Reader Case: Single Mom in Debt

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It’s time for another reader case! This one is from a reader who comes from an immigrant background and has been struggling with debt and a divorce. I think you’ll find it pretty compelling. Let’s get to it:

[the following e-mail has been edited for brevity and to maintain anonymity]

Hi FIRECracker & Wanderer:

You guys are my idols! My path is different than yours since I’m a single mom in debt.

I’m 70% through your book. I’ll have to read the more technical parts a couple times since I’m completely investment illiterate, but your personal story was moving. I identified a lot of what you described about your life and appreciate you sharing your story.

My parents were both physicians and coming from an immigrant background, they had difficulty establishing themselves as physicians for most of my childhood. We struggled a lot as well. I made the choice to pursue medicine at all costs, since I saw that as the only way to improve my life.

I got pregnant shortly after I graduated from medical school and delivered when I was an intern. I was struggling with being a new mother and training to be a physician.

My ex-husband, also a physician, is remarrying and built a home with his soon to be wife. I’m worried that I don’t have any savings for my kids to go to college. (He will likely have more kids or be investing in his step kid). Over the past 2 years, I’ve worked extra shifts.

My debt from student loans, divorce and real estate loss on a home was $400K, and now I’m down to $74K in debt. My retirement accounts are only at $82K. I also bought the cheapest house I could for $250K, a fixer upper that is 52 years old, so I have a mortgage of $2K/mo. I’ll be following your outline to try to save aggressive after I can get rid of the remaining $74K of med student loan debt. I am hoping this will be in <2years.

Any feedback you have would be greatly appreciated:

1. gross/net annual family income

– $200K/year ($3600 every other week after taxes, health and dental insurance, retirement, health savings account, disability insurance, and union fees)

– $23,640/ year in child support (may change next year)

– approximately $24K/year in part time jobs (I work a lot extra some months and not at all if there are no openings)

2. Monthly family spending

– $2000 mortgage with taxes
– $400 utilities (heating and gas)
– $453 car insurance (2 vehicles – mine and my parents)
– $248 for water (I had an unfortunate incident where I realized a back-yard hose was on the whole winter, the water bill was $4K. I am paying monthly payments on this with no interest)
– $720 tutoring for my 2 kids (pre-schooler and grade-schooler)
– $472 (half preschool expenses for one kid, my ex covers half)
– $250 legal fees (still have a $3K balance from my divorce)
– $330 home depot ($2973 balance remaining for home heater/aircon)
– $161 payment toward my Lasik surgery ($986 balance remaining)
– $100 gas
– $140 Starbucks (I do get coffee every day. I feel like it improves my performance at work)
– $400 grocery/toys/kids needs (my parents contribute to groceries so that would likely be higher without their help)
– $200 cell phone bill (includes 3 cell phones, mine and both my parents)
– $100 restaurant
– $140 golf lessons for my kids
– $40 car wash – my kids trashes my parent’s car every month since they eat there.
– $150 on internet and on demand TV ($100 internet including landline, Disney+, Netflix and Hulu)
– $40- $250 self-care
– $40 – online dating. (I started in August on bumble and hinge. I don’t want to do it but my ex is remarrying and I needed a distraction from feeling disappointment and sad)

3. Debt
– Mortgage – $240,392.71 (interest is 4.375%)
– Medical student loan debt -$74,280 currently in forbearance due to COVID, 6.8% when deferment is over)
– $3580 accidentally leaving hose on in back yard through the whole winter. No interest.
– $986 Lasik surgery – no interest x 24 mo. Will be paid off before then
– $2973 heating/cooling – no interest x 24 mo. Will be paid off before then
– $3167 to attorney from my divorce

I was supposed to get into a loan forgiveness program where the government matches the amount, I pay over 5 years up to $250K. But I was told I was rejected because I was a participant before and you can only participate once.

5. Investments
– Retirement: TSP $33758
– Investments: $28,287
– Savings: $13493
– Mutual funds: $7916
– $83,455 total

My question:

• I’m hoping my ex will contribute to their college since he makes more money than me. But can I put as much as possible into my Roth IRA (TSP) then do the Roth IRA ladder you talked about if he doesn’t contribute?

Thanks so much. I’ve been approached by several financial people and I’m reluctant to meet with them because I’m skeptical and I don’t want to get scammed due to my lack of knowledge in this area.

What you guys are doing is so incredible! I’m really empowered to see Asian leaders. It paves the way for my children’s generation!



Okay, first of all, I have to give SMP props for not only getting her student debt down from $400K (Yikes!) to $74K but also for struggling through being an intern as a first-time mom and then getting through a divorce. That could not have been easy.

The first impression I got from reading through her numbers is that somehow, she’s simultaneously detailed and meticulous in her accounting but also disorganized, with money spewing all over the place. That is a weird combination.

Given her situation, I think she has a lot of cards to play with, the trick is to learn how to strategically play the game. And she shouldn’t worry if she’s not understanding how investing works at first—we’ve all been there—it’s just takes time and experience.

