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Due to popular demand, we’ve having a “Where Are They Now” post today! We’ve reached out to Reader Case alumni to see what they’re up to. Did they do any of the things we suggested? Did their lives improve in any way? Did anything we say matter?
Our goal, here at Millennial Revolution, is to build a community where we can inspire and cheer each other on towards financial independence. Let’s see if we’ve accomplished that:
Reader Case #13: Big Earnings, Big Student Debt.
Recap: After living in shelters and growing up poor in Chicago, MAS (Millennia Academic Scientist) claws her way out of poverty to become a 6-figure salaried scientist with PHD and multiple degrees. Problem is, with a whopping $183K of debt weighing her down, could she ever accomplish her dream of becoming FI?
MillennialAcademicScientist: Big Earnings Big Student Debt
We recommended 2 options:
1) Keep her current public sector job, pay the minimum on her loans, rely on the PSLF (Public Service Loan Forgiveness) and become FI in 12 years, or
2) Find a private sector job paying at least 50% more, ditch the PSLF, pay off her loans ASAP and invest the rest to retire in less than 10 years.
Astute readers in the comments also made excellent recommendations on how to reduce her cell phone and car costs, and reader “Frank” mentioned that as public service worker she has access to 457!
So what did MAS choose to do?
Many thanks to you all for inspiring me. I literally looked at my spreadsheet today since I’m coming up on a year. I was like, yes, according to Personal Capital I’m $15,000 ahead of schedule and it just motivated me to try going carless.
I think that’s the key: motivation. The fact that I maxed the 457 (which I didn’t even know about before), the 403b and the Roth IRA last year, wow! And now that I finished my taxes I’ve learned that putting more in my retirement means lower AGI, which means lower student loan payments. Yeah!!!
This site has motivated me to try harder to save even more because I believe it will make a difference and one day I might be FI. I’ve also found three other sources of income and I honestly believe I would not have been as motivated to search for things had I not started with your blog. Now if only I could get over the house horniness.
So, again. Thank you!
Whoa. Did you see that? “I’m $15,000 ahead of schedule”, “I maxed the 457”, “…motivated me to try going carless”.
Thanks to your awesome suggestions, MAS not only saved an extra $15,000, she’s also working on ditching her car, and maxed out her 457! (something she didn’t even know she had access to before this reader case!)
And this is why we love opening up the floor to comments and reader suggestions. We learn something new everyday!
Thanks to everyone who gave advice to MAS! And cheers to MAS for kicking ass and taking names! You are an inspiration!
Reader Case #26: Help! My Kids Are Holding Me Back!
Recap: A couple with 2 young kids (grades 1 and 3) find it difficult to save, even with a a combined after-tax salary of $120K. With yearly expenditures of $106K/year on expensive after-school childcare, transportation, food (as high as their rent!) and shopping, is there no hope of ever retiring early?
DespairedParent: Help! My Kids Are Holding Me Back!
We consulted other FIRE bloggers with kids (GoCurryCracker and RootofGood) and recommended 3 changes:
- One spouse stops working, particularly if one income is significantly lower than the other, to get rid of childcare costs and one of the cars.
- Cut back on food
- Cut back on shopping
If they brought down their excessive food, transportation, and shopping costs to be the average, they could take their costs down from $106K to $73K/year. Once the kids are old enough to go to school full-time, their after-school care costs would go away, bringing their yearly costs down to $59K/year. This would lead to financially independence in 11 years instead of 28 years.
Unsurprisingly, this posts generated over 100 comments, many from readers scoffing at the DP’s attitude that raising 2 kids on an 120K after-tax salary is too hard. Many mentioned their own situations of raising 3 kids on $50K or less. Other gave suggestions on exactly how to cut down on rent, food, transportation costs.
So how did it go? Did DP heed your advice?
Just read the recent reader case and your call for updates from past reader cases.
Here are my updates:
1) Education/childcare costs: our youngest is not in daycare anymore. He now goes to the same school as the older. That puts tuition at $11,000 / year (which reduces our tax by that amount as it is considered a charitable donation, so it is about $6,500 / year net after tax return). I have re-structured my work to be home in the morning and afternoon so we do not need before or after care nor a caregiver to walk the kids to school.
Total effect: Reduced from $25,000/year to $11,000/year
2) Food costs: we decided to implement a strict ‘cook large batches at home, freeze and avoid eating out’ strategy on the beginning of 2018. Initially we decided to trial for 3 months. Here are the results (average monthly grocery and eating out spending):
Jan-Mar 2016: $2,291
Jan-Mar 2017: $1,841
Jan-Mar 2018: $1,542
Projected for 12 months it is $18,500
I don’t even care to eat out anymore, I don’t enjoy buying my coffees and generally really happy with cooking at home. It gets boring, and my kids are unfortunately really fussy eaters, but it wasn’t that hard to implement as I feared.
