Reader Case Study: Yeah, But How About a Difficult Life?

Despite the fact that he wears mostly ripped jeans and installs his own sewer pipes, Mr. Money Mustache is occasionally accused of being a privileged upper-middle class elitist who doesn’t understand the problems of real people.

So this week we look at a call for advice from a reader with more challenge packed into her life than some of our past studies.

Dear MMM,

I’ve been reading your reader case studies and rolling my eyes here. Let’s get real. Not everyone in this world has a combined income of $100,000. Nor do they not have kids, or even just one baby. Please. Most people are raised without a lick of finances in their head. They only figure them out after receiving large amounts of debt.

But by then, it feels to late to change the tide. Most people get married when they are in their 20’s, then in a year or two they have a babe, making Mom’s education worthless for income, while Dad tries to grow up over night into the $50,000 year income he would like. Everyone harps on the new parents, “Your kid needs to be socialized, put him in daycare. Your kid should play T-ball, Dance, Soccer, and photography.” Meanwhile Mom and Dad decide they enjoy the babe and have more. Now, they have 4. While Dad works to pay off the hard lessons of debt, he supports the family on about $50,000 a year. This is reality for most people.

And for me. :). I wanted to challenge you to do a reader case study on real people who have it hard. Not easy ones who make over $100,000 a year and you’re thinking, “No kidding. Get rid of the Hummer.” I will type out my budget so you can see where you can “trim the fat” – for a challenge. Not because I feel that I really need the help – but you never know.

Income: Currently $50,000

Cars: We own 2. A suburban (paid cash) in order to drive once a week as a family, or haul our trailer to the dump. {Please note my husband is a Dealer for a tool company – it’s a franchise. The amount of card board we recycle fills a 10ft x 10 ft trailer every two weeks. The recycle center is 20 minutes from the house. I never go that way, unless it is to recycle. }

We own a gas saver car that gets 30 mpg, and can fit (in a tight squeeze) all 6 of us. We paid cash for this car and use it as the main car.

House: $1275. We tried to rent cheaper. They count the number of people living in a small apartment and there is a bit of a rush for rentals. After trying to be cheap as possible, we rented for $1500 plus utilities. Thus, we bought a foreclosure to fix up ourselves. At the peak, this house was worth $300,000. When we bought it the appraisal was $200,000 and we paid $180,000 at 4.1% interest, with no PMI.

Food: $1,000 a month. We eat mostly veggies, fruit and free range type meat. We do not buy prepackaged things, I am just feeding 5 boys. The government allows $150 per person on food stamps. We do $166. The extra is to allow for personal heygine, and snacks for extra activites. We do Cub Scouts once a week (the boys earn their own money to pay for it), and the snacks are for times when we have to run far from home (say 20 minutes). Un avoidably the children get hungry. So does my husband. :). Every time.

Here is the rest of the “budget”

Gas: 100
Insurance: 160
Student Loan: 90 ($8,000 left)
Bad Debt: 570 (I don’t want to talk about bad choices)
Life insurance: 35
Food: 1000
House payment: 1275
Trash: 25
Water: free – I have a well
Electric: 150 (I know this is high. It’s a remodel. It’s getting better every month).
Phone/internet : 80
Medical: 80
Cell Phone: 170 – my husband has one for his work. I’m going to look into what you suggested before w/google. I just haven’t yet.

Total: $3735

That leaves a difference of $529 – to cover clothes, shoes, and life. However, through it all we managed to save $5000 this year and used it to pay down debt.

Good luck!

MMM Replies:

Dear SF,

I’ll admit that your situation is not trivially easy like most of the financial problems of the middle class. And part of the challenge is that for the most part, you’ve started running things pretty well already.

You got what sounds like a great deal on a house with some upside – and the opportunity to build sweat equity with your own labor while you live there. You raise four kids on less than what some people spend on themselves. You have no car loans, small student loans, and aren’t blowing money by putting lottery tickets, booze, and manicures on credit.

But here’s what you CAN do:

The Bad Debt:

This is a recurring theme in emails I get these days: people have credit card debt, often at interest rates above 15%, and yet they are still going along merrily building an “emergency fund” in a 0% savings account, making extra payments on other debts or cars or 401ks or doing renovations. So let me remind you once again:

CREDIT CARD DEBT IS AN EMERGENCY!! It goes out first, before you engage in any other activity. Do not write to Mr. Money Mustache for advice if you still have credit card debt. My advice is: tap all possible resources, up to and including couch-surfing, prostitution and illegal drug and organ sales, to pay off your credit card debt first. After that, we can start fixing the rest of your life.

Since you weren’t an MMM reader when this was racked up, you are hereby forgiven for whatever you did. But a $570-per-month payment at your level of income is spectacularly high, and thus it needs to be treated like an emergency. If you’re not already doing so, all extra payments should go to this high-interest loan (while making only minimum payments on the student loan and mortgage). And any luxuries that can be cut or savings made (see below), should be fired at this debt too.

The Cars:

I didn’t get the financial details of your vehicles, but they’re still worth scrutinizing carefully. A Chevrolet Suburban is a pretty useless vehicle – a minivan has larger capacity, plenty of power to pull a trailer, and uses far less gas. But if your Suburban is an old model worth less than $2000, and you drive it less than 20 miles a week, it might still be an fine choice because purchase price is more important than fuel efficiency for vehicles you rarely use. As a note to other big-family readers, there are some great small 6-passenger vans out there that are not behemoths – check out the Nissan Quest from around the 2001 model year range as an example. (My neighbor recently sold one in fine working condition for $1200 to buy an unnecessary $19,000 Subaru Forester).

Similarly, I assume your other more efficient car is a low-cost one (under $5000), and that you’ve already replaced all adults-only trips under 4 miles with bike/bike trailer trips.

Make sure you’ve shopped around thoroughly for car insurance (check Geico), and consider dropping collision/comprehensive insurance if you haven’t already. If that “$160/month” figure is mostly for car insurance, there may be huge savings available as my own car insurance is in the $20-$30 range.

Potential savings in this area: $50-$200/month.

The Food:

You’ve got about twice as many mouths to feed as me, but considerably more than twice the food budget. This might be worth looking into, since we eat a balls-out luxury diet in the MMM household that only became so flashy after we reached retirement. Costco should be your best friend. Rice and beans and potatoes can be very luxurious when cooked with skill. Coconut and olive oil are incredibly cheap on a per-calorie basis, yet great for your health. So make high-fat meals. Free range meat? Depending on the cost, I probably wouldn’t be buying that right now, until the emergency is lifted. Even now I feel just a little ridiculous when I buy a bit of organic chicken or ground beef, because it is so expensive, resource-intensive, and unnecessary. So I do it only once a week or so. There are MMM readers reading here right now that feed six people with Royal Family quality on less than half of what you’re spending – look to them for inspiration!

Potential Savings: $200-$500 per month!

The Phones:

As you have acknowledged already, that part of your spending is Off The Hook. You’re not Sir Richard Branson, running the Virgin Mobile company and needing to host data-intensive videoconferences from locations worldwide at a moment’s notice. You can have two phones on a modern plan like Republic or Google Fi, they’ll cost you about $10-20 and use your home internet access for long calls when you’re home.

Potential Savings: $150/month


$150/month might be reasonable if you are stuck with electric heat and you are running in the winter season. But watch out for unnecessary electric use: keep the house below 68F in winter, avoid A/C in summer if possible, hang-dry clothes when you have time, and ditch any incandescent bulbs unless you are benefiting from the heat they kick off. Our family is down to under 200 kWh/month, which works out to under $20 (although with natural gas heat and cooking).

Potential Savings: $100/month


$80/month. Wait a minute, didn’t we already cover phones above? If you have cell phones, you don’t need a land line. You can get unlimited free calling from home with Google Talk. Hopefully, with shopping around and negotiating, you can get an internet-only account for $50/month or less.

Potential Savings: $50/month

Finally, the remaining elephant in the room is INCOME! You’re making 50 grand per year right now, but that should not be viewed as your upper limit. Maybe you have skills that can be applied to a side-hustle on weekends. Maybe your husband can advance in his business or another one. And eventually, your kids will grow old enough to need less care, and free you up to work more in the future. And thus, the future is bright. Just be sure to capture any additional income for savings, rather than lifestyle inflation.

With potential savings of $550-$1000/month, you have the opportunity to double or triple your savings rate. Since your current rate is about 10%, you would be cutting about 13-22 years off of your mandatory working career, reaching financial independence that much sooner. As debts and the house get paid off, this will only accelerate.

This is also a great lesson for readers who are not yet in a situation like this. Your financial life works out much better if you get your shit together before having kids, not afterwards. Before parenthood, you’re free to work as many hours as you like, live in any amount of space or even on the couch of a friend, stay up all night to further your education, and more. Use this precious time to get ahead – your future self will thank you for decades to come.

As soon as the kids hit, everything goes out the window and you need to begin anew. I like to think of each child as a 12-hour-a-day job. Two parents can share a single child and even have a bit of time to work. Barely. Beyond that, things start overlapping and stress builds. You can handle it, of course, but if you have the option, you should still get your shit together before having kids. It is worth it.


A Call to All Past Case Studies:

Your fellow readers have been asking about you! If you were in one of these articles in the past, and have news to report back, please send me an email through the contact form. Impress your Mustachian colleagues, or embarrass Mr. Money Mustache for being too optimistic. It would be great to follow up occasionally, and see how things have changed for you over the past year.


  • MoreKnown November 7, 2012, 2:53 pm

    1. Your credit card debt rant is always expected (and fantastic).
    2. Definitely excited to hear back from more case studies. Anyone have changes from MMM’s advice that they can share?

  • Geek November 7, 2012, 3:01 pm

    This post makes me feel that my 20-something self was very fortunate, financially savvy, and forward-thinking. It’s easy to judge when you’ve made mostly ‘good’ financial decisions.
    But it’s also easy to not see your own mistakes that keep happening, especially with the ‘bad debt’. SF came to the right place.

  • O November 7, 2012, 3:02 pm

    You may be able to save even more on internet:
    Comcast Internet Essentials – $10/mo cable internet – restrictions apply
    If you are in an area served by Comcast, and you have a child in school that qualifies for free or reduced-price lunches, and you don’t owe Comcast any money or equipment, nor have you had service by Comcast in the last 90 days, then you may qualify.


  • Matt G November 7, 2012, 3:14 pm

    I think it should be $30 potential savings for internet/phone. I’d also like to plug Google Voice for free phone service. I have a Polycom CX200 hooked up via a USB port and it’s the perfect phone for the hours a day I spend on it. I also have heard the obitalk works great if you don’t want to be tethered to your computer to make phone calls. If you need to keep your number, you can transfer the number to a pre-paid phone, then to google voice for a nominal charge.

    • Rich November 9, 2012, 5:06 am

      Only if Google Voice will allow it. We tried it, got our landline number ported to a pre-paid cell…and then discovered that Google wouldn’t accept the number. No idea why. But it’s been true for over a year now.

  • Ben November 7, 2012, 3:19 pm

    Wait a minute, you’re simultaneously suggesting putting the emergency fund toward CC debt but also dropping comprehensive/collision coverage on the cars? If they have no savings it would take them ~2 months to save up to replace a totalled car, assuming all income and vehicle expenses stay fixed during that car-lite period (which is optimistic at best).

    Is the idea since they have two cars, the loss of one is considered to be not a big deal?

    • Des November 7, 2012, 3:23 pm

      If they *needed* to replace a car, they could take a loan for it. Its not ideal, but it is better than the savings sitting at 0% while credit card debt is outstanding.

      • Aaron November 7, 2012, 8:50 pm

        Exactly what Des said. Keeping the savings “just in case” earns them no extra money. Putting it towards the CC earns them whatever their interest rate is (let’s say 18%).

        IF (big “if”) they need to replace the car the loan they could get might be 5% or possibly less. So even if they need the car loan they will still net 13% interest with my assumed (but realistic) numbers.

        • OhYongHao November 20, 2014, 1:13 pm

          You would still need to consider the added cost of full coverage insurance, which may be an additional $20 a month.

          I actually agree with this plan because of the statistical unlikeliness that driving so few miles would get them into an in-fault accident that actually totaled their car. More likely if they had an accident it may be damage that could be ignored/easily repaired, or that the other person is at fault. Of course a car valued at only $2000 is easy to total since the calculation isn’t if the car can be used or not, but if the repair cost is greater than the worth of the vehicle.

    • Mr. Risky Startup November 7, 2012, 11:33 pm

      Point is that you stick your emergency savings against credit card debt and if you have an emergency, you can simply use the credit card if nothing else is possible. Money is still there, except it is saving you interest and it is improving your credit score.

      Based on $570 in “bad debt”, should we assume that credit card debt is around $40,000? Any chance of refinancing this into mortgage (or simple loan) and going down to 4.1% interest?

      I agree, you may be able to save a few bucks, but you deserve credit for surviving with 6 people on 50K. We spend 40K on 3 people (luckily, income is better).

      Only suggestion I have is looking for more income. When you have 4 boys, adding maybe another one (private daycare for a neighbour or friend) could produce maybe $10K per year more?

      Also, maybe kill 3 flies with one stone – get a job as a food presenter at Costco. You can work for a few hours at night or weekend, and use the opportunity to spot the good deals, get employee discount and save on gas by buying your groceries when you are there already. It is not much, but it could yield maybe $50 per week (for 4 hours of work) which adds up $2500 per year + other benefits.

      • Diane November 8, 2012, 11:07 am

        No such thing as an employee discount at Costco. Otherwise, good suggestion if there’s one close to home. Also, I hear that some Costco’s are doing limited seasonal hiring. Right. Now. If this sounds good, act quickly.

        • ErikZ November 10, 2012, 1:00 pm

          Apparently, all employees get an “Executive Level” membership. Which includes 2% cash back on purchases at the end of the year.

          Close enough for me.

      • Ddub925 January 20, 2015, 2:30 pm

        I don’t think the food presenters at Costco are actual employees of Costco. I think they hire a different company to provide employment services to those folks, so don’t think they qualify for costco ee perks

        • tbone May 26, 2016, 5:30 am

          I used to work as a food presenter at Costco in NYC. I worked for a company called Club Deminstration Services. I worked about 20-25 hours per week and there were some side benefits including bonuses for promoting your product well so that it would sell out. If I sold out early I was allowed to clock out early and I still got paid for the entire shift. I think the pay was around $11 per hour.

    • TOM November 8, 2012, 5:43 am

      The writer essentially said they don’t need the Suburban and admitted the whole fam can fit in the smaller car. So if either got wrecked, you could assume they would get by for a while on one car.

      And to make one more point – and this is sort of a silly concept outside of the debt repayment phase – throwing the emergency fund at the credit card is like getting equity in the card. It is financially better to put all your emergency fund in the card and take the risk that you might have to use the card in the next month for an emergency. It is a risk, but probably one worth taking. How often do they come across an unexpected $400+ expense? (Since they save $5k per year = $416 per month of savings)

    • Jeff November 8, 2012, 11:20 am

      Two months is nothing. They can make something work in the short term.