So without further ado, let’s summarize her numbers:

Income (gross/net):$200K (gross), $93,600 (net) + $24K part-time income = $117,600/year
Child support:$23 640/year
Expenses:$6594 per month, $79 128 per year
Debt:$240 392.71 (mortgage) + $74,280 (student loan) + $3580 (water bill) + $986 (lasik) + $2973 (home heating/cooling maintenance cost) + $3167 (lawyer) = $325 378.71
House:$250 000
Investible Assets:$83 455

So first of all, there’s something way fishy about the their income being $200k gross, $94k net. That can’t be right, this isn’t Denmark. She did mention that some of these deductions from her gross were for retirement, which is wrong (retirement contributions should be included as part of your income), but we’ll use this low number as a conservative estimate, and she can update it later if she wants to.

SMP gets around $141,240/year in income and child support. Her expenses are $6594/month or $79,128/year. Okay, this seems really high for someone with 2 kids, living in a place where you can buy a house for $250K. But let’s come back to that in a bit.

Basically, we’ll break this down into 3 questions.

1) Can she save enough for her 2 kids’ college education?
2) Where the hell is all her money going?
3) Will she have enough saved for retirement?


Savings for Kids’ College Education

I have to admit I immediately rolled my eyes when I saw things like “$140 golf lessons for my kids” and “$720 for tutoring.”

She mentioned that my story inspired her—well, my parents never had the money to hire me a private tutor or private lessons, and I STILL became a millionaire. You don’t need golf lessons to succeed in life, trust me.

Also, why do you need tutoring if they’re in pre-school and grade school? The only thing they learn at that age is what you can and can’t put in your mouth. You do not need private tutoring for that.

Hell, if you just take the $860/month she’s throwing away on tutoring/lessons and invest that in a Roth IRA and let it compound over 10 years, that’s…

YearStartingContributionsROI (6%)Total

At least $144K by the time they graduate high school! There’s their college tuition right there! No need for a fancy golf “scholarship.”

So, the question she should ask herself is: Do you want your kids to be good at golf or go to college?


Where Is All Your Money Going?

With current yearly expense of $79,128, she’ll need $1,978,200 to become financially independent. And with income of $141,240 and current expenses of $79,128, she’s saving $61,112 per year.

How long will that take with her current savings rate, after she pays off her student loan?

Year,Starting,Contributions,ROI (6%),Total

18 years.

That’s better than the usual 30-40 years, but with a salary + part-time work + child support that adds up to $141,240/year, she should be doing way better than she is.

She keeps notes of her expenses down to the penny, but she’s missing the big picture. Where is all her money going?

With a $74K student loan still hanging over her head, she’s not in a place to be spewing money on frivolous things yet.

I also think her internet and phone company must LOVE her.

Even if she needs to cover your parent’s phone bills, the Google FI plan is $50/month for 3 people + any data used. Internet should be only $30-40/month.

Also, you have Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+ all at the same time! That adds up, and is completely unnecessary. Remember, when it comes to streaming services, you don’t have to pick just one. Do a month of Netflix, then a month of Hulu, then a month of Disney+ or whatever. Only have one active subscription at a time. That way, you still get to watch all the shows you love, but at a fraction of the monthly cost.

Also, this statement terrified me: “I realized a back-yard hose was on the whole winter, the water bill was $4K”. I get that you’re probably insanely busy as a single mom and a physician, so this is probably a one-time thing, but please for the love of God, don’t do this again!

Also, another baffling statement. “My kids trashes my parent’s car every month since they eat there.”


Instead of shelling out $40/month to clean their car, can you just NOT have the kids eat in the car? I was never allowed to eat in the car and leave crumbs everywhere. That’s what the parking lot is for!

And as for $40/month for online dating apps, you don’t need to pay. There are lots of free ones out there. Maybe give the FIRE dating app a try? It’s completely free. There’s also OKCupid. A friend of ours found her hubby on here. Another friend recommends Coffee Meets Bagel.

And finally, your mortgage interest is 4.375%! Can you try to refinance it now that interest rates have plummeted to historic lows?

With a mortgage of $240,000, your monthly payment with taxes and interest should be around $1400-$1500 at today’s interest rates, so $2000 is too high. If you can refinance, you can save around $500/month.

By making the changes listed above, it’ll save you $200 + $40 + $40 +$500 = $780/month or $9360/year.

That would bring down your expense to $5,814/month or $69,768/year, which means your new FI number would be: $1,744,200. It also makes your annual savings $141,240 – $69,768 = $71,472. After paying off your student loans, your time to FI would be:

Year,Starting,Contributions,ROI (6%),Total

15 years.

So you’ve moved up your retirement date by 3 whole years just by making some minor tweaks to your life. Don’t let your phone and internet company be too happy. Make them work for it!

Saving for Retirement

So 15 years until financial independence isn’t bad, but there’s something else that she’s missing here.  What is with these “one time” expenses like “Lazik”, “accidentally left the hose on”, and “lawyer costs”? OK, we’re all entitled to a few mistakes, but please don’t make this a habit. Let these one time costs truly be one-time and not recurring. Plus, if you’re getting Lazik every year, I’d have a word with your doctor because they clearly suck at what they do.

So, adding together these one-time costs, you have $10,706 in debt you need to pay off. But once that’s paid off, you no longer have to pay $989/month to cover these balances. This would farther reduce your expense down to $5,814 – $989 = $4825/month or $57,900/year.

This would supercharge her savings to $141,240 – $57,900 = $83,340/year (59%) and decrease her FI number to $1,447,500.

What would that do to her time to FI?

Year,Starting,Contributions,ROI (6%),Total

12 years!

You just shaved off another 3 years, just from paying off your debt.

