management habit, you got to withdraw the money from the bank.”

So, I used actually go to the bank at the start of the month, get cash, put it into an envelope, label it, Tae's Envelope, of Food Envelope or Monica's Envelope. That's my wife's name. And, for a year, we did that just to build our money habits.

We didn't upgrade our cars. We kept our cars. We packed lunches to go to work. And so, for three-and-a-half years, we were like, “We've got to get rid of this debt.” So, three-and-a-half years after we got married, we were able to unload the $105,000 of student loans.

The unique aspect of our story, as you guys kind of mentioned is that … the unique aspect of our current situation after we'd get off the student loans is that we had kids and we also started cohabitating with my parents. So, right now, if you were to look at our family, we have three generations living under one household. We have our parents, who are in their 70s, my wife and I who are in our 30s, and our two little ones that are three and six years old, so, right now, we're one big happy family living under one household.

Jonathan: One very big, very happy family.

Building Money Habits

Brad: All right, Tae, so I wanted to ask you … you said something really interesting there about the envelope system. Now, when I've heard the envelope system before, it kind of seemed a little bit hokey to me, actually having physical envelopes and putting physical cash into it.

Jonathan: But, to be clear, he has only heard about the envelope system from me, so I may have misrepresented it.

Brad: That is entirely possible, entirely possible. You said, “Build our money habits. We built our money habits.” That is a brilliant way to look at it because, honestly, most people don't have money habits, or, worse, they have negative money habits.

So, talk me through where you guys were at this point. Place me in time. You graduate from, I think, both of you, graduate school, or, at least you from graduate school. You have $105,000 in student loan debt.

Did you start your jobs and start developing negative money habits, or did you find Dave Ramsey pretty quickly after you graduated from college?

Tae: Yeah, so, thankfully, both of us had jobs coming out of … my wife was graduating nursing school, and I just finished my MBA, so both of us had a new career that we were just starting.

We found Dave Ramsey literally a month after we got married. I remember talking to my wife about our current situation with the student loans, and we were like, “Okay, what are we going to do about this?” And, I just remember feeling distraught about it.

Thankfully, we found Dave Ramsey about a month after we got married, and that's when we were, “Okay, we got to start implementing a lot of these concepts into our lives because we can't let the student loan just be a hanging burden over our lives.”

Jonathan: Let me ask you a followup question.

You're building these money habits, but, before that, the assumption is that there were a lack of habits, right? Maybe we just spent what we made or think we were kind of drifting along. But now, we're intentionally building these money habits.

So, paying off $105K in three years is a pretty significant feat. We're looking at now talking about $30,000+, and, after tax savings, it's going … I'm just curious, for you guys, what had to change for you to be able to have the savings rate needed in order to be able to accomplish that gazelle-intense feat.

What had to get freed up? What did you cut? Where did you sacrifice?

Tae: So, what's interesting is that when you're looking at just doing your budgets now … it's a very straightforward concept, but I think what was lacking in our lives was the willingness to control our expenses.

But, I think more so, I think there was an element of: we live in, right now, southern California, Orange County. There is this expectation that you portray a certain lifestyle if you have a certain career or if you live in a certain place, and I think we were feeling that pressure after we graduated college, after we had our careers.

And, I think when we found Dave Ramsey, it was realizing that, “No, we shouldn't let other people's expectation … we shouldn't let the desire to show, express our success, that shouldn't be our primary driver.”

So, I think it was just more on the flipping around our mindset because the mechanics of actually doing the budgets and saving, it's very straightforward. It's all math, but I think the hard thing is really the mindset change.

So, I think it was just more on the flipping around our mindset because the mechanics of actually doing the budgets and saving, it's very straightforward. It's all math, but I think the hard thing is really the mindset change to say that, “Okay, for me, I'm getting my MBA,” as opposed to now, drive a certain type of car. But, to say that, “You know what, no. My priority is paying down this loan. I'm totally fine driving around our old Civic, and it's okay if people perceive that as, ‘Oh, you're not as successful.'”

So, I think it was more in, yes, there's those money saving habits such as doing the budgets, doing the envelope system, packing your lunch when you go to work, but I think it's more of the mindset change. That was really the biggest switch for us.

Jonathan: Yeah, that's interesting because I wonder … I guess now, I don't know if you guys are still using envelopes or not, but I wonder if there was a point of saying, “All right, the habit's in place. The envelope was just a tool. I don't really need to use envelopes, and what's next?”

Was there ever that point? Walk me through kind of where you guys took it from there once you had the habits in place.

Tae: Yeah, so, we did the whole cash envelope for about a year. And then, I think that helped us to say, “Okay, actually, develop a budget. Stick to a budget.” You know Jonathan, you talk about the recovering Dave Ramsey, once you discover the credit card hacking, so I appreciated that podcast. I've learned tons about credit card, the travel rewards since then.

But so, we realized after about a year of doing this, “Hey, not using a credit card and there's ts cashback or there's these travel rewards, is this … do we really have to follow this completely? Do we have to keep pulling out cash?”

Once we built a good habit, we actually are now using a app where it's kind of a similar concept, but it's a digital envelope. We put in a certain budget for ourselves at the beginning of the month, and then, end of the day, you just need to track how you're doing within your envelope, so we're using that, but thankfully, we're able to use credit cards so that we can save for travel rewards.

Paying Down Student Loans

Brad: So, Tae, I want to ask just mechanically now about paying off $105,000 in, you're saying, about three-and-a-half years. We're talking maybe 42 months or like, $2,500 a month, is what we're looking at.

