the trouble with Financial Independence blogs

We awoke this morning to about 4 inches of snow and ice. The sun was peeking through the trees, the snow glistening and immaculately white (pardon my cliches, snow is not my forte). This is the most snow we’ve gotten all season (what can I say, it’s the South).

snow 2015

But since we now live less than 2 miles from work (like the good frugal folks we are), my husband has to go to work. He can’t stay here and play with the girls in the snow while I take photos. We can’t hang out and visit over homemade hot chocolate or coffee. If we’re being perfectly honest, he can’t help me deal with the whining stir-crazy children who have been stuck inside for the last two weeks.

We’re still in debt, so he has to go to work.

We’re still dependent on a paycheck, so he has to go to work.

We still have (an extremely) negative net worth, so he has to go to work.

The trouble with FI blogs? They’ve made me impatient.

They’ve made me discontent.

They’ve made me discouraged that we don’t make more money.

They’ve made me long for a future where my husband can stay home on snow days.

But there is a flip side.

They’ve made me impatient…and thus motivated to learn all I can about personal finance.

They’ve made me discontent…and thus thinking more actively and creatively about what I really want from life.

They’ve made me discouraged that we don’t make more money…and thus inspired me to hustle and earn more.

They’ve made me long for a future where my husband can stay home on snow days….and they’ve shown me that doesn’t necessarily have to wait until we’re 65.

They’ve given me the knowledge that there’s a different path out there, and the confidence to live it.

october spending


As I’ve mentioned and as you might have gathered from my general absence, this has been somewhat of a trying month for us. It shows in our spending. I really just wanted to skip over this month. But! “Saving is saving, and savings must grow, regardless of crummies in tummies you know…” (changed the words a bit. Bonus points to whoever knows what that’s from.) So, in the spirit of transparency and doing better next month, here’s how the month went financially.


Rent/Water, Trash, Pest: $930.78 –> We’re moving out of this apartment in January and have started the search for cheaper rent. During my research, I learned a mortgage would be cheaper than renting at this point. I may or may not be getting crazy ideas. Someone talk me down!
Electricity: $93.09 –> Finally got to spend some days with the A/C off. It is ridiculous that I should say that in October, but Texas is Texas.
Internet: $42.44
Phone: $30.64 –> STILL ended up paying both Republic and Ting! Argh. The switch didn’t line up just perfectly, so we had 2 days usage of Ting to pay. Oh well.
Insurance: $50.50 –> A quarterly thing.
Tithe: $100 –> kind of a pathetic tithe, I’m the first to admit. We’re (obviously) not 10% tithers, but we always want to give something.


Food: $811.86 –> Oh my goodness, y’all, that’s the first time I’ve added it all up. ACK! I’m mortified. Find me a rock to hide under, quick!
Alcohol: $11.88
Gas: $84.77 –> gas prices have been delightfully low lately.
Toiletries: $13.95 –> Deodorant and chapstick. Why the heck is chapstick so expensive?
Household Goods & Supplies: $31.02 –> Plastic wrap, laundry detergent…exciting stuff, I know.
Clothes: $65.95 –> Some for the adults, some for the girls.
Baby Supplies: $171.09 –> I need that rock again! Sooo….I bid on some cloth diapers on eBay, “thinking I wouldn’t win”…riiiight. Don’t be me. But this includes disposables, cloth diapers, and a breast pump, which I will say I’ve been putting off purchasing for a long time.
Medical/Healthcare: $270.26 –> Appointments, prescriptions and so on…
Education: $114 –> Application fees. Don’t do this. Just call the school. If you get on the phone with a counselor, they will most likely waive the application fee for you. If they don’t offer outright, just ask them to. Just like negotiating monthly bills!
Business: $65.45 –> Look at me with my “business” section. This was basically just my web domain name and some props for the newborn shoot.
Gifts: $96.02 –> Some planned, some unplanned. My husband spoiled me on my birthday.
Everything Else: $58.57 –> I honestly hate having an “everything else” section, but I have so many categories already…this was sunglasses, water filters, and some miscellaneous Target things.*

Loan Payments: $1001.15

Total Spending: $4043.42
Last month: $2913.77
Difference: -$1129.65

Total Spending Less Loans:  $3042.27

Total Loans: -$33,449.59**

So, let’s learn from me, shall we?

