We are excited to introduce you to Kate Nesi. Being a teacher or librarian can be a super rewarding career, but it also comes with a small paycheck. Kate and her husband, Chris, didn’t let this hold them back from paying off major debt and working towards the financial freedom they desire. Here is their awesome frugal story!
My husband and I met in college back in 2003. I always had a love of learning and sharing that knowledge with others. What better place to do that than as a professional librarian! When I met my husband, he had an enormous passion for teaching and his life dream was to become a teacher. We love learning and wanted to share that passion with others. We knew these careers wouldn’t come with high paychecks, but we were passionate about our careers, so it was ok.
Before we knew it, we were drowning in debt. We had over $70,000 in student loan debts combined, a car loan for another $15,000, and an FHA mortgage with a measly down payment of $5,000 on a $200,000 home.
In 2009, I was working a job I loved as a high school librarian and working on paying off my student loans. My husband was a long-term substitute at the time and paying his student loan minimums. Then 2010 came and we both lost our jobs, mine due to budget cuts and his due to a contract ending. It was terrifying, but I was able to find another job as a school librarian and my husband continued daily substitute teaching (paying $75 per day).
Then we hit rock bottom again in 2011. I was seven months pregnant and my husband lost his job. He eventually found a full-time job as a teacher a few weeks after our first baby was born. To say that was a stressful time is an understatement.
We were living paycheck to paycheck spending money on unimportant things like eating out and regular Target trips. Luckily, we never had consumer credit card debt, as I despised it from my years working at a local bank and seeing how others were harmed by it.
In 2010, I stumbled upon the blog Get Rich Slowly, by JD Roth. I was inspired by his words and his experience. I started sharing his ideas with Chris and started to learn about a new term I had never heard of, frugal. I further researched the Dave Ramsey method and started to put in place plans to snowball our student loans and car loans to at least get us out of those monthly payments.
Chris was skeptical of cutting back expenses, but he eventually agreed to try in order to pay off our debt. Here are some ways we became more frugal:
- Canceling cable and our cell phone plans
- Foregoing buying new clothes
- Using Craigslist and Freecycle & Buying Used Cars
- Buying high-quality items (Vitamix) instead of cheap items we will need to replace
- Cooking 95% of our meals at home, with about 1-2 nights/month eating out
- Picking our own produce on a large farm in central New Jersey
- Starting a suburban farm on our property
- Riding our bikes all spring and summer and using our bike trailers for groceries
- Using YouTube to learn how to do our own home improvement projects
- Not spending on vacations, besides a few road trips to visit family in Florida
We started tracking our expenses using Money Dance software. We also use Google Sheets to create a zero-based budget.
Just the Mortgage Left
Soon, all we had left was our mortgage. This is when I learned about the FIRE community - that financial freedom could be a goal outside of just debt freedom and working well into our 60’s.
I became more aggressive with how we saved and how we decided to invest. I mapped out a 10-year plan to rid ourselves of our mortgage.
We are now planning on paying off our mortgage in the next 5 years with secondary income streams, working as adjunct professors at local community and state colleges, while focusing on investing from our main incomes. Within about 10 years with this approach, we should be pretty close to financial freedom outside of our retirement accounts!
Not Easy, But Worth It
Becoming frugal was hard at times. We were made fun of by family for dumping cable and people joked they didn’t want to come over and sit in silence. Family sometimes would try to encourage our spending or discourage our debt-freedom goals, but we pressed on. We now have friends that enjoy getting together for potlucks.
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
I’m surprised by the feeling of confidence I now have with our lifestyle and choices. Chris has evolved from a spender to one who encourages DIY and saving. I no longer lose sleep at night worrying about the debt hanging over my head. And each passing year now opens up new opportunities that I’m so grateful for.
Looking Into the Future
I’m glad we got serious about paying off our debt. Now that we are getting close to paying off our mortgage, I’m also excited about spending on things that are really meaningful to us. For us, this means travel.
This coming June, Chris and I will take our first vacation in over a decade. Once our mortgage is paid off we plan to save for traveling with our kids. If we are still in our 10-month positions, I’d love to take trips that might be a month or two in another country living like a local!
You Can Do It Too
We don’t have a large income, and at times finances were a struggle. When we started out, we grossed possibly $60,000 or less, but we were still able to work on paying off our debts. You don’t need a lot of money to make it happen.
Learn to live below your means by a wide margin. I sold our couch once to buy a used treadmill instead. If that’s not outside the norm, I don’t know what is. My motto is “Live like no one else now, so you can live like no one else later.”
Track your expenses. Track your income. See what the difference is and put that money to work. If you’re in a deficit, cut back hard. Get rid of cable, cell phones, and non-essentials. Skip the yearly vacations and put that money toward your debt. The sooner you get out of paycheck to paycheck living, and cut all those monthly debt payments, the sooner you’ll be in control of your future decisions and how you spend your time.
Thank you to Kate for sharing her awesome story. We love that embracing a frugal lifestyle is helping them achieve their dreams while doing the work they love. In addition to being a librarian, Kate hosts a podcast helping others find their own frugal lifelong learning path! Chris and I will be talking with Kate on her podcast soon!