Was this a straight line thing? Did you just send $2,500 every single month? Were there any inflection points where maybe you got a bonus or just did something unusual financially to expedite that? Talk me through the actual paying off process.

Tae: Yeah, so, it was pretty straightforward. I think you guys and your previous guests talked about refinancing. We just said, “Okay, we're going to just pay it off because we have this series of loans that we have to pay off,” so we came up with a budget, and then, yeah, you're right. We were targeting, every single month, about $3,000 we were going to send off to pay off the student loans.

And, there were times as we were going through this process where life happened. We had our first child about two years in, so that reduced our income, but I think the key was you just got to focus on the next payment. You got to focus on what the next step is.

So, Dave Ramsey talk about this concept of debt snowball where you list out your loans from the smallest to largest. What you do is you pay off the smallest first and it gives you that motivation to move onto the next.

We followed that to the T, so I would actually list out all of our student loans from the smallest to the largest, and I would target $3,000 every single month; we're going to pay it off. We're going to pay it towards this loan, and as soon as that top loan was paid off, we would cross it off and we would move to the next one and the next one and the next one.

So, it was pretty straightforward. Of course, you hear terms about how you always overestimate what you can do in the short-term and underestimate what you can do in the long term, so this was a typical case of that where I didn't think we were saying we were going to pay it off by end of this date. It was more like, “How much can we squeeze out of our budget every single month to pay off this loan?”

And then, life happens in between, so there were times when we couldn't put $3,000, but we could put $2,000. Don't lose hope. Just keep pouring into it, and then, I think, eventually, you get to a point where, yeah, we were like, “Oh my goodness, we only have this much left,” so we sent off the final payment and then that was done.

Jonathan: That's amazing. That's amazing. Then you end up with that cashflow that's suddenly available that, this entire time, has just been sucked up.

But, I mean, I remember when I, similar story: it was four years, 168K for me and it was just like, “Lean in.” I never regretted sending extra to my student loans. It wasn't fun, but I would immediately start gaming out when I could send that next payment.

It's like, keep that tunnel vision as long as possible because life's going to come at you. Something's going to get in the way, but if you can string together a few of those massive payments or even what you can, if you had a spreadsheet mapped out, you could actually see how your life was getting less expensive in the process.

You could look at that daily interest calculation, which is so absurd when you're up in your six figures coming up down just a little bit at a time.

It's interesting to think about. So, for me, the debt snowball is really good when you're talking about $100, $200 type small consumer debtish items. Or, you could just quickly not that small one out and roll it over regardless of interest rate, just smallest balance, tee it on up.

When you're talking about student loans, sometimes, you're talking about $10,000 over here and $20,000 over there and 30 or 40 or 50 or whatever, and, sometimes, the interest rate difference can really be big and it can take you six or seven or eight months to pay off that smallest balance since you have to maintain the minimum on the others, anyways.

You're like, “Man, that interest is accruing. The margin between the two on the one and the other is kind of painful.” I didn't like that. It didn't sit right with me.

I had two options: one, just look at the interest rate, but I wasn't crazy about that solution either in this case, so I just consolidated all of them so I had one fixed target to your point. And then, I was like, “Well, I like the consolidation rate. I got my plan. I'm going to work the plan.”

But, I'm curious, in your case, your thoughts now, looking back. You paid it off, first of all, so there's no real downside, here. But, debt snowball versus avalanche: was it truly the psychological benefits of getting that one done and rolling it forward, for you?

Tae: Yeah, because it's so overwhelming, right, when you think about it. You talk about your debt of $168,000 in your case, or $105,000 in our case. It's just so overwhelming when you look at it, that I think what the debt snowballs helps, it breaks it down into achievable goals. Then, it's that momentum.

You talk about your debt of $168,000 in your case, or $105,000 in our case. It's just so overwhelming when you look at it, that I think what the debt snowballs helps, it breaks it down into achievable goals. Then, it's that momentum.

A lot of times, personal finance, the numbers are very straightforward. The mechanics are very straightforward, but the hardest part is the emotional part of just, “How do I keep going? How do I save? How do I invest? How do I keep on going and paying this debt down without losing heart?”

A lot of times, personal finance, the numbers are very straightforward. The mechanics are very straightforward, but the hardest part is the emotional part of just, “How do I keep going? How do I save? How do I invest? How do I keep on going and paying this debt down without losing heart?”

So, I think that's what really helped, my wife and I being able to jointly list out our student loans and then saying, “Okay, we're in this together.” Funny thing about how my wife discovered my student loans: we figured out once we add up all the numbers that we had $105,000.

I remember a couple months after we got engaged, my wife approached me and said, “Hey, honey, I have something I've got to tell you,” so red flags go up. I'm like, “Oh my goodness, do you have a kid somewhere? Have you been married before?” She's like, “I have this student loan. It's a $18,000.” I remember looking at her and being like, “Haha, don't worry. I see your $18,000. Let me show you my $87,000 that I have.”

Relationships And Money

Jonathan: You didn't have that conversation ahead of time?

Tae: Yeah, yeah. She jokes around today how, you know, “Did you marry me because I had a job and I could pay off your student loans?” I'm like, “No, honey, this is something we do together. We paid off your student loans and you helped paid off mine even though you did bulk of the work.”

Brad: That's wild. Okay, so there's something more here. Did you guys … you never had a conversation about student loans, about personal finance, about any of that before, while you were dating, or even up to that point when you were engaged?

Tae: I think the concept of talking about money, it's very taboo, and I think the culture that I grew up in, I'm not sure if it's the immigrant, second-generation Asian American where what was passed onto us was, “Hey, go get a college degree. Get a good job and you're fine.”

