Getting rich slowly on my own terms

Over the last six months, I have had several articles published at Get Rich Slowly. However, I have never had the pleasure of formally introducing myself. My name is Holly Johnson, and I am a 32 year-old wife and mother of two young children. I work alongside my husband at a small family owned mortuary in the rural Midwest. I began my own journey out of debt a little over two years ago, and it has definitely been a whirlwind of a ride. Let's start from the beginning.

 

Our checkered money past

My husband and I got married in 2005. Soon after, we settled in a Midwestern town and began earning a middle class living. By 2010, we had just upgraded into a nicer, larger home and were pregnant with our second daughter. Things couldn't have been going better, and I thought that I had everything that I wanted and more. However, despite the fact that we were making plenty of money, we realized that we were not saving nearly enough of it. We had managed to do some things right. We had bought two rental properties by this point and we were aggressively saving for retirement. However, every additional penny we made practically disappeared into thin air. It was a hopeless feeling, knowing that many thousands of dollars per year were going unaccounted for.

After having a series of near nervous breakdowns, we sat down together to begin figuring out where all of our money was going. We began the arduous task of tracking our spending, and we soon discovered that we were literally eating up most of the extra money that we made. Taking a closer look at the way we were frittering away our paychecks was truly an eye-opening experience. In addition to spending over $1,000 per month on food for two adults and a baby, we were also paying car payments, credit card payments, and many other unnecessary expenses. The numbers were right there on the paper, and actually seeing where our money was going was a shocking jolt of reality. We knew that we could do much better and set out to improve our family's financial situation.

Over the past two years, we have worked extremely hard and have paid off all of our consumer debts and student loans. I'm not going to lie…it wasn't always easy. However, our quest for financial freedom is far from over. We are now within a few years of having our mortgage paid off and being completely debt free by the age of 35. You might be wondering why anyone in their right mind would worry about being debt free on the year of their 35th birthday. The answer is simple. We want our freedom.

Moving forward with our debt free dreams

As we saved, sacrificed, and planned our eventual path out of debt, we found ourselves searching for meaning in everything that we see and do. What we began to realize is that we had been working our lives away to buy stuff. We had been sprinting on a treadmill to nowhere and had been wasting all of the money that we had worked so hard to earn. Even as our incomes grew over the years, we had always been quick to upgrade our lifestyle to match.

When we started to grasp the magnitude of our own financial self-destruction, we became frustrated and angry that we had let our finances get so out of hand. Afterall, what is the point of working anyway? And, what were we truly working for? It was then that we realized that we both wanted so much more out of life than working to buy things. We found out that we wanted experiences. We wanted memories. Most of all we wanted time – time with our children, time to relax, and time to enjoy life itself.

What is it that you truly and deeply hope for and wish for? What are your dreams? Let me take a moment to tell you about mine.

I want to see “The Woman in Black” live on the stage in London. I want to marvel at the Terra Cotta warriors in China and see the expansive Great Wall with my own eyes. I want to travel to beautiful New Zealand and gleefully geek out on a “Lord of the Rings” tour of the countryside. And, one day, I want to lay on a beach in Thailand… sipping drinks with tiny umbrellas as I watch my children play in the surf.

Great Wall of China at sunrise

Everyone should have the chance to see this.

Of course, my ultimate dream is early retirement. I aspire to reach early financial independence and retire as soon and as comfortably as I can – without sacrificing my love of travel or anything else. Being financially independent will also create new opportunities to be charitable with my money and time. I look forward to the day when I can afford to give generously to causes that inspire me.

Unfortunately, all of my dreams cost money. We all know that no one is going to knock on my door and hand over the keys to the castle. Becoming financially independent requires hard work, sacrifice, and creative thinking in order to get ahead. Therefore, my goal is to work as hard as I can and harness the power of my middle class income. Living below my means has helped put these dreams within reach, and I can't wait to start pursuing each and every one.

I am getting rich slowly
I'm not a financial professional. You won't find me talking about earning millions in the stock market overnight or opining on the investment strategies of the rich and famous. I won't be sharing stock tips or touting the newest financial product on the market. However, I will be writing about my own experiences and all of the unconventional ways that I choose to save money. Sharing my obsession with financial freedom is what I'm passionate about and there is nothing I would rather be doing.

