Inspiring Money Stories: Living for Today, Planning for Tomorrow

We’re excited to introduce you to Amanda today! She’s been a part of the personal finance community for years, and she has terrific stories and advice to share about paying down debt, a single-income family life, real estate investing, and various side hustle adventures. She and her husband are seeking a financially independent lifestyle while living for today.

Feel free to ask her any questions in the comments or just to say hello. If you’d like to be considered for an interview or to share your story, send us a note.

Inspiring Money Story: Amanda

1) Introduce Yourself to The WwM Readers!

Hello everyone! I’m Amanda. I am 43 years old and have been married to my amazing husband, Alan (also 43), for 21 years. We have two equally amazing kids — one is a high school sophomore (15 years), and the other is now active duty in the Air Force (18).

We live in Iowa. On a gravel road with a cornfield as our front porch view. We actually live in a growing rural suburb of Des Moines and are close enough to the city (if you call it that) to enjoy the best of both worlds.

Our family is debt free except the mortgage. But it hasn’t always been that way. When we were first married, we had upwards of $60k in student loan debt, and in the early years, we piled on even more debt in the form of serial car loans and mortgages (with an all-time low of -$190,000 net worth). We’ve since changed our ways, paid off all our debt (except the mortgage) and built a decent nest egg.

For the past 17 years, I have been a stay at home parent (with lots of side hustles!). So, we have been (mostly) dependent on one paycheck for some time now, which wasn’t easy in the beginning. With a mid-5 figure salary and tons of debt, it took some digging to get out of the hole we created for ourselves. It amazes me to look back just 15 years ago and see how far we’ve come. Progress has compounded, and now we’re on the path to financial independence.

2) Did your parents teach you about money as a child? Did your family’s money situation influence you as an adult?

When I was young, my parents were part of a small family business that failed, and they struggled to make ends meet for some time. I don’t know if they tried to shelter me, or if it was just me being a child and not really noticing, but I don’t remember it affecting me. Since we never spent much money on stuff before, maybe I didn’t see a difference.

I grew up in a frugal household. I remember my mom and grandparents raising a huge garden and canning corn, tomatoes, and more each summer. My mom was careful with grocery spending, and we always had older used cars (several of them — my dad had a thing for cars).

My mom taught me to shop smart, save money, and balance my checkbook (religiously). My parents didn’t use their credit card much, but when they did, mom always made sure to point out to me that they paid off the balance each month.

My parents helped me as much as they could with my college expenses. I can’t imagine how much debt I would have if they didn’t do this. Though they never really said, I’m sure they sacrificed retirement and other savings for me to go to college. For this and all of the valuable money lessons they taught me, I’m grateful.

3) Describe your post-secondary education and work experience. Are you an entrepreneur or do you have side jobs?

I went to college because that’s just what you did after high school in the early 90’s, right!? I never considered any other option. I went to a small, private college for both of my BAs (Sociology and Psychology). After that, since I didn’t really know what I wanted to be when I grew up, I continued on to get my MSW (Master’s of Social Work). But that was all 20+ years ago!

I think I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I love creating and learning new skills. I’ve had more side-hustles than you can count. I’ll try almost anything at least once!

The side-hustle that’s stuck (and the one I love) is writing and blogging in the personal finance space. I started a personal finance blog in early 2016 that I ultimately sold in late 2017. Since then, I’ve joined the awesome Women Who Money team, and done some freelance writing on personal finance and real estate.

More recently I joined the Rockstar Finance team, where I get to read all. the. amazing. blogs! What’s better than that!? I help curate the excellent Rockstar content and manage the social media and email scheduling as well.

I missed having my own “home” in the personal finance community, so I’m excited to announce that I recently started another blog — WhyWeMoney.com*!

4) How is your partner involved in your financial matters?

I believe that communicating and being on the same page, financially and otherwise, is one of the main ingredients to a successful relationship. I cannot imagine what life would be like if Alan and I did not talk about and, ultimately, agree on our shared financial goals.

In our situation, there has never been “his” money, “her” money, or “my” money. It’s always been our money. I realize this doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s worked incredibly well for us. There is no way I would have stayed out of the workforce for all of those years if we hadn’t shared the money and the money management (and of course communicated openly about it).

Also, Alan went out of his way to recognize the contributions I made to our finances — even if I wasn’t bringing in a steady paycheck. All of this equaled success in our money and our relationship.

5) What do you think is one of the most difficult money challenges for women?

Re-entering the workforce after extended time away is challenging for many women (and men too!).

I’ve been away from traditional work for over 17 years. Thankfully, I’ve personally been in a position to make it work for me and my family. But, if I had faced divorce or other extenuating life circumstances, I could have been in a tough financial situation for a while.

It’s super important to continue to be active, network, and keep up with continuing education when you become a stay-at-home parent. Volunteering, attending classes and keeping skills fresh is always a good idea!

6) Did you have a big “aha” moment related to your finances?

I’ve had a lot of “aha” moments — in fact, I still have them!

One of the money mistakes I made that I don’t want to see my kids make is to get deep into debt when starting adult life.

Starting off adult life with a ton of debt can feel daunting. When you look at those zeros on your loans, it is hard to imagine ever paying them off. And I think this is when many people give up.