Success is really, they perceive that as, “Hey, I see people who don't have to work in this laundromat. They have a white-collar job. They're driving nice cars. They have homes. That's success. I want you to pursue that. That's the American dream.”

So, for us, they didn't know anything about 401ks. They worked hard to give us a future, but the best they could take us was literally to the college line and said, “Okay, from that point on, you guys need to figure it out.”

So, both my wife and I, I think we got to that point where we were jumping into a good career. We're jumping into adult life, but we really didn't have that good money foundation. We didn't even know how to have a conversation.

We didn't know that, “Hey, let's talk about our student loans. Let's talk about budgets. Let's talk about how we're going to save, what our financial goal is.” These are the money habits I think we were forced to develop by the student loans. We even joke around how, in a way, the student loan, the $105,000 was a curse, but, at the same time, a blessing because it really kept us from inflating our lifestyle into that next level and forced us, from the start of our career, know, this is something that we've got to really develop.

Brad: So, Tae, obviously, you're kind of joking there of, “I see your 18 and I quintuple it,” but what did that conversation actually look like?

This was the first of these money conversations. Do you remember it? Were there some nerves on your part of, “Oh, man, I think I've got to tell her about my student loans, now.” Did it come out right away? Talk me through that actual conversation.

Tae: Yeah, so, thankfully, my wife was very understanding. I don't know if both of us were … it's more out of ignorance of: we didn't really understand the total implication of having the student loan.

But, I would say, for us, both my wife and I, it's been a journey that we've gone together. Both of us didn't … because we start out with not having good money habits or not even understanding what a good money habit was, this whole journey, I think we've learned together.

I mean, to be honest, I think there wasn't my wife like, “You deceived me.” It was more like, “Okay, what are we going to do about this?”

The Sandwich Generation

Jonathan: So, Tae, what stood out to me as you were sharing that backstory there is you said, “My parents could get us to that college line,” but that's where, at that point, it's on us, and they sacrificed, and they sacrificed, and they worked incredible hours and they leaned in to give you this opportunity.

I think that really sets us up to now really have an understanding for this conversation that we're going to be getting into and talk a little bit about this responsibility or expectation or whatever it is where, at some point, the parent has sacrificed everything to give the child maybe the opportunities they didn't have.

But, now the child's an adult, and, at some point, that adult will then be looking out for them or taking care of them. I'm wondering if you could provide some contextual basis for this standard of living, this expectation, and then also, what your experience was.

Tae: Yeah, so, I think, broadly, there's in Asian culture … Brad, you mentioned earlier I'm of Korean ethnicity, so my family immigrated from Korea in the late '80s.

If you look at Korea, historically, the concept of the younger generation taking care of the elderly was always normal. If you think about retirement age or even social security, the government providing a plan for retirement, it didn't exist until the modern times.

So, if you look at a lot of Asian cultures, especially in Korea, it was normal that the retirement plan for the parents was something that the younger generation would take care of. And, with my parents and I, we never really directly spoke about it, but we used to joke around with all of our other friends saying, “Hey, when our parents get old, we'll have to take care of them, right?”

Their retirement plan is us. I think there was this subconscious kind of expectation to that, “Hey, we're going to help you towards the college line, but, eventually, it's going to come a point where you're going to have to be our retirement plan.”

Jonathan: So, I think that's kind of it, right? Your parents got you to the college line, and, for a period of time, you're off in the wild, right? You're getting the degree. You're getting the job, marriage, children.

But, at some point … and, I don't know if the timeline's perfect there in terms of how I laid it out. But, at some point, the time has come. We need to start having those conversations. How did those conversations start, and then what happened next?

Deciding To Move Home

Tae: Yeah, so, it happened. The trigger point for us was when our wife was pregnant with our first. I think, similar to a lot of young parents who were about to bring a new child into this world, the number one debate you have is, “What do we do about child care?”

We went through the list of, “Okay, do one of us go part-time? Do we stay home to watch the baby or do we try to get an in-house nanny?” But, we knew how expensive an in-house nanny was. Or, “Do we take our infant and put him at a local daycare?” This was the question that my wife and I were grappling with when my wife was pregnant, and it was actually my dad who approached us and said, “Hey, have you thought about … what do you think about us all living together?”

What they proposed was, “Hey, we currently have a home, right now. If you guys were to come in and take over the mortgage and all the related costs,” it would reduce their overhead cost, which would help in their current financial situation.

But, for us, we would get a built-in nanny. My mother could help out with the early stages of our baby that she can help so that one of us wouldn't have to go part-time or quit our jobs and we can continue to focus in our careers.

So, it was this mutually beneficial proposal that my dad made, and, I think, for my wife and I, we were reluctant because, Jonathan, as you mentioned, we'd been in the wild. We'd been building our money habits, building our careers. I think the standard story is that we follow that pathway and we get the house. We get the 2.5 kids.

Jonathan: 2.5!

Tae: We get the white picket fence house and you build that American dream. So, for us, we had to pause and think about it, but that was seven years ago, and now we've been living together seven years, as I mentioned earlier. We have three generations living all under one household.

Brad: Wow. So, you used the word proposal that your dad passed this. I got a kick out of that. From this proposal point to the point where you and your wife said, “Okay, this is what we want to do moving forward for our family, our nuclear family,” what's the timeline? What were the conversations between you and your wife and you and your parents? How did this evolve? Really talk me through that, because this is fascinating to me.