Tip 1) *Don’t set foot in Target. Just don’t.

Tip 2) Don’t justify spending by the fact that you’ve already spent a lot. That’s stupid.

Tip 3) Don’t be lazy. Much of our food spending was social, which I’m okay with occasionally, but I could have just as easily whipped up something for everyone at home.

Tip 4) Don’t, don’t, don’t, please don’t go shopping as a pick-me-up.

So I don’t feel like a complete failure (and because I apparently like lists), let’s see some of the things I did right this month.

1) We got our “bonus paycheck” today (we’re paid every other week), and with a few quick Money Transferring Clicks, have achieved our goal of a $5k emergency fund. Woohoo!

2) I sold a couple things from our closet; made about $40. Also donated a giant box of books that had been sitting around for months and months.

3) Many of the above purchases were made with gift cards. Some were gifted, but I’ve also been doing online surveys for gift cards, which pretty much exclusively go straight to Amazon. I made the decision to make a gift card “account” and to track the way we spend that money, too. It ensures that I won’t treat the gift cards as “free money” and blow them on stupid things.

4) I finally started freelance photography! This is something I’ve wanted to do for years and years, but I always doubted myself out of it. I decided to go for it, and I actually have business. Crazy.

**In case you missed it, this is now a much larger number because I’ve added my own student loans.

where to start, where to start…

Well, it’s been a crazy month. Where to start? Let’s just dive in.

1) I’m a college student again. I was about halfway through a degree when I got pregnant and subsequently withdrew from school, and I recently got the desire to finish. It just doesn’t seem wise to be entirely dependent on my husband’s income while having no degree of my own…what if something happened to him? My plan was to start classes in January (online, at a non-profit accredited actual school), but things fell into place earlier than expected. When asked, “Want to start classes next Monday?” my response was, “Uh…sure!”

2) I discovered my student loans. So, I knew I had student loans from my first 2.5 years in school. My wonderful, generous parents have been making the minimum payments, and last time I asked about my loans, their response was, “Don’t worry about them.” So I’ve been living in blissful ignorance…

But with all the FAFSA-ing and financial hoopla involved in applying for schools, I finally found out just how many student loans I have. (~$14k, spread over 6 loans.)

3) I made those student loans our responsibility. I’m pretty sure my parents just plan to cruise along making minimum payments for the life of these loans. But I can’t let them do that. The loans are in my name, they’re on my credit report, I need to take responsibility. And while my parents have never been particularly transparent about their financial situation, I know they’re struggling a bit.

4) …I took out more loans. You were probably wondering, and the answer is yes. I took on more loans. I have a Pell Grant paying for about half of my class, and I accepted subsidized loans to pay for the other half. (I declined the unsubsidized loans.) My plan was to accept the loans, continue our aggressive paydown of my husband’s loans, and when those were gone it’d be pretty easy to set aside enough that as soon as my grace period was up after graduation, we could pay the loans outright. Tuition at the school I’m attending is very reasonable.

5) …but that plan probably won’t work anymore. With my previous loans thrown into the mix, I’m not so sure how this is going to work out. Back to the drawing board. I probably just won’t accept loans for later school terms.

6) My husband got a raise. A jump to a new topic. But it was good news from the month, and one that will hopefully help us out.

7) I’ve started my photography business. In an uncharacteristic move of “Why the hell not”, I made myself an oh-so-official Facebook page, followed by a website. To my great surprise, I’ve already done a newborn shoot, family shoot, have a maternity shoot scheduled, and have a couple families expressing interest in family shoots. Tis the season, I guess. (And I really mean I was surprised. I honestly thought nothing would happen.)

8) We’ve decided to increase our emergency fund. Recent events, including an ER visit, suggest that a couple thousand dollars is not really sufficient for a family of four.

9) Stomach bugs suck. That is all. (…but they don’t suck as much as ER visits.)

10) It’s still getting up to 90 degrees. Ridiculous, but at least it doesn’t require the heater. Also, this was an entirely superfluous piece of information.