Total effect: reduced from $28,000 to 18,500 (projected)
3) Shopping – This was a puzzling one for me. We never felt like we actually have a shopping problem. Neither of us cares for cloths, purses, shoes etc. We rent so we never buy furniture or a new stove or fridge. My wife doesn’t care for jewelries, makeup etc so we were kind of surprised to find out we have a spending problem on general shopping items.
Again, we decided on a almost-strict zero shopping for 3 months. We didn’t manage to actually buy nothing, but here are the results (total spent):
Jan-Mar 2016: $2,862
Jan-Mar 2017: $2,211
Jan-Mar 2018: $1,241
Projected for 12 months it is ~$5,000. I think we can stick to it or be even lower.
Total effect: reduced from $12,000 to $5,000 (projected)
4) Fix our portfolio situation: we had an approximately $350K portfolio with a traditional mutual fund based adviser. We moved to a fee-based adviser and consolidated our accounts.
5) Life-design issues: Some of the advice was related to one spouse quitting their job or moving to a lower cost of living area. We have not implemented any changes here so far. Those are more emotional changes to implement than strictly financial. We chose our neighborhood specifically for the school and comfort for kids. We moved to our city in the first place because we got jobs here. Our salaries are pretty equal and my wife loves her job. So – no change yet. I am considering a career change which will allow to work remotely but this is more future looking.
Thanks to some harsh words and good advice from the readership and FC (and some normal life stages change as kids grow) we have reduced spending by about $30,000 / year (projected).
Wow – this is the first time I stopped to analyze those changes. This is amazing!!!
Where does it leave of on a path to FI? Hard to tell really. The main obstacles are still emotional (related to kids, neighbors etc), and differences between wife and me. When I math-shit-up on my numerous spreadsheets, I can see a path for a 10-12 years plan and get very excited about it. Maybe even less.
Nevertheless, the impact of writing to the blog, being featured, discussed in the comments and then implementing some really simple changes was HUGE.
I AM SO THANKFUL TO YOU AND THE READERS!!!
Whoa! So DP went from saying he “doesn’t feel like we can cut much out” to reducing his expenses by $30k/year and seeing a path for a 10-12 year time frame to financial independence! BOOYAH! Way to go, DP!
And it’s all thanks to your suggestions (and ridicule) in the comments! And also, a big thanks to FIRE bloggers GoCurryCracker and RootofGood for your take on kid costs!
So, I guess, the moral of the story is: Sometimes internet ridicule can be a force for good?
Reader Case #32: Our Failed Muskoka Dream
Recap: A 33-year-old couple with 2 kids with a combined salary of $180K/year buy property in Muskoka to live out their cottage dreams. Except it’s more of a nightmare, with 4 hour commute for him and 1 hour commute for her in a job she hates. Due to their indecisiveness between “putting down roots and having itchy feet”, they’ve churned 3 houses in the past few years–giving away $54K in real-estate commission alone. The couple wonders why they’ve been working high-paying jobs for many years with very little to show for it.
The family’s addiction to real estate and debt has siphoned off most of their wealth. If they continue churning houses, they’ll likely put all their realtor’s kids through college. In order to stop the bleeding, we recommend:
1) Sell the house for $450K with no mortgage breaking penalty
2) Using the proceeds to kill off debt
3) Reduce housing expenses by renting
4) Reducing monthly interest costs by paying off all debt
5) Don’t buy another house unless you’re SURE you’re going to stay in one place for at least 5 years. Better if it’s 10.
This will also have the added benefit of allowing FMD to move to Toronto, back to the job she loves, while cutting down on her husband’s horrible 4 hour commuting time.
So how are they doing?
We are doing well! We sold our house for full ask at 450k in 3 days! They also wanted a quick close so it worked out well that we didn’t have to overlap a rental for very long to transition.
So we move in a few weeks. We are planning to put the 3rd car up for sale once we are back in the GTA and I am in the process of going back to my old job that I love and I can work less at for the same $$ (part time nurses get extra $$ in lieu of benefits).
We haven’t made it too much farther down our plan yet in terms of savings because it mostly starts after the move. but we are excited (and a bit terrified) of the fact we are going against the grain to do things a little different than everyone and get on track. One big win for us was that last month we actually came in under budget for the first time in… ever? and we managed to save $600 more than we usually do. So its a good start.