  • lurker November 7, 2012, 3:36 pm

    not sure why they need a suburban to haul cardboard…wouldn’t the car haul it just fine? credit card debt is nasty…kill it asap…and thanks for posting your budget.

    • Travis November 8, 2012, 12:38 pm

      Used to haul the trailer which hauls the cardboard or at least that’s what I understood.

    • Godzilla November 9, 2012, 5:08 pm

      It may be worth considering selling the suburban and hiring someone to haul the cardboard. Hauling costs offset vehicle running expense. Hauling costs should be tax deductible as business expense. The price realised from sales could be put against CC debt..

  • Sarah November 7, 2012, 3:55 pm

    Hi MMM, love your blog. I’m glad you ran this reader case study since it is much more in line with my own life and issues.

    A few thoughts:

    The reader’s mention of having well water makes me think she is living rurally. I wonder how close her nearest Cosco is? I live in a small town and the nearest Cosco is 75 miles.

    Also, you are assuming that the reader can actually unbundle her phone and internet. Companies will not always let you do this. Choices are limited in my location and I have to live with a landline that I never use. I get around this by splitting my internet with someone else and saving half the cost.

    Finally, I was just thinking the other day about how I wish I had encountered Mustachianism before the bad financial decisions and the kids. Please consider writing a book for the people who can benefit the most––teenagers who will be leaving home in a few years and making decisions (student loans? Credit cards? First apartment?) that will effect them for good or bad for the rest of their lives. I’d buy that book for my kids in a second!

    • Mr. Money Mustache November 7, 2012, 6:05 pm

      Sounds like fun, Sarah. This blog is read by teenagers too, you know (although I am working on a book and will keep them in mind for that as well).

      Regarding Costco – depending on rural food costs, it still may be worth while traveling that far (especially if you team up with neighbors and carpool). Maybe on a day you have other business in the city. And buy $600 of non-perishable staples to last for six months. Could cut costs in half on those items (meaning you get paid $600 for making that trip).

      Splitting your internet is a great idea – as is being sure not to settle for a bad deal on Internet without searching.

      • rjack November 8, 2012, 6:31 am

        MMM – Can you say anything more about the book you are writing? ETA?

        • Mr. Money Mustache November 8, 2012, 10:15 am

          Ahh, my first customer.. excellent! (in Monty Burns voice)

          I have an outline and it is slowly filling in with words. But it’s based on harvesting the best 100 blog articles and rewriting/arranging them to be more concise for start-to-finish reading. Hardcore Mustachians like you who have read everything on this blog might not see too many new ideas, unless you just want a flowing refresher course.

          The real audience is the untold millions of Amazon Kindle readers who have never heard of this blog. And the readers here who have only joined in over the last year. My goal is to create a fun-to-read, zero-to-hero course in Mustachianism that you can read in a day or two, with none of the usual book fat on it that makes people quit halfway through. 200 pages or so. It has to be cheap (5 bucks or less), and I want to have it done in the next year or less.

          • Heather November 8, 2012, 10:44 am

            A print book might be worth considering because it can be given to other people as a Christmas gift. Wrapped up with a bow and placed on somebody’s unsuspecting lap, it would be a meaningful way to give a loving punch in the face to dear friends and relatives.

            It would be the ideal parting gift from parents to their kids who heading off to university. But, it would also be the gift you give to that great aunt with the two BMW’s who already has everything.
            It would be deliciously dual-purpose. In some cases, a life-changing piece of literature, in others a gag gift drooling with irony.

            For these reasons, I humbly petition thee for the publishing of a print book.

            • Sister X November 8, 2012, 2:22 pm

              Ebooks can be given as gifts, too. My brother did that for me last year. Of course, giving an ebook as a gift assumes that the receiver has a device to read it on, so a print book is still good. I just wanted to point out that ebooks and gifts are not mutually exclusive.

            • Freeyourchains November 9, 2012, 12:23 pm

              Plus it has the extra benefit of ending up in really old libraries! Where future generations may dust it off and question what it is, and how it can apply to them then.

            • Paul October 10, 2013, 9:42 am


              MMM can easily publish the ebook and make an on-demand print version with CreateSpace.

              Make it so!

          • CrucialDebtCrusher November 8, 2012, 12:48 pm

            “Nicomustachian Ethics”

            • James November 15, 2012, 12:53 pm

              In case you didn’t already know, that was fantastic.

          • Kuz November 8, 2012, 12:50 pm

            Looking forward to it. I’ve been looking for a good way to get the new out to people who don’t follow blogs or follow authors in any way but actual books. I’ll be ready when it comes out!

          • Joy Host November 8, 2012, 11:54 pm

            You really need a “Like” button for those of us who wish to avoid wasting space.

            Still, it is worth noting that reading your words is positive reinforcement, and I own a Kindle from my prior-to-sanity-days, so I would grab anything you wrote regardless of its repetitive nature ASAP ….

            Once I reach my no-stupid-emergency-debt mode in MAY of next year! Only six months away!!!

      • Jeff November 8, 2012, 11:37 am

        When I was a teenager my church did a focus group about saving money in an IRA for retirement. They said that if you maxed out your IRA, you should be able to retire by the age of 40. They went into all these analyses of budgeting and figuring out how much you would need to retire. The problem is we were still living with our parents and had no concept of what our salaries would be or how much our costs of living would actually be. It was the right idea, but the audience was not at all prepared to receive the message, and I think that’s something to consider when teaching kids about money.

        Teenagers have been through at least a decade of propaganda telling them that the only way to be a successful and respectable person is to get a job and love it. It’s only after they’ve paid for college and been through several jobs that they realize life isn’t all about work and developing a career. I don’t think you can convince a teenager to retire early because they’re still convinced that they’re going to have an amazing job that they will love, and that they will always have time for it because they haven’t thought about having kids of their own yet.

        I think it’s better to mitigate the possible financial damage by teaching teenagers about how credit cards work, what inflation is, how to budget and save, and the beginnings of how to have your money make money for you. At the very least, they should be coming out of college with very little or no debt. That much they should be able to comprehend. Beyond that, I don’t think they’re really ready to consider retiring when they haven’t even started a career.

    • Penelope November 13, 2012, 6:33 pm

      Me too! I would buy that book immediately for my 10-year old and begin chatting casually about it even at his young age. I mean this seriously and not as flattery. I hope that MMM will truly consider it.

  • Lorraine November 7, 2012, 4:10 pm

    Free range (or at least pastured) meat is far less resource-intensive than CAFO meat, Mr. MMM! All those fossil fuels required for grain production, huge amounts of water that must be brought to arid environments, the destruction of ecosystems, soil depletion…. But I know you are trying to remedy this family’s financial problems first and foremost. Don’t YOU feel guilty for supporting local agriculture, though, even if it might cost a little more money.

    • Mr. Money Mustache November 7, 2012, 4:40 pm

      Oh yeah – I agree that the free-range stuff is probably much better environmentally than factory farmed. But it’s still a super-decadent way to get your calories: grazing animals need huge amounts of land, and cows apparently squeeze out so much methane that the greenhouse effect of even the most angelic beef is huge. Plus the water and fuel requirements in their raising, chopping, and shipping are large.

      I’m not saying I don’t buy the stuff occasionally. But just as when I’m driving at 75MPH on a family road trip, I do it while saying “LALALA I am Mr. Fancy / having a giant party / destroying the Earth, just this once / for my personal edification.

      It doesn’t rhyme, but it is good to remind yourself when you are indulging in luxuries, lest you are fooled into considering them necessities.

      • Emmers November 7, 2012, 7:44 pm

        So you’re talking about meat (in contrast to plants), rather than organic-vs-non-organic? That makes more sense!

      • Eric November 8, 2012, 9:07 am

        The part about greenhouse gases from cows isn’t entirely accurate. Basic conservation laws tell us that the amount of carbon produced by cattle is absorbed by the grass that grows to feed them. In the case of grass fed, it’s all a closed loop where the manure fertilizes the grass, and the eating stimulates the grass to grow faster. Many places actually see increased grass growth and soil composition from grass fed beef if done properly.

        Factory farms on the other hand, have the huge carbon input of fossil fuels and petroleum based fertilizers. These carbon atoms take 1000s of years to go through a cycle back to petroleum, and instead end up in our atmosphere.

        If you’re interested in the subject, do a quick search for polyface farms, the owner has a lot of videos and even a book talking about the benefits to both environment and health from “natural” farming. Omnivore’s dilemma talks about it a bit, but it’s more about health than the carbon cycle. Also a good food read though.

        Also, organic beef/chicken is very similar to feedlot beef/chicken, they just use organic corn instead of conventional. Most of the same problems with feedlot beef still remain. 100% grass fed beef, and pastured chickens are the real deal as far as environment, humaneness (humanity?), and health go. They’re significantly more $, but americans already spend way less of their income on food than most countries, and most of history.

        My .02

        • Mr. Money Mustache November 8, 2012, 10:07 am

          All those points sound about right, except the cows/carbon/greenhouse point. The cows emit methane (CH4) which is about 20 times worse than C02 molecules for its heat-trapping effects, even with the same amount of carbon. 20 times is a huge factor – like the difference between leisurely walking and freeway driving.

          So the greenhouse effect isn’t caused by carbon itself (which alone is usually just black dust sitting on the ground). It’s the gaseous forms that it combines into.

          My real point is just that eating plants and healthy oils (and even eggs) is much cheaper environmentally than insisting on meat at every meal. Even then, beef is at the top of the fancypants list, while chicken and especially fish can be much lower if you choose the right kinds. If you can find US-farmed Tilapia, that’s apparently a good choice. And it’s damned yummy in blackened fish tacos or fish molee.

          • Marcia November 8, 2012, 12:24 pm

            I’ve found that my grocery bill has gone down since I’ve switched to more oil and less meat. And the food is yummy too.

            Probably one of the worst things I ever did for my health, weight, and lifestyle is that decade (or longer) of low-fat everything. I’m a big fan of the Mediterranean way of eating, which is lower on the meat and higher on the oils.

          • Flubdub November 10, 2012, 12:00 pm

            Thanks for the blog. I want to put in a positive word for livestock here. Cattle can be a decisively environmental food choice. Many ecosystems of the world have depended on the activity of large herds of livestock to function. The confinement feeding operations deserve to be vilified, but some herds of livestock, when managed properly, are mimicking these same beneficial activities of wild herds and deserve a better rap. These well managed cattle and the soils they build can be a large part of building carbon into soils, cycling methane through biological activity there, and feeding the world cheap, healthy food.
            Here is a great starting point to the ideas with Allan Savory:

          • GeorgiaS November 12, 2012, 10:39 am

            It’s true that cows produce methane, not carbon dioxide, but grass-fed cows produce a lots less of it than factory-farmed ones. Most cows in factory farms are fed corn, which isn’t their normal diet, and it gives them indigestion. Also, I read recently that due to high corn prices this year, factory farmers have been feeding cows candy! That’s right — cows are eating things like Hershey’s Kisses that didn’t meet quality control for human consumption.

          • James November 15, 2012, 1:14 pm

            In case you don’t already know, CH4 has an atmospheric lifetime of about a dozen years before it degrades into CO2 and water (not sure what the ratios are). CO2, on the other hand, has an atmospheric lifetime of several centuries.

            This makes things a little more complicated, but it’s best to reduce both gases as much as possible.

            • EricP June 19, 2014, 12:58 pm

              I had never heard about atmospheric lifetime before you mentioned it, but after doing a little research I did confirm that it’s “atmospheric lifetime” (which actually only brings it down to 37%) of 12 years. It seems that the fact that it is 20x stronger than CO2 is a myth because it is being turned into CO2 so fast. The only increase in methane comes from an increase in annual production. If annual production stabilized it would be removed from the atmosphere at the same rate it is being produced. Yes, it is still putting carbon into the atmosphere, but the closed loop of cows needing to eat grass takes it out at the same rate. So, it seems that we need not be concerned about Methane being produced by cows.

              Source: http://co2now.org/Know-GHGs/Emissions/ipcc-faq-emissions-reductions-and-atmospheric-reductions.html

          • Jaclyn November 29, 2012, 1:12 pm

            There have been studies done that grass-fed beef has just as high a carbon footprint as feedlot beef, http://news.discovery.com/earth/grass-fed-beef-grain.html. I am not advocating either. Personally, I buy whatever is on sale and only cook with meat about once a week in order to cut back on whatever environmental impacts there are. This is just what works best for my financial situation while still trying to be a good little environmentalist.

          • EricP June 19, 2014, 1:11 pm

            I know this is an oldpost, but I just wanted to clarify this bit of misinformation/misunderstanding. Methane is 29 times more potent as a GHG than CO2 per mass unit not per equivalent carbon as you stated. So we need to compare equivalent carbon because for a cow to make a single methane it needs a single CO2, not equivalent mass units. So taking the molar masses we have ~3.66 more carbons in CH4 than we do in CO2 so when compared per Carbon it is only 8 times worse than Carbon. This is also ignoring the fact that CH4 only has a atmospheric lifetime of 12 years, so if we were able to stabilize Methane production, we would no longer see increases in atmospheric Methane (this is not the case with CO2 as it does not have a well-defined atmopsheric lifetime, so we would have to greatly reduce emissions to see a decrease in atmospheric CO2)

      • Joy Host November 8, 2012, 11:56 pm

        Which is why being vegetarian is both cheap and AWESOME (albeit recent for myself)!

        • Faun November 9, 2012, 6:28 am

          I suggest you read “The Vegetarian Myth”

          • Ex vegetarian November 9, 2012, 11:13 am

            Yes, I second that. Read “The Vegetarian Myth” and save yourself.

            • Joy Host November 9, 2012, 7:19 pm

              Wow…”save yourself.” Sounds like you have some personal experience that was negative regarding vegetarianism. So far, I’ve found it easy, convenient, and tasty. Nothing to “save myself from.” But I’ll look into it.

            • Jesse November 11, 2012, 7:27 am

              I’ve read summaries of her book and while I do agree more should be learned about where food comes from (absolutely nothing in farming or manufacturing is “cruelty-free”), it looks like there are holes in her health & mono crop arguments. Who is a mono crop advocate and vegan ?!

              Also, who bases a vegan diet health claim on their own personal experience when they weren’t even vegan anyway – let alone claiming because it didn’t work for her it doesn’t work for anyone? That’s like me saying because I’m in great health being vegan for 20 years everyone will be. (That said I do know many decade and double decade vegans who are normal/healthy.)

            • mike crosby November 12, 2012, 10:14 pm

              What the hell, I’ll throw in my $.02.

              I’ve been vegan pretty much for 20 years. My weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, A1C, BUN, are either normal or excellent.

              If I ate what 99% of Americans eat, I’d be overweight, HBP, and not happy. Now I’m in control of my health and Dr McDougall is the man I give most credit to.