So I think the key here isn’t about making more money, or finding more efficient ways to save on taxes (all though it wouldn’t hurt to ask HR whether she can contribute to both a TSP and 403b).

It’s about hunting down where her money is going and making sure it’s being spent wilfully and efficiently on what really matters. Yes to retirement savings or college fund. No to accidentally leaving the hose on all winter!

Her question about “But can I put as much as possible into my Roth IRA (TSP) then do the Roth IRA ladder you talked about if he doesn’t contribute?” isn’t really relevant here. You only use the Roth IRA ladder when you’re retired and have no income.

If she makes her expenses more efficient and redirects the golf and tutoring money towards savings for college, she should have more than enough for her kids, to pay off her debts, AND still make it to retirement in a little over a decade.

What do you think? Do you think SMP needs to worry about saving for her kids’ education? What should she do?

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62 thoughts on “Reader Case: Single Mom in Debt”

  1. For someone with relatively high income, she certainly has lots of small debts (home depot, LASIK, legal, etc.).

    I wonder if she’s even a good physician.

    1. There is no need for that last comment. What is wrong with you?
      People can be good at their professions because they have been trained and educated in it for years but not as good in financial matters as they may never had been educated in it. She was brave enough to admit all her debts here to get help to be better financially and should be applauded especially with all the early challenges she faced and still was determined to become a physician. That shows how good of a physician she is. Firecracker has given great advice n I would like to add to invest in a good coffee machine at home or work n a thermos. Gud luck to her.

    2. took the words out of my mouth. when i read only about halfway down her message i already felt like screaming. i always roll my eyes at the ‘i earn 200+K and i’m still so middle class in my HCOL and how do i retire’ reader cases but apparently money mismanagement and lack of responsibility wrt saving is rampant. hopefully she can clean everything up per firecracker’s suggestions… sadly from personal experience, when i try to help out people who have an explosion of budget line items like this it is really difficult for them to cut anything…

    3. That seemed like a cheap shot here. Most physicians never get any education on personal finance and any free time is lost in studying to keep grades up and practice for MCATs while trying to get into Med school. And once in Med school, most of the time goes into absorbing info on how to be a good doctor while the rest of “life” is ignored. Her financial literacy has no bearing on her medical literacy. Physicians already have to deal with their own doubts on decision, burn out and critiques from their peers pretty much on a daily basis that non-physicians can’t understand. She doesn’t need you to judge her on her financial literacy and make a comment regarding her medical literacy. She sees there is a problem with her Financial literacy and she is seeking help to try and fix it. I’m glad she is seeking help. Most financial institutions see physicians as a target to try and get their money because they know they have no experience with how to handle their money.

    4. According to The Millionaire Next Door, it’s really really common for physicians to spend every penny they make and then some. There is a lot of pressure for them to maintain a certain high standard of living. Add to that the pressure of coming from a struggling immigrant background and it’s really easy to get yourself trapped. It doesn’t mean she’s a bad doctor though.

    5. i don’t think u can judge her proffesional skill set based on her personal drama. She is busy single mom, with a high pressure job. And just because her parents are hardworking immigrant doctors. Doesn’t mean that she ever learned how not to get stuck in the same money traps ALOT. Of ppl do. I hope she makes it because atlest she’s trying to do something about it.

  2. Crescent Moon, that is really degrading and mean. I don’t know what information you are using to question her ability to be a good physician, but that seems outside of the scope of this article and just hurtful.

    Good on her for starting the journey and taking control of her expenses and her life. Being a full time working mom is hard, good on you Single Mom Physician! Being intentional and choosing to pay for the things that bring you and your children joy (within budget!) are all part of what financial independence means to me.

    Keep it up!

  3. Sooooooo…this reader case was interesting…wasn’t it?

    Something is not right with this picture. Just consider the following:

    1 – She’s a flake and a shell of a person. Her life revolves around others and not on herself. She thinks others will bring her happiness. It never works that way. I understand why the husband divorced her. I would have done the same.
    2 – She’s trying to keep up with the Jones’s. I get the feeling she’s trying to live out some type of fake instagram life.
    3 – She pines for her ex-husband. Seriously? He’s banging someone else. Move on.
    4 – She makes constant bad choices and decisions. Constantly. Do you notice a lot of her expenses are based on reacting to an event versus taking proactive action?
    5 – She’s on a dating site because she feels sad? What? I feel sorry for the guys she meets online as she’s wasting their time.
    6 – She’s always a victim. There’s something called personal responsibility. Looks like somebody doesn’t like dealing with real life.
    7 – Her kids are like little monsters out of control. That’s a reflection on the parent. Since she’s the parent…need I say more?
    8 – She needs counselling. There’s some serious mental health issues going on here. I don’t care that she’s a doctor, something is wrong here. Before considering # of years to FIRE, get some counselling. You’re a doctor. Maybe it’s time to seek some professional help.

    I’ve met people like this. Unfortunately, they are toxic. There’s no helping them until they recognize the problem themselves and seek help.

    1. Another salty poster who makes min wage and wants equality without contribution to the society. Your right! her achievement as a physician whether it’s salary or status gives her the privilege to make financial mistakes if you want to call it. It’s great she is seeking help from others, so march on keyboard warrior.

      1. Do you see the irony of accusing me of making unfounded generalizations while making the same unfounded generalizations towards me? It’s amusing how similar we actually are.