We (mostly me) have been struck by two things so far a) how much pushback we get from this, even if we don’t tell them we are renting. Just moving BACK to the city is strangely upsetting to our acquaintances. and b) how comfortable this known debt is. Just because its what we know, and our new plan is sort of the unknown. We catch ourselves sliding our sights back to big mortgages etc and then have to bust out this blog and others to sort of keep us going. Thank goodness for the FIRE blogs.
Holy crap, she sold her place for full asking price! They’ve moved back to Toronto and she’s getting back the old job she loves–looks like their plan is on track! And another thing to notice here: One big win for us was that last month we actually came in under budget for the first time in… ever?
We’ve written before about how even when houses appreciate in value, all the hidden costs of owning that house eat up most of the gain, and here’s just another example of how heavy that hidden burden is. In her reader case, she wrote “We are frustrated because we feel like we have good jobs and make good money. And have nothing to show for it!”
And now? She found $600 falling out of the sky at the end of the month. Keep that up and that’ll be $7200 a year! As we mentioned before, whenever you cut expenses, not only do you dump more into your portfolio, it has the bonus-effect of reducing the portfolio size you need to become FI. In this case, by saving $7200/year, she’s reduced the amount she needs to retire by a whopping $180,000!
I find it hilarious how her acquaintances are strangely upset by her decision to move back to Toronto. HA! Gotta love the Haters. How shitty is your life that other people’s choices, which have NOTHING to do with you, upsets you. This is why you should ignore haters because their opinions are complete irrelevant. I should know. I used to be one.
So, it looks like FMD still has a ways to go on her journey, but she’s off to a great start. You go woman! We’re all rooting for you!
So there you have it. If you’ve been wondering how the Reader Case Alumni are doing, they’re doing great–all thanks your suggestions and feedback in the comments! What do you think of MAS, DP, and FMD’s updates?
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35 thoughts on “Friday Reader Case: Where Are They Now?”
I love this! These stories are really inspiring.
It is so good to be able to read these articles and see that people really are having success in achieving and working towards financial independence. I do agree 100% that internet ridicule is probably what helps people to get out of their comfort zone and make these things happen. 🙂
Who knew internet ridicule could be used as a force for good? 😛
So fun to see these updates! And way to go case study folks!
Regarding FMD’s pushback from friends – it will blow over soon enough. Those haters (and they’re not hating on the the FMDs, they’re hating on the fact of someone going against the grain) will move on to hating something new in short order. People have an initial reaction to change but then just revert to the mean after that.
So true. People are resistant to change at first, but as time goes on, they become more curious rather than hostile (at least that’s what we’ve noticed in our experience).
nice work by the case study lab. gotta watch the company you keep that they don’t poison the well of common sense.
Very true. It’s hard to go against the grain when you’re surrounded by negativity. That’s why we stayed away from the those types of people in the beginning–once you become more confident in your decisions and see some results, it gets easier and easier to ignore the haters.
It’s good to hear these updates from everyone! Glad to see that everyone has taken advantage of the opportunity given when featured in these readers cases and receiving targeted feedback and used it to get closer to their FI goals.
Actually I was expecting more haters when we told people about our decision to move last year but almost everyone was really nice and supportive, to our faces at least. I thought my dad was going to have a huge problem with it and I don’t think he was happy about it but he was supportive and didn’t try to change my mind on it. If my mom was still alive I know there would have been major drama though.
The only people we heard about who thought we were making a huge mistake were people who did not know us personally: my spouse’s friend’s mom and a different friend’s girlfriend. Everyone else has seen my spouse’s artwork and have been asking him for years if he is going to be doing anything with it. We didn’t go into detail though when we told people. Just that we were moving and my spouse was going to focus on pursuing his art career.
I guess it’s easier hating on people you don’t know 😉 Glad you guys had supportive friends and family to make the transition easier!
Awesome. Case studies are fairly common on personal finance blogs, but it’s exciting to see some follow-ups. This also means I have something to point my friends to to prove that they can actually reduce their spending if they put serious thoughts into it and take steps to improve things. Also great for these people whose lives are being changed for the better 🙂
Sometimes you just need to see what’s possible to be convinced to make changes! So proud of our inspirational readers!
Great to hear how this case studies are doing FireCracker! Puts me in a positive mood for the day! Maybe we are doing some good in this world!
Apparently weirdos can do things other than just being weird, who knew? 😉 *weirdo high-five*
Love the updates! After reading the cases studies you wonder what happened to the people in them and if they made any changes. The hardest part is making big changes so it’s awesome to see how well these three are doing.