            • Alex Martelli December 2, 2012, 7:50 pm

              …but don’t forget to check out http://vegetarianmyth.com/ as well for counterpoints to those arguments!

            • Karen February 20, 2014, 2:19 pm

  • CL November 7, 2012, 4:19 pm

    It looks like this is a case of an Executive Dad and a SAHM. I’m not there yet, but I’ve thought about the balance in a situation like that. I’m a firm believer that the woman should work in some capacity on the weekends or evenings when the father is at home. Women need to have adult interaction and some sense of achievement – and it’s been documented that all parents prefer activities with finite ends rather than looking after kids, which is a long-term project. I read this Money Diary on Ramit Sethi’s site: http://www.iwillteachyoutoberich.com/blog/the-money-diaries-the-29-year-old-workaholic-who%E2%80%99s-counting-down-the-days-until-he-goes-into-debt/. I was disgusted by his wife, who not only spent lots of unnecessary money and nagged him to stop working when her husband was trying to make more money to keep them afloat, but also got a babysitter in the afternoons WHILE THEY HAD NO MONEY. She also got a “day off” which made little sense to me since she already had afternoons off. I think that both parents should earn money (even if that’s done unequally with one doing a 9 to 5 and another doing sporadic freelance) and dads should take a hand in raising the sons.

    • Jen November 7, 2012, 8:04 pm

      That link was great, I personally know a lot of SAHMs who run the “I am so busy” scam. They spend their husband’s money all day and pretend that taking the kids to gymboree was such hard work. I have worked a corporate job for a decade, and I was a SAHM for a few years and being home was WAY easier, no contest. You sit around a lot while your kids play at the park, you get to talk to your girlfriends, you can take your kids out for lunch or relax at Starbucks, and if you have raised them to have some self-control going places with them can be quite pleasant! If you are tired, you can also have them sit with a video or a toy while you chill out for a while.

      I feel sorry for husbands who work 12 hour days and then have to come home and give their wives the evening off because they are SO tired! It’s really unfair to the working spouse.

      • Mr. Money Mustache November 7, 2012, 9:03 pm

        Wow, this is a weird thread, and it sounds a bit disrespectful of stay-at-home parents to me. My wife and I both find that working is WAY easier than child raising. I suppose it depends how much you enjoy your work.

        And thus, when one of us has a rare day out of the house working, we are indeed on duty for the rest of the night while the stay-at-home person gets a break to go read a book or go get some exercise.

        However, at least we agree that unnecessary money-spending during the time the other person works is probably a bad idea. After all, if they are out working, it’s probably because you’re short on money. So it’s not to be wasted.

        • CL November 7, 2012, 10:20 pm

          Sorry, MMM, I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful to stay at home parents. I can’t say anything about Jen’s experience, since I’ve never been a SAHM and am closer to the kid side than the mom side. I have spent a lot of time thinking about what I would like my household to look like and I came to the conclusion that I needed to get out of the house sometimes before I end up as a bitter harridan. (I did draw and will draw on the MMM family’s plan of 50/50 parenting, because my husband needs to be a dad.) I was trying to reference the whole idea of equally shared parenting – and the situation on Ramit’s site was where the couple was on the verge of sinking hopelessly into debt while his wife seemingly spent money like there was no tomorrow while making everyone but her take care of their kid. While the husband profiled was freelancing like there was no tomorrow to try to make the cash inflow match the outflow, the wife complained about him working and spent more money than they had. MMM readers/case studies are of course slightly more sane, but this post reminded me of that, especially because of the rather high grocery bill despite their lingering debt.

        • Dan November 8, 2012, 7:41 am

          I don’t think the general weirdness in the comments should be unexpected: the tone of the opening paragraph of the reader case study is wrapped in class warfare. This was only going to enflame, particularly as the readers in the U.S. were on their sugar high from the election.

          I think it’s pretty funny though, it’s like reading the comments on an entirely different blog.

          • Mr. Frugal Toque November 8, 2012, 8:18 am

            Your Class Warfare Detector may be miscalibrated.
            This reader did not advocate public demonstrations, extremist tax strategies or the beheading of the rich.
            Nor was there any sign that she was looking to enslave people poorer than her.
            She said she makes less than $100k and that this blog has focused its Punches on those in the $100k+ category. She asked for an analysis of her financial situation, as a challenge compared to the mathematically simpler cases normally handled here.
            There was no sign of malice or jealousy.

            • Mr. Money Mustache November 8, 2012, 10:44 am

              Yeah, sorry guys.. that joke I used to start the article might need a bit of context:

              In my personal email, or in some ultra-complainypants comments that I usually delete, people sometimes write shit like..

              “.. spoken like a true upper-class, white, heterosexual man! You obviously have no grasp of the problems most of us face!!”.

              another person wrote

              “As time goes on and as your wealth and success increase, the tone of your blogs are increasingly more arrogant and insensitive to the problems of others.”

              When you’re Mr. Money Mustache, you gotta take the good along with the bad. I feel these people are missing the attempt at humour behind all of this shit I write. And the’re also mistaking my optimism for smugness. For example, when I write things like,

              “I like to focus on enjoying my absolute shitload of money”

              I don’t mean that I HAVE an absolute shitload of money when measured by the standards of the rich people of the US.

              I mean that we ALL have an absolute shitload of money, in the sense that even an hour at minimum wage can buy me 10,000 calories of organic first-pressing extra virgin coconut oil at Costco, enough to power me for five days. Then my next hour at work can buy some fruits and vegetables to diversify that diet, and so on.

              It’s a matter of looking at a living in a rich-world society as a privilege of opportunity, instead of focusing on its flaws.

              When I talk about how great I feel my own life is, I am not saying “I am great so be like me!” .. I am trying to say, “Even with my $25,000-a-year of spending, I have too much and must endeavor never to spend more. Happiness really doesn’t cost millions per year”.

              If people don’t get the message, that’s OK – they can read other blogs. But if they complain to me personally here in my own living room, I am allowed to occasionally tell them to Fuck Off.

            • Dan November 8, 2012, 12:04 pm

              Yeah, I meant the opening from the reader, per the comment right under this one, not your intro. The tone was very much like “You make too much money and don’t have enough children to be able to talk about making ends meet.”

              That’s kiiiiind of what the blog is about though: comfortably living on less money with the express purpose to retire early, not scraping by and living paycheck to paycheck. That’s why I read it and why I assume it’s so popular. I’m not sure why some people would come here specifically to disagree with the concept of the blog itself.

            • Rebecca November 21, 2012, 3:26 pm

              I mean that we ALL have an absolute shitload of money, in the sense that even an hour at minimum wage can buy me 10,000 calories of organic first-pressing extra virgin coconut oil at Costco, enough to power me for five days.

              That is a really powerful statement that deserves to be all over everything forever. I don’t think like that when I’m working to make money, but I probably should.

            • Dutchgall December 2, 2012, 12:40 pm

              Here, here!

          • Executioner November 8, 2012, 9:58 am

            Perhaps class warfare is the wrong term, but I certainly felt somewhat defensive due to the tone of the case study. Intentionally or not, her comments are dismissive of anyone who has made a conscious decision to keep family size small and work hard to increase their household income — as if lifestyle choices like this are not made by “real people”.

            • Emmers November 8, 2012, 1:23 pm

              I read it less being dismissive of people who made good decisions, and more “it’s great that you address people who have made good decisions, but why not spend one Case Study helping people who haven’t?”

              She acknowledges that their Bad Debt is bad — she’s not trying to make excuses about it. And I think it gets into really, really shaky ground when you try to tell people that their children were a Bad Decision, the same way excessive credit card debt is. (Not that you were, of course, but one could possibly read that into some of the comments in MMM threads.)

              So: I didn’t see judgment of the frugal, only “please help those of us who weren’t frugal previously but want to be so now.”

            • Dillon November 8, 2012, 1:44 pm

              What’s so shaky about it? If someone wasn’t financially ready for a child, and then they have a child, that was a financially bad decision. No one says the actual child is a terrible thing, just the adult thought process with regard to various factors (like finances) can be poor.

              I have a nephew who is the result of an unplanned pregnancy. I love him to death. Everyone in both side’s of my nephew’s family does as well but that doesn’t excuse the fact that the decision (or lack thereof) by the mother and father was a bad one considering their situation. Am I going to go up to my nephew and tell him he’s a mistake? Fuck no, that would be insensitive and callous. My nephew is the result of a bad decision but that doesn’t take anything away from the value of his life or how those around him perceive him. Finances or something related to the socioeconomic status of the parents is what is implied in the “bad decision.” If that can’t be figured out by the context of the conversation, then be clear about it and make sure it’s an appropriate time to have such a talk (if ever).

            • Ben May 22, 2014, 9:41 am

              Max nesting hit, but this is a response to Dillon.

              Opponents argue that people should simply wait to have children until they can afford to do so. But the Economic Mobility Project study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 70 percent of people who are born into poverty never leave poverty. Is the presumption that those people should never have children?

            • Dillon May 22, 2014, 10:48 am


              Correlation is not the same as causation and it is a fallacy to extrapolate what happens on aggregate and reduce it down to an individual (or couple) basis. i.e. if I was considering having children now, it would be a joint decision with my wife weighing many factors, not some decision based on the odds of poverty at large (our mutual decision may mirror what the statistics are showing, but the stats would not be the driver). Still, it would be foolish to not have a cursory understanding of the poverty cycle you mentioned with the relation to having children. Granted, every person that has been impovershed is not in poverty on a permanent basis necessarily. SIPP (Survey of Income and Program Participation) data, as administered by the Census Bureau, gives info about various poverty spells and the mobility.

              I don’t see how the study you mentioned is inconsistent with the notion that with respect to finances, couples should wait until they are ready to have children. If you were born into poverty (a measure of finances), then by definition the parents weren’t financially ready to begin with, regardless of the % of children that remain in poverty. The presumption is that if those prospective parents would’ve viewed a life of poverty for their child as worse than not existing at that specific time, then yes, they should wait until finances are better or not have children. If they were ignorant of this or knowingly chose to attempt to raise a child in a very difficult financial situation (rather than waiting or not having children), that is their right to do so but doesn’t mean it was a genius financial move. In theory, it could even be the optimal choice if having a child maximizes utility even when the financial aspect is substandard compared to alternatives (where overall utility is not maximized).

              I realize judging if you were financially ready to have children or not is much easier to say in hindsight after you have them, but this alludes to the importance of education about poverty dynamics and the many far-reaching consequences (good and bad) of family planning beforehand. Knowing information prior to an event only increases the precision to which you can estimate the impact of that event, a la risk management.

            • Kevin April 14, 2017, 5:10 pm

              wowww… that is not the implication at all. the point is simply that having kids early or from a poor financial position is ONE of the things that perpetuates the cycle of poverty itself by almost inevitably reducing the earning potential of the household and increasing expenses, not to mention the added stress that comes with juggling parenting, work and financial anxiety. for the sake of the kid as well, it is highly beneficial to be raised in a stable financial situation where one or both parents have the ability to provide the kind of attention that improves behavioral and economic outcomes. if that requires folks to perhaps wait until their late twenties or early thirties to have a kid, shouldn’t we promote that message for the sake of everyone involved? i get the subject makes people touchy, but shaking people out of apathy is going to be required for progress to be made.

        • Poor to Rich a Day at a Time November 8, 2012, 4:38 pm

          It not only depends on how much you enjoy your “work” but also depends on how you view parenting and whether or not your a hands on or hands off parent.

          Completely hands on parents who are totally involved with their kids regardless of childrens ages are very busy people. they do not spend all day on the phone, using tv as a babysitter or sit around while their kids are at the park.

          But then again, there will always be all types and stereo types regarding every aspect of living and lifestyle choices.

      • Mr. Risky Startup November 8, 2012, 12:07 am


        You are generalizing to the extreme. My wife always said that she wanted to stop working when we have kids so we did it. Money lost was well worth it – our son is thriving. It is a big sacrifice to give up on a career to wipe ass all day, and I would NOT do it in a million years, even if I got paid the same amount of money I get for my job. Not to mention, her job as a mother is so much more important than any other. She will make everlasting impact, while my job brings some short term dough but is insignificant on a long run.

        Sure, there are some of those mothers who are milking it (no pun intended). I know some of those too – letting TV raise their kids while they spend hours on Facebook oversharing/snooping or shopping on-line.

        However, I think that vast majority of mothers (and fathers) out there that decide to stay at home are doing it for good reasons and they should be praised for that.

        • TOM November 8, 2012, 6:11 am

          My home situation is very similar to yours.

          In fact, at first, I had a hard time wrapping my head around how staying at home with an infant could be so exhausting (Now that she’s a toddler, I totally get it). Post-partum mental issues, physical recovery, simply being new to the job all contribute, and the effects can last longer than one might imagine.
          I also know I couldn’t be the stay at home type, as I’m more prone to cabin fever whereas my wife is more of a homebody.

          We didn’t worry about her career aspirations or money, as she was working for a student loan company collecting, but we did worry she wouldn’t be successful at staying at home. As weird as that may sound to people, many women who want to stay at home with their children find themselves unable to do so for a variety of reasons.

          • Eschewing Debt November 8, 2012, 10:51 am

            Thank you to you, Mr. Risky Statup, and Mr.MM (and any others who I have not mentioned!) for defending SAHMs so nicely. I was going to write a profanity filled, name-calling rant for which I am sure I would later feel guilty, but you all have said it much nicer so I won’t have to. Thank you.

            • Plastic Kiwi February 14, 2016, 7:57 pm

              Hear, hear, Eschewing Debt, I was about to launch into a major rant also, how insulting to me as a SAHM! That I should “get a job” or “pay my way”. Tsk.

              Once I work up the guts, I’d like to start a website to help mothers who DON’T want to work. I’ve met plenty. To provide facts and financial information on how to make ends meet on one salary. I’ve heard so many distressing stories. Women who are heartbroken but feel like they have no choice.

          • Holly@ClubThrifty November 8, 2012, 12:12 pm

            I have two small children, ages 3 and 1. I also work full time. Honestly, after a weekend with my kids I am often more than ready to go back to work for the week. Taking care of small kids is exhausting and waaaaaaaaay harder than my job where I earn an income. I was just saying last night that I feel like the soundtrack of my life is whining because all I hear is someone crying, complaining, or whining at all hours of the day and night.

            I truly love my children but I also love working. It is a no brainer for me to go to work for a living. I have no desire to stay home at all. I know some women who love to stay home and do arts and crafts, museum trips, cook and clean all day. It’s just not for me.

          • Marcia November 8, 2012, 12:41 pm

            Yes. I found with the second child…I WANT to want to stay at home. While working full time with the first child was exhausting and stressful, I knew it would be worse with #2. So I’m working part time (still 80%).

            I recognized early on that if I were at home, our lives would be SO MUCH less stressful. It’s such a delicate balance to keep everyone fed, healthy, and on track with two. Just keeping everyone fed is such a feat (we eat a lot of leftovers).

            But I just don’t want to stay at home. Man, I just can’t do it. I wish I could.

