Monthly Money Check: Penny Had Her Lowest Monthly Spending Of The Year! — July 2017

Dear Rich,

Hey, guess what? I wasn’t even thinking about it, but when I totaled up my numbers for this month, I FINALLY made it under the $2,000 bar that I had set (kind of lukewarmly) set for ourselves. I guess that’s what happens when no major expenses come up. It won’t be that way for long though… big school bills coming up next month.

Before I get into all that, let’s talk about where the rest of our money is at. The last time I explored this was in April. In April, our student loans were at $147,037. We haven’t been able to put any extra money toward this since our tax refund, so it hasn’t moved much. It is now at $145,421, because we do pay a little bit more than the interest rate acquires every month in our automatic withdrawals.

Related: Penny’s 13 Year Plan to Repay $173,000 in Student Loans

One thing we are going to start doing, in response to advice from a reader, is instead of taking $1,000 out one time a month, we are going to have $500 withdrawn two times a month. This will help save since the interest is compounded daily on student loans. (My husband just has to make a phone call, which I keep reminding him to do…)

We have also built up more equity in our house since April. Back then, it was valued at $214,000. Now, it is valued at $229,460. (I come up with this figure by taking an average of the Zillow estimated value, $252,421, and the property tax estimated value, $206,500.) So, take that amount and subtract the amount we owe on the house ($88,670), and it looks like $140,790 is the current equity we have in the house.

Here’s a snapshot of our current net worth:

That’s up $25,318 from our net worth in April, but that’s basically because our home is valued $25,000 more than it was in April. If we took that out of the equation, our net worth would be basically the same.

Continue reading “Monthly Money Check: Penny Had Her Lowest Monthly Spending Of The Year! — July 2017”

The Best Of Penny And Rich So Far — 6 Months Of Conversations Across The Income Divide

Dear Cousin Penny,

We’ve been at this blog for around 6 months, so I thought it’d be a good time to go over some highlights. This article will contain numerous links to some of our best posts. Of course, a complete list can be found via the Posts tab.

For any new readers, I’ll quickly reiterate our premise. We’re cousins from a small Midwestern town. One summer, around age 10 or so, I think we played together every day for 80 straight days. Good times.

Our adult lives diverged but we kept in touch, often writing long emails to each other about life and happiness and money — which is essentially the genesis of this blog.

You got married young, you have 4 kids, and your husband went from teacher to chiropractor. Along the way you gathered a boat load of debt, but you have no regrets. Low income doesn’t seem to bug you.

As for me, I went from the farm to theology school to French language study in Paris. Much to my own surprise, I landed a high income career, married a woman with similar career goals, and had twin boys. High income agrees with me. Why wouldn’t it?

Our full origin stories can be found here:


Click on image to see the details of Rich’s plan.

What’s a personal finance blog without goals? My goal is to reach a $1 Million net worth sometime during my 45th year of life. And after that I want to build a generational family legacy (um, in 3 easy steps!).

I admit, since starting this blog, the goal has become less important than the journey, the process … life. As I’ve thought about my philosophy of life, it’s become clear that it’s really not about the money. It’s about relationships, growth, and freedom — these are the keys to happiness, incidentally.

I have also become keenly aware of how lucky I am. I don’t want to be a selfish materialistic hedonist; I want to be a generous squirrel. I never thought I’d write a parable about squirrels, but this is modern blogging. Animals can talk.

So, I hope I can meet my goal the right way. Since we started the blog, I’ve been able to keep pace.

Click on image to enlarge. My actual pace is the blue line, the pace I need is the red line.

So far so good!

But, again, I’m much more concerned about happiness than money.


Click on image to see the details of Penny’s goal.

Now to your goals, Penny. You have enough student loan debt ($173,000 at the start of the blog) to make Dave Ramsey drop a dadgum mess in his britches. You’d love to pay it off, and you’re making good progress. I’m not sure how much you have left right now, but I think you’ve already lopped off $20k of debt in a few short months.

I’m continually amazed at how frugal you are when I read your monthly money checks.

