My name is Emily and I’m 27. My husband, Kirk, is 29 and we have a newborn son. We live in Springfield, Illinois.
I’m transitioning from full-time to part-time as an accountant and teaching a few violin students. My husband is a guitar teacher and musician. He also recently began a desk job during the day to make some extra money to save. I think he’s going to continue his new desk job as long as he can, but it does make us pretty busy with his guitar teaching in the evenings. We also gig and call ourselves The Dandelion Pickers; we play five to ten gigs and weddings each year for a little extra cash.
Our 2017 income was just under $40,000, but it is super-variable because we only work when we want to. For example, we’ll work like crazy for a year, and then follow that with a year where we only focus on our music.
Kirk and I have always been financially responsible. With the exception of student loans and our mortgage, we’ve never carried any debt. I worked like crazy and paid off my student loans within a year of graduating from college.
When I was 15, I overdrew my checking account and my dad made me call the president of our small-town bank and apologize. I think that taught me how serious money was and to pay attention.
Thankfully, Kirk has never wanted debt either and he chose to live very cheaply so that he could teach guitar full-time. He’s also ethically opposed to credit cards — and he has since convinced me too. As such, we refuse to use any plastic or do any travel hacking.
Kirk’s frugality was definitely something that was attractive to me when I met him. I remember seeing his somewhat-rusty 1992 Chevy S-10 pick-up truck at the time and thinking he must be super poor, but he was open with me right away. He said he had a good amount in savings, and told me how he loved his truck because he paid cash for it. After I heard that, Kirk’s truck got a lot more attractive to me!
We currently own two cars. One was given to me by my parents when I graduated from college. It’s a 2010 Toyota Corolla that we feel very blessed to have. The other car my husband found for $1000. It’s a 1997 Toyota Camry with 180,000 miles on it.
All of our bills and “Sinking funds” that we put in You Need a Budget (YNAB) add up to approximately $2600 per month. That includes our Healthcare Sharing Plan and our doctor’s “Direct-Pay” membership for our family.
Our food bill is low because we usually eat a vegetarian- or vegan-based diet.
We currently owe about $50,000 on our 15-year mortgage. We want to save up enough to eventually pay off our mortgage early. I know Len doesn’t recommend this, but we’re obsessed with being completely debt-free. Our property taxes are $1700 per year. I had to look that up; I didn’t realize they were that high!
We have life and health insurance. We each have a $250,000 life insurance policy. We also currently have a high-deductible health plan and health savings account (HSA) through my job. We will be switching to a healthcare-sharing ministry combined with a direct-pay doctor soon. We feel really lucky that we found a doctor in town that is direct-pay; a membership for our whole family is $165 per month and basically includes unlimited doctor visits.
For entertainment, we enjoy going out to listen to local and non-local music. We go on hikes or bike rides in nearby towns, and we love to watch old TV shows on Netflix too. We also go to church and lead music at church one or two times per month.
We save a little for retirement; on average less than $5000 annually. We have about $15,000 in our retirement account so far.
We were aggressively paying off our mortgage until last year, when we found out we were expecting — at that point we decided to pile up cash instead.We have $15,000 in our “emergency fund.” That would cover six months of expenses for us, including our healthcare.
Closing Thoughts and Tips
As I mentioned earlier, we use YNAB. It’s such a great money management tool for us.
In addition, we’ve chosen to stay in Springfield, Illinois, due to the low cost of living here and the resulting financial freedom it provides us.
I think the biggest thing I can stress for being frugal is: stay out of an emergency-mindset as much as possible. We lived without air conditioning last July and August — while I was pregnant, by the way! — because we didn’t want to completely deplete our cash savings to buy a new HVAC system, and we wanted to get as many quotes as possible. Being okay with being uncomfortable for a while can save you a lot and keep you from making poor financial decisions.
If you’re a household CEO who is successfully making ends meet on roughly $40,000 per year or less, I’d love to hear from you. Contact me at Len@LenPenzo.com and be sure to put “$40,000” in the subject line. If I publish your story, you’ll get a $25 gift card or 1 troy-ounce of pure silver!
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Emily
David @ VapeHabitat says
Yes, I lived for 2 years for $35,000 and I know how it feels to be stressed 24/7
Well done Emily and Kirk. Thanks for showing us it is possible to live on a tight budget when you are committed to living within your means. Well done!
Hi Emily, great job. I live in Chatham, IL. right next to Springfield and the cost of living is much better in central Il. than in many other areas of the country, except our real estate taxes are quite high. I notice you didn’t include income taxes in your breakdown. Does withholding from your part time accounting job cover that or do you have to pay estimates? If you pay estimates, you might include that in your monthly breakdown. Congratulations on the baby!
Hey Kathy! Thank you! So far, our withholding from our jobs has covered any income tax expense from music. Years where we haven’t worked regular jobs as much, we’ve just barely had to pay income tax. I’m guessing that will continue as we now have an extra credit in the form of a wiggly little baby!
$1700 for property taxes is CHEAP!!!!!! I know people paying five figure property taxes!
Thank you for sharing your story.
Mine run $1300/yr (thanks to a recent 20% increase by our county) on 70ac, decent house/shop/barns/etc. But yes, a lot of places it’s highway robbery.
Good job on money management Emily. One thing you might look at is auto insurance. We use Erie insurance….full coverage on a 2011 Subaru, liability only on a 2003 pickup….runs $607/yr ($50.58/mo) with house insurance also at same company. It really pays to shop coverage.
Totally, we have had a few accidents unfortunately and have mediocre credit scores so the best we could get at renewal was what we have but its definitely good to shop it yearly. Hopefully as those accidents get older it will get better.
Len Penzo says
Yes … I know about impacts of accidents on auto insurance rates. My teenage daughter has two minor fender benders and our rates have skyrocketed. I think the last one falls off her insurance record in less than a year. Can’t wait!
Jen Weinblatt says
I am super impressed; good luck to this family. There are a lot of parallels here with me and my husband in our early years and we have never regretted staying out of debt!
Congrats on having your financial house in order. I guess your mediocre credit is partly (mostly?) because you don’t use credit cards.
Bernz JP says
Hi Emily, I also live in the western burbs (Darien). My wife and I were also doing well until the kids (two) were born. I commend you for doing well with that $40k/year income and keep your Toyotas. They last forever. I still drive my 2002 Toyota Corolla with 175k miles. Best.
Les Conyers says
Great job. Keep it up. Everyone struggling financially should read this article and learn from it. Your taxes are very low(property)I lived in Evanston Illinois and property taxes are sky high., moved away 13 years ago, and I bet taxes are even higher now.
I don’t know who you have your cell phone with but my wife and I have 2 cell phones and only pay $26.30, had them 4 years. Republic wirless you can check them out.
Illinois is a bankrupt hell hole run by Chicago democrats!!!
Len Penzo says
Actually, aside from Crook County and the greater Chicago metro area, I think most of Illinois is Republican. But you’re right, the bulk of the population — and therefore the politicians — come from that very area, and they are mostly Dems.