        • Taylor November 8, 2012, 10:13 am

          Interesting you say that the SAHM’s job is “more important than any other”, and yet YOU wouldn’t do it in a million years even if you were paid a fancy salary.

          This is what makes me laugh about condescending men who obviously don’t value their spouse’s work but pay them lip service by saying it’s “soooo important.” Please. If you felt parenting was an important job, you would be doing it.

          • Mr. Risky Startup November 8, 2012, 11:16 am


            Thanks for calling me condescending. I do believe that parenting (and teaching) are two of the most important and meaningful jobs out there. I tried teaching and was successful, but I quit after 2 years because it was just too hard.

            I am NOT proud of the fact that I do not enjoy parenting. I would of course do it if I had to, but would rather go to work. I do spend more time with my son than my dad ever did with me, and even more than many fathers I know. However, I feel much more fulfilled by running the business than sitting in the park with my son like my wife does. I realize that this makes me sound like a jerk, but I simply have no patience like my wife does to spend a whole day pushing the swing, answering silly questions etc.

            Parenting IS the most important job of all because of the impact parents have. Ask Hitlers parents, or Ghandis. Parents raise kids that may eventually contribute to good things or destroy the world.

            In my high paying executive job, I do make a difference, but if I am gone tomorrow, someone else will take the job and there will be no long term impact either way.

            • Mr. Risky Startup November 8, 2012, 11:28 am

              By the way, I am writing this while watching my boy play with other kids at the local jungle-gym. And I am the only father in the whole place :)

          • Mike November 16, 2012, 1:55 pm

            I don’t get how you turn this into a generalization about “condescending men”. There are plenty of jobs I have a ton of respect for that I’d rather not do myself, or would not be good at doing myself. Our military, for just one example–which, incidentally, I *did* do for a while. But I’d rather not be away from my family and put my own life (and their father/husband) at risk, and frankly I think there are others much better at the task than I would be.

            My own wife has been a SAHM for 13 years now, and actually would very much like to rejoin the workforce. She’s a much better worker than I am in many ways–smarter, more organized, better work ethic, I could go on and on–but as things worked out, I was in a better position to provide for our family, and she stayed home. I would actually love to switch places with her, but it’s just not feasible for her to replace my high income (at least until we reach FIRE).

            I also think she’s been much better at raising our kids and taking care of our household than I would have been over the years. I deeply value the sacrifice she made to give up her career for the benefit of our children.

            Does the fact that I’m not the one at home raising the kids make me condescending? Let’s pretend for a moment that my wife wasn’t as talented in the workplace as she is. If my wife said to me that I’m a better income provider, she wanted to be the one to stay home, and she truly values what I’m doing for our family, would that make her condescending because she’s not out there working in the marketplace and bringing in cash?

      • Marcia November 8, 2012, 12:33 pm

        Wow, I guess it depends on the age of the kids and the particular family.

        I find that being at home is harder than being at work. It’s non-stop and busier. It depends on how you do it, but with a baby and a 6 year old, my maternity leave was HARD. Nursing 8-10 times a day, trying to actually interact with the 6 year old, keep him busy, help him with his homework and reading. Try to get in a walk (to the park, so I can kill 2 birds with one stone). Laundry, dishes, cooking. Handling the finances (paying bills, entering receipts). Keeping the cars gassed up (luckily neither needed oil changes during that time). Handling all of the doctor’s appointments.

        At least at work I can eat and pee and pump in peace.

        I have several friends who are SAHMs (one is my childcare provider for the baby). They are busy! Granted, they all have 3 small children to care for.

        I guess if you have a cleaning person, help around the house, etc., SAH is easier. And maybe not all SAH’s tackle the same chores.

        I don’t disagree with the idea that both can bring home money – but only if they so choose. I personally like WOH for many reasons (accomplishment for one, but it’s just who I am, mainly). And I can see how some SAHMs would want to WOH part time on weekends for extra money or adult interaction. BUT, work is still work for most people. Then you have a SAHM dealing with kids 24/5 during the week and her “me time” is … work. Which isn’t necessarily “me time”. Adult interaction can be had by volunteering at the schools.

        Overall I think that having one SAHP is definitely less stressful overall on family life. But I personally find SAH to be harder than working.

        • Samantha November 9, 2012, 8:03 am

          Almost all of the things you mentioned that make being a SAHM hard are the things that the working moms still have to do on top of working their day jobs, i.e. laundry, cooking, dishes, grocery shopping, car maintenance, doctor appointments, exercise, and handling the finances.

          At least kids take naps. I can’t take a nap at work.

          I don’t mean to sound rude, though. I know staying at home and entertaining/educating children non-stop would be psychologically taxing. But it just seems like working moms don’t get credit for juggling all of the above plus earning an income. Its not like I have a maid and cook and a chaffeur.

          • Marcia November 10, 2012, 9:43 pm

            I think we all get credit for that other stuff. But my husband does half of it. I do the groceries and cooking. He does the laundry and dishes. He does drop off. I do pick up. We split the doctors appt and sick days. Monday is a holiday from school and child care. He’s working the morning and i am working the afternoon.

            Nap time is only useful if you have one kid or can get them on the same nap schedule. Most of my friends have more than one kid and they don’t nap at the same time.

            Maybe it’s my personality. As much as I have three days a week that I think about quitting, by the time Sunday night rolls around, I’m ready to go back to work.

          • Lisa March 17, 2013, 6:16 am

            I agree, Samantha.

            I am lucky that I work part-time (67% of a full time job). I find parenting “harder work” than working, but cutting back on my work day has allowed me more time to do all of the household and parenting things I found very stressful getting done when I was working full-time. I’m a teacher and I can say that life is far less stressful when I am on holidays than when I am working.

            I found it way harder to work full-time and get all of the work of parenting done at the same time than I do now.

  • Jamesqf November 7, 2012, 4:22 pm

    Couple of minor adds: 1) 30 mpg is not a gas saver car; and 2) if you want to eat fairly cheap but good, learn to cook ethnic cuisine from poorer cultures – Chinese, Thai, Mexican, etc.

    • Joy Host November 9, 2012, 12:09 am

      Amen. I am currently living for days off one $8 Thai meal–and this is in Las Vegas!

  • Sara November 7, 2012, 4:33 pm

    I am a separated mom with two kids half time custody. Right now I am living on about 35000. This is a pretty high rent area and I live in the very cheapest housing I have ever seen in the area at $1000. It includes heat and water, though and my electric is usually at around $45 a month so it is pretty doable. My income has been up a bit and down a bit in the last three years and I left my marriage with $400 and a giant loan on my car. Loan is paid off, divorce attorney is paid off and I have saved about $9000. Soon as I get another job (I had a stipend as grad assistant for my masters but I finished), I will go back to saving the $900 a month I had been, or more. It is tight but it is doable. It is kind of lonely sometimes though because I don’t know any one else who lives as low key as we do. I think that is the worst thing because my tastes tend towards going to the symphony and art galleries but we need to live in this very working class area on this income. I know there will be an increase shortlly when I start a decent job, but really the feeling of isolation is the worst part of it. We eat well, we have small but nice wardrobes. My kids got financial aid to attend a very high end private school. Great public libraries all over, cheap food store, etc. Wouldn’t want cable even if I could squeeze it in the budget. I wouldn’t really live any different if I have more money except I would own a house instead of renting and I would get out a bit more. And definitely live in a slightly more companionable (for me) area. I don’t even find any compatible dates around here. But living well on a fairly limited income is not so bad and if you have no debt and an expectation of salary increases, it is quite doable.

    • fwttg November 8, 2012, 10:23 am


      My situation’s different but I understand how you can feel lonely at times. My wife and I work different schedules and often go a week with nothing more than telephone conversations. The social life takes a hit because when we do get time together it’s important that we devote most of it to each other.

      Here’s a hug and a pat on the back. Keep focused and moving forward, sounds like you’re doing a great job!

      • Jeff November 8, 2012, 11:52 am

        Both these stories sound awful. I don’t mean that in an insulting way. I mean it in a “you may need to step outside yourselves and look at your lives” kind of way. If you are that lonely. If you aren’t even seeing your spouse. You need to reevaluate your priorities. Are you really in the best place? Is the money you earn at your job really worth the strain it puts on your relationships (or lack thereof)? It’s incredibly difficult to do, but every now and then it’s worth questioning your entire way of living, just to make sure there isn’t something you would change.

        • Emmers November 8, 2012, 1:27 pm

          “Is the money you earn at your job really worth the strain it puts on your relationships (or lack thereof)?”

          Speaking only based on the people I know who work these types of situations…Not paying rent would be worse.

          Maybe America needs a better social welfare system, where people *aren’t* made to feel guilty for taking government assistance when they fall into dire straits such as this. I don’t know. But as it stands right now, I find it *entirely* plausible that these people are in sustenance-level jobs.

          • Dutchgall December 2, 2012, 12:57 pm

            Good point, Emmers. That is what I was thinking too.

        • Sister X November 8, 2012, 2:50 pm

          “You may need to step outside yourselves and take a look at your lives”? That’s incredibly harsh and condescending. You honestly think that Sara and fwttg HAVEN’T thought about it? If they’ve identified it as a problem in their lives, then clearly they have been thinking about it. In that case, I would assume that the money is worth it for their long-term goals.
          I know that’s true of me and my husband. He was working 2 weeks on/1 week off this summer and is only home for the winter before going back to the same schedule next summer. It’s incredibly hard, on both people. He’s been home for less than a week and we’re still busily trying to work through all the communication issues which cropped up while he was gone, getting used to being around the other person all the time, and having the big conversations we didn’t want to have over Skype.
          Would I still say this is worth it? Absolutely. We’ve been scraping by for so long that it’s nice to finally have some of our goals within sight. We just won’t do this long-term. (And yes, my husband will be looking for other work this winter, as well as learning some new skills to hopefully change careers in the next few years. We’ve both agreed that taking a pay cut for an in-town job is still a better option than making more/working away from home. However, that’s not exactly realistic in my state, with his degree/experience/youth.)

          • fwttg November 8, 2012, 6:01 pm

            Ha! My story does sound sad in that snippet above. I’m doing fine, thanks.

            It seems to me Sara’s kicking ass and demonstrating tremendous strength to get out of a tough situation. One of the (temporary) costs is her social life. That resonated with me and I merely want to offer her encouragement and, now, Sister, too!

  • Holly@ClubThrifty November 7, 2012, 4:34 pm

    Does this family have anything that they could sell?

    That is how we started our debt free journey- by selling all unnecessary things we didn’t want or didn’t use and putting all new money toward our debt. It all adds up and could help them make great strides in their debt repayment.

    • Plastic Kiwi February 14, 2016, 8:13 pm

      That’s a great tip Holly.

      Since we moved to a much smaller place right after I found this blog and realized just how much uneccesary shit we had somehow accumulated, I have been slowly offloading it and every $3-$4 goes right on the mortgage, it does add up, over $1000 in 6 months!

      The other benefit is the real pain you feel for selling something for $3 that you spent $20+ to acquire…it definately curbs your appetite for buying ANYTHING except that which you genuinely, truly NEED!

  • Not a Jones November 7, 2012, 5:03 pm

    Also, you can buy a used smartphone off Craigslist, or the like and then hook up to Airvoice (thank you MMM). Mine was a $100 iPhone- working great!! :>

  • Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies November 7, 2012, 5:23 pm

    I think the “make more money” option seems to have a sizable upside. I read this as she is a SAHM, so forgive me if I’m wrong – but what about part time employment a few nights a week? Do you have any skills that you can apply to a job remotely for 10 hours a week or so during naptimes? Or watching some of the neighbor’s kids after school for a couple of hours until their parents are home from work? For the right personality types – even Mary Kay or Avon can work if you’ve got the social circle that you’re not afraid to exploit.
    None of these options seem as though they would take that much time away from the kids if that’s what the main priority is while they are young.

    • Emmers November 7, 2012, 7:48 pm

      “even Mary Kay or Avon can work if you’ve got the social circle that you’re not afraid to exploit” –> Nooooooo do not do this thing! (Unless your friends are the type of people who enjoy buying that sort of stuff, that is.) Trying to sell to people you know only causes strains.

      I like the other ideas, though!

    • Crystal November 8, 2012, 4:47 am

      I was fortunate to quit work for pay when my kids were 2 and 6 mos. there is so much more flexibility with your time when you are home all day that in the last 2 years I’ve slowly learned to organize my day in a way that allows me to interact with my kids, take care of all household responsibilities, and now gym time (since the awesome baby sitter is included). A year ago I found I needed more mental stimulation and the budget needed more income. I was shocked to find how many small companies need a few hours a week of telecommute work. In my case, I do 10-15 hours of bookkeeping. I can get up before the kids, stay up late, hope for naps, or work on the weekends. All around, it took a tight budget to one with plenty of breathing room (savings). And still, I have time to sit around reading MMM before starting the day. Plenty of people waste time whether you work or not. You may be able to gain more by finding more time in the day than finding pennies in the budget.

      When you can’t subtract to balance your budget anymore, add to the income!

  • Poor to Rich a Day at a Time November 7, 2012, 5:33 pm

    Family of 5 here annual income $14,000 a year food $200 to $400 a month.

    While I know food prices vary greatly from area to area I would scrutinize your food bill. I spent 3 years feeding a family of 5 on $150 to $300 a month and recently accepted help in food stamps for $435 a month where we eat really well on that while stocking up cupboards. I would think you could save most of the $160 you pay out of pocket for in this catagory. We spend about $25 a month for personal products and toilet paper. We don’t buy cleaners , we simply use borax, vinegar and baking soda for cleaners.

    You did get a great buy on your house.

    I agree with someone elses comment of selling everything you have you really don’t use or need. Go room to room removing anything you don;t need and selling it. Food, clothing and shelter is really all we need, the rest is pudding luxuries.

    We recently unplugged our refrigerator , yeah for environmental issues but hey at $14,000 a year I have already hit bottom with ways to save so need to really think unconventional. It looks like it will save us $10 a month but again if I find a bunch of unconventional ways to save a few bucks it will add up and can make a huge impact in our lives. We also do minimalist wardrobes to save money not only on buying clothes but in the cost of washing them, laundry soap, electricity etc!

    We hardly ever buy clothes and will wear the same 2 pr of jeans for 5 years or more until they literally are no longer wearable.

    You also may want to consider keeping just the one smaller car. It is doable. We had a tiny cavalier for 5 people that we used for 5 years, we used it as a farm vehicle to haul pigs and goats in even AND scrap metaled in it where we would fill the trunk and back seat with heavy, heavy metals to cash in. So I am sure yours most likely could handle a trailer with card board.

    In the end though, tips could pour in all day and bottom line is what is your family’s comfort level in the name of saving is and what is your comittment to the desire to pay down debt and save? If you want it bad enough you will find ways to reduce expenses and hopefully raise income without inflating more expenses.