But, like me, you know money is not the key to happiness. You spend very little because you just don’t value things that need to be bought. Even with low income, you feel the need to give more than the need to get out of debt faster. In addition to giving, you’ve learned the art of receiving.


Penny, sometimes I think we agree on a whole bunch of topics and sometimes I think we couldn’t be more different. But what I really appreciate is that no matter the topic, we can have an honest conversation, even if there are points of disagreement.

Continue reading “The Best Of Penny And Rich So Far — 6 Months Of Conversations Across The Income Divide”

Monthly Money Check: Penny’s Budget Blew A Gasket in June 2017

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Dear Rich,

I’m still here. Still on-call. Still carrying around a cell phone. Still checking the internet. Still being bothered by it all. But the good news is that I was able to read your latest post on your four commandments of technology. That was good stuff! I really enjoyed it.

Now, onto this month’s money report. Once again, things keep popping up. This month it was an exhaust gasket that needed to be fixed, high school uniforms, car insurance, a new tent, and a bunch of other little stuff. I’m starting to think that we might not be able to meet our goal of putting another extra $5,000 toward the student loans for this year. I was going to do it when we got our property tax refund in September, but now I’m starting to think we might need that money to help pay school tuition bills and whatever else pops up at that time (as things always do, as demonstrated here).

Oh, well. As I’ve said before, I would rather spend money on things that I value (like private school education for my kids and new tents) even if that means adding a little more time in paying off our student loans.

Anyway, here is where my money went this month:

Not very impressive.

Here’s how that looks when lined up with the other months from this year:

I’ll write again with my Happiness Report in the middle of the month.

Until then,


Monthly Money Check: Penny Just Can’t Spend Less Than $2,000 A Month

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Dear Rich,

Frickin-A. I just can’t seem to get under $2,000 a month in expenditures (not including the student loan payment)! I tell you, I will celebrate when that finally happens. I was only $61.31 away from it this month. It’s the school fees that keep creeping up on us. It’s a tuition payment in January, elementary registration fee in February, high school registration fee in March, high school supply fee in April, and now an elementary student fee in May. Blerg, again, I tell you!

Even though we’re getting financial aid, I was thinking of how much sending our kids to these private schools is costing us. With my oldest on her way to a private high school in the fall, as well as the middle two at a private elementary and middle school already, this will be our most expensive school year yet. In tuition alone, it will be $5,200. But just look at how all those other fees add up, that’s at least another $1,000. That’s around 15% of our income going to these private schools. But, as they say, where your money goes shows what you value, and we definitely do value these private schools for our kids, but… DANG!

Anywho, here’s how my numbers added up this month:


I had entertained the idea of re-allocating some of our charitable givings to go toward the private schools instead, but I really don’t want to do that. I want to be able to give close to 10% of our income, so we’re going to keep trying to do that.

Looking at our income for the first four months of this year, we’re at $12,979. If we keep up at that rate, that will make for a yearly total of $38,937, which is actually a little bit less than what we made last year. And now we’ll be paying roughly $3,600 more in school costs than we did last year. Hmm… I don’t like how this is adding up.

Continue reading “Monthly Money Check: Penny Just Can’t Spend Less Than $2,000 A Month”

Monthly Money Check: Penny Tries To Keep Expenses Under $2,000 in April 2017. She Ends Up Saying “Blerg!”

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Dear Rich,

It’s the beginning of the month, so time to review my expenses. I like doing this. I used to do it only at the end of the year, but I am enjoying the frequency of this month to month stuff.

I’m going to keep my categories as they are for this year, but next year I might consolidate all of the “House” categories. As an explanation for you now, in case you wondered, here are the differences as I perceive them: House Supplies are things that get used up (things like toilet paper, contact solution, etc.). House Repairs are things that get repaired (duh). And House Stuff are things used for The House that don’t necessarily get used up (things like furniture, fabric, tiller rental, etc.). Does that all make sense? For some reason, I like differentiating them since those differences matter to me, but I will probably consolidate next year for simplicity’s sake.

Anyway, back to the report. Once again, we are all probably waiting with bated breath to see if I can get our expenses under $2,000 (before student loans), so let’s see how I did:

Click on image to enlarge.

