Tanja Hester, the amazing blogger behind Our Next Life, created a Transparency page on her blog earlier this spring, and once I read it I knew that I wanted to create something similar for my blog. While I’m writing this as a regular monthly post, this will be linked in my “About Me” page after today, so it will always be accessible to anyone wanting to know more about my situation (and perhaps its own site page as well – I’d love to get thoughts on this).
While I’m going to try my best to touch on all the parts and pieces that I feel are important for a transparency post in regards to my life, odds are I’m going to leave something out on this first go around, so I may come back to update it later. My intention is not to hide anything from my readers, and I think I’ve done a good job thus far expressing my life situation and how it factors into our money situation and our drive for financial independence.
The Fortune Of Family
To start with, I want to say that I more or less hit the lottery when it comes to the family I was born into, though not just because of money stability. I have two parents who have loved and supported from day one and through all the things I’ve chosen to do with my life, and I’ve never felt that I’ve had to choose something that wasn’t true to myself. No matter what, they have given me courage and confidence to always be myself, no matter the path I found myself on.
That said, they did give me a great baseline when it came to finances as well. I grew up in a solidly upper middle class family where my grandmother came to live with us when I was just nine months old, which meant that my childhood experience was one with three adults in the household. My grandmother never worked outside of the home after she came to live with us, and my mother worked from home, so there was always at least one adult around the house to be there for us and give us lots of love and advice as needed.
My family was always frugal, but out of choice rather than necessity, so I learned a lot of great money lessons growing up but never had to struggle with a scarcity mindset that often goes along with families that are especially frugal. That frugality extended to my college experience, and while my parents paid for part of my college, I still ended up with $24,000 of student loans even with a lot of intentional choices and merit based scholarships.
That said, if I would go back in time, I don’t think I would have had my parents pay for the entirety of my student loans, even though they could have. It was that focused debt repayment (especially with the high interest rates attached to private loans) that turned me on to personal finance blogs, first debt repayment ones and then eventually to ones more focused on financial independence.
I’ve always been fairly frugal, so even without finding this online community we would have done reasonably well, but I’m almost certain our net worth is higher now, a decade after I graduated college, than if I’d graduated with a zero or positive net worth. I needed to put in the work myself.
However, I also knew that I had an absolute backstop with my family had I gotten myself into a really bad financial situation. If I’d needed to, I could have moved home. If I’d needed money to pay for rent or food, I could have asked for it. I never needed to ask for either – even when I ended up with just $200 left in my bank account soon after I moved cross country after college. But simply knowing that safety net was there meant that I didn’t have the same stress or concerns of other friends in college who lived similar situations without it.
There definitely is a lot of work to be done in terms of the college and student loan situation in this country though, so please don’t take this as a comment about how everyone needs to work themselves to the bone to pull themselves out from student loan debt.
No “Sandwich Generation” Concerns
Until I had immersed myself into the personal finance community online and read about other people’s family situations, I didn’t realize what a privilege my husband and I have by not having to worry about our parents’ financial futures. A big disservice in not talking about money in real life means that these conversations don’t happen so we don’t know where other people stand or what’s normal.
Both sets of our parents are financially independent, though three of the four of them still work. Because of this, we don’t have to look out to a future that includes finding ways to care for our parents as they age, regardless of what health situation they find themselves in. Acknowledging the freedom of this makes me realize that our financial independence number will need to be so solid that our son never has to worry about us financially, because it is a huge gift not to have that factor into future plans.
Regardless of whether or not you would choose to help your family members in financial trouble, taking away that need to do so is probably one of the best things we can do for our son in the long run – more so than paying for his college outright. I also realize that people of color disproportionately support their families financially as they find themselves in better situations, and it is one more way that I have a privilege that they don’t have. While I’ve clearly worked hard to land in the situation I’m in now, I also acknowledge that it also involved a lot of luck and privilege to be here.
Living In A HCOL City
I’ve mentioned quite often that we live in a very high cost of living city and that neither my husband nor I make what would be considered more than a moderate salary. That said, there are certain things that have made our pursuit of financial independence by our early forties possible even within those constraints.
To start with, I have never carried a credit card balance or had a car loan payment, and both of our cars are owned outright now. My husband used the GI Bill along with 529 money from his parents to pay for college, so he graduated with no student loans. And thanks to his service, we were also able to purchase our home in the very bottom of the market thanks to a VA loan.
We also lived in a family owned home for the year preceding our home purchase, paying for just utilities and otherwise putting in a lot of sweat equity into the home (see: helping to re wire, drywall, paint, etc). We were so lucky to have that place to live while we saved up for a downpayment, but we also worked hard on it for the year we lived there. Rarely is any one situation all privilege or all hard work; almost always it is both, but it’s easy to focus on one side of things because black and white is simpler.