    This is coming from someone who has never came close to a $50,000 a year income so I admitt, I am willing to go to extremes in the name of saving and living below our means and extremes are certainly not for everyone.

    In some ways you have a good basis, so you made a few mistakes along the way, most of us do ( including myself!) learn from them, grow from them and change them.

    You can not expect change by doing the same things and sometimes shaking things beyond your comfort zone can be a liberating, inspiring experience.

    You can do this! Just scrutinize everything and see where you are willing to cut back and add to paying off debts.

    • Clint November 7, 2012, 6:27 pm

      Why on earth are you making just $14k a year? I’d really like to know your story. Your comment offers great advice. You’re obviously a thinker and very resourceful. How is it you’re not making at least double your income. It’s just not making sense to me.

      • MoreKnown November 7, 2012, 6:29 pm

        Maybe self employed?

        • Clint November 7, 2012, 6:35 pm

          Ok. A quick glance at the blog, and it seems this standard of living is her conscious choice.

          • Poor to Rich a Day at a Time November 7, 2012, 8:24 pm

            Yes Clint, I agree that a conscious choice plays a partial role, part health reasons that circumstanially led us to where we are now. Hubby’s two heart attacks by age 38 with a third on the way led us to make the conscious choice of him leaving a much higher paying job. This also led us to a more rural area where work is really hard to come by with the trade off of much lower rental costs.

            I stay home, for one I value family and I homeschool but now, when I really could and should take on work load, I keep it to some small freelance work as my own health issues have become a real obstacle in which we are working on trying to work out but without health insurance this has been a difficult task as we have never worked in a job that offered medical due to the areas we have lived in……..mostly small rural areas that just can not provide medical for their employees.

            So yes some is conscious choices we have made, others circumstantial , while I strive to improve though I have also learned to do the best I can with what I have in the meantime and still lead a fulfilling life in which I am very grateful for.

      • Freeyourchains November 9, 2012, 2:00 pm

        6 Billion People in the World make less then $20k/ year.

        Only a handful choose to do so.

  • firefighterjeff November 7, 2012, 5:37 pm

    Similar to the OP, I too get irritated when over-the-top examples are used to illustrate monetary principles. However, the only thing that this fact changes for the rest of us is that some are blessed with more money to blow before they see the light. Not to sound harsh, but it doesn’t matter whether MMM and his family have/had certain advantages over you or others. What matters is if his advice is sound and can work for all incomes. I think it can and does.

    It all comes down to daily choices for people in your boat. A hard look at your food choices, a second part-time job to get rid of debt, a possible job in addition to the SAHM responsibilities, reconsidering if certain items are luxuries for people in your situation, cell phone, second vehicle, internet, etc.

    Let me say that I have been where you are at, minus a couple of kids, and can tell you that the longer and harder you apply these principles, it becomes exponentially easier as time goes by. That’s because your successes build upon themselves and the sense of control over your life is very empowering. Good luck and quit worrying that others have it easier than you, somebody always will.

    • Joshua November 7, 2012, 6:59 pm

      Hi there,

      Another long term lurker and engineer (so cliche, i know). Why do us engineers gravitate here? My God we are such fucking nuumber nerds.

      I feel like an important point is being avoided here because perhaps its too cold and callous, but mother fucker it MUST be said…

      In almost all practical scenarios that exclude living in dirt hole in the ground, you will require about $25K/yr to live + $5K/yr for each dependent for hard core money watchers in the U.S. Living on icome BELOW this is certainly possible but you are encroaching on divorcing yourself from normal society and joining the ranks of the Unabombmer.

      The upshot is the following, in uncluttered logic, if your family spending is sub $30K/yr and your family income is sub $50K/yr, then you are looking quite likely at standard retirement age. There is very little room for cutting expenses further without buildiing a cob house and going off grid, selling all cars, and growing your own food (which incidentally I’m entertainingm but then again I’m a fucking nut job).

      You’re budget is lean. It could be leaner, but not by much. Making more money is your highest probability pathway to FI. And I want to see you get there.

      Along the way I have been a lab manager for a lab that does ecological research on an endangered ecosystem. This was morally gratifying but not sufficient for ensuring FI at an early age. Thus, I am now an engineer working in green energy…also morally gratifying but also financially rewarded at a level consistent with early FI.

      I read your story closely. I’ve been in a similar situation. I commend your frugality which is truly fucking AWESOME!! There are really only two ingredients in the early FI pie: Draconian budget control and surplus income. The latter is the most fertile ground for you. I sincerely wish you great luck and for God’s sake somebody get snipped because more mouths to feed is tantamount to more years enslaved to 9-5.

      • Mr. Money Mustache November 8, 2012, 10:56 am

        Interesting perspective Joshua, except the bit about the “$25k plus $5k for each dependent”.

        Are you kidding? You have seen my own budget, haven’t you?

        Basic rent/heat/etc is very cozily covered at $500/month per person (unless you live in a high-cost area, which you only do if you have a high enough salary to make frugality unnecessary. Food is $150. There are no other real necessities that add up to much of anything if you know how to use Craigslist and Freecycle.

        I don’t know much about the Unabomber’s budget, so no comment there.

        So the basic lifestyle is around $7000 per year for a person (see earlyretirementextreme.com for a much fuller life near San Francisco at the same price): http://earlyretirementextreme.com/how-i-live-on-7000-per-year.html

        You’ll never make a case for getting this anywhere near $25k unless you are an absolute beginner at efficient spending.

        You have dared to contradict everything Mr. Money Mustache writes about here – do not do that again, unless it’s on your own blog :-)

        I’m with you on the birth control, though.

        • Gipsy Queen November 8, 2012, 1:32 pm

          High-rent area doesn’t always come with the 100K salary. Sometimes it is a choice made to boost a career (while paying entry-level income), cut costs in other areas (“what second vehicle? I don’t even have a first!”), or simply staying close to friends and family.
          It should be, and is, a thought-about choice, but it could still be a valid choice even if you don’t make “high enough salary to make frugality unnecessary”. You’ll pay for it with limited choices elsewhere.

  • zweipersona November 7, 2012, 5:47 pm

    This can go into greater detail on how to save money on your electric bill


    Good luck!

  • Eschewing Debt November 7, 2012, 5:47 pm

    If you have four kids then I do not recommend getting a job in your “free time” (HA!) that takes you away from your family and has set hours in which you have to be there. Something more flexible would be ideal. I have found that doing some day care/baby-sitting can allow you to be with your kids and make some money. So many parents are looking for sitters that you can choose who and when you baby-sit. As mentioned above, Avon or Mary Kay CAN be good options for certain people as well.

    Also, by learning to coupon you can easily cut your food bill in half- and still eat all the good stuff.

    Good luck!

    • sonofczar November 7, 2012, 7:40 pm

      IF you have 4 kids and a husband with days off, getting a part time job is a GREAT idea for your “free time”. Especially if you have credit card debt. Not only do you get your foot in the door for more work when your kids get older, but it’s also good to socialize with adults. My wife works every second weekend around my schedule, and the extra $600 a month she makes isn’t a lot, but it goes straight to our savings and it gets her out of the house and into the world with others which I think is good for everyone’s sanity.

      • Workin' Man November 8, 2012, 6:34 am

        PT job depends on the personality. I do agree that socializing is vital to SAHM’s emotional health but there are ways beside a job. Don’t take a PT job just to “get out of the house.” I know a woman who tried this and it was a disaster.

      • Eschewing Debt November 8, 2012, 10:45 am

        Fair point- it sounds like your wife has a great job that works well! I was thinking of myself (a SAHM), and how I would hate to be tied to somebody else’s schedule- i,e., having a boss. If the kids were sick or if the kids have a soccer game, I would personally hate to miss being there for my kids. I personally do not need the validation or the socialization a job gives, though I realize that some women crave that. A job where you can make your own hours, or work while the kids are with you (i,e., child care) still leaves the control with you, not a boss, which is why I would personally prefer that option. But I concede that you make an excellent point as well:)

        I definitely agree with you that getting rid of the the CC debt is a must! Perhaps getting a job just until the CC was paid off would be a compromise.

  • Emmers November 7, 2012, 7:40 pm

    “and consider dropping collision/comprehensive insurance if you haven’t already” –> Is this a good idea if you don’t have a ‘Stache to fall back on to buy the next car with cash?

    I’m pretty debt-averse though…maybe I missed one of the Mustache 101 posts about car insurance pre-Stache!

    • Captain and Mrs Slow November 8, 2012, 9:59 am

      it depend on the cost of insurance. If you live where I do, Madrid Spain than insurance is quite cheap, relative to the cost of an accident. If you live in Ontario Canada than forget it, insurance is insane, make a claim and find out how fast you get dropped into the high risk pool!!!

      I had an accident and ended up deep in the hole for it because I dropped the rental option and had a big deductible (wasn’t my fault but a mistake in the paper work meant I had to claim it on mine) will take me 20 years to make it back.

      But as I said it all depends where you live.

    • Sue November 10, 2012, 1:03 pm

      “and consider dropping collision/comprehensive insurance if you haven’t already” –> Is this a good idea if you don’t have a ‘Stache to fall back on to buy the next car with cash?

      Mwahhaa! Try living in Italy. My third party only insurance on a 12 year old car is more than I paid in the UK for fully comprehensive. I drive carefully and reckon I could come up with the next €4500 (euro) in the event of a write-off.
      If I paid for comprehensive I reckon it would come to more than the book value of the car!

  • Joe @ Retire By 40 November 7, 2012, 10:18 pm

    Thanks goodness we decided to put off having a kid for 12 years.
    You’re in a pretty tight situation of your own making. At least you are making an effort to get out of it. Like MMM suggested, you gotta bite the bullet and deal with the bad debt first.
    Your phone bills are just silly. Get rid of them until your situation is improved.
    Good luck

    • Dan November 8, 2012, 7:30 am

      “of your own making”

      Couldn’t agree more. The tone of OP made it sound as if some magic occurs that bestows children upon you shortly after you are forced into an arranged marriage in your 20s. These are conscious decisions–for the readers of this blog anyway…

      I’m fine with this blog being somewhat narrow in its scope, frankly. There are plenty of blogs out there where people can read about how to embrace being poor as opposed to simply living within their means, whether their means be ample or not.

  • Jessica November 8, 2012, 12:03 am

    I am surpised that no one has mentioned The Tightwad Gazette. She and her husband raised 6 kids on less than $38000 a year and still managed to save a 20% down payment for a huge house in Maine. The newsletter even ends because she decides to do early retirement. If anyone could give advice about how to save with one income and multiple mouthes to feed its Amy. Case study individual, you can get her books at the library, they are helpful and uplifting. I loved them enough to actuall buy the whole set.

  • Jimmy Gibbon November 8, 2012, 2:34 am

    Am I reading this correctly that the OP is receiving nearly 1000.00 per month in food stamps??

    • Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies November 8, 2012, 3:14 am

      I read it as more of a benchmark for understanding their food costs per person – didn’t think they were getting any governmental assistance.

  • carolinakaren November 8, 2012, 2:45 am

    I would like to recommend a website to help your family lower food costs. poorgirleatswell.com This girl has great tips, recipes, and food challenges that I have found very inspiring.

  • Suzanne November 8, 2012, 3:51 am

    I applaud your bravery…your family is on the right track! Most families would not be so together with the squad of hungry boys and a SAHM!

    I’d make my goal knocking out that credit card debt, whether by squeezing out a few more pennies in savings, increasing income, selling things…or a combination of all of them. If your family had that extra 500 a month….! Part time work for mom might work, or some other side hustle for mom and dad. Since you have a den of cub scouts, the kids are still in elementary school and still need child care, you might have to be creative with your hours. And I’ll tell you, part time work and full time family is pretty demanding!

    I went to grad school online when my kids were very small and I was a SAHM. While in school I also picked up a part time job in my field, and arranged a complicated babysitting trade with a neighbor. The extra income was good and eventually led to a full time job once both kids were in school. My husband has been laid off twice in the last two years, and I have been so glad that I was working. It was pretty tough when the kids were smaller…all the other moms were going for coffee and shopping, and I was going home to write papers and then go to work at night. I’m glad I did it–the level of security of me and my family is wonderful.

    Stay the path and good luck. We are cheering for you!

  • chris November 8, 2012, 4:36 am

    I would tackle the snack habit.
    Prepare and carry fruit, veggies or from scratch sandwiches, cakes, salads to be eaten in picnic style to keep the wolves from the door till you get home.
    Then have a good soup (use the slow cooker to cook from scratch) at the family table and talk about the day events as a family.

    • heidi November 8, 2012, 1:15 pm

      My two kids are only 6 and 4. I think that as we see the road ahead for the next 5-10 years, I will work on making it a priority for them to be able to prepare their own snacks and help with meals before they pick up the activities that would require a time crunch. Otherwise, this ship could sink or wear me out. Will it work?

      • Nerode November 8, 2012, 4:06 pm

        It will help. My two boys (grade 4 and 2) make their lunch for school the evening before. One begs to be allowed to make salad for dinner, the other loves to bake, and can make cake/pie, etc. largely unaided.

        I credit this to my wife (SAHM, part-time musician/teacher) encouraging them to help in the kitchen even when their ‘help’ cost time, mess, etc. They got to taste, to experiment, to feel they had contributed, and to make choices about what was for dinner. And they had fun.

        Start now!

  • Jess November 8, 2012, 6:18 am

    I feel that, similar to having pets, having children is a luxury. Having 4 children is an extreme luxury. Since you decided to have that much luxury given your levels of income, you probably will not be able to save much.

    Edited to add: This is not to say that having the children is a bad choice, and obviously we need (some) people to have (some) children for the world to continue, so to some extent having children could be seen as a responsibility, but it IS a choice. The beginning of the author’s letter makes it sound inevitable.

    • Emmers November 8, 2012, 1:31 pm

      Sure, but that doesn’t help *this* Reader Case Study. And Reader Case Studies are less about “you should have made different choices in the past” (those are the other blog entries!), and more about “here is how you climb out of your current hole.”

      Reader Case Studies are “Here is my situation; help me better it.” You can’t magically un-have children; we aren’t Discworld goblins, after all.

  • Mandy @MoneyMasterMom November 8, 2012, 6:20 am

    props to MMM for taking on a tough case study. Trimming fat on a lean budget is a tough business.

    I think it’s great that this Mom is having her boys earn money to go to Cubs. She’s teaching them money values and lessons that she suggests she didn’t have as a child.

    I have mixed feelings if I agree that you should have all your financial ducks in a line before you have kids. I absolutely agree you shouldn’t have children if you’re racking up credit card debt, and struggling to stay ahead of student loans. But if you wait until your debt free, with a mortgage free house, and a sizeable stash, well you may never get around to the kiddos.

    • Mr. Money Mustache November 8, 2012, 10:23 am

      Yeah, you don’t have to wait forever or be financially independent before the kids come.

      I’m just suggesting that if you are 20 years old and planning kids at, say a reasonable 30-35 years of age, you should space out your happy hours, trips to France, and Ipad/Macbook Pro/Mini Cooper/Jetta TDI/Carbon Fiber Road Bike purchases and focus on getting some real wealth while the getting is easy.