As you can see, if we subtract the student loan amount ($6,000), our regular expenses came to  $2,048.46. So, we didn’t make it under the $2,000 yet again! Blerg!

Continue reading “Monthly Money Check: Penny Tries To Keep Expenses Under $2,000 in April 2017. She Ends Up Saying “Blerg!””

Monthly Money Check: Penny Racked Up $98 In Birthday Freebies — March 2017

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Dear Rich,

In this month’s edition of There’s Always Something, we were hit with a $228 bill to repair the ignitor switch in our oven and we needed to get a new printer ($75). Boo! Darn these unexpected expenses!

Now, before I get into the nitty-gritty, I’d like to point out something that you might find amusing: We went to a fundraising event for the school my kids go to. In the past, these events have been for general school things. But this year, and we didn’t fully realize this until we got there, it was a fundraising event specifically for Tuition Assistance (which, being low-income, we already get from the school). So, when we went there, we were thinking about how we were paying money at this thing that would go to assist ourselves. I thought you would find this an interesting paradox, since you’re always picking on me for giving to charity and stuff. Ha ha, real funny stuff.

Anyway, back to business.

So, I was hoping to break the $2,000 mark in spending (before student loans), and let’s look at how I did:

As you can see, we didn’t do it.

For one thing, we had the oven repair and the printer. The entertainment expense was higher than usual, due to some concert tickets that were bought for a concert in the future. The restaurant expense was higher because I counted the school’s fundraiser thing as a restaurant expense since we ate there, plus we bought gift cards ($65 worth) for restaurants to be used in the future (that money also went to the school). Higher gift expenses than usual due to birthdays this month (mine and my daughter). We bought my daughter minimalist athletic shoes that cost $81 for her birthday, but I filed that under Clothing. (As you know, minimalist footwear is one of the few things that I value, so we spend more money than we normally would on stuff like that.)

And, well, there you have it. I’ll aim to get under $2,000 next month. I know we can do it one of these months.

Now, let’s talk about all the Birthday Freebies I got this month!

Continue reading “Monthly Money Check: Penny Racked Up $98 In Birthday Freebies — March 2017”

Paris Hilton Is Full Of Knowledge and 18-Year-Olds Are Autonomous — The Paying for College Cage Match, Part 2

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Our beloved cousin-bloggers, Penny and Rich, have been bickering over whether or not Rich’s “legacy plan” to pay for his kids’ college is just a form of helicopter parenting.

In Part 1 of this Blogchat Debate CAGE MATCH, they discussed controlling vs. planning, manual labor, learning for the sake of learning, and the value of a degree.

And NOW, Round 2 …

RICH is in blue, and PENNY is in red.  


i liked what you said about how there’s so much to learn in the world, but … that sounds like me! i’m the one that wants them to see the world and experience new cultures and ski in france and eat fresh mackerel in ireland. there’s just so much for them to see and learn.

Well, if all it took to acquire knowledge about the world was to travel and have different experiences, Paris Hilton would be one of the most knowledgeable people out there. Life and learning and education is about more than just that, and I think a person can have that anywhere. But, yes, seeing different parts of the world is part of that as well.

Paris hilton c’mon now.

Hey, she’s travelled all over! Her and the Kardashians must be geniuses by now!

Hmmm. Well Paris did work on a farm one summer with Nicole Richie, right?

It seems you’re having it both ways. You’re saying it’s not all about school and not all about experiences or travel. It’s easy to poke holes in my efforts. I’m saying it’s about school AND experiences AND all that life has to offer. I’m trying to at least expose them to all, and you are seemingly saying it doesn’t matter if we expose them to anything. So what is it about for you?

I can’t really think of much to respond here. What is about for me?

Yes, I’d like to know 🙂

… Hmm… I guess I agree with you? ///

My approach is I want them to see everything, and sometimes I think maybe you are projecting the fact that you do not feel the need to see everything that your kids will also not be “attracted” to lots of stuff or experiences or whatever, but maybe they will.