11) We’ll be getting new insurance in November. We currently don’t pay health insurance, since we’re still on our parents’ plans. My father-in-law is dropping his insurance soon, so now we need to shop around. Any advice?

Okay then. That was a lot.

Where to from here?

We’ll be throwing all extra money into our emergency fund until it hits $5k, I think. That’s still not a whole lot, but it’s better than what we have. We’ve received a lot of gift money from family lately, and that’s gone straight to that goal. Then, we’ll cut the spending again. This month was a train wreck of eating out and miscellaneous shopping. It’s ironic to cut spending right before Christmas…but I’m trying to arrange a “secret Santa” style arrangement with my siblings so I’ll only be responsible for one of them. This is already in place with my husband’s family, and it helps. But Christmas is probably another post for another day.

How was your October? As eventful as ours?

Life: 1, Mrs TIP: 0

Sometimes, life just bowls you over.


hello, October. you seem innocent enough.

Stomach viruses, new and sudden medical issues, terminally ill family members, educational decisions, babies that scream until 1am — it just all rushes in at once and you find yourself sleeping on the bathroom floor feeling pretty overwhelmed.

Blogging is weird. It can be an outlet of sorts, but sometimes you start something (like a blog mostly about personal finance) and then life blindsides you (with not-strictly-personal-finance-things). And you don’t know how to write about all these things taking up so much of your brain space, and it feels superfluous to write about anything else. It feels so silly to do headless fashion shows or try to write a review of a budgeting software. How does this compare to what’s happening in real life?

Well, it’s all real life. The gritty, trying, stressful moments and the goofy, lighthearted, seemingly pointless moments. The playtime as well as the illness. And money — oh, money — is there through it all. It can be a great reassurance or a great stress. Life is always throwing new things at you, and this is one of the reasons it’s so important to think and talk about money: life’s not going to be eventless. Priorities change, things happen, and the money situation generally should be re-evaluated along with it. What we do with our money should (generally) reflect our priorities and obligations, and those are often in flux.

But when life gets stressful, we tend to spend. When spouses are away, we spend. When we get sick, we spend. You blink and half the month is gone, it’s time for the bill paying and budget review session and…where has all your money gone? You’ve spent a lot of money on a lot of things. Somehow, it all just gets away from you.

But as my father likes to say, “This too shall pass.”

And it will. It all will.

vietnamese pho. good for the soul.

vietnamese pho. good for the soul.

You just have to take a deep breath, and regroup.

goal-setting: debt-free by 2015

Sorry for the week of silence here. I know you were all waiting with bated breath…but I have big news for today!

Our debt repayment plan has never been a particularly specific one. We simply knew we should throw as much extra money at loans as possible. And so that’s what we’ve been doing. (Usually.) We never settled on a goal as many people do; like DebtFreeJD’s amazing goal to pay off her law school debt in the time it took to build the Empire State Building.

Our income is not variable, per se, but since my husband is paid hourly, it does, well, vary. In the past, I’d average it out and try to put our debt repayment on a timeline, but it just never worked. $2000/month? Can’t swing that. Debt-free by 2018? Depressing.

We’ve made great progress in the last year and a half — more than I thought possible! — and in the spirit of ignorant optimism and blatant disregard for the numbers, we’re setting a Debt-Free Goal Date. That is….(drumroll please)

October 2015! Why October? My birthday’s in October! (It was earlier this week.) Why October 2015? …because it would be an awesome birthday gift to be done with these student loans! (We’re very logical around here.)

What we have going for us: generous family who gives us money for birthdays, low monthly expenses, “extra” paycheck months (due to bi-weekly paychecks), tax returns (thanks, children!), a great local email group on which to sell things and pick up free things, extra crap lying around that we can sell, access to the internet with all its inspiration, etc etc.

This is a bit of a stretch for us, but it feels good to finally have a date in mind. It inspires us to work harder, sell more, and spend smarter (i.e…not spend).

When do you aim to be debt-free? How did you come up with the timeline?

from the ground up

IMG_3453 bw


We truly are in the very early stages of our financial lives.