      Don’t just keep shopping at full speed, and then start procreating while you’re still dependent on two incomes, figuring “Oh, we’ll just throw her in baby day care a month after she’s born because I’ll need to go straight back to work with all our bills”.

      If you can’t live on one income yet, you can’t afford kids yet. (Not that it is mandatory to quit your career and stay at home.. this is just my personal guideline for the financial aspects of childraising).

      • Emmers November 8, 2012, 1:32 pm

        Agreed! You should be *able* to live on one income (at least in an ideal situation), but that doesn’t mean you have to *do* it. I think of this as the hit-by-a-bus philosophy.

      • Cyn March 19, 2014, 12:11 am

        Hi MMM,

        I realize I’m commenting to a 2 year old post. I’ve been reading your website for a couple months now and it’s my first time posting. Hopefully you’ll read this and respond. I know I could totally just post in the forum, but I’d like your own opinion since I’m surprised at you and everyone posting’s stance against children before 30.

        My bf and I are graduating college with 90k software jobs in silicon valley (probably 100k take home after taxes, 401k match, and paying for employee health care). We’re planning on getting married and having 2 kids when I’m 24 and 26 (let’s skip the “are you ready??!” conversation and just talk about finances).

        I’m 21 right now and haven’t started work yet, but we’ve been practicing budgeting food (mainly with food and impulse spending). I’m even reading up on gardening to cut food costs even more. I’ve been playing with a spreadsheet a lot to prepare for when we get our first paycheck. Both of us have no student loans, credit card debt, or any other form of debt.

        Ideally, we’d like to both work part time when we have kids until they are both in public school (7 years if they’re 2 years apart). We’re fine going back to full-time until both kids are in college. The goal for us is not FI ASAP, but raise our kids without babysitters, retire when they’re in college, and fully fund both of their colleges if they decide to go. If we reach FI earlier, cool, but that’s not our primary goal.

        The current plan is to match our 401ks and max our ROTH IRAs, using both as “old people money” and college tuition money. Other investments would be kept in a separate taxable account with 80/20 Vanguard index fund investments, moving up to 80/40 as we approach financial independence. I realize it’s not the most “tax-efficient” way, but keeping our old people money and early retirement money separate seems simplest to me. We also have 20k in signing/relocation bonuses as our “emergency fund.”

        Based on my math, assuming our investments compound at a low 5% (fees/inflation), it looks like both of us could still work part time for 7 years even spending 45k (if rent reached 3k a month) and have 1mil in today’s dollars in the taxable account and 900k in the retirement accounts by the time we’re 45. Here are my annual contribution estimations below, assuming our income doesn’t increase:

        -15k in taxable account (if saving for an 80k house down-payment)
        -60k in taxable account (if not buying a house and just renting)
        -16k in trad 401k (8k contribution+8k match)
        -11k max in ROTH IRA

        During part time:
        -15k in taxable account
        -16k in trad 401k
        – no ROTH IRA contribution

        Full-time after kids in public school:
        -40k in taxable
        -16k in trad 401k
        -11k ROTH IRA

        After both kids are in college when I’m around 45, we would stop account contributions and live off our withdrawals (below 4% of course). If my bf and I can maintain a generous 30k annual spending, 1mil should be more than enough to sustain us until 59 when we can start taking from our retirement accounts. Even subtracting from the retirement accounts for a total of 500k tuition over the 6 years they would be in college, the accounts will compound back to 800k by the time we’re 59 and be able to last us even if we lived past 100, not even including social security). If not, we could always grab from our taxable account, which would be in the millions by then. All of these are in today’s dollars since the inflation was taken into account in the compounding.

        Here’s the main question: Is it REALLY that bad to have kids so early? Even if my math is slightly off, we still seem to have plenty to sustain ourselves and invest with, plus plenty more. Almost everyone on this post seems to be on the “NEVER, EVER have kids in your 20s!” side. But if you have your finances together, no debt, and live mustachian from the start, it seems perfectly fine for someone in their 20s. BUT doesn’t the same logic apply to a beginner mustachian in their 30s with no savings, no debt, and their biological clock ticking?

        I guess what I’m trying to say is, why hold the phone if the biggest difference between kids in your 20s and 30s (in the example above) is whether you’re all partied out? Doesn’t it come down to a personal choice and complainypants-ism rather than a financial no-no (especially since age doesn’t even guarantee maturity!)? Sure, FI is slightly slower, but it just feels like a person in their 20s wanting kids shouldn’t be singled out so strongly. What do you think MMM, master of savings and adaptability? Thanks for reading my really long comment if you did. I’ve been thinking about this a lot and would love your opinion.

        • Mr. Money Mustache March 19, 2014, 6:43 pm

          Hi Cyn,

          Sounds like you’ve got it all straight to me – your high incomes and low spending allow you to do whatever you want, so the kids won’t be a big burden either way.

          For me, switching from a couple to being PARENTS changed everything – we were suddenly coworkers rather than romantic partners, and the entirety of life focused on the childraising part. We survived, but I sure wouldn’t wish that upon a couple who had just met – it is nice to take a decade or two to get to know each other first.

          But different people respond to the kid situation differently too – I know some “Mom of 6” types who just love the challenge of organizing the lives of such a huge group of people. I like things a little simpler and slower around here :-)

          • Cyn March 19, 2014, 8:52 pm

            Hi MMM,

            Thanks for responding! I was really excited to see you read my comment and posted back. Glad to know I’m on the right track and not crazy, financially speaking :)

            We’ve been together almost all of college, lived together half of that, and have been thinking about marriage and kids for a while. We both welcome the kid adventure and I think we’re as mature/ready as we’ll ever be haha, aside from continuing to read more about parenting online. I wouldn’t doubt for a second that parenting is as hard as you and everyone else says it is, but you can only prepare so much beforehand, right?

            On a side note, I personally think that anyone who believes “kids are the end of your life” should rethink having kids, because that’s unfair to bring them into the world thinking them as a burden to yourself. Feels more like the beginning of a new episode of your life to me. And the longer they’re in your life, the longer you’re around to watch them grow!

            By the way, you’re the best, not to sound cheesy. And I’d even say you’re my first hero! Whenever I’m bored, I go to your website and read anything from it in my spare time even if I’ve read it 10 times already. I love the freedom of knowing that your life isn’t trapped by wage slavery and misery until 59 and you have the power to shape your life. MMM, continue being free and happy, and inspiring others to believe that they can do so too!

        • Alex Martelli March 20, 2014, 8:15 am

          Hi Cyn, just as a data point, my wife and I did start building a family “at once”, soon as I had my master’s degree and she, younger, her high school one; choosing to have a kid at 25 is unusual but not unheard of, even for the “professional class”. Our situation was much worse than yours — I was the sole breadwinner for years as she was going through college, our planning and saving skills needed a long time to develop through experience, &c — so it was rough at times; but now comes the payback — I’m a grandfather in my ’50s, fully young enough to enjoy it for a while, and look proudly at my young adult children, interacting as adult peers — it’s great! Wish I had started off in Silicon Valley too (took me years and several back and forth trans-Atlantic moves;-) — I’m there now and despite the crazy-high cost of living it’s a really swell place.

  • Workin' Man November 8, 2012, 6:21 am

    I too have noticed many FIRE bloggers/commentors are unmarried or dual earner and less than 3 children. We have 5 children ages 1-11 and SAHM with food budget of $500/mo. We eat well but maybe not entirely healthy……I agree with Poor to Rich that we each have to decide what we really want out of life, be committed to it, and realize that means other choices become unavailable. Personally I view our children as a loooooong term investment in our future that may not pay financial dividends but something much more desireable to me (big, loving, happy family in old age). This blog deals primarily with finances (and I enjoy it immensely). Others do a better job of discussing family and work/life balance. A note of encouragement: once the bad debt and student loan are paid off and you get settled in to your new house things WILL improve. Sometimes it’s impossible to see in the middle of a debt emergency (I’ve had a few of my own) but there is light at the end of the tunnel as long as you keep moving forward and DON’T GIVE UP HOPE.

  • Gerard November 8, 2012, 7:08 am

    Sara, you definitely sound like you’re doing things right. And a lot like me at/after graduation.
    wrt access to high culture, does your area have work-arounds that you could find with some digging? Free nights, reduced last-minute tickets, free admission if you volunteer? My gf volunteers at one cultural centre and in return gets free admission at most museums.
    Also, my local library has passes to every museum in town, that you sign out like a book… but I acknowledge that that’s an AMAZING programme that not everywhere can support.
    (edit: this was supposed to be way up above, but I screwed up…)

    • Sara November 8, 2012, 5:41 pm

      Thanks Gerard. Unfortunately even the gas to get to the concert hall would be challenging right now. And all the museums require going into NYC which never, ever comes cheap! Just biding my time for now. Once I get the job things will be pretty good since I avoided accumulating any debt.

  • Dillon November 8, 2012, 7:30 am

    The use of “most” is a tad sensationalist. Most to me means a majority usually or at least plurality. I don’t think “most” married couples have 4 kids with the gamut of activities associated while earning 50k and then suddenly realize one day that they aren’t in the most financially sound position. 2011 median household income is 50.5 k (ACS 1-yr estimates). If you parse it down one step further to “family” households, the median is 61.5k. Let’s break it down further within family HH’s and only look at HH’s with a married couple (children still included). Median income is now 74k. I’m not going to waste time looking up fertility statistics but 4 kids is incredibly far from the average. The average adult might not be the most financially savvy before having a significant other or kids but I would imagine most people would understand that having kids does cost some finite amount of money and that 4 of them might make things tight for most households.

    I do laud this person and HH for still coming out on top every month and I truly hope that bad debt gets attacked ASAP but spare me the rhetoric about how the situation is the most common for families.

    • Executioner November 8, 2012, 9:53 am

      I felt the same way as I was reading through the case study. I don’t think her situation is representative of “real people” any more than the $100K-income case studies she rolls her eyes at.

      I wasn’t raised with any formal financial education, but I took it upon myself to educate myself about how to save and spend money within my means. I don’t consider myself unusual in this regard.

      I also know a number of friends who would like to have a child but who understand the importance of getting their financial house in order before adding even one child — or four — to the budget.

      Perhaps she has a point that MMM’s case studies have tended to focus more on examples of individuals with higher incomes or smaller families in the past, but that doesn’t make those case studies any more or less valid — they are just different. Each case study is going to be unique.

    • mysticaltyger August 14, 2013, 1:25 am

      Thank you for saying this. I was thinking the exact same thing. The average woman in America has 2 kids or less these days. Everyone knows having 4 is the exception and not the rule.

  • Squeakywheel November 8, 2012, 9:33 am

    Cars for 6 people: check out the Mazda5. This is what is known as a “microvan”. They are very common in Europe, but of course less popular here. The back two seats are for kids only, but the other 4 have plenty of legroom.

    • Mr. Money Mustache November 8, 2012, 9:58 am

      The Mazda5 is a cool minivan and I do recommend it occasionally. But it’s more of a luxury choice for higher-income people because they only came to the US around 2006 – meaning the oldest used ones are still fairly pricey in the context of the budgets of this article.

      • Squeakywheel November 8, 2012, 12:25 pm

        Good point! I have a 2006 model and it is in great shape…so hopefully in a few years this will be a cheaper choice.

    • Glenn November 10, 2012, 4:55 pm

      I had to comment on the Mazda 5. I am 5’6″ and it was a tight squeeze in any of the four rear seats. My knees were pushing into the front seats. Granted my experience was with the 2008 model, so newer ones may have more room.

      We were looking for a larger vehicle to haul around at least 6 people and the Mazda 5 was just too small.
      We opted for a 2005 Mazda MPV. It has been a great vehicle. It’s fuel economy is not great, 20-25Mpg, but it can comfortably seat an adult under 6′ in any of the 7 seats. Also we can pull 2000 pounds with it, so it doubles as a truck when I hook up the trailer. I wish Mazda hadn’t eliminated the MPV, the Mazda 5 is not comparable.

      • Mr. Money Mustache November 10, 2012, 9:28 pm

        That’s weird, because I’m a bit over 6 feet and found all seats in the Mazda5 to be extremely comfortable! The primary four were HUGE, and even the very back “kids only” ones would be fine for a shorter (under an hour or two) drive.

  • ESOL Teacher November 8, 2012, 9:44 am

    SAHM’s can make extra income selling on Ebay! I teach full-time, go to grad school, and still find time to sell on Ebay and Amazon. I love to treasure hunt yard sales and thrift stores for items to sell. You can resell things you don’t use anymore also. I carried a classy Cole Haan handbag for three years that I found at Salvation Army for $4.00. I took good care of it and resold it on Ebay for $60.00. Look up some blogs like Jessica’s at http://theresalethrifter.blogspot.com for ideas.

  • Chris November 8, 2012, 9:52 am

    I have so many comments I could share about the SAH parent versus working parent but I will skip them. In the last eleven years I have worked full time, part-time, and not at all. DH has also stayed home and worked full-time. There are liabilities and assets to all strategies. There area also entitled, complainy pants adults in all the situtations too. The OP certainly didn’t seem to be complaining about that aspect of her life.

    I know housing situations are long term commitments and not easily changed, but overall I thought their housing costs were pretty high. And what their house was worth pre-bubble is pretty irrelevant. I personally have never spent such a high percentage of my income/my households income on housing (not as a starving student, a DINK, or even when I rented one house while the house I owned was vacant.)

    Anyway while it is ballpark in the suggested 30% of income on housing; it is a lot with the other debt they have and the fact that they have four kids that are only going to eat more.

    My crew eats like kings. DH and I have a crazy two smartphone cell bill. But at the first of the month my rent is $350. And when I am frustrated that it isn’t fancy I remember that my husband’s forefathers literially lived in a hole in the ground (a sod house) that I can see the remains of out my kitchen window.

  • Phoebe November 8, 2012, 9:53 am

    Currently my husband and I make quite a bit more than the case study, bank 75% of it and don’t feel that we can yet afford children. When we do have kids we are thinking 2, maybe 3 at the most becuase we simply won’t be able to pay for them to go to college. This is something that we struggle with and saddens us because we would LOVE a gaggle of kids, and we would love them now, but the numbers don’t add up.

    Kids are not a right, and having more than you can afford isn’t right either.

    • Executioner November 8, 2012, 10:00 am

      “Kids are not a right, and having more than you can afford isn’t right either.”

      Well stated.

      • heidi November 8, 2012, 1:12 pm

        Its a well-stated viewpoint but I think the reader was very clear in her viewpoint as well.
        “Meanwhile Mom and Dad decide they enjoy the babe and have more. Now, they have 4.”
        She’s not complaining, she’s just explaining a choice and asking Mr. MM to help her figure out the problem of money with a bigger family. She’s correct that most of the case studies have involved 2 or less kids, no?