Make changes is definitely not easy. So proud of these guys and what they’ve accomplished!
Hey nice idea to follow up on the cases! People seem to be taking your advice to heart.
Also, I really love being part of your little (?) community. Keep up the great work! 🙂
Glad you’re part of the MR community too, MunichFire!
Btw, Munich rocks! We drank so much at Octoberfest it was insane!
Awwww! Thanks for this post. This community has been great! Nice to read about how others are doing as well.
Being able to max all of my retirement accounts really shocked me, but it’s true that if you have less in your paycheck you find ways to get along with out. There’s no way I would have believed anyone telling me that I could save nearly $50,000/year for retirement, continue to pay on a massive student loan and 2 car notes, and still live a pretty decent life. Thanks to tall who gave advice on saving and inspiration to find other sources of income.
Firecracker, Wanderer, please, keep doing what you’re doing! It makes a difference!!!
MAS, you rock! What you’ve accomplished and how far you’ve come proves just how much of a badass you are. You are inspirational! Keep it up!
Ooo I love updates! This is almost as good as the reader cases themselves because you get three for the price of 1!
How shitty is your life that other people’s choices, which have NOTHING to do with you, upsets you. <<< hmmm… i didn't know I was a hater… but perhaps I should take a second look…why do other people's choices bug me so much? particularly when they are so different than mine… thanks for the food for thought…
i remember the musoka(?) dream… glad things are turning around… good to get an update that's still in the works…not all shiny and awesome…
also enjoyed the kids'update… small changes ended up amounting to something remarkable…because at first there changes seemed not very awe-inspiring…but then wham!
going to read the original scientist post… i must've missed that in my binge read.
Till next time!
I used to be a hater, so I used to feel the same way as you. The happier you are, the less other people’s choices bug you–this is what I found. Self-reflection is always good 🙂
Glad you enjoyed the updates!
Very interesting, good work all round.
One quick question, did the readers know you would follow-up when they submitted the case studies or did that idea occur later.
I’m interested in the psychology of the readers, they knew something was wrong otherwise they wouldn’t have reached out, but may not have known (or have been in denial about) exactly what the issue was. Trying to work out whether you agreed as a digital accountability partner of sorts or whether seeing (i) the math, (ii) the difficult financial paths each of them were on and (iii) the counter factual of what their lives could look like if they made changes, was enough to spur them into action.
I can answer this for my own case.
First, there was no mention of any follow up prior to publishing my case. The request from FC came a few months after my case was published (which was already a few months after it was sent in). So prior to writing-in there was no underlying accountability component.
In regard to the psychology/motivation behind it I don’t mind sharing. It was pure depression/despair/fatigue/jealousy.
I stumbled into the Millennial Revolution blog (being my first ever encounter with FI community) after reading about them in the greaterfool.ca. I started reading that blog when we were contemplating buying a house and I was running our numbers. A friend recommended I read it for a contrarian view on real-estate.
After spending some time on the FI blogs and learning more about the different aspects I started running my own numbers and felt very depressed about what I saw. I’ve been tracking my spending diligently for a long time already in order to know how much mortgage we can afford. When I tried to see if I can make this FI thing work for us I couldn’t really see a path.
All the blogs I was following were written by young people who worked hard (many in the technology sector) for 10 years, saved, invested and managed to retire. Some had kids after retiring (GCC, Frugalwoods) or while well on their way (at least from the few blogs I was reading). It felt like none of those writers really understands what it is like to START the journey AFTER you’ve already had your kids, placed yourself in a neighborhood, the kids have friends and you are deep in the rat race. I felt my epiphany about frugality, saving and investing came a bit too late for us. It is easy for me to explain to my friends why we are not going to a movie together but to a hike, or why I am skipping buying a new phone even though there’s a crack on my screen. It is way harder to tell my kid why he is not having the things his friends have, or not going to the same activities etc. It just felt like an echo-chamber of young DINK couples who think that everyone should be able to follow their advice.
So I was really depressed one evening after reading yet another post which is supposed to be inspirational but really just got me down because I couldn’t see myself there. I wrote a long email out and saved it as a draft. I went back and checked my numbers and checked my feelings for a few more days/weeks and after a while when I felt like this is still how I feel I decided to send the reader case out. I didn’t actually expect to be featured as I didn’t see anything interesting in our case or anything that can be of benefit to more readers. I just wanted to draw attention to this section of the readership that can’t easily pack up and move to a cheaper place or change jobs because there are other people we need to take care of. However, I didn’t just want to express those feelings in a nasty email because what’s the point of that? I felt that thinking about myself as a person trying the road to FI and doing a proper, cold self-assessment (in the form of a reader case) will be the best way to draw attention to the struggles while at the same time putting my own feelings and perceptions in check due to the math-shit-up analysis.