Tae: Yes, like I mentioned, I think the trigger point for us was we were at a dilemma. We had to figure out childcare. I think all young parents go through that, “What do we do if our baby is born? The family leave is only for a certain time.” I think that's what triggered the conversation.

My wife and I, we went home and we thought about it, and we didn't really think it was going to be a long-term play, but it was more like, “Okay, we are just starting our careers. We both want to continue to invest in our careers, and there's this offer. I think we will need to work through certain things, definitely.” The last time I lived with my parents was when I was in my teens. When I left, I vowed that I would never come back home.

But then, I'm here in my early 30s saying, “Okay, time to live with Mom, again? How is this going to work out?” But, we decided that I think it would be mutually beneficial for both of us that it would not only help us with our childcare issue, but that it would help them with their financial overhead. They were in their late 60s at the time.

So, we went home, and then we only had a certain time. We wanted to be in a place where we could provide childcare as soon as the baby was born. I think this was maybe three, four months before the birth. We got all of our logistics ready, got everything moved, and then, yeah, we went from there.

Brad: Wow. Tae, what was your living situation immediately prior to that? Were you in an apartment?

Tae Kim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Brad: You said logistics. Were you able to end your lease, break a … what did that look like? You're in Southern California. Talk me through the economics of what your living situation cost previously versus, now, assuming this mortgage or whatever that boiled down to?

Tae: We were living in a city called Long Beach, which is about 30 minutes away from where we're currently living right now. We're living in a city called Buena Park, which is in Orange County.

So, we were living in a … right after my wife and I married, we moved into an apartment. When you're living in an apartment … I think we were living in a two-bedroom, maybe paying $1,600-1,700. So then, when we assumed the mortgage, I think the total cost, including all the associative cost was probably between $2,500-$3,000.

So, going back to when we were paying down our debt, this was one of those factors that we didn't anticipate that our expenses would go up, but we had to factor it in and then just … not losing the momentum but just keep on going even if we have to reduce the payment that we're making to our student loan.

Brad: You've mentioned, “Assume the mortgage,” a couple times, now. Are you the owner of the house? Did you purchase it from them or do you just basically make the payment for them every month? Talk me through how that works.

Tae: Yeah, so, when we moved in, we decided to refinance the home. And then, we started out with actually having a joint ownership. My mother's name was still on the deed, and then my wife and our name was placed on there.

So, it's jointly owned, but with assumption that we would cover the mortgage and all the associated cost.

Jonathan: So, there's actually two different ways that I want to go with this conversation.

One is from an immigrant perspective, specifically, and maybe recognizing there's people all around the world that are listening to this. I definitely want to spend some time talking about what preparations people on the path to Ffinancial Independence should be keeping in mind if they feel or know that they're going to have a significant burden to make sure they can take care of, not just physically or emotionally, but, rather, financially, their parents. That's the one end. I'm just kind of curious what you guys, what council you would give, there.

But then, two … and, maybe we can start with two in this case. What does it look like living with your parents? You talked about it before. You said, “We're going to have to work through some issues. I'm going to go live with Mom, again. I haven't lived with Mom since I've been in my teens.”

Who's in the master bedroom? What are the emotional issues, the time challenges that come with this? How did this actually manifest? What did you have to work through once you moved back in?

Tae: Yeah, there's a lot there. I'll give you an interesting, well, funny story when we first moved in. This is kind of give you guys context about the generational perception difference. Here, it's actually a cultural difference, as well.

My father, he grew up in the post-Korean war where, when a child is being born, the man is not really around. My mother actually had to give birth to my sister at home, and my dad, I think, saw her a week after. And, even when I was born, I think he saw me a week after. Even when the wife is giving birth, it's culturally … back in the days. This is not now, but the men are just not around.

I remember this is after we started living together, and my wife tells me, “Hey, it's time. We got to go to the hospital. I'm about to give birth.” So, of course, as a good husband, I grabbed the to-go bag. We're about to go out of the house, and my dad's in the living room and he looks at me, and he's watching the Dodgers, and he's like, “Hey, where are you going?”

And I'm like, “Oh my goodness.” I looked at my wife. She looked at me and I was like, “Just keep going, honey. Just keep going. It's all right.” I remember to this day, she still talks about, “You remember that day when I was about to give birth to his grandchild and he was like, ‘Where's your husband going?'”

Jonathan: The Dodgers are on!

Tae: Come, watch the Dodgers with me. Your wife, she's doing all the work. Where do you have to go?

So, that's just an example of … that's an extreme example, but it's … I think the biggest challenge that we've had to work through is just recognizing this generational difference, especially when it comes to child-rearing practice. It's already hard enough being a first-time parent, knowing how to raise a child.

But then, it's never good when you get unsolicited child-rearing advice, especially from your in-laws, from my wife's perspective. I think just navigating the generational perspective … space challenge is another one.

We joke around how our kitchen is the battleground. We already say, “Hey, where's the scissor? Who placed the scissor? Why can't it be in the same drawer every time?”

I come home and I always know there's a bit of a tension because I can see my wife after I come back from work and I see that look like, “Do you know what your mother did today?”

Jonathan: Brad, have you ever seen that look?

Brad: Yeah, once or twice.

Tae: And I'm just like, “All right, I'm sorry.” I'm caught in between Mom and my wife. I just want everyone to be happy, so I think those are just, high level, some of the challenges.

The Surprising Benefits Of Moving In

Jonathan: I think all of us, at some point in our lives, have lived a variation of that. Yours just happens to be every day. I'm sure there's more, there. I'm sure you could offer some advice having now survived this for seven years. You could probably give us some best practices. We probably want to have that conversation.