        Being aspiring Mustachians, isn’t the whole point taking an individual difference and helping a person to figure out how to make it work? I don’t think trying to set a limit on kids is helpful to the case study-especially since she already has the kids.

        • Dillon November 8, 2012, 1:31 pm

          Isn’t that weird, though? If her choice had been different in that regard, there probably wouldn’t even be such a case study then. It’s pretty hard to ignore the effect of 4 children on a household budget and just be like “Okay, let’s figure out that budget!” One could say she is in fact complaining about her financial circumstances which is a pretty direct result from her personal choice to have several children. Loose transitive property? Anyway, it’s not important to classify her case to the nth degree.

          However, while a case study may be about an individual situation, the real value doesn’t come from only solving the case mentioned, it comes from everyone else reading about it and reacting to it and hopefully a decent number of people are collectively slightly better off. That said, yes she’s already had the number of children but maybe it will slap some potential parents out there to think twice about the decision to raise a child (or another one). It’s not a strict child limit per se that should be enforced since everyone is different. The awareness and planning that should go into having children, which was ignored previously by the people in this case study, is what is important for everyone else. Heck, maybe this woman in the case study now realizes she shouldn’t have that 5th child she’s been wanting. Who knows?

        • Emmers November 8, 2012, 1:35 pm

          Seriously, is there some kind of Magical Child Un-Maker that you can get if you made the “mistake” of having too many children? What do these people think the Case Study *should* have said, and what do they think is accomplished by making nasty comments about pre-existing children? The damage (if you view it that way) is already done. Enough wailing and gnashing of teeth has occurred; can the discussion move away from “Breeder! No Breeding!” yet?

          • Phoebe November 8, 2012, 2:19 pm

            Have as many kids as you want, I certainly don’t care. But I don’t want to pay for them.

            • Mr. Frugal Toque November 8, 2012, 8:21 pm

              I, on the other hand, totally want to pay for them.
              Or at least be taxed enough they get a good public education.
              Otherwise they’ll turn into miscreants, ruffians, rapscallions and vandals who scratch by Beamer*.

              * – don’t be ridiculous. You know I don’t own a BMW.

            • Jamesqf November 10, 2012, 12:08 pm

              “Or at least be taxed enough they get a good public education.”

              Except that I have yet to see any strong connection between quality of education and the amount I’m taxed to pay for public education.

            • Dutchgall December 2, 2012, 1:22 pm

              “I, on the other hand, totally want to pay for them.
              Or at least be taxed enough they get a good public education.”
              And that is one of the reasons I live in the Netherlands and am happy to pay taxes. By paying taxes in a country with a strong social structure, I get the luxury of not having children but having a decent society later in life.

            • Pat March 19, 2013, 4:53 pm

              Hey, lots of people in Montreal get places by BMW – Bus, Metro, Walk. Only works well in a bilingual city, of course.

          • nicoleandmaggie November 8, 2012, 6:40 pm

            I don’t think one can understand the “Breeder no breeding” comment unless one already has children (who know just what to do with Swiper). Which is sad.

            But yes, kids = sunk cost. Just like getting into bad debt. At least you can get out of debt before 18 years are up. (And thankfully kids are cuter than credit card bills.)

            • Emmers November 9, 2012, 9:49 am

              Exactly, re: sunk costs. (And I don’t have any kids yet — I just have lots of friends who do. Glad the Dora joke was understood at least a little. ;-) )

    • Gipsy Queen November 8, 2012, 2:02 pm

      Why can’t the kids pay for their own college? Summer jobs, merit scholarships…you don’t have to solve all their problems for them. In fact, you’ll do better by teaching them to be independent, than by providing.
      My parents didn’t pay a dime on my undergrads, or on my sister’s.

      • Emmers November 9, 2012, 9:52 am

        We’ve talked about this a bit in the forums, but basically, if you want to go to an academically rigorous school (which I consider to be a perfectly valid thing to want out of one’s university experience), you (statistically) won’t get scholarships. You should still go in-state (I detest the concept of private universities, when our public schools are so good), but I don’t think it’s a morally wrong choice to want academic rigor.

        Now, if the parents can’t afford to send the kids to college, that’s one thing — their responsibility, at that point, is to be *brutally* honest with their kids about what they can and cannot contribute, and to help their kids in other ways (such as with their time) as they prepare for whatever steps they plan to take.

  • Captain and Mrs Slow November 8, 2012, 10:04 am

    Just to add one point that is missing, an emergency fund, cash not credit. That should be your first priority, a thousand is a good place to start. Yes it seems counter intuitive but you’ll be happy the first time you put out money for car repairs. Putting car repairs or dental visits or what ever on credit really sucks.

    Other than that great post MMM

    • Edward November 8, 2012, 10:32 am

      While she’s paying off $570/month in (presumably) credit card debt, she shouldn’t start an emergency fund. The credit card itself *is* the emergency. Get that gone ASAP and then start saving for an emergency fund.

    • Emmers November 8, 2012, 1:37 pm

      MMM has, in the past, generally argued against emergency funds – I think his advice is to take out loans (up to, and including, credit card bills?) if you have an emergency, because the odds of the emergency happening are relatively low. (Can someone confirm with a link to a previous essay? I can’t remember which one that was in…)

    • chad November 8, 2012, 1:38 pm

      Why would you set money aside in a current savings account (<1% return) when you could put that same money toward much higher interest debt? The debt (credit card) becomes your emergency fund as it is paid down. Really simple…

    • Mr. Frugal Toque November 8, 2012, 8:26 pm

      And there’s the real problem with emergency funds: who decides what an emergency is? Is Christmas gifting an emergency? That day at the spa you need just to keep yourself sane? Those nice new shoes so you look like Business Man at work?
      Pay off the credit card debt. If an emergency happens, don’t worry, the credit card company will still lend you money. And in the meantime, you saved yourself the predatory interest.

      • Emmers November 9, 2012, 9:54 am

        Emergency funds, as expressed by other financial bloggers (Dave Ramsey, Clark Howard, Michelle Singletary, etc.), tend to be for things like “the car is broken” or “the water heater exploded.”

        Those other bloggers also tend to be extremely anti-debt, so you can see why “just put the car repair on you credit card” might cause conniption fits — even if it is the financially sounder decision.

        • Mr. Frugal Toque November 9, 2012, 1:04 pm

          That’s what emergency funds should be used for. But since we’re dealing with someone in deep credit card trouble, a little pile of cash just sitting there could be an issue.
          In “The Wealthy Barber Returns”, there was a discussion about how “emergency funds” – in the author’s experience – ended up being used for non-emergencies.
          For people who have become more responsible, however, it should be easy to explain that credit card debt is the worst kind of debt you can have, so pay it off now and – if there is a real emergency – you can always put it back on the card.

          • Kay March 7, 2015, 2:40 pm

            @mr. Frugal toque I really enjoy your contributions to this blog. During the height of the great recession and foreclosure madness, I did some free lance work for a true expert in helping people navigate a financial crisis (non-mustachians mostly). Here were pople with high incomes, assets and investments, lines of credit and credit cards they could pay off each month.

            Most were spending way too much, though still saving, etc. Many times he heard the same story.. major medical crisis, or bad real estate investment occurred, and for the first time in their lives they fell behind. Banks and credit cards called the loans so to speak, by closing the accounts or dropping credit limits by half Or more. This was not a single incident, and happened to many. This had the effect of them “exceeding” their credit limits and being unable to pay off a lump sum being demanded as due.

            This tanked credit scores. One guy was fired from a financial services job because his suddenly low credit score made him too high risk to keep the job.
            Point is, these people could not rely on any credit for emergencies, and it happened suddenly.

            I have changed my thinking to have an emergency fund, because the banks and credit companies can and do change the rules for just about any reason. Even if I had some debt I would keep enough cash on hand to house and feed my family for at least 1 to 3 months while I created more income, etc.

    • Jamesqf November 9, 2012, 10:28 am

      “Putting car repairs or dental visits or what ever on credit really sucks.”

      Err… Why, exactly? I put everything of that nature on a credit card, just because of the 1-3% cash back. Of course I can pay the bills in full every month from income, but in an emergency I could arrange a lower-interest loan or sell some mutual fund shares to cover before the end of the billing cycle.

      Worse case, you have (small chance of emergency * credit card interest) vs (actual interest on existing CC debt).

  • LB @ Finanical Black Sheep November 8, 2012, 11:31 am

    I think most people look at a certain income and think instantly “I am not like that person because they make $100,000, $75,000…” etc. I think most people need to start pulling out the good information and stop whining about the income. Either that or check out how I do it on $50,000 for 2 people and a college education, funded by the same $50,000 each semester.

  • Kenoryn November 8, 2012, 12:43 pm

    The well suggests she’s living in a rural area, and rural area = extremely easy to grow at least some of your own food. (Not that anyone with a lawn shouldn’t be able to do that in an urban area, too.) The kids can help too. I think all kids should have some exposure to growing their own food just to have a better relationship with food and understand where it comes from – plus it’s really a soul-fulfilling thing to take a tiny insignificant seed and turn it into delicious healthy food for the people you love.

    • 205guy November 9, 2012, 2:51 am

      In theory yes, especially since they have well water. But in practice, I have found gardens, especially starting a garden, to be lots of time/work for little reward. Plus, it can get expensive if you have to fertilize and spray pesticides (even natural ones). I guess there are 2 factors: the natural suitability of the land that negate the need for expensive fertilizer (soil, exposure, etc.) and the skill of the gardener–and both are unknowns until you try. If it turns out you’re a poor gardener on unsuitable land, like myself, I don’t recommend it.

      • Gerard July 18, 2013, 2:19 pm

        Compost will improve almost any soil, and experience and mentoring will improve almost any gardener. But if you really really dislike gardening, yeah, it makes sense to focus your energy and attention elsewhere.

  • EngGirl November 8, 2012, 1:05 pm

    Thanks MMM and everyone else for giving tips to us youngins. Definitely gave me lots to think about! I love the “live on one income” tip. My husband and I are already doing that (and then some) to combat our mortal enemy – student loans. We plan on continuing this trend when we start our family. As hard as it is to explain to someone who is not part of this community, we feel like we can’t afford kids until 1) the student debt is gone and 2) we can both live off of the lower-income earner’s salary WHILE banking some money for early retirement.

  • Tara November 8, 2012, 2:08 pm

    Car insurance, food and phone bills look like the best places to cut from this budget. I also like the idea of taking in maybe 1-2 extra kids and charging for daycare services, since you’re home anyway.

  • KB November 8, 2012, 3:24 pm

    Your blog is my favourite of all the personal finance blogs I read! I am middle class not kick ass right now but I think all situations are relative. By the way, the poster that included the link to the money diaries – I think that situation is more about relationship issues and they may need some counselling.

    I’m a married stay at home mom, have 3 kids – almost 13, 10 and 6. Not too many people on these blogs with a similar profile to me. Taking care of kids is a lot of work. I do take extra kids in for after school care and did more full time care when my kids were younger. My husband earns a similar salary to the hypothetical middle class family MMM featured a few blogs ago. My husband travels a lot, works long hours and for me to work, would require not only daycare but if I worked longer hours, evening daycare, more stress and juggling. I don’t think this should be about staying home or not staying home and which one is easier or better. Two months ago all my kids entered school full time so that changes things but when they were at home it didn’t make financial sense for me to work. There are costs to working – gas, better wardrobe, more convenience foods, etc. Everything is relative and every situation is different. Both of us are happy, one of is not jealous or bitter at the other.

    We are frugal in many areas but not all as I am mentioning. Our achilles heel is our kids – we spend a lot on our kids activities. My kids play rep hockey, competitive figure skating, recreational dance plus go to occasional camps in the summer and 2 of then are in swimming lessons in the summer. I realize this is a choice but when your kids get older and they have a talent in music, sport or whatever or just a want to play at a higher level there are a lot of big costs involved. We pay several thousand a year in sports and activities. Again, this is a choice. No complainy pants here! When we make this choice, we’re saying I would rather spend this money on that than retire early. We have to live with our choices as does everyone.

    Don’t get down or judge others – learn from them, support them, give them tips if you want. Peace and love!

    PS I have managed to turn our heat down a couple of degrees to 71 but not sure I can make the 68 mark!

    • Mr. Money Mustache November 8, 2012, 9:20 pm

      Nice story and attitude, KB – thanks for sharing.

      I just had to say, SEVENTY ONE DEGREES!!?!? … HEATING?? THAT IS OUTRAGEOUS!! I’d curl up into a ball and fall immediately into a feverish sleep after coming in from a fresh fall day into such a stuffy house.

      We’re cozy at a luxurious 67F these days (62 at night). And even that is only at the request of the lady and boy. If this were a bachelor pad I’d probably shoot for 50 as a starting point. If you get cold, do 25 pushups, 15 pull-ups, and resume your relaxing with a new internal fire.

      But so far the weather has been too warm here to even need the furnace most weeks.

      • Matt F November 9, 2012, 7:18 am

        Funny timing on that comment. I walked in my house two days ago (after biking home, thanks to MMM facepunches!!) and thought I was having a stroke or something (turned out it was only that my wife had set the heat to 70 in the house when she got home). She is out of town today and the house has been set to 50 (only got down to 60 inside at night though).

        We normally negotiate through a series of adjustments each winter to a temperature of 66 during the day and 60 at night. I bought her a heating blanket and that helped a lot.

      • KB November 9, 2012, 7:45 am

        We are at 71 from an original 73 degrees I’m embarassed to say! Could there be an insulation issue in our house or is it just us? We’re working on it and some other things too. We’ll crush that heating bill one degree at a time! Will do push ups but doubt I could manage a single pull up :)

        After reading Middle Class vs Kick Ass I see some changes we can make. Some are a little harder – we spend about $800 per month on our kids activities – my kids love their sports and activities, are doing well, sometimes competing in tournaments and competitions and are happy; we spend about $750 on cars – my husband receives a generous car allowance and so there is an expectation from his company that he drive a certain type of car – he drives an Audi – your most poked at made fun of vehicle in past blogs. haha!

        I would rather leave those categories for now and change things like heating!, groceries, bike more . No one bikes where I live in suburbia – never even crossed my mind – except for recreational family bike rides. I loved the No Impact Man movie and hope to make more environmentally sound choices.

        We are living at our means but would like to live below and still have a great quality of life. We’ll get there. Good luck to everyone on their own personal financial journeys!

      • Steve November 9, 2012, 10:23 am

        In between power outages up here in the Boston area, we keep the 2000 sq ft manse at 65/60. Our kids (9 and 5) learned a valuable lesson about blankets and warm footwear from Super Storm Sandy. As long as I can keep my son’s head out of the fireplace, we shoudl have a delightful winter up here.

        This case study really got everyone’s blood flowing! I hope SF can find some valuable insights from the smart and caring people who read MMM.

        In any case, SF, keep working hard towards your goals. You have taken responsibilty for your current situation, and I think you deserve credit.

        Our house policy is ‘no excuses.’ Do you best, and take what comes.