So this was the pre-writing psychology. It wasn’t really coming from a good place.
Here is what happened after: Like I just mentioned, I never really expected to be featured. When I was, I had a bit of a nervous breakdown. The post itself (by FC) was very cool-headed and well done, but then the comments started coming in and they weren’t all pretty. A few people suggested the regular tips about money saving techniques which are good, but many were scolding me for my wasteful ways and for being a whiny spender.
It was very depressing and I totally felt like the target of some anonymous trolling (well, both me and my tormentors are anonymous, which makes the comments as real as they get). For a few days I kept re-reading everything and getting down, feeling the whole thing was a waste of time and that no one actually picked up on the thread of “the plight of the newcomer to the FI journey at the age of 40, with kids and deep in the rat race”. But after re-reading comments numerous times and forming the replies in my head (but not sending them out) I somehow arrived at the conclusion that I’d better just start taking some of the actions recommended by the readers who suggested concrete actions.
I can’t really recall when and why I stopped circling around the negative thoughts but at some points I did and had a chat with my wife about making some changes.
You asked “what was it that spurred the readers into action”. I think in the end it was seeing the many people who actually engaged and commented that made me want to try and make a change. Even the negative comments. While for the first few days they were certainly bringing me down, with the perspective of time and cooled emotions they all actually had a point. If someone else can raise 3 kids on 50K, why can’t I on 120? Sure, they wrote their point in an awful, trolling tone but the facts remain when you strip the tone down.
Another thing that made me want to find more savings was actually the investment workshop. I followed it for a year with some money I scrapped from savings, tax-returns and money designated for future RESP investments. I really enjoyed the process and wanting to find more savings to be able to continue the process for longer was a major motivator for me.
This is where I need to express a huge thank-you / recognition to FC and Wanderer. I didn’t think my case was interesting at all – it was all about overspending. There shouldn’t have been anything new there to teach the general readership. However, for some reason FC recognized this as an issue that is worth publishing and putting out for display and discussion. I am not sure how long I would have continued to read FI blogs, think about how “it doesn’t apply to me” and get depressed about the whole thing. Putting the case out there was a great motivator. I am hoping that doing the follow-up will be a good motivator for others.
I guess in answer to your question, there was no explicit agreement of having some online accountability mechanism, but simply by being featured I felt like I’d better be accountable.
(sorry for the length of this reply. FC already knows I an unable to write short emails, and apparently short comments either. 🙂 )
Thanks for sharing your view. My take is that one takes action immediately after the decision has been made. There is no need to bother with the negative comments which are likely to be raised on the decision. Everyone is different and hence there is bound to be different views. As long as you feel that the decision which you made, is correct, it is perfectly all right to continue with your passion .
Nope. Following up was something that came up later. Readers started asking for updates to see how the Reader Case alumni were doing so I followed up.
Cool observational breakdown of reader psychology! Sometimes all we need to take action is just some direction and social accountability.
Love hearing how they are going, can’t wait for more. On a side note a google ad on this page is advertising vacant blocks of lands for $300,000. Just doesn’t sound very millennial revolution lol
Ahhh, I didn’t know I had an itch for this post until you scratched it! Hmm. That came out wrong. Anyway. This was GREAT. How cool is it to see people face tough love with resilience, grace and overall badassery? And kudos to you for not shying away from givin’ it straight; one of the (many) reasons I love this blog.
Thanks, Jules! Givin’ it straight is the best perk of having FU money 🙂 Worth every penny.
love this article….nice to see people listening to good advice and actually having the courage to start acting on it…..I enjoyed the show by Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s “til debt do us part” and she also did some “where are they now?” segments…it encourages people when we see positive results!…love your blog too!!
Oh I didn’t know Til Debt Do Us Part has “where are they now?” episodes! I watched that show a lot back when I was working. Love Gail’s ability to tell it like it is 🙂
I am concerned that one reader is thinking their tuition is a charitable donation. If they are receiving a benefit from the money, it is NOT a donation and the IRS in the United States does not look positively on that. If they want to take the risk, then good luck.
They are Canadian, so IRS rules don’t apply. Not sure what the CRA says about this.
Love love love this! Sounds like all the ones you wrote about here have made numerous positive changes. You guys are changing the world, one blog post at a time!
This is a very interesting article, thank you for it!
Good to see how reader cases work out.
https://edubirdie.net/blog/is-edubirdie-legal-or-cheating I hate spaming