I’m okay with that. I used to love to travel, just don’t feel like it so much anymore. I’d be happy to see my kids travel, they can if they want. I dunno. I’m mucking up this question.

/// Ok. Nah you’re not, you’re figuring it out. It all goes back to options for me. I want them to have options.

Okay, I think the thought I was trying to express with this statement was that there is so much to learn in the world, right?

You took that in terms of having worldly experiences. I guess what I meant, in terms of All That There Is To Learn In The World, was more in line with things like: how to till a garden, how to sit with a dying person, how to harvest honey from bees, how to tell time by looking at the position of the sun, how to soothe a crying baby, how to cook a really good souffle, how to photograph a birth. Things that aren’t taught in schools that a person might be inclined to learn, if only their life wasn’t so busy with learning that slice of the pie that they are supposed to learn for school.

well i learned to till a garden and still went to college. this doesn’t need to be either/or. it does seem you have a real distaste for the system of college. where does that come from?

Continue reading “Paris Hilton Is Full Of Knowledge and 18-Year-Olds Are Autonomous — The Paying for College Cage Match, Part 2”

College Savings Vs. Helicopter Parenting — An Awkward Blogchat Debate Cage Match!

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Penny and Rich, our beloved cousin-bloggers, do not see eye to eye on whether or not parents should pay for their kids’ college. In Rich’s Plan To Build A Generational Family Legacy. Uh, Yeah, In 3 Easy Steps!, he asserted that higher education is the key to a family’s long term stability, and it creates a positive feedback loop for the future. 

Rich noted, as a bonus, that people with a high education level tend to marry other people with a high education level, they tend to have friends with high education levels, and they have kids who are more likely to attain high education levels. It’s a positive generational feedback loop.

Penny, on the other hand, Thinks Paying For Your Kid’s College Is Helicopter Parenting.  She opined that paying for a kid’s college education is one of the biggest forms of helicopter parenting out there, and Rich’s plan seemed a bit (how did she say this in a nice way?) … controlling.

She noted the importance of children developing autonomy, and thought paying for their own education encourages children to take responsibility for their own lives. If parents are funding their education, they are taking all of that away from them.

Considering this wide divergence in views, our venerable blogger-cousins decided to hash this out in a virtual cage match, otherwise known as a blogchat debate. What you see below is their chat, possibly with poor grammar, improper capitalization, and strange slashes /// (which they used to keep track of thoughts for some reason).

Readers, think of yourselves as flies on the wall during an awkward family dinner, and feel free to chime in with comments. Now, into the cousin cage!

RICH is in blue, and PENNY is in red.  

Hi Penny! I’m here in blue ready and waiting. Just finished putting the kids to bed. They like a good espresso and a cigarette before turning in. They’re autonomous that way.

How are you?

I’m here! Yeah, this is weird.

Hi! Well isn’t this funny? So maybe the biggest difference off the bat is the idea of control vs. planning. Is this semantics or a real difference?


I don’t see my family legacy plan (in 3 easy steps!) as controlling as much as planning. I can’t control what they will do or what they will think, but i want to plan so they can do whatever they want to do up to their potential. This is about options.

Yes, you’re “planning”, but YOU’RE the one planning their lives, not them. That’s the part I have trouble with. And your “plan” seems a little bit too controlling for my tastes… down to the making sure that they attend college, to wanting to influence the type of person that they’ll marry.

Well according to child labor laws, they can’t work and save for college on their own just yet. They are 5. Hardy har.

I never said they could not choose their college or their course of study. If they have an incredible plan at age 18 for starting a business without going to college, I would strongly advise that a business degree would help. Because it would. 


Here’s an analogy. It’s like buying a car so your kid can get to school. You are not telling them what to do when they arrive, you are simply providing the means of travel. Sure, you could tell them to walk, but in practical terms that just doesn’t work, because walking 30 miles each day is cost prohibitive and limits their options. In practical terms, you’re holding them back.

As far as the type of person they’ll marry, if you mean marrying an educated person … uh, yeah, that would be nice. But I don’t see how this is any different from taking a kid to church or encouraging them to read books. 