I also talk about this quite often, but we have part time childcare covered for free thanks to our families, so our preschool costs are actually quite reasonable for our area and significantly less than if we had to pay for full time care. On top of that, our son has a deeper connection with his grandmothers and his great grandmother because of those days he spends with just them every week. Regardless of the money savings, this is one of the very best things about living close to family, and there’s no substitute for the time they have together.
That said, even though I do share our base spending every month, I keep our mortgage and childcare expenses private, as well as our overall net worth number and insurance costs. Part of this is to keep a little bit of our financial picture private because there’s something to be said about not sharing everything online, whether you are anonymous or not.
Beyond that, I feel sharing our details to that degree aren’t actually helpful to anyone. Housing and childcare costs vary so dramatically depending on personal situations, but other everyday spending is more comparable, though even things like food and gas are more expensive in high cost areas. To be honest, the internal comparison month to month is the most important metric, and that I make sure to include with every update.
We may be pursuing financial independence reasonably aggressively, but quitting our jobs is not our ultimate goal at this point. I have a career I love and I get to work it eighty percent time, and I intend to keep working it even once we reach financial independence. You can never know what the future holds though, and the freedom to choose and the flexibility to change course is vitally important to me.
I also work for my father in a family business in a male dominated industry. When the opportunity to work for him full time first arose almost nine years ago, I hesitated. There is such a stigma of nepotism out there that I initially wasn’t sure I would take what would have otherwise been a dream career for me in a job market that would otherwise have had me accepting a majorly subpar offer because it was my next best choice.
I grew up playing softball, and from Little League through select travel ball in high school, my dad was my coach, and from that I learned what it would be like working for him. Above all, he had been certain to always coach me with an eye toward the “perception of fairness.” That is, he always biased himself toward not playing me if there was another close to equal choice, which meant that I played less and had higher expectations to contend with than if I had not been his daughter.
In years since then, he’s acknowledged that sometimes he might have gone a bit far and made it unfair to me at times, but it is exactly that mindset that made it so I was able to push past my knee jerk reaction and say yes to working with him. I knew – and have since been proved right – that working for him would mean that same perception of fairness would bias against me yet again. I would never have to wonder if I was getting a “better deal” because I was his daughter.
Instead, I’d always have a worse deal and have to go above and beyond to prove myself to an extra degree for it. But it means that now, so many years later, I know that I’ve earned my place in the company. And together we’ve done some important work in terms of sustainability and affordable housing. And that success and happiness with my job is that much more because I get to work with my father every day and build that impact with him.
Mental and Physical Health
And yet. Even with all the privilege and luck and hard work and success I’ve seen in my thirty one years thus far, I still struggle with anxiety. Parenting is often hard too, and those days with intense anxiety makes it extra hard. I have a whole lot of privilege in my life, but this is one place where I look at others who don’t struggle and wish that I could see life the way they do. Many things make life easier for me, but this one certainly makes it harder.
And then there’s my experience with an invisible disability the last couple of years. Even those of us with lots of positive pieces of our life are struggling with something that isn’t apparent on the surface, but that’s how life is. We all have unique journeys and have steps up and down along the way.
The whole reason this transparency post exists is because I am a blogger. While it would be helpful if everyone we interacted with in life came with a “see more” tag, that sort of thing is really only reasonable for those of us who share ourselves publicly.
I wrote my Meet The Women Of The Financial Independence Community post after blogging for just shy of six months. While I’d begun to make a name for myself in a small degree in that time, it’s rare that a blog has any kind of big influence after so few months. With that one post, my blog was launched some “X” degree larger, and it has subsequently grown in that space with the accompanying Women’s Personal Finance Facebook group and Wednesday roundup series.
And once that post had “put me on the map,” so to speak, people started reading my other words as well, and I’ve been able to grow the sustainability side of this blog as well. I’ve put in a whole lot of hours on this blog, and I’ve found my voice along the way, but I also know that I got a significant boost from one post I happened to be the first to write.
And then, while my blog had grown to some degree, I didn’t manage to attract the attention of the mainstream media (sorry, I know you hate that term, friend!) until Tanja connected me with a journalist who wrote an “anonymous” feature on New York Magazine’s The Cut. From there, another journalist reached out to me for my Business Insider article (which has been by far my highest day for blog views to date).
Now that I’ve had a few chances to tell my story, I’ve made sure to pass that chance along to other bloggers as she did for me. The voices in this personal finance space are diverse and wonderful, but the general public has yet to hear many of those stories, and I’m hopefully that we can slowly change those perceptions.
As far as money making is concerned, my blog makes very little so far, and I’ve purposefully shied away from focusing on this because it isn’t a focus of my blog. The most I’ve made in a month is <$150, thanks to a combination of Amazon affiliate links and Airbnb/Ebates/etc referrals. Really not much else to say here because my blog is very much a hobby and not a business. If at any time I decide to change that, I will be very up front about it, though I don’t see that in the future for now.
Anything else you’d like to know? As much as possible, I want to be as transparent with all of you while still protecting what needs to be private from the internet 🙂