        Good luck

      • Dutchgall December 2, 2012, 1:50 pm

        Remember, a comfortable temperature is relative. Many people who live near the arctic circle can comfortably run around in t-shirt and shorts when its below freezing but growing up in Southern California I thought anything below 72F was cold and at 59F I was wrapped up like an Eskimo and still literally shivering. After almost 20 years in the Netherlands, 50F only calls for a sweatshirt. But flip that around and how many people who are comfortable below 70F can go without air-conditioning when it’s 120-140F? Most of Northern Europe think anything above 80F is bikini weather and they’ll even shut down offices ‘due to the heat’. It’s all relative and baby steps (1 degree at a time) are going in the right direction.

    • Dee November 9, 2012, 7:46 am

      71!!! I use 64 in the daytime and 55 at night (because that is as low as my programmable thermostat goes).

      Your post makes me recall a suggestion I followed that served me well. Steer your children toward activities that (1) they can enjoy their whole lives and (2) do not require exceptional expenditures. My child liked ice-skating. I had her take group lessons so she is a fine recreational skater. But I did not have her go forward in ice-skating because it would involve expensive lessons, ice-time, significant out of town travel, and a difficult schedule (getting practice time). Instead she did soccer and then moved on, in jr high, to tennis. That’s a sport with minimal cost. They have school teams so she can compete/ travel with girls from her school. And, best of all, she has a sport she can enjoy for exercise and socializing for her whole life. She also plays cello through an inexpensive youth orchestra. Watch out for those expensive, short-lived sports (ie through high school usually) like ice-skating, gymnastics and ballet.

      • KB November 11, 2012, 10:51 am

        Thanks for your responses Steve and Dee. I live in a 10 year old house but they may have cheaped out on the insulation. Saw 2 neighbours getting what looked to be more insulation blown into their room above the garage. I am seriously not sure if it’s us or the insulation. Our gas bill is on equal billing $96 per month. I’ll have to look into this further. I’m getting our house energy audited and hope to turn down the house temp one degree per month.

        Dee, so true about the sports and activities. Once you get to a certain level, it sometimes hard to find a group where they do the sport for fun or recreation such as figure skating. I’m on the look out for those type of programs that are lower cost or life long or for fun. I found a 2 week no cost theater arts camp for one of my three kids last summer. The thing is I started out with all my kids in these certain programs and it’s easier to not go on the path in the first place rather than they’re already on the path but you have to take them off especially if they love it, for me anyway!

        Our kids’ elementary school doesn’t have a ton of activities offered but there are a lot more choices in high school!

  • Lindsey November 8, 2012, 4:27 pm

    I want to emphasize the growing your own food suggestion. If you have a yard, convert some of it to a garden. If you live in an apartment, container garden. In one apartment where I lived, I convinced other renters to approach the landlord to let us put in a garden. Another time, I saw a unused plot at a home nearby. Turned out the owners were old, so I made the deal to give them a quarter of what I raised, in exchange for the land and being able to use their water. The garden fed us all summer (an almost meatless summer but we ate well) and I canned, froze and dehydrated enough that much of the winter we were still eating out of the garden. I traded greens for fresh chicken eggs, every week. I have gleaned from neighbors’ trees (always asking first). (Craigs List provided some of the tool I needed for free and the seeds were always purchased on sale, so my garden cost me very little in initial outlay.) You are in a tough situation, but many of us have had tiems where we just had to hunker down and do whatever it took to survive. I think taking on a weekend or season job, even though you are working as a SAHM may just be something you have to do. It is not like the father won’t be putting in extra work hours, caring for the kids while you are off working—-meaning both of you will be taking on an extra part time job.

    • Jamesqf November 8, 2012, 7:52 pm

      If a meatless summer is not to your taste, remember that our ancestors thought that many common garden pests were quite edible. Rabbit, squirrel, pigeon, starling (probably the “blackbird” of the “Four & twenty blackbirds baked in a pie” nursery rhyme) and more, all readily taken with BB gun or slingshot, or snared.

      • Gerard November 8, 2012, 8:20 pm

        Cool. I always assumed the four and twenty blackbirds were the european blackbirds (in the thrush family… and the Beatles song), which people still hunt. Roger Verge has a recipe for thrush with black olives. I made it once with quail and it was freakin’ awesome… it cooks down so much that the bones dissolve, like in canned fish.

      • stellamarina November 9, 2012, 2:24 am

        No….there is another bird that is called the blackbird….more a flat black color than the starling.

        Oh….I see Gerard has answered about the blackbirds already.
        In some countries they eat pigeons….lots of those in American cities to eat.

        • Jamesqf November 9, 2012, 10:18 am

          Sure – in most of North America there’s the Red-winged Blackbird, but that’s not related to the European blackbird. Starlings are common to both continents (introduced into North America supposedly by a nutcase who wanted to introduce every bird mentioned in Shakespeare – though how he expected to deal with

          “Now I will believe
          That there are unicorns, that in Arabia
          There is one tree, the phoenix’ throne, one phoenix
          At this hour reigning there”

          does puzzle me.) So which of them was used in medieval European cookery is a good question, but one can easily find starling recipes.

      • 205guy November 9, 2012, 2:58 am

        And speaking of hunting, that’s what I understood when the OP said “free range” meats.

  • stellamarina November 8, 2012, 5:22 pm

    I just want to point out that $50,000 is about or just a bit less than the average household income in the USA.

    • Sara November 8, 2012, 5:45 pm

      Yeah, but how far that 50 grand goes really depends on the area you live in. In an area where the median household income is 100000, at 50000 you are going to have a hard time finding decent affordable housing.

    • Emmers November 9, 2012, 10:05 am

      I’m starting to think that “median household income in the US” is more or less meaningless, due to the *huge* gaps in affordability in different regions. Maybe we need to start breaking it down regionally – “Northeast Megalopolis,” “Northeast rural,” “Southern urban,” “Southern rural,” etc.

  • David Wendelken November 8, 2012, 6:45 pm

    I’m always amused by what Americans consider to be a rough life.

    According to http://www.GlobalRichList.com, an annual income of $50,000 puts one in the top 1% of income earners in the entire world. That guy at the freeway exit that bums for food and liquor every day? If he’s bummin’ $10 a day ($3650 a year for the math challenged), he’s in the top 15% earners in the world.

    I spent over a year working in Ethiopia. I would see men with bare crippled legs. They were too poor to afford crutches. If they had to go somewhere, they dragged themselves through the feces-laden dirt or mud.

    I sure feel sorry for us poor, nearly impoverished Americans with a median family income of $50,000 or more.

    Your ideas about working enough to lead a balanced, healthy lifestyle instead of the debt-laden, hedonistic treadmill necessary to afford too much stuff.

    Thanks for giving the person who asked you for help such good advice.
    You gave much kinder, gentler advice than I might have. :)

    • Arjun December 17, 2012, 7:15 pm

      That’s an unfair comment; you need to take living costs into consideration as well. A dollar in the US doesn’t go as far as a dollar in Ethiopia. Have you heard of PPP incomes? Look them up.

      • David Wendelken December 18, 2012, 4:18 am

        A dollar in Ethiopia had nowhere near the buying power of a US dollar for foreign goods or tourist goods. Lots more buying power for personal services or locally produced goods – especially if you sent an Ethiopian to buy it for you – otherwise the price would be 3 to 10 times the local’s price for the same item. In other words, it’s purchasing power depended upon what one wanted to buy and how one went about it.

        Check out MMM’s recent post on the so-called high cost of living in Hawa’ii for examples of adapting to one’s environment.

  • Flat Broke November 8, 2012, 6:46 pm

    Do you have a detailed post on your electric usage? Or steps you’ve taken to drive it down?

    I can’t figure out how you are using under 200 kWh/month for electric. I’ve tracked our usage for some time and the lowest we get is in the 400 kWh/month range.

    We use gas for cooking & heating but do have an electric water heater. We don’t use air conditioning. We don’t have a flat screen tv and all the extras that go with it (no cable box). I do work from home so we have up to 3 computers on all day long (and one on all night long), but I can’t believe that would double your usage.

    We have 7 family members so that probably contributes (kids don’t turn off lights all that great), but I’m still shocked you only use half of what I do.

    Our house is old and we have a mix of knob and tube wiring and the new stuff, maybe the old stuff isn’t as efficient…

    Any tips would be appreciated

    • Jamesqf November 8, 2012, 8:02 pm

      Wiring is not a significant energy loss – if it was, it would heat up and start a fire.

      Easy questions first: Do you have CFL (or LED) lights in all your frequently used sockets? What temperature is your water heater set at (if it’s too high, you waste a lot of energy, and invite scalding accidents), and is it newer and/or well insulated? Do you line-dry your clothes, or dry them in an electric dryer?

      And finally, what kinds of computers do you have? Some can suck down 700+ watts per hour, especially if you don’t optimize power usage. (The notebook I use as my main machine, OTOH, is pretty well optimized and typically draws about 20 watts.) And why do you leave one on all night?

      • Flat Broke November 9, 2012, 8:18 pm

        Good call on the dryer, we’ll be going back to that last summer (this summer we tore up the yard and it’s dusty here. I have CFLs everywhere and my water heater is set at 120.

        My computer is on all night for Magickjack, I have that hooked into our phone system at home rather than have a lan line. I switch to google voice but I don’t think that can be hooked into the regular phones (we have to be at the computer and have a headset, kids aren’t the quietest when we are on the phone).

        Great tips & thanks for the article MMM, I’ll be looking it up.

        • Jamesqf November 10, 2012, 11:57 am

          You might look at a cheap (older) laptop for leaving on all night, since what you’re doing doesn’t seem to require much compute power at all. (Plus you have the benefit of built-in UPS for when the power goes out.) Also look into optimizing its power usage. I don’t know about Windows, but for Linux there’s a program called “powertop” that will show you ways to minimize power usage.

        • turkeyfromturkey August 24, 2015, 1:28 am

          Try a raspberry pi. It is a 30 dollar Linux computer that uses 5W. You can use your phone charger to power it. Just don’t buy a case.

    • Mr. Money Mustache November 8, 2012, 9:08 pm

      Hey Flat Broke,

      Your electric water heater, extra people, and computers already account for the difference, since my heater is gas (although since it sounds like you have gas service in your house, you should replace that MoFo over when you are ready.. I find it amazing that someone put an electric one in that house!).

      My old electric post is here: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/05/10/ill-show-you-my-electricity-bill-if-you-show-me-yours/

      (elec usage has dropped about 33% since I wrote that, so you’ll see that we were using 300 kwh at the time)

  • aw November 9, 2012, 8:19 am

    This quote is the best financial advice ever!! “Your financial life works out much better if you get your shit together before having kids, not afterwards.”

    That sentence should be engraved on the walls of high schools and colleges. It says it all about personal responsibility and responsibility to others.

    Thank you!!!

    • L'Enginieuresse November 12, 2012, 3:31 pm

      This is true. Before husband and kids, I squirreled away an aggressive amount of money, by general standards, but probably not by Mustachian standards. Ever since having the kids, although I put in a little more over the past few years, the amount is fundamentally unchanged. If there is an unexpected expense, there is a job loss, activities that we feel benefit our children, whatever, I don’t have to worry about how the bills we be paid. (But perhaps how we’ll save enough for retirement in such an event),

      I cannot understand people who do not prepare this safety net for themselves. But to be fair, I’ve made my share of mistakes in other areas of life.

  • Milena November 9, 2012, 11:37 am

    Hi there,

    I’ve been reading the MMM blog for a few months now (so not quite enough, I think), but I find it extremely useful, and most of all ENCOURAGING for being such a confirmation that it’s never too early to start thinking about and making good, long-term decisions (a lot of my friends find it silly when I say that).

    I’m in my early 20s, recently graduated from engineering, and working a pretty well-paid, full-time job with not too bad student loan (I identify quite a bit with MMM’s earlier stories :) ), so I do consider myself lucky or one of those people who don’t have it too hard. But at the same time, the opportunity to earn this income at this age also came with a lot of responsibility for me, because all of a sudden I felt like I needed to be much more financially responsible. Unfortunately, my engineering education didn’t come with too much finance training (especially since I was never too interested in it), so now I am basically starting from scratch.

    Reading this blog did offer some good ideas, but I am glad that you are considering targeting people my age more. And the advice about managing children and work is also welcome, because I am also thinking about starting a family at an early age AFTER getting married AND purchasing a home (stressful things to factor in for me)! :p

    So please do keep the articles coming about how to start smart (things like investing lessons or how to make sure you’re putting your money to good use especially), or just general advice for young professionals!

    Thanks :)

  • Freeyourchains November 9, 2012, 1:12 pm

    When it comes to raising/having children, it appears it is happier if parents have supporting or full passive incomes, very low expenses, less material possession or big house/s to take care of, and a lot more freedom from working all day and freetime to devote to your children.

    Funny enough, monks would make for the best parents in my opinion.

  • Qwerty November 10, 2012, 5:05 pm

    I’ve been curious about this for a while, what would you suggest for people who don’t live near a Costco? The closest one to us is 115km away, so we have never really felt that the prices and membership fee were worth the drive. We have started buying our meat from a local butcher, in bulk, which is saving us (plus it us way better quality), but other than that, we shop at the discount grocery store and still spend ~ $500 per month in groceries, including formula for the baby, and household items (toilet paper, paper towel, etc).

    • Marcia November 10, 2012, 9:57 pm

      Price book. Grocery stores, health food stores, dollar stores, ethnic stores…check all of them and keep a book of what you buy regularly and the lowest price you find it. Then aim for that price. If you know that store A sells rice for $x a pound but it goes in sale every two months, buy two months worth. Try to only buy at the lowest price.

  • Nancy Jones November 12, 2012, 6:34 am

    Dang! You know, I recognize (and well remember) that things are definitely more difficult at a household income of $50K than they are at $100k. But not a whole lot of us started out at $100k. And folks at $50k need to understand that it is by doing certain things that we got to $100k. So much of career advancement has very little to do with actual career stuff, most of it’s about attitudes gained while taking care of other business. When you set that long-term goal of living within your means and being a responsible adult rather than a petulant over-18er, you begin to see increases in your income because you are a more attractive worker, or a better business person, or a more diligent provider of services, or a better judge of the goods you sell and the market for them. This stuff doesn’t happen because of another thousand buck infocourse you take, it happens because you start paying attention to stuff that matters. Dancing With The Stars won’t make you rich or give you peace; but staying in instead of going out, and spending the evening looking at the stars will do both.

  • Jackson November 26, 2012, 1:34 am

    And the lesson for all the young people out there is, Don’t even think about getting married or having kids or pets until you make at least $50,000 per year.

    • mysticaltyger August 14, 2013, 2:05 am

      Getting married is fine. Putting 2 lowish incomes together into one household is actually more economical. Wedding’s don’t have to be expensive, either. But you are right on the pets and the kids. They greatly reduce your flexibility in life and you definitely don’t want to further limit flexibility by having a lowish income.


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