    2. > She’s a flake and a shell of a person … I’ve met people like this. Unfortunately, they are toxic

      Needing to hear the truth is a thing. Nobody needs to hear this sort of unsubstantiated judgment. It wouldn’t be the first time that this sort of criticism comes from something like intense narcissism, lack of any sense of personal self worth, or both.

      Eventually this sort of blatant bias — not possibly connected to any real data about the situation — will end up in a pretty spectacular failure. I just hope it’s not painful or devastating.

      > She makes constant bad choices and decisions. Constantly.

      Why the need to attack someone? Online – really?

      1. Again, accusing someone of making unfounded generalizations while doing it themselves. Very progressive. You’re my hero.

    3. Obviously you have never had a rough patch in your life and try to make lemonade out of the lemons you got. My sister is an amazing vet and surgeon but going through divorce and the laws are definitely not on her side. Even though her soon to be ex was a cheater and got someone else pregnant he is asking for 9k/month for spousal support. And he may actually receive that because they were married decades.

    4. Let’s give SMP the benefit of the doubt. I think many here agree that her finances are all over the place, and she sounds stressed out from her letter. For someone with a demanding job, a part-time gig on the side, and kids, I think it’s understandable if stress runs high and personal time is rare. High stress can easily lead to bad decision-making, or even decision fatigue, where people start choosing the easiest option just because they’re too tired to think about it anymore. If SMP is really this stressed out where she’s just reacting to problems, I hope she takes the time to step back and de-stress. Do away with the side gig, find some relaxing hobbies, and get help on coping with stress if needed. With some time to focus and a calmer state of mind SMP can clean up her finances — track every dollar that comes from her paycheck, understand where the money is going, and prioritize spending to her financial goals. It will be very hard to get to FIRE by not knowing where her money is going and spending on things that don’t align with her and her family’s goals.

    5. No one asked you to play armchair psychiatrist and by the way, you’re terrible at it. If you are actually a professional therapist, the suicide rate amongst your patients must be disturbingly high. Please stop before you get more of them killed.

      She IS asking for help. That is literally the entire point of this post. Sorry you could be absolutely no help at all.

  4. SMP, congratulations on making steady (and extraordinary) progress toward your financial goals! I recognize some of your coping mechanisms, and I wonder if there might be other ways in which you can fulfill your motivations. Reading your letter, it seems like you are worried that your kids (and maybe you?) are or will be missing out, and you are doing everything you can to remedy that gap. Instead of working additional hours, what would happen if you redirected that time to be with your kids? I bet that time with you would be more beneficial and valuable than external tutoring or another extracurricular activity. You could even take some of that time and redirect it to (lower or no-cost) self-care, home improvement, or learning how to make a better cup of coffee at home. Right now, you might be focused on repaying debts before their interest comes due, but once you fulfill these obligations, maybe reconsider the side gig. Finally, if you have no desire to date online, please give yourself a pass. Online dating is hard enough when you’re highly motivated, optimistic, and happy! It’ll be another stressor when you’re already feeling sad and disappointed. Instead, maybe reallocate the time and energy to double down on self-care. (Yoga has helped me recover from more than one unraveling) Best of luck!

    1. Dating when kids are so young is very unfair to the kids. Every extra minute you have should be spent on those kids. Get some advice from Dr. Laura S. She would say you gave up the right to date until those kids are 18 years old.

      1. SMP came here for financial support, not shaming on her personal life. Why are people so intent on shaming parents these days? I agree that young kids need a lot of parental support and attention, but personally don’t believe parents need to wait until kids are 18 to date. Balancing all of the demands may be difficult, but not impossible. Parents deserve to pursue their goals too, and it doesn’t need to detract from their relationship with their kids. At any rate, it doesn’t sound like SMP is very serious about the dating sites, just looking for a distraction. SMP, I’m glad you’re taking steps to get your finances in order to take better care of yourself and your family. Date if it makes sense for you, but not just for appearances or because your ex is in another relationship. Your free time is valuable and use it in ways meaningful to you.

  5. I had the same thoughts about her gross vs net income and her expenses like golf lessons and tutoring. Assuming she’s living in a high tax area like San Fran and not saving in a 401k then she should be making more like 132k/year net ( I make half of what she does in Seattle and I’m able to save almost as much money as her. Granted I don’t have 2 kids to care of.

    There seems to be so much room for her to cut in her budget. For instance, if she feels like coffee improves performance ok but no need to go to Starbucks. Just get a coffee maker and brew it at home, or do they not provide coffee at work? Also last I checked you can use Bumble & Hinge for free, no need to pay for the advanced preferences.

  6. When the HELL did you get such nasty-assed followers on your blog? Here is a really nice person who has found your good work and is willing to share her numbers so you can help her. That takes a leap of faith. Along comes a couple of shits who ridicule and demean her on a personal level. One guy sounds like an outright Incel. Seriously guys, how does this promote and encourage the FI community??

    1. You can live in reality or a fantasy. The choice is always yours. I prefer reality. It’s also my choice whether to accept and involve myself regarding someone else who is living in a fantasy trying to avoid reality.

      Our host asked us what we think about the reader case. I gave my thoughts. I don’t need to sugarcoat it. With a bit less sugarcoating, people might improve their lot in life instead of being lied to because we don’t want to hurt their feelings. Lies don’t help you grow. Honesty does.