I was, in particular, curious about the other side of it, too, though. Having now done this for seven years, maybe the surprising benefits … yes, free childcare, I get it. I get it, but maybe what you didn't anticipate or were excited to find out, or that you can reflect back on and say, “You know what? I would have never thought how good this could be in this regard.”

Tae: Yeah, so, to start out with, the unexpected benefits: when we first started living together, of course, we didn't have kids. Then, as we started living together, our family grew. We had our son, who's now six years old, and then our daughter, who's now three years old.

I think the biggest benefit I've seen is really the exposure of my kids to another set of loving grandparents on a daily basis. Grandparents … my parents are in their 70s. They live life. They have a certain pace in which they approach, and they have a certain perception they have of the world, a much broader, wiser perspective.

I think, for us, we were very grateful as we were struggling to be first-time parents, to have my parents be able to continue to love on our kids and then be able to express their patience and wisdom upon them, a lot of times when we weren't able to. So, I think that was a huge benefit that we didn't really foresee when we first started living together.

And then, the other side with my parents … I know I've spoken to my dad about how having the young kids around, having young grandchildren around really makes them feel young when you have young kids running around everywhere and wanting to spend time with grandparents, that energy, you can't help. It just permeates towards them, too.

Some of the other benefits: I think I talked about the Dodgers story, how there's this generational difference, cultural difference. But, in order to make any relationship work, you really have to build your empathy.

I think that was the other aspect that we didn't anticipate was our own personal character, so learning to try to put ourselves in their shoes.

If they feel like … I can give an example about, let's say, food. We grew up in a generation where there is abundant food. After we have some leftovers, we're like, “Hey, we don't really want to eat this and we're going to throw it away.”

With my mom, she's like, “No, we never throw away food.” I remember getting into some discussions around that, like why was she so emotionally charged? And, we had to constantly say, “Okay, what's the generation that she grew up in? Let's put ourselves in her shoes.”

I think, for us, it just really broadened our character to be able to say, “Okay, not everything is going to be based upon our perspective. But then, in order for us to live together, we have to understand where they're coming from,” so I think it forced us to really build our character in that way.

Communication Tips

Brad: Tae, communication is important, obviously, in any relationship, but we're talking about these differences, generational, cultural differences. I would imagine that heightens the need for communication.

And I'd love for you to talk through: do you have any type of process for bringing up some type of contested issues or things that you want to talk about? These are your parents. How do you go about that?

Tae: Yeah, so, it's a delicate balance of recognizing what's important to us, but, at the same time, as I mentioned earlier, having empathy like what's important to them.

So, I think every time there is a tension point, we have to kind of step back and realize, “Why do my parents feel so strongly about this?” So, for example, let's say, at the kitchen, we're okay with throwing away leftover food, but they're not. They want to make sure that, “Hey, we grew up in a generation where we don't throw away food, not even a single grain of rice.”

So, I think, for us, stepping back and saying, “Okay, is this even a battle worth fighting? Because, they value it so much.” And then, therein vice versa, there are things that they don't really care-

Jonathan: “We will die on this hill.”

Tae: Yeah, like, “Do I want to die on this hill?” Probably not.

I wouldn't say we have a defined process, but I think as regards to communication, it's very important to be clear.

I wouldn't say we have a defined process, but I think as regards to communication, it's very important to be clear. I think one of the things we did up front: I talk about boundaries, having physical boundaries in the house as regards to, “Okay, this room is Grandpa's room.”

It's very different from when I was a teenager; you can just barge into your parents' room and they can barge into yours. But now, as adults, being very clear about, “Let's be mutually respectful and let's not barge into each other's room or let's not go into each other's room if we don't have to.”

I think as regards to communication, the key component is being very clear with what's important to you, and then, at the same time, asking them what is important to them so then we can value that.

Talking To Your Parents About Finances

Jonathan: We're kind of spending this week, both this episode going out on Monday, but also on Friday, talking about communication with parents. We're talking it now in terms of cohabitation, but also in the context of finances.

Your parents' retirement plan directly involves you, and many people may feel that that mirrors their own situation, and many people that may not feel that it mirrors exactly realize that, at some point, they're going to need to have conversations with their parents about money. And you've probably been forced to have a variation of this conversation much sooner than many of our listeners.

I'm curious: when did those conversations begin and what were the best practices that you found around uncovering what their financial plan was and then figuring out how you could best support them without putting an undue burden on your own plans for Financial Independence?

Tae: Yeah, so, I would approach it in two parts.

I think one of the reasons why I love the Financial Independence movement — I am a firm believer that everyone needs to pursue Financial Independence. It just makes sense — is that it's hard to have a conversation with your parents until you, yourself are in a decent financial position because, as I was growing about money, there was a lot of insecurities that I had to work through because I didn't want to think about it. I didn't want to talk about it because I had a sense of insecurity. I didn't know how to approach it.

So, I think when I found Dave Ramsey and I found you guys, as I developed my own financial acumen and as we paid off our loans and we became financially stronger, I think we felt more confident about being able to talk about our finances. Because I think it's hard to talk to anybody about finances if you are still at a point of vulnerability or insecurity.

So I think it's the same thing with parents that I was able to have a conversation with my parents because we went through this debt pay-down journey, and then we were able to build good financial habits. And then, without judging, without making them feel belittled, I could have a conversation about, “Okay, we went through the struggle. How can we have this conversation about where your finances are at?”