Will you join me on this journey for a better life? I hope you'll follow along with me as I get rich slowly and determine my own financial destiny. It also is my hope that we can inspire and learn from each other along the way.

What are your dreams? What plans do you have in motion to achieve them?

More about...Debt, Retirement

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Sandy
Sandy
7 years ago

Thank you for sharing your story Holly! My husband and I have gone trough pretty much the same motions as you describe. Our first goal was met only a few weeks ago and we are still giddy about it! (we paid of a personal loan that was over € 17k, we incurred this debt by selling one of our homes when we got married). We dream of traveling the world, of completely renovating our home (and pay in cash of course!) and of building wealth so that one day we can pay of the mortgage (right now the interest is… Read more »

Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago
Reply to  Sandy

Sounds awesome, Sandy! I like the idea of setting mini-goals. I suppose that we do that as well.

Jacko
Jacko
7 years ago
Reply to  Sandy

Very inspiring Holly.

The cool thing about the real estate market today is you can buy a home for about the price of a decent car.

This deletes your house note and moves you that much closer to not having to work.

Add a garden to that and bulk purchases and now your really saving money.

Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies
Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies
7 years ago

“It also is my hope that we can inspire and learn from each other along the way.”

Yes, yes, and yes. There are so many different paths to financial freedom that the best things that we can offer each other are our experiences and opinions so we can learn from the good (and the bad) choices others have made along the way.

Martha
Martha
7 years ago

Very nicely written. I look forward to reading more of your posts in the future!

Nick @ PFDigest
Nick @ PFDigest
7 years ago

If you’re clever with credit cards, you can travel pretty inexpensively. e.g. you can go roundtrip to Europe in January and February for only 35,000 miles on USAir, which is less than the current sign-up bonus being offered. It’s pretty easy to get free/very cheap hotel nights from credit card bonuses as well.

Chase Miller | Debt Free Teen
Chase Miller | Debt Free Teen
7 years ago

I hope to graduate college without any student loans so that I can buy a house much faster and build my real estate portfolio over the coming years. Something I wouldn’t be able to afford if I was making monthly student loan payments!

Budget and the Beach
Budget and the Beach
7 years ago

There were a lot of things in that article I could relate to…like having the breakdown and being angry and frustrated with where your money is going. I know I felt that way last year. I think travel is one of my biggest goals. I would hate to have just spent frivolously and not seen the world and what do I have to show for it. Having those specific images in your mind of what matters to you most gives you more motivation to save!

Ashley
Ashley
7 years ago

Really inspiring story, Holly. I’m currently in a similar situation to what you and you’re husband were in long ago – let’s hope I too can get rich slowly.

Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago
Reply to  Ashley

Thanks, Ashley.

The most important step I ever took was finally realizing that no one could help us but ourselves. Once we started making changes, things turned around quickly. Yes, some of the steps you will have to take will suck….but they will be worth it. Good luck, Ashley! You can definitely do it!

Babs
Babs
7 years ago

I like your posts Holly. Looking forward to more.

Jeff Skinner
Jeff Skinner
7 years ago

I really enjoyed reading your story. I am 55 and looking forward to retiring at 62. Fortunately I have a good pension plan and hope to get SS at 62. Other than that we are about $12k in debt on credit cards and owe about $60k on our house. Every payday I think we will have something left to save or put extra on bills, but never do. Thing is about 14 years ago we filed Bankruptcy and all of this was gone except for the house. We didn’t learn and are now paying for our lack of financial planning.… Read more »

Anne
Anne
7 years ago

Wonderful post. Says it all.

Robin
Robin
7 years ago

Nice article! My brother is a funeral director so I can relate that it is hard to get rich quickly in that business, contrary to what others may think. I know one of the biggest issues he has is with people getting elaborate services then skipping out on the bill. I wonder if this has affected your income? I know it’s probably not an article that would interest too many on here but I’d be curious to know how you make your business work when you are providing a service that often isn’t paid for.

Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago
Reply to  Robin

Yes, things are not always what they seem in the funeral business! People see us wearing nice suits to work and think that we are making millions. The truth is that we do make a nice living but we have to give up so much of ourselves in order to do so. We are constantly getting called away from family events, getting called out in the middle of the night, and working long and crazy hours. I do take a lot of pride in what I do and work extremely hard to make sure that everything is perfect. There are… Read more »

Peach
Peach
7 years ago

It’s a topic for another discussion, but I can’t help but wonder how that happens. Both my parents passed in the last few years and the funeral home made sure they were going to be paid directly from the life insurance company. When there was a delay, they waited, but I don’t think they would have proceeded without that assurance. They were helpful, and compassionate, and another plus is that they didn’t even try to manipulate us to spend more, not that it would have worked anyway, but I guess it bothers me that you did the work and helped… Read more »

Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago
Reply to  Peach

I have mixed feelings about it. The problem usually arises when people are unprepared. And a lot of times I can’t really blame them. When someone dies unexpectedly, their loved ones often aren’t financially able to pay for the services that they want. It is hard on my end because we obviously want to serve them to the best of our ability. At the same time, we can’t work for free. Overall, people generally find a way to pay one way or another. Treating people well and taking care of them certainly helps the situation. Still, a few people will… Read more »

Elderly Librarian
Elderly Librarian
7 years ago

Some of this article really doesn’t make sense to me. You were making plenty of money between 2005 and 2010 to live a middle class life, but you “upgraded” to a nicer house, another child, rental properties, student loans? Sounds like you had a lot going on that needed more money all the time. (Plus your spending on food, etc. aggressively saving for retirement??) Only then did you decide that all of this expense was too much? Seem to be a lot of contradictions here.

Carla
Carla
7 years ago

I guess when I read that, I figured they were never in financial destitute. They just happened to be in a different (better) place financially.

Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago

Carla is correct. We were never financially destitute. We were just wasting most of our income on frivolous things that added no value to our lives. We did some things right (buying rental property, saving for retirement) but we were failing to reach our full potential because we were in denial. Now we’re not.

krantcents
krantcents
7 years ago

Although I was not in debt, I started to invest in income property in my early thirties. I reached my dream of financial independence when I was 38 years old. It changed my life! I could do what I wanted vs. what I needed to do for money. I now teach young people and even teach a class in personal finance. I love doing teaching, but will retire for the last time in less than 5 years.

Joanna @ Our Freaking Budget
Joanna @ Our Freaking Budget
7 years ago

I really loved reading your story! I think it represents everything that saving should entail: hard work and sacrifice and goals. Thanks for sharing!

Maria @ Money Development
Maria @ Money Development
7 years ago

Hi Holly, thank you for this story.
I think tracking spenses and knowing where your money goes is one of the most important things to do as it means we need to learn new habits.
I know I am on my way to financial freedom because I feel more confident and secure.
My dream is to be a writer most of the time (I’m already a write part time on my free time) but I want to live from it.
I’ll be back to read your articles.
Happy New Year!

Samantha
Samantha
7 years ago

Hi Holly! Great article. My husband and I are in a very similar situation as you guys so your story really resonated with us. We are debt free but the house, and we are aggressively trying to pay it off. Looking at a 2014 goal, and we will be 31 and 33. People around us think we are crazy. We’ve heard it all: “you are young, live a little! But you’ll lose your tax break! You could die tomorrow and then where’ll you be?” We just keep our heads down, working on what is important to us while enjoying all… Read more »

lmoot
lmoot
7 years ago
Reply to  Samantha

I don’t think many people who say this get that planning for the future is fun! I couldn’t be one that lives blissfully in ignorance. If I’m not taking care of things I can’t relax and “live a little”. Though it is important to recognize each milestone with something just for you.

Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago
Reply to  Samantha

Samantha,

I can totally relate! A lot of people don’t get it. In fact, I think my mom is the only one who really “gets” us at all. My parents paid off their house fairly early and I watched them reap the benefits as I grew up and became an adult. In fact, I think I inherited my crazy debt aversion from her. It just didn’t really set in until the past few years =)

Jeb
Jeb
7 years ago

I am so pumped up after reading this post!!!

Thank you and write more!

Jeb

Meg
Meg
7 years ago

Nice to meet you, Holly! Have you seen the Japanese movie Departures? Interesting and moving look at the mortuary business.

Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago
Reply to  Meg

No, I haven’t. I will have to check it out!