And, I truly don’t understand how you equate “plan” with “control”. The opposite of a plan is not autonomy, the opposite of a plan is to be unprepared.

Okay, this is a long one. Where do I start?

Start at birth. ///


You said, “I never said they could not choose their course of study”… How would you feel about them wanting to go to a trade school or do manual labor? Become an electrician or carpenter or something? Would you steer them away from that? ///

It would be a challenge for them to convince me it was a good idea, but if it’s their idea and their passion, I’ll help them get on that path. But like, to me some of this is about health and well being. Manual labor takes a physical toll — I know, I grew up working on a farm. Other jobs can be worse. If my kids really wants to smoke cigarettes, I’m not going to just say hey it’s your life. ///

Continue reading “College Savings Vs. Helicopter Parenting — An Awkward Blogchat Debate Cage Match!”

Why Penny Thinks Paying For Your Kid’s College Is Helicopter Parenting

Alert: Parent is airborne.

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Dear Rich,

As you may have surmised by now, given our income and the amount of student loan debt we have, we don’t have the means to, nor do we plan on funding our children’s (and we have four of them) college education.

But, that’s a good thing. Because even if we could, we wouldn’t do it anyway.

Here’s why:

You know the term helicopter parenting, right? (Go Finance Yourself talked about it in a recent blog post, if you need to bring yourself up to speed.) Basically, it’s overseeing your kids, to the point where you’re like a helicopter hovering overhead, swooping in to rescue them at the first sign of trouble. This style of parenting gives children very little independence, doesn’t allow for developing autonomy, and can do a real number on the kid’s confidence.

And I think that paying for a kid’s college education is one of the biggest forms of helicopter parenting out there.

Your whole “building a legacy” thing seems a bit (how do I say this in a nice way?)… controlling.

Developing independence and autonomy is one of the most important things in a person’s life. Paying for their own education encourages a child to take responsibility for their own lives, to do with it what they want, and to fully make it their own. If a parent is funding their education, they are taking all of that away from them.

Granted, I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be pretty sweet to have your college education paid for (believe me, I know, as we have $153,000 in student loan debt), but it does come at another price (loss of autonomy)… and that is a price that I would not want to pay.

Continue reading “Why Penny Thinks Paying For Your Kid’s College Is Helicopter Parenting”

Rich’s Plan To Build A Generational Family Legacy. Uh, Yeah, In 3 Easy Steps!

Debt is not the legacy I’m aiming for.

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Your food support post got me thinking about how I feel about supporting myself, i.e. self-reliance. I think it’s fair that you receive help, that’s why it’s there, no shame in that. So what I’m about to say isn’t intended to contradict the idea of food support or project anything onto your situation, it’s just my own internal perspective.

Probably my number one goal in life is to ensure that I will not need food support and that no one in my family will ever need food support, for generations to come.

I’m not saying we need to be the Vanderbilts, wealthy beyond imagination and not needing to work. I’m talking about having a firm foundation for self-reliance, autonomy, and opportunity. It’s about being ahead of the curve financially rather than digging out of extreme debt or relying on the government.

The desire I have to provide this, as a parent, is a deep core value. Very deep. As in self-determination key to happiness philosophy of life center of the earth stick it on my grave stone deep.

Can I actually build a family legacy of self-reliance for generations? I think so — or at least I can get close with the next couple generations — if I can achieve three milestones.


This sounds like a dumb how-to list but I actually believe this:

  1. Avoid the worst-case scenario via estate planning.
  2. Save for retirement.
  3. Provide for the kids’ higher education.

Step 1: Avoid the worst-case.

Immediately after the twins were born, Mrs. Rich and I took the following actions:

  • Increased our life insurance.
  • Set up an estate plan, including the following:

— Family living trust with named successor trustees; financial power of attorney; medical power of attorney; designated guardians for our children; pour-over will.

We literally sat in a conference room with an estate lawyer and 2 newborns to set up our family trust. I don’t remember anyone crying, so the kids must’ve liked what they were hearing.

Continue reading “Rich’s Plan To Build A Generational Family Legacy. Uh, Yeah, In 3 Easy Steps!”