      1. But many commenters here manage to be perfectly honest without being mean.

        Besides, speculating about the personal qualities of someone you know nothing about isn’t “honesty”. It’s arrogance and malice.

    2. Sue, you said it! Has any other reader case gotten such nasty commentary? She shouldn’t date until her kids are 18 – what? Their father is getting remarried! Where’s all the vitriol for him?! What a misogynistic, nasty bunch here.
      SMP, keep up the good work and I am sure you are a wonderful physician and mother and daughter.

      1. Agreed—very misogynistic! I don’t think people understand how difficult being a mom, an especially a single mom recovering from divorce, can be. There’s a lot of balls to juggle. Kudos to her for working on getting control of her finances!

        1. I’m not sure the comments were misogynistic, just mean.

          Single mom is taking a risk and trying to learn so she can better herself. I’d like to congratulate her for taking the first step. If she streamlines her budget she can get a much better handle on finances. That will allow her to stop working so much extra and get a better work/life balance. She can spend time with the kids and help to teach them (both school and behavior).

          She has a mess right now that needs to be cleaned up but she makes so much money she should be able to take care of it relatively quickly.

    3. (Firecracker: can you please consider putting a must approve on the thread posts, so that personal attacks can be blocked?)

      DITTO! What happened to this blog and it’s followers?!? I am blown away by the nastiness. Clearly somebody needs to remember the golden rule and put the judge mcjudgersons back in the box.

      To SMP: I am so sorry for the needless, anonymizes vitriol spewed on this page. It’s one thing to critique numbers and spending choices, but unacceptable to criticize the PERSON. So sad the some are too immature to know the difference. Clearly, some people were triggered by this post. The saying is, “Hurting people hurt people.” So. Sorry.

      A few suggestions for this case study, in case she is able to read these comments and reach some of the more thoughtful advice (such as read and follow JL Collins):
      1. Going through an unexpected change from what you thought your life would be is super tough! You’re probably not just sad about the goober leaving, it’s the change in future outcomes to an unknown (been there, done that!).
      For your own sake and happiness and that of your children’s, re-define what a great future will be for you as an individual. It can’t be dependent on another person, even if you do find a new partner…this is about YOU and what YOU want. Security financially? Opportunity for your kids? Helping your parents? Time for yourself? Define it.
      So my first suggestion is to shut off the electronics, and spend a nice hour walking outside Starbucks 😉, alone . Try to recognize that you are worth a good happy life, you’re talented and smart and successful, and you’ll be OK! You’re asking the right questions here and examining what you’re doing, which is light years ahead of just about everybody else around us.

      2. Please take a few minutes every morning to pat yourself on the back. You are a physician. You made it through medical school and the MCATs. You’re practicing in your chosen field. And you’re taking care of yourself and your children. Those are all successes! You even!!! – big deal here – Managedto pay down your student loan significantly, despite all of the pressures surrounding you to do otherwise, such as waiting for debt forgiveness letting the loan ride forever. Please know ***you are very WISE to avoid those finance people. Most MDs are broke – very high income, no real money…bad investments, spending like crazy (ahem, golf lessons?), nice cars, sending oodles of money to family that isn’t really even helped by the dollars., bad insurance products…it’s all sold to doctors because they know: YOU MAKE A LOT OF MONEY. Lol. You are a target. Assume everyone around you can’t come up with $1000 in a pinch. Seriously. FireCracker and Wanderer are much better examples!

      Break the mold. Do not do what they do.
      You already started with your less expensive home.

      3. You’ve been running nonstop for many years. Get your goals straight and focus. Those stupid little debts should not even be there. Pay them off. Get a handle on what a more reasonable lifestyle is ***not in comparison to other doctors, or your parents/friends/neighbors/ex-spouse, but relative to what YOU want in your children’s lives ***. I’m guessing that some of this is financial, and some of this will be about behaviors and discipline Dash both for you and your kids!

      What is the teaching for your children who see you running around crazy working all the time to get some traction? It’s showing them that it is worth working hard to meet a goal. They are going to need to learn discipline in their own lives, to be successful and happy. This is more important than tutoring for a little one or golf! Get them on the team with you (not to carry the load/stress, but little kids can understand “we are making different choices now, so let’s do xyz instead”. I know you are tired. 😇 Your kids might throw tantrums over any change in their lifestyle, but they’ll come around! Kids have a short attention span, ha ha, and they will throw tantrums no matter what you do! You are in charge. You are the adult, and your household is not a democracy.

      If you want to be financially secure and able to help others such as your children and parents, you need to focus on being able to meet your needs FIRST. That makes it easy to say No Thanks! to golf, tutoring a small child, cleaning grandma’s car, or worrying about dating.

      *** Things you have going for you are:
      – A relatively inexpensive house
      – A good income
      – Great pay down on your student loan
      – Already some money socked away into retirement.

      ***To do you list, echoing FireCracker and the 💕sensible 💕people on this page:
      😉 You are going to be too focused on yourself to worry about an ex.! 😉
      – Get organized. What are you actually spending? Save all your receipts for a month and add them up. While you’reat it make sure your affairs are in order – update account beneficiaries and such life stuff.

      – Cut, cut, cut. If you had nothing, what are the necessities? Food, electric, water, house payment, car insurance (1 car), gas. Get the kids to wash the car instead of golf. Cheap cell phones. Cut off the parents – if you die of too much stress, they’re screwed. So let the adults take care of themselves, and you take care of yourself and your kids. Ok, then Debt payment after that. It should take a year or so to pay this stuff off. Not necessary: all that extra crap that’s either crept in or been a pseudo-balm…not bringing you happiness.

