Why We Stink At FI–But Are Doing It Anyways

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Why We Stink At FI--But Are Doing It Anyways
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Hey everyone! Working mom here supporting a family of four. Budgets are tight, but I know my plans are tighter. Our work lies ahead of us and I’ve been excited about it since day one of this journey. However, we probably aren’t the best example of a FI fam and here’s why:

We have student loan debt and it’ll be around for quite some time.

My husband is still carrying some from his undergrad years and while I still have some to pay as well (both undergrad and grad loans), I was fortunate to have most of it forgiven with TLF (Teacher Loan Forgiveness).

My husband is also currently in grad school. Luckily, we caught the FI train last year which deterred us from taking on loans this time around. We are also lucky to have a little bit of help from his parents. We see the grad program as an investment in time and, of course, money. But the end result will give us a dual-income home to fund a FI life.

We rent in a High Cost of Living area.

We live in Los Angeles and I’m on the Trulia app probably once a week just to reassure myself that what we’re doing is right for us. I stopped wishing to buy our own home a while ago when I couldn’t stomach the fact that Angelinos have a really difficult time owning here. The homes in our neighborhood are starting at around $750,000.

I realized though, especially reading about Mrs. Frugalwoods and her adventures, that high cost of living area isn’t a no-FI life sentence. We lived well over our means up until October 2016. I know because Mint.com told me we did–all I saw were red bars (denoting overspending) almost all of 2016. Gah!

While LA is expensive, we’ve chosen ways to get around it and derive joy from the frugal and the free. Yes, about 32% of my net paycheck goes to rent. Yikes! However, we’re close to a lot of really cool and inexpensive experiences–from trails and camping to museums and just people watching.

We have credit card debt.

I read an article on Mr. Money’s Mustache’s site which made feel that my hair was on FIRE! This debt is the thorn in my side. I’ve seen that debt staring back at me since 2004. That’s a huge problem, but I didn’t acknowledge it until just last year when those red bars on Mint.com made me feel like I was locked in a cell. I still feel like that sometimes. It’s still sitting there, waiting to fall off a cliff. Ahhhh, one day…

I wasn’t an avid Dave Ramsey fan, but friends of mine were and sent his material to me. The baby steps were palatable so I tried getting my financial house in order–spent days looking to purchase the perfect envelope wallet on Etsy. Sounds ridiculous, right?

Baby step two takes forever.

I didn’t have any patience, nor did I have a plan to pay it off before finding this community. It was just something I thought a good “adult” should do. It’s definitely a great idea — and, now that I’ve found the concepts of FI, paying off the debt will absolutely happen!

Related: A Beginner’s Guide to Reaching FI

We aren’t maxing out any tax-deferred accounts.

We are a one-income family–my income. I’m pretty sure that I’m not able to max out on my 403b (or my 457)–yet. I think my current savings rate is somewhere between 1-4%, but that’s not including the mandated 10% to my pension and, of course, the contributions I’ll make as soon as that darn debt is out of the way!

I did open an IRA for the hubby even though he isn’t working. Right now, I’m like a squirrel with nuts. I’m not exactly being intentional about my savings but when I need it, I’ll know where to go. Oh, wait, squirrels are intentional with nut stashing? Dang.

But, hey, we’re here and we made that decision to address each of the above. We started with tracking expenses through Mint.com. Then we began trimming everywhere we were able. This means we said, “No!” a lot more often to get expenses down so that saving for anything could be possible. I’m super excited and appreciate the opportunity to share our journey and how we chose FI.

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Why We Stink At FI--But Are Doing It Anyways

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27 thoughts on “Why We Stink At FI–But Are Doing It Anyways”

  1. Thanks for sharing your story! I’m sure it all feels pretty overwhelming to need to tackle all of those different areas, but I think you’ll be surprised by how it all starts to snowball. As you make some changes it gets easier and easier to make more. In a few years you’ll be looking back at all the progress you’ve made and be amazed!

    Plus being in (and writing for) this community is going to be amazing for holding yourself accountable and keeping you motivated to succeed. The way I see it, we’re all already FI, it’s inevitable. It’s just a matter of some time passing before it’s realized in our actual financial numbers.

    • What a great point of view – “we’re already FI”! Thanks for the encouragement. Sometimes it can be a huge mental block and I think that I may be missing out on key information with the debt in the way. I’m looking forward to future contributions. Thank you!

  2. Great first read. Can’t wait to hear all the strategies you use to continue on the path to FI. I’d love to hear your thought on moving. I’m in Sacramento and have a few friends in your area who always talk about moving, but never do it haha. Good insight s would be helpful for others I believe. Keep it up!

    • Hi Cory, thank you! Definitely means a lot to hear good feedback from my colleagues. My husband and I have definitely discussed moving. Currently with his grad school schedule and my two little ones, we’d stay in the LA area for at least 2-3 years. After that it’s fair game. I anticipate by then, the debt will be gone so we’ll be able to focus on the opportunities to further grow our wealth and find a place that suits our needs. I’ve given thought to central and northern Cali and I think we need to make more trips up to really get a sense of what life would be like. Thanks for planting a seed!