So then, I think when you're talking about the details about what we discussed, I think, for us, thankfully, it happened a little more naturally. There was a shift in our relationship once we started living together and we assumed most of the housing cost.

I think my parents, in their mind, started to lean towards us as regards to the responsibility of, “Okay, you guys are adults, now. We're all living in the same household and you guys are making certain decisions in behalf of the family. That's going to be beneficial for all of us.”

So, I think there was this natural shift as they started to look at us as adults who are making these major financial decisions. They were more open about what they had, which bank accounts they had or what savings they had.

The other context is: with my parents, they're your typical first-generation immigrants. They didn't know anything about 401ks. I think their savings was really just what was in the house and then whatever they had in checking accounts, so it was something that I kind of knew, growing up.

It wasn't really a tension point for us, but I think when we had a shift in the dynamics of the relationship as we're going to take on this role of making the financial decision for this household, I think those conversations happened more naturally.

Making Financial Decisions For Your Parents

Jonathan: So, Tae, I want to talk a little bit about the financial picture, how this has affected you and your family. I think there's probably something interesting here because I recognize that there are so many individuals that come from immigrant families, that have parents that are in a similar situation, that are contemplating this. Your input is invaluable.

Brad and I could never comment on this with any authority, so thank you. But, I think what our audience really wants to know now, first and foremost, is who did get the master bedroom?

Tae: So, my parents were gracious enough to give us the master bedroom. I think, like what I was alluding to earlier, it was interesting because it was a shift in dynamics for them to recognize that, “Hey, you guys are going to need to take the lead on a lot of these financial decisions going forward, so we're going to give you guys the master bedroom as a symbolic gesture to say that you guys, now that you have the master bedroom, you have to own all of the financial decisions. That's going to impact all of us.”

Jonathan: Now, you just mentioned financial decisions. That's actually an important point, here. I want to reflect on this with you how living with your parents has actually affected your financial situation and theirs. Your parents, they are now past their peak earning years. That's kind of locked down. They're in their 70s. They worked their tails off, incredible work ethic to provide for you, but now that's kind of … here in the states, we do have social security. Is it accurate to say that their primary source of income is their social security checks?

Tae: Yes, so, thankfully, they're getting social security from the years that they worked in the past. Right now, our financial situation with them is they started collecting for security a few years back. I think it ranges from about $1,000 to $1,500.

So, when you look at it from just a need-based, when you subtract out the need to cover overhead costs or transportation costs, then it's enough for them to manage their lives on a monthly basis. Their social security is enough so they don't have to worry about the other expenses.

Jonathan: And, on your end, you are covering a mortgage that maybe you would not have picked. This may not be the exact house you would have picked in the exact neighborhood you would have picked. But, on the other end of that, your childcare costs are substantially less than you would have otherwise.

But, as your parents get older and need more care … I think your dad has some level of physical therapy that's involved, currently. As you get older, you do have increasing healthcare related needs. How does that pan out? Do parents stay with you forever? Is there any thought there in terms of how that works out, culturally?

Tae: That is the question that my wife and I ask ourselves all the time.

One of the reasons why both my wife and I, we really appreciate the ChooseFI and the whole FI movement itself, is that I think it gave us a framework in how to approach the next phase of our lives.

As regards to our parents, it's biological, right? All of us, we're going to get to a point where we're going to need more healthcare, and I think, for us, by pursing FI, we want to pursue FI because we want to have options. We want to travel. We want to spend more time with the family.

But we also want to … if my parents were to get sick or if they need more longterm care, we have the ability to be able to step away from our career, finances not being a factor in the decision and be able to spend more time with them.

Tae: So, just to give you context, where both my wife and I saw this firsthand was: about a year into our marriage, my wife, her grandmother, she was about 92, was diagnosed with lung cancer.

My wife, being in Southern California, her father and her uncles were kind of spread around the world. She became the primary person who had to liaise with the physician and take her to the emergency room.

Of course, me, I was the son-in-law, or the grandson-in-law, so I just was a third-party driver, and I saw this from a third-person perspective, and it was interesting because when she was diagnosed with lung cancer, there's a lot of emotions flying, and what I saw was that the uncles weren't able to quickly be at her side, a lot of them because of the financial situation.They couldn't take time off from their jobs because they were financially obligated.

Seeing this … and, my wife, because she was 26 at the time, she still had some flexibility with her work, became the primary person that had to sign all the paperwork, and she actually was the person that … I'm not sure what it's called, but she was the one that had the medical directive to pull the plug.

And she still talks about it to this day like, “Oh my gosh, should I have said that? Should I have recommended that? Did I make the right decision?” And, I remember just that emotional turmoil of the family. It's already hard enough knowing that someone that you love is about to pass away, and you want to be at their side.

But then, because of finances, you're not able to. I remember thinking that if time comes … it's going to happen to all of us, even us and our parents that they're going to need more care. And I think we want to pursue FI because, of course, the normal reasons of wanting to travel, wanting to spend more time with the family.

But then, if push comes to shove and if one of our parents really need us next to them, finance is not a factor and we can focus on them instead of having to focus on the money.

The Hot Seat

Jonathan: Tae, thank you for sharing your insight with us. I think you're adding some perspective here for people in the audience that know this is coming, but haven't given themselves permission to explore what this would actually look like. I think there's a lot of value here to being able to get in front of this and start to have these conversations or start to at least plan for the conversations when they come.

On most shows, that would be the end of the episode. But, Tae, on this show, we would love to give you the chance to tackle the hot seat. Are you ready for this?

Tae: Yes.

Brad: All right, Tae, question one: what is your favorite blog, podcast or book of all time?