Alan and I were there. Once we had a car payment and a mortgage (on top of our student loan debt), we figured we’d always have a car payment and mortgage. And, for a while, we did — and the payments kept getting bigger and bigger. Until we finally decided enough was enough — but it took us a very long time to pay it off.

When you’re just starting out, not making a lot of money, and have all. this. debt, it feels like a losing battle. It’s not!!! It can be done. But if you are able to start off adult life with little to no debt, you will be leaps and bounds ahead.

7) What tools, apps, or programs do you use to keep track of your finances?

I love this topic. The one thing that I’ve been doing for years that has helped us the most is to track every penny. This includes spending, savings, and investments. The more informed we were about where our money went, the more we took control and changed things for the better.

I believe that tracking spending is one of the best things you can do. I used to track our spending with paper and pen. Then I created my own spreadsheet. Now, I use Tiller. I love Tiller because it’s a spreadsheet — and it automatically pulls all of our income, expenses, and spending from our accounts. All I have to do is categorize the transactions and Tiller puts them in a handy budget sheet so I can see where we stand at all times. This way I know where we could cut back and where we’re on track.

8) What does your work-life balance look like?

Right now, work-life balance is good. I admit it takes an ongoing effort to balance it out, though. I tend to hyperfocus on goals, so tunnel vision is something I have to continually guard against.

I have to make a conscious effort to do more life than work sometimes. Since work and life are pretty intermingled for me (working from home), I find it useful to schedule my days into “work” time, “household” time, “relaxing” time, etc.

Health-wise, yoga and healthy eating are my go-to’s. I have health issues that affect my body in weird ways and I discovered yoga is super helpful (we also ride bikes, hike, and practice Taekwondo whenever we can). Instead of having a strict “diet,” I do intermittent fasting and focus on natural, whole foods.

9) How would you like to help good friend who struggles with money?

I think you can provide people with all the tools and information out there and still not see any change. BUT, I believe if you can help people imagine what their life would look like without debt, with savings in the bank, or simply with more options, they are more likely to become interested in taking action with their finances.

No one likes to feel stuck or trapped. Everyone wants to have choices. Having the freedom to choose how to live your life is super appealing!

I know not everyone loves personal finance (like me), but making conscious, informed money decisions needs to be part of our regular routine. Money is a tool, and whether we like it or not, it is an integral part of our lives. We need to manage our money, or it will manage and control us.

10) Is there anything else you’d like to share with our Women who Money readers?

I’m grateful to have found the online personal finance community many years ago. I read personal finance blogs before personal finance blogs were a thing. All of the bloggers who share their experiences, their thoughts, and resources have changed my life for the better.

I’m pleased to be a part of the Women Who Money team and the fantastic personal finance community! Thank you all for spending your time to share and help others.

*About WhyWeMoney.com: I’m obsessive about goals, especially money goals (I don’t think I’m alone here!) I used to be so hyper-focused on our goal of Financial Independence that I undervalued my precious time and sometimes lost track of the important things. A year of life-changing circumstances made me realize I want to live the FI life today, not someday. That’s the idea behind WhyWeMoney. Alan and I are focused on living for today, while still planning for a great tomorrow. The blog is a place for us to share our experiences, thoughts and what we are learning on our path to financial independence.

The WwM Team’s Key Takeaways from our Interview with Amanda:

  • A one-paycheck family can still change course and pay off significant debt and build wealth. It takes time and persistence but Amanda’s family is an great example of that!
  • Excellent money role models when you’re young can teach you skills and attitudes that stay with you for life. Related Post: How Do I Teach My Kids About Money?
  • Trying out many side hustles can help you find your passion! When you keep coming back to one, you’ve probably found what will keep you excited, interested, and making money. Related post: Hustling for Money: What’s the Best Side Gig for You?
  • When you “money” together, communication is critical. You can manage money in different ways but if you don’t talk about it and have shared goals, it will be challenging to be successful. *As a side note — Amanda also wrote this VERY popular piece on Women Who Money — Why Do So Many People Split Up Over Money?
  • If you are out of the workforce, do what you can to keep your skills fresh. Read, learn, network, volunteer — so that if you choose to return or have to return, you have already taken steps to re-enter an “employed” life. Related post: What Is The Best Advice For Returning To The Workforce?
  • Starting out your adult life with at little debt as possible will help prevent you from giving up before you even get started.
  • Working from home can make it difficult to find a work-life balance. Find what works for you, so you aren’t always working! Your health matters!
  • If you want to talk to people about changing their money mindset, don’t focus on telling them now to do it — talk about options they will have with less debt in their lives.
  • This is a great quote to end on! “Focus on living for today, while still planning for a great tomorrow.”

Amanda, thanks for sharing your story of how on a single paycheck, your family focused on addressing debt and staying patient through the years. It had to be a struggle at times, but clearly, you’ve found the recipe to financial success — persistence, communication, and the desire to become financially independent.

We love having you on the Women Who Money team and look forward to following WhyWeMoney!

If you’d like to be considered for an interview or to share your story, send us a note.

Find other Inspiring Money Stories here.

Originally published at womenwhomoney.com on September 14, 2018.

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