  3. Started the FI Journey about $400,000 in debt, before the mortgage. Went crazy, opened business when I was broke, had a breakdown.

    Now down to just under $300,000. We all have to start somewhere. Biding my time educating myself about where the money goes once it’s ours to keep.

    • Wow! I’d really like to hear more about your story. I haven’t really had much interactions with others talking about the debt aspect and although there’s a boatload of information on tackling debt, I think it’s helpful to have specific discussions (talking amounts, interests rates, and strategies) with others to keep accountability and motivation in the forefront.

  4. I’m so glad that you shared your story with this community! I think it is important for people to see that everyone has a ‘start line.’ It is so easy to compare the beginning of our journeys to someone’s middle or end. You are making great strides just by recognizing where you are and planning the necessary steps to get to where you want to be. It is not about perfection, instead persistence in moving forward and consistently making smart money moves. Keep up the good work!

    • Thank you, Christine! I had such a difficult time accepting our ‘starting line’ in the beginning of our journey. It’s not as intense now, but I think you’re right in acknowledging/accepting one’s own situation – the first step is crucial.

  5. Lovely first article! I so appreciate the honesty and I think others do too. I agree with Aardvark Advisor, it definitely starts to snowball and before you know it the debt will be gone and your wealth will grow! Being aware, chipping away with discipline, and making intentional choices are ingredients for success. It seems that you’ve got em!

  6. Thank you for sharing your story. It will be an amazing feeling once that credit card debt is paid off which should enable you to greatly raise that savings rate. It’ll really start to take off!

  7. It’s not about where you are today. It’s about the life you live. Don’t be down on yourself. Focus on making the decisions that maximize your happiness.

    I have a feeling that blogging will also be a benefit to help you accomplish your financial goals.

    Great first post. Looking forward to reading more.

    • Hi Jason! Thank you for your encouraging words. I definitely agree that writing will help me navigate some of the road blocks I’ve experienced – and I’m beginning to see the value in changing up my mindset and really embracing “making lemonade.” It’s all relative and I hope that someone out there will benefit from my experience as well.

  8. Your story is really impactful because it is much more the norm, from a financial standpoint, than many others that have a quicker/easier route to FI. I think you are in a great position to help encourage a lot of people to take control of their finances. Keep up the great work and please keep the posts coming!

  9. Thanks for sharing Mrs Slice. There are a lot of people in similar circumstances, you writing about it will give many hope that they can do it too. So great job! I look forward to future articles.

    • James! Thank you for your kind words – it’s certainly motivating to know others can be encouraged to take the next step.

  10. Nice post Mrs. Slice! I think more FI’ers start from a place where you did, only we don’t hear from them as they linger on the sidelines. Congratulations on seeing the light. Living in a HCOLA and striving for FI requires intentional spending. Looking forward to reading more from you!

    • Thank you Earlier FI!! I appreciate the feedback. In the beginning I hesitated and then went back and forth about sharing. At this point, what do I have to lose? Someone’s gotta speak truth!

  11. Thank you so much for sharing! My husband and I have been working on our debt since 2015. We are currently around $160K, not including our mortgage or the $250K that is on track for public service loan forgiveness in 2024. I sometimes have to take a break from the podcast because I get so frustrated with how slow our progress is and how far away we are from making meaningful contributions to our future. I found that keeping several spreadsheets which show me different ways to look at our progress really helps me stay focused and motivated! I am so excited to hear more about your journey! We are expecting our first child in April so hearing how you budget with two little ones would be really interesting to me! Thanks again and I’ll be following!

    • Hi Jennifer! Thank you so much for your support and reaching out. I think it’s important while on this FI journey that you also carve out time for self-preservation & self care (for you and your growing family). It’s good to recognize that everyone has a different plan and comparing yourself to someone’s beginning, middle, or end can be damaging. I can totally empathize with “slow” progress. I also must remember why our progress is different from others and that even just having a plan is one step closer to our goals. Things could always be worse, grass can always be greener, but in the end, it’s about you, your partner, family, and other priorities you’ve set for your life. Congrats to you! Hope to hear from you again!

  12. I think you are in a position many of us are when we find FI, especially those of us that went to college before knowing how painful student loans are and their longevity. Many will appreciate your perspective. When I found the community, we couldn’t even see ourselves on Step 0. I went to grad school late, after two other careers and took out my first loans of any kind, save a mortgage. What a difference a year makes. Or two or three. My husband is finally being paid what he deserves after 10 years in his second career and I’m staying home with the kids for a bit. I lost my Teacher Loan Forgiveness and/or PSLF for getting out of the ‘consecutive years’ (Speech Language Pathologist in the schools), but my husband travels out of town, so that was still the best choice for us. Just gaining the knowledge, we all piecemeal it together on our own timelines. And what a difference a year will make for your family!

    • Hi Shawnya,

      Thanks for your comment. Sorry my response is delayed. I definitely appreciate the alternative paths that families need to take on their way to FI. The details are so interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  13. I really enjoyed your article & I love the title and cute piece of PI… ! Thanks for writing… I feel like I’m so far from FI but its helpful to know there are others out there with similar struggles & goals!

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