We only started contributing to our 401k in January of this year. (We tried last year, but missed some cutoff date somehow.)

We have no assets. I mean it. Aside from an emergency fund.

Case in point: our car is actually my father-in-law’s.

We have $20k $33k in debt.

We rent.

We got our very first credit card only a few months ago.

We have two kids and make a modest income.

But, on the other hand, we have a lot going for us.

I discovered the personal finance blogosphere before we had the chance to make too many dumb financial mistakes.

We’ve never been in credit card debt.

We’ve never financed anything.

We don’t buy things we can’t afford.

In an emergency, we *would* (temporarily) be okay.

We (thus far) have had very healthy children, and are healthy ourselves.

We have extraordinarily generous families, and while we don’t ask for their aid, we are so grateful for the help they give. One day we’ll be in the position to help them, instead.

So while I may get discouraged by other blogs that are much farther along than we are, I need to remember exactly that: they’re further along in their journey. We’re “newbies”, but learning so much so early on puts us in the position to “do it right”. Of course we’ll make our fair share of financial mistakes; we already have. I couldn’t tell you how much money the both of us blew through in high school and college.

And so we intend not to take this time when our blessings are so many for granted. We’ll pay off these student loans, build up our savings, and work our way toward independence. Slowly but surely.

That said, it’s payday. And you know what that means, don’t you? Extra Loan Payment Day.

happy Friday, y’all.

september spending

All right, voyeurs, here it is. The Intentional Penny household spending for September.


Rent/Water, Trash & Pest: $927.01 –> Business as usual. Automatically combined. We split water with the rest of the building…or something.
Electricity: $134.77 –> Not great, but it’s Texas in the summer…Seeing as my budgeted amount was $200, I’m okay with this.
Internet: $42.44
Phone: $89.41 –> Had to pay bills from both Ting and Republic Wireless. Oops.
Cable: $0, $0, forever $0 –> Don’t even own a TV. I recommend it.
Tithe: $100

Why you do not see Health Insurance here: We are still covered by our parents. That will change next year.

Now for the fun stuff:

Food: $565.09 –> This includes: normal groceries, farmer’s markets, food for entertaining, social coffee-like outings, restaurants, Costco (food), junk food, work food, travel food, and any other OCD necessary category I decide to create down the line. I’m not breaking it all down in this post for simplicity’s sake, and so as to not scandalize you with how much we’ve spent on Bluebell Dutch Chocolate ice cream. Last month’s total was $641.84. Progress!
Alcohol: $64.87 –> In addition to beer, we got ourselves some gin for the first time since moving here. There’s good reason, I promise.
Gas: $124.73 –> Higher than usual due to necessary family trips.
Personal Care: $25.98 –> cough drops and a haircut for Le Husband. (He preferred my haircuts to the professional one he got. Ha!)
Household Goods & Supplies: $20.55 –> ziploc baggies and magic erasers. curse you for being so helpful, Costco…we could have done without these.
Baby Supplies: $49.77 –> diapers & wipes. We do cloth diaper, but we use disposables at night and while traveling. Meh.
Electronics: $218 –> our Republic Wireless phones.

I like to see how much we’re spending before loan payments. That total is: $2,362.62

Loan Payments: $551.15 –> I know I shouldn’t “meh” this, since it’s a sizable amount of money. But our loan payments have been slowing the last few months, and I’m getting antsy. Time to buckle down again.

Total: $2,913.77
Last month: $3,631.67
Difference: $717.90

Total Loans as of 10/1: $20,205.36

I’m going to be honest here, y’all. This is the least we’ve spend in a month this entire year (if not since we first moved here).

Our goal is to see that expenditure number steadily decrease. Not by depriving ourselves; not at all! Rather, by filling our lives with the things we actually want to fill our lives with: friends, family, church, walks, photography, reading, writing, drawing, playing outside. How much do all these things cost? Not much.

Scratch (some of) that, actually. The goal is to get to a point where the numbers don’t even matter. To a point where we are naturally spending only on those things that are necessary (and periodically challenging even those), and in areas that truly add value and fulfillment to our lives.

How was your month? Please share any frugal tips, tricks, or ask questions in the comments!