Tae: So, if I may, I have a couple. Of course, podcasts, I think ChooseFI. I really appreciate you guys putting things together. I think, right after Dave Ramsey, it really helped to frame the next phase of our financial life, so, ChooseFI, I would say, is my favorite podcast.

Book, I really like Jim Collins' A Simple Path to Wealth. I think that's one of the best investing books there is. End of the day, you walk away saying, “VTSAX,” right? It's so simple but so straightforward. Really love that book.

Then, I think for people who are just wanting to get their financial houses in order, if they don't really have a good foundation, I would recommend Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover.

Jonathan: Awesome, all right, question number two: an inflection point in your life that was especially memorable or meaningful.

Tae: Yeah, so, I would say, from a financial perspective, when we found Dave Ramsey right after we got married. And then, my wife and I, when we found ChooseFI a couple years after we paid off our student loans.

Jonathan: That's awesome.

Brad: All right, question number three, your favorite life hack.

Tae: Yes, my favorite life hack is, I would say, the meal prep. I have an article that I wrote about this on my blog, but for the last eight years, I've tried to perfect the perfect meal prep.

Jonathan: Oh, really, the perfect meal prep?

Tae: The perfect meal prep where it's both convenient; it's health. It's affordable, so I've been able to get the formula down to about … the lowest, I was able to get it down to about $1.17 per meal.

Jonathan: Oh my goodness, does it have quinoa in it?

Tae: No quinoa, but rice. Since, then, since we paid our loans, I upgraded chicken, so now it's about $2 per meal, but-

Jonathan: Nice.

Brad: Nice.

Jonathan: All right, we'll have that linked up in the show notes for the episode. That's awesome. Question number four: your biggest financial mistake.

Tae: I would say it's the $87,000 in student loans. I think when I was in grad school, I looked at student loans kind of like monopoly money, not as real money, so this perception that, you know, one day, when I get a job, I'll pay it all down. And then, once you're paying it down, you realize that this is real money.

Jonathan: It suddenly got real real fast.

Tae: Yeah, like hey, this is real. I got to pay this off.

Brad: Tae, of that 87K in student loan debt, how much of that was from the MBA program that you went to and how much of it was from undergrad?

Tae: It was 100% MBA. I came out of undergrad without any student loans. I did the ROTC program when I was in college, so, thankfully, I didn't have any student loans. But I think I was too young and naïve to appreciate that at the time. Since I didn't get my student loan the first time around, I decided to get it the second time around.

Jonathan: Yeah, you got to keep up with everybody else. Man, 105K on an MBA. At least they taught you everything you know about finances, right?

Tae: Oh, right, right. They taught me how to become … you learn how to become a little tiny widget on a big machine. I think I learned more about personal finance and personal management from your podcast and other personal finance books.

Jonathan: All right, question number five, the advice you would give your younger self.

Tae: I think, really, it's to not care about what other people think. I had a lot of insecurities in my 20s, as I was starting my career, that I had to give a perception that I was successful, that I graduated college. I have a job. I could buy these things.

I think I would tell my younger self that, “Hey, everyone's pathway is different. You got to define it. Don't let others or the society determine what you should look like or what your goal should be.”

Jonathan: Could I ask you a followup question to that just for a 20-year-old that's hearing this that isn't in their 30s. They're still in their 20s. Is there any actual strategy for … I understand when you're in your 30s, it makes sense to look back into your 20s and say, “I barely remembered it. I wish I hadn't spent so much money.”

But, when you're in your 20s, you are 20, and you have … your events are based around whatever. There is some status that comes with stuff, I guess. So, is there any actual strategy that you would provide yourself, like a sweet spot there of some way that you would live your 20s differently outside of, “Hey, you're going to be 30 one day, and 30s are sweet. Don't try to be broke in your 20s?” Is there any quick hit tip that you could give to that 20-year-old you?

Tae: I think it's defining who you're going to spend your time with, because they are the ones that are going to make the biggest impact on you. If all your friends are buying a new Audi just like you see everywhere here in Southern California, then you're going to want to feel like you don't want to be the one guy that has the old beat-up car.

But then, just like the ChooseFI community, if all your friends are pursuing FI in their 20s, then that's your natural progression that you're going to take, and then I think that's going to have more of an impact on your decision making.

So, I would say, I mean, yes, mechanically, not spending, I think, is very straightforward, but it's really, the biggest thing is the mindset. And then, how you develop that is with the people that you spend time with. So, I think re-looking at your friends and their money habits. And, if they have really bad money habits that you don't want to follow, then maybe it's time to re-look at who your friends are.

Brad: Yeah, community certainly matters. I love that.

Tae: Yeah.

Brad: All right, Tae, we have a bonus question for you. What was the purchase you've made in, let's say, the last 12 months or so that has added the most value to your life?

Tae: It's the Kindle Paperwhite. I love reading. I used to always debate, whenever I got on the plane, “Which book should I take with me?” I remember that used to take a lot of time. Now, I'm like, “I could take all of them.”

Jonathan: Let me tell you something about the Kindle real quick, because I've gone through a couple versions of Kindle over the years. And they've made a bunch of improvements, like, for instance, the screens can be backlit, and then the paper has more texture.

But, the one thing they made, they made a huge mistake here, specifically for Kindle at one point in time; they got rid of the actual button and you had to touch the screen. And, I don't know which one you have, but I'm telling you, the way forward, you need a button to press.

I don't know why, but for the Kindle, the only Kindle that I would ever consider is one that actually has a tiny little thing on the side where you don't need to stick your finger over and do this or this. That didn't play on the podcast, the video podcast, but I'm telling you, get one with a haptic button on the side, there. It's the only way to go.