      – Buy a fancy coffee maker. Trust me,it’s better than Starbucks, and you can have more. Creativity before capital. Practice saying, “No, thank you.” To everyone.

      – Write down your goals, keep yourself honest.

      You’re doing great. Keep reading, Quit Like A Millionaire is The Best!
      Also: Collins’ Simple Path To Wealth. Hogan’s Retire Inspired, and The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. That crew did a study…(Everyday Millionaires book)…most millionaires, you’d never know it.
      Good luck!

  7. Wow! The comments are brutal! But I kinda agree. Golf lessons for a grade schooler? Seriously? Probably because she doesn’t have time for the kids this early in her career it is good to throw money at them so you don’t feel like a bad parent.
    I took time off every week to golf with my daughter and finally paid for lessons when she was in high school and a 3 handicap. She ended up getting a college golf scholarship but it cost about the same raising her up in golf as the scholarship was worth. The important thing was time spent with her and learning life lessons.

  8. My guess is the 200K is before office overhead (costs of running a medical practice, hiring staff, license and legal and malpractice fees, etc). That’s likely why the net is much lower.

  9. The ex-hubby seems AWOL regarding the kids college savings. My suggestion is to hit him with a palimony judgement in order to secure the college funds. It can be a nasty legal battle, but to help get into the fighting spirit I would recommend binge watching, in one weekend, the entire “Real Housewives of Orange County”.

  10. God people are mean today in the comments section. You can question decisions without being jerks about it and rude. Kudos for starting to get your life on track. Ignore the haters and focus on improving things.

  11. Physician here. I can honestly say there are some nasty comments on here. I think Firecracker gave some good advice. You learn a lot of things in medical school but handling finances when you graduate is not one of them. Kudos to SMP for seeking help. She is at the start of getting her life together and financial literacy so give some encouragement.

    1. Physician mother here.

      Agree with JT and others. Please ignore the trolls and clueless judgement.

      We value your medical expertise and the progress you’ve made on your debt while raising two children with your parents’ help.

      Keep up the good work, and good luck troubleshooting so you can become more financially efficient. I know it’s tough. A night shift just wipes out the next day or two.

      And best wishes finding a new partner. No one would ask a guy to go without sex or companionship for 18 years. A happy relationship will make you a *better* mother and human being.

  12. From what I understand from her spending pattern, she basically have two focus in life and everything else get neglected: her jobs and her kids.

    The kids eating in the car are the most telling of all. She probably is in a mad scramble for her time and throw money at everything to keep moving forward.

    Her income is good and her frivolous expenses are easy to cut if she is willing to look herself in the mirror.

    My advice would be to drop the part time jobs and focus more on herself. She can probably get FI in 2-3 years later but with a more manageable life without that extra jobs.

    The parents seem to be present, they could be use to help her catch a break and learn to focus more on her life.

    And finally, the ex husband, he can sleep with whoever he wants, but he had those kid and a good income, he is legally required to pay for half the tuition of the kids (and half the expenses of the kids in general), that he has another family or not. An expense that could actually be a good investment is a good family lawyer.

  13. Does anyone else think his this is a bogus letter? My b.s. detector was tingling with the golf lessons for a pre-schooler and a grade schooler and the hose left on all winter. Doesn’t she live in Canada, wouldn’t the water in the hose freeze? And then there’s the monthly car cleaning; if you have time to wait in line at the carwash, you have time to vacuum out your car.

    1. I have the same first impression! Maybe that’s why the numbers don’t add up. Also grammar seems a little bit off.

  14. The writer has done a heroic amount of debt pay-down on the student loan to get it from $400k to $74k, and that seems pretty clearly to have been the best course so far (it had the highest interest rate).

    Where I part ways somewhat with JLCollins is that I would recommend paying off the lawyer bill and the Lasik first before continuing down the list in order from highest to lowest interest rate. Reducing the number of debts reduces the mental fatigue of keeping track.

    Clearly the writer has a lot of demands on her attention, so simplifying things in general is a good idea. It’s not necessary to know where every penny is going; the big picture is the most important.

    The two biggest takeaways for me are reducing fixed costs (mortgage refinance) and reducing nonessential spending. $6,000 per year in reduced housing costs is a decent return for not very much work.

    There is about $1,400/month in miscellaneous nonsense that can be eliminated. That includes especially the golf lessons, private tutoring, Starbucks, three streaming services, and car cleaning. (I’m assuming the mysterious “self care” includes things like haircuts, makeup, etc. and not random crap like massages; get rid of the latter.)

    Get out of debt before touching any of these again. A year of all that stuff could be used to permanently remove $16,800 in debt instead.

    Minor note to Firecracker: it looks like the CSV didn’t auto-table in the post, starting from the section “Where is your money going?”

  15. > Over the past 2 years, I’ve worked extra shifts.

    This is amazing on top of what you’re already doing, especially knowing the expectations and pressures on physicians without this extra on top. If you keep this up, your journey will be *much* faster than otherwise – serious props.

    > was $400K, and now I’m down to $74K in debt

    When you just see “less debt” rather than “actual money” as a result of your hard work it seems to inherently feel like you’re not making much progress. This is HUGE. The future is bright, and if you can do this before more changes you may be straight on the path to FI in 5-8 years if you continue to re-evaluate and revamp your life piece-by-piece to lower spending by aligning it with your core values.