Tae: Got it.

Jonathan: I don't know. Do you agree? Do you disagree? You don't. I don't hear you vehemently-

Tae: I think I might have the older version.

Jonathan: Does it have a button?

Tae: It has a button on the bottom, but yeah.

Jonathan: Nope, you don't have it, okay. All right, well, we can cut this. No one else is going to appreciate it. I'm already feeling less enthusiastic about it.

Brad: Jonathan lost all the momentum of the podcast.

Jonathan: I did. If he had said, “Dude, you're so right!” I'd be like, “Played, well played.” But, now, I'm like, “All right, we can just forget the whole skit.” All right.

Tae, this has been amazing. Thank you for, honestly, you shared some stuff that maybe some of it is you have to be a little bit vulnerable to share some of the information that you shared with us, but I know there's value for us personally and for the tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people that are going to listen to this over the coming weeks and months.

Thank you so much for coming on the show. Where is the best way for people to find you?

How To Connect

Tae: Sure, you guys can find me at financialtortoise.com, so that's the blog that I have. I write about being a sandwich generation and then navigating personal finance as a sandwich generation.

Jonathan: Tae, thanks for coming on the show.

Tae: Great, thank you, guys.

Jonathan: All right, my friends, if you got value from today's episode and if you've been getting value from the episodes up to this point, just take one second and press subscribe on the platform you're listening to this on, whether or not it be your podcast player or YouTube. Hit that subscribe/like button, comment.

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3 thoughts on “Multiple Generations Under One Roof With Financial Tortoise | Ep 186”

  1. This episode speaks to my heart and my current reality. I live in Los Angeles (have been for my whole life) and in a multi-family property (my dad was a visionary when he bought the property as he knew eventually we would be living this reality) with my parents, siblings, and aunt. I, too, am a child of first generation immigrants (I am of Mexican descent). They also emphasized getting an education and having a career.

    When I look back at my childhood experiences, I can now label the practices my parents and aunt modeled for me (i.e., frugality, saving, debt-free, house hacking, DIY, etc.). However, my parents never talked to me about it. The only financial advice I got from my parents was: 1. save money and 2. treat your credit card like a debit card (if you don’t have the cash to pay it off at the end of the month, you’re doing it wrong). I also saw them try to invest, but they were not in it for the long run. I’m grateful for their advice, but here I am, at 40, and I am in year 3 of my personal financial freedom journey which also started with my drinking the Dave Ramsey Kool-aid. 😉

    Anyhow, I just wanted to thank Tae for bringing his story…this perspective…to light. There are so many benefits, which Tae spoke to in this episodes. The challenges are real, but the pros (in my opinion) greatly outweigh the cons. Thanks to my parents, my husband and I will be able to build wealth and hopefully gain financial independence in 10 years. With us embarking upon a bear market, I’m excited because, this time, I’m going to do it right. Having a special needs son, living in this multi-family setting has been a God-send. In fact, I wholeheartedly believe that the reason my son has demonstrated a lot of progress over the course of the five years he has had services is because of our family living situation. Raising children DOES take a village and my village is on a 20’x40′ property. Sure, I can complain about never being able to spoil my children because my parents, siblings, and aunt give them SO MUCH. But because of this, I bear witness to the gift this situation is for my family. My aunt has stated so many times and the children have brought new life to her and my parents. This, in turn, has me looking forward to grandchildren (I won’t be pressuring my children to have kids once they introduce me to a significant other).

    Because Los Angeles is such a HCOL area, I often would tell my husband that the only way I’d ever move is if we either buy a house down the street because, for my children, their family is beyond our nuclear unit OR if we purchase multiple homes on a cul-de-sac in another neighborhood (or state). For the moment being, we’re happy where we are. In fact, I’ve told my husband that, if my children ever have children, I’ll want us to move nearby (if they want us to, of course) so that we can pay the village forward.

    Thank you for bringing him on!

  2. Thanks for bringing Tae on the show. I’m a first-generation immigrant. After my only brother passed three years ago, and having a baby last year, I quickly realized my husband and I are a sandwich generation. My mom came to live in our home. Luckily, my American husband accepts and supports my decision. Mom has been great at watching our son while I’ve worked on my business for the past three years. Thank you for highlighting the challenges and benefits of being a sandwich generation, especially pointing out we are not doing it alone.

  3. Tae’s episode really hit home. My husband and I have been sharing a home with our daughter for 12 years. It started out as lending help with childcare but except for 2 short periods have lived together continuous since 2011. We lived in the Los Angeles area but really wanted to relocate in 2017. After discussing with her boyfriend (now husband) they wanted to relocate as well so we moved together 3 1/2 years ago and share a home and all expenses evenly. Everything Tae mentioned is essential from time challenges, recognizing generational differences and child rearing. Communication is extremely important and takes effort, especially speaking up before a molehill becomes a mountain in a case as simple as putting scissors where they belong. We’ve had a lot of conversations about finances as well and have both been able to bring debt down, commit to no new debt (other than housing) and increase savings. My husband and I were hit hard in the 2008 financial crisis and never recovered equity in our home. We’re just now getting to a point where we can consider finding a home of our own. In fact, I’m paying my car off next week and we will have no debt for the first time in 40 years.
    One final thought. I had to smile at the decision over the master bedroom. We too were offered the master out of respect, however in the current home we rent there are no doors in the bathroom. Being from a different generation this did not go over well so we passed on the master bedroom!

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