    1. +1 !
      Good advice. Debt payments are a reduction of a negative, so not as obvious a gain…BUT the pay down is huge.

      This person is working their tail off.

  16. Hi,

    My view is to reduce the expense which will produce more effective results. There are a variety of expenses in which the reader can consider eliminating from the budget. Some examples are the Starbuck, internet etc.

    It is up to the reader to decide whether such expenses are worthwhile for elimination. I will eliminate these expenses without qualm.


  17. I’m just commenting to congratulate Wanderer and Firecracker for their newly founded Mainstream success!

    I might be wrong but niche blogs don’t usually attract the woeful comments like those I have just read so my guess is your blog has exploded in popularity. Unfortunately, with it have come the nasty anons to pollute the fun and polite conversation we’ve been having with their bile. 🙁

    1. That’s what I was thinking! Didja notice that it was the very FIRST comments who were so nasty? The fastest clickers? 😉
      (And now….”the public” has found us – lol)

  18. Wooooowwww, she is practically bleeding money in some areas!!! I also think the reason why she lets the kids eat in the car, do private lessons and golf lessons etc may stem from some level of guilt at the fact dad isn’t around or it seems like he’s prioritizing the new family. To be honest my mom did the EXACT same thing when my dad filed for divorce while planning a wedding and playing house with his new family !!! She constantly stretched herself financially in the hopes that I wouldn’t notice plus discussing the divorce was out of the question. I would do tennis lessons, did french classes all these random hobbies, went out with friends and dance classes etc just so I wouldn’t lack anything. I think sitting down and genuinely talking to your kids you’ll find that they genuinely don’t care for them! And that cutting out things like golf and tutoring and a million subscriptions will save you a heck of a lot plus allow them to dream bigger and do what they really want. It’s one thing I wish my mom had done cause I know she would be further in life financially. And I was 8 when this all went down.

  19. “there’s something way fishy about the their income being $200k gross, $94k net. That can’t be right, this isn’t Denmark.”

    Even in Denmark you would end up with some $19k extra.

    Tutoring for a pre-school kid is ridiculous, unless they are especially remedial. However, tutoring isn’t just tutoring, and golf lessons aren’t just golf lessons, they’re childcare, a chance to clean the house/do life admin, a chance for your kids to learn meta-skills like perseverance, and a rest from the constant gurning. Ultimately, sometimes, as a parent, you do things because your kid enjoys doing it, it makes them happy, and even if it is something stupidly expensive like golfing, you pay for it to the see the smile on their face.

    (Or, it’s a passing phase, and you’ve just pissed so much money up the wall, but you can’t find out until you’ve bought the titanium golf set, right?)

    My advice here would be to pay down the debt, and think more about how you can achieve a better work-life balance now, not in the future. Drop the part-time income, focus on quality time with the kids, expanding their college tuition fund, and take the long road/coastal route to FIRE.

    Also, it seems like SMP forgot to explicitly mention that the parents live with her? Is this correct? If so, talk to them about what’s going on!

  20. As a child of Asian immigrants parents, I very much agree with what FIRECracker said – your children do not need tutoring and golf lessons. Even without knowing you or your children, I’m very confident in saying that they need you to be present and emotionally available, and they need space to play and make friends.
    Playing and making friends is how kids learn the social skills which allow one to succeed at office politics, and being good at politics is how one gets ahead at work – grades are meaningless after getting in the the door at work. Social skills also contribute to relationship success, and having good relationships is known to be key to happiness, not to mention to not losing lots of money in a divorce!
    Having at least one parent being present and emotionally available is likely to lead to your children being emotionally healthy, and emotional health is necessary not only for happiness but for performing at one’s best at work, and for finding the discipline to properly manage one’s finances (I think you know the latter). It seems that your ex is not going to be the parent that your children need, so you need to be – that’s not fair, but it’s the way it is.
    Unlike many in this community, I don’t think that FIRE is possible for everyone. I don’t think it’s possible for you because, as I see it, the only way that you can become the parent that your children need is by getting counseling to overcome your (very obvious from your email) emotional problems, which requires both time and money, and by giving up your side gigs so you’ll have more time for your kids. I know it’s not fair for you to have to give up your dreams, but I’m sure that it’s the only right course of action.
    For the record, I, a woman, would say exactly the same thing to a single father – it’s not that a mother has a special responsibility, it’s that all parents do

  21. Criticisms aside, at least she is tracking all of her finances. That is the first step and probably the most important. Like the excellent response given, she can easily cut 30% of her monthly expenses.

    Then she can try to increase her salary as a physician and cut out the side jobs to dedicate more time to her children. Once her one-time debts are done, she will be on a faster track toward FI. She does sound sad, counseling would be worth the extra cost in this case.

  22. When did FI comments get so negative? Seems like a reddit forum in here.

    I hope she takes some of your advice as she in actually in a pretty great position.

  23. Whoa – trolls back off! Stop slamming on this woman. And perhaps it’s time to get a moderator on these comments? Seriously, just stop the shaming. This single mother sounds like a very dedicated professional who is trying to manage a life with a lot of moving pieces.

    On the golf lessons, how is this any different from soccer team fees, or violin lessons or something? Kids benefit from these sorts of activities. And she said “kids” so I’m thinking both kids are benefitting from this? Perhaps she and the kids spend quality time enjoying this activity together too, and that’s worth a lot.

  24. At the risk of just adding to the noise, I say this to SMP:

    You have a life that’s 10x more complicated than mine, with a ton of responsibilities and moving parts. And yet, during all that, you’ve paid off over $300K in debt. That’s awesome!

    Ignore the haters. They’re just jealous of your income. Sure, you’ve got some loose ends that can be tightened up, but you’re on the right track. Don’t be afraid to ask for help (which, by emailing MR, you already have).

    Beyond that, take some time to think about the things that *really* matter to you, and spend money on those things. Jillian Jonsrud has some great content on this topic.

  25. This is the 21st century. Yet, there is a sizable women population still has blind trust
    that men will love them unconditionally. Meaning, the men will make and manage financial resources for the best of the spouse and the children.

    Ladies – you need to take charge of the financial management day 1 of the relationship!

  26. I am assuming the Google FI plan being recommended is the ‘Flexible for 3 plan’, and not the ‘Unlimited for 3’ plan. The Google FI ‘Flexible for 3’ plan costs $17 per person per month and $10/GB per month. So for 3 people, the total will amount to $51/month + data. The unlimited plan costs $50/month per person. More info here ->

  27. Way to go on looking at your finances and working on getting things aligned to your goals! I’m not a doctor but when I was starting my financial research and found FIRE, in addition to Millennial Revolution, another site that I found helpful was

    It is written by a doctor for doctors, but was still super helpful for me. Might be even more helpful for you since you are a doctor, though it is a Canadian site so some of the details will be different. The blogroll shows some American financial planning blogs by/for doctors as well, so might be worth looking at.

    I especially like the Loonie Doctor’s “Investing Intestinal Fortitude Tester” 🙂

  28. WOOOOOW, never would have expected this thread to take this route.. We need more Ghandi –Ish folks here. “Come out, come out where ever you are”( a little October fright infused there) Compassion , kindness and understanding.. We are all in this together folks!
    Also were the heck can you get internet for $50.00 .. no really I want to know?

  29. Okay, seriously, why are half the people commenting acting like gigantic douchebags? People are shaming SMP for every possible thing they can shame her for, one person gave her good advice and someone else jumps in and says that if that person is a professional therapist then all their patients must be committing suicide, people are defending their incessant lack of basic human empathy with “I’m just giving my thoughts”, and everybody being rightfully called out for their crap has been responding with their edgy versions of “I know you are but what am I?”.

    Jesus F***ing Christ, I can’t speak for FIRECracker and Wanderer, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if they were completely embarrassed and sickened by you all and were privately apologizing and helping SMP by email now. They usually pop in in the comments sections but they haven’t appeared at all here; they probably don’t even want to look at your disgusting vitriol; they probably don’t want to even engage you guys right now. If this were their first Reader Case, this would probably be their last Reader Case.

    SMP, good for you for reaching out for help. Being a single mom, a physician, and having a part-time job must be tough. But I do recommend stepping back from all those extra commitments to de-stress, get a handle on things, and reevaluate your financial decisions. And don’t take the disgusting vitriol in the comments too seriously; they are FAR from indicative of the Millennial Revolution or FIRE community as a whole, and any of these pathetic jackasses that feel the need to defend it need to self-reflect on how they treat others and just how to interact with humans as a whole.

    ARB—Angry Retail Banker

  30. Just here to say that she can do this! I am a Single Mom by Choice with two kids (now ages 17 and 21) so have always only had one income. Not sure if these are Canadian dollars, however I guess it does not matter in the long run. I live in a very high cost of living area (Boston). During my kids lives, I have made between $70-120K (current) $US, bought my current house for $500K (now worth 950K). I have fairly easily managed to raise the kids, have 0 credit card or other debt ever, other than my mortgage (now around 150K US), and have saved enough money for them to attend our state school for 4 years. In addition my current net worth is around $2.5M so I could retire if I wish, bu love my job so I continue to work.
    What stand out to me, as well as others, is the bizarre spending! $1690 a year to Starbucks ??? Really? She just have to stop, especially if you have any debt other than mortgage! Same with the golf lessons and car wash (can’t you kids just help clean the car once a month – can’t she just clean the car- can’t take more than 30 min and save $480 a year. I pay Verizon (prepaid plan) $90 a month for 3 cell phones with unlimited text, minutes and 5 G data each. Sooooo much low hanging fruit!
    Pretty sure someone with such a high income, and child support, should be able to handle this!

  31. Reading this case I was baffled at first but then it all makes sense. I used to be in the mindset of working more to earn more to pay more but it was because I was constantly on the grind and didn’t have time to think, didn’t have enough rest so my body and mind can properly process everything coming at me on a daily basis. Once I got clarity, it was a game changer. I think the same applies for this case. SMP works a lot, I can imagine 70-90 hours a week so even though she has a great habit of writing all of her expenses down, she probably doesn’t have the time or mental capacity to go through them and makes the hard but necessary cut to the expenses that others see as no-brainer. With the main income of $200K, she can try if she can have less part time work to spend this time for necessary rest she needs. This includes the time to recharge, to spend with her family, to educate herself on personal finance and to get her finance in order. On a short term, her income will go down, but on the long run it will benefit her and her family and certainly her finance.

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