Kathleen, Frugal Portland
Kathleen, Frugal Portland
7 years ago

What a great post, Holly! I would hate to lose the opportunity to go to Thailand based simply on the fact that I go out to Thai restarurants too much!

stellamarina
stellamarina
7 years ago

Plus…..saving a couple of thousand dollars is enough to fly there and stay for a month….so you do not need to wait that long.

Peach
Peach
7 years ago

Economic freedom. Lovely! I liked reading your story. You have a lot to be content about, and it seems like the tracking was the key. Good for you for being willing to look at what was going wrong and to change it. In this economy–NO, the way things are shaping up overall–it’s really important to get the ducks in a row as early as possible, and to keep them that way. In my case, I’m working on rebuilding my financial foundation. Years ago I got in the pattern of using my savings and even my retirement when things got rough,… Read more »

Craig
Craig
7 years ago

Good stuff! I’m 49 and retired, due to living in a manner much like you described, with my only debt ever being 2 cars, and each house as we moved around or up. I was focused very early on with saving and investing, but it wasn’t until my wife and I started using Quicken religiously, even for cash purchases, that things really came together fully. Once you’ve got data on where the money is coming from and going to, you can make informed decisions on how to allocate the always limited funds. I’ve still got a few years left on… Read more »

Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago
Reply to  Craig

I don’t blame you at all for not paying off your mortgage at 4%. It’s just personal preference really. There are a lot of “right” things to do. The only incorrect strategy would be to waste all of the money we make, like I used to do!

lmoot
lmoot
7 years ago

I love that you’re a staff writer Holly. I’ve always recognized myself in your posts and the life you describe is exactly what I want (and I’m sure what many others want too). I’m 28 and I’m trying to get my financial foundation in place NOW so it has time to grow. I’m lucky enough to have had the lightbulb turned on at a fairly young age.I bought my house at 25 and I’ll be purchasing my first rental property next year. I have a 4-year plan in which I want to pay my mortgage off and have two rentals.… Read more »

Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

Thank you so much!

You are so right that all of those little moves add up. It’s hard to see it at first, though. When we started to get our act together, it was crazy how quickly things fell into place. All it took was a ton of small life changes and determination to change our lives for the better. So far, so good!

That is awesome that you bought a house at 25 and have your act together at 28. I was still digging my hole of debt at your age =)

debthaven
debthaven
7 years ago

I loved reading this Holly!

I would love to read an “inside view” of what you do because it is indeed something people don’t deal with frequently, nor willingly. You say it is a family business. I’m assuming it’s your family’s business, or your husband’s?

I’m also very curious about your rentals. We have rentals too. They have often cost us more than we thought they would, but we still keep plodding on with them, because we feel they will one day enable us to “opt out” sooner rather than later.

Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago
Reply to  debthaven

It is a family business but we work for someone else. We used to think that we wanted to own our own funeral home one day but our views have drastically changed over the years. At this point in our lives, we definitely prefer to be employees. I know what you mean about the hidden costs of rentals. They can be a serious pain but I do believe they will be worth it in the long run. Ours will be paid off before our kids go to college and I know that I will be thankful that we went through… Read more »

Julie
Julie
7 years ago

Interesting article however I was curious about your comment relating to “looking forward to the day when you can afford to give generously to charitable causes.” If you will have your mortgage paid off by age 35 I believe you are already at that point and giving generously to charity isn’t something that should be pushed off to some future date. I lived a life similar to your except that I am about 15 years ahead of you. While we scrimped and save on evertything else, we always put donations to charity at the very top of our list. It… Read more »

Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago
Reply to  Julie

I never disclose how much we give to charity and this is exactly why. People constantly feel the need to critique what others are giving and who they are giving it to. We did give generously in 2012 and have plans to be even more generous in 2013. Let’s leave it at that. What I wasn’t able to donate in 2012 was time. I literally have none to give unless I were to try to find a place to volunteer in the middle of the night while my kids are sleeping. I do want to have more time to volunteer… Read more »

Steph
Steph
7 years ago
Reply to  Julie

It really is nothing to do with anyone else how much someone choses to (or not) give to charity. In the US it seems to be just another ‘keeping up with the Jones” brag. I would have thought if someone has a lot of consumer debt then the last thing they should be doing is giving money to charity. I live in the UK where paying my taxes contributes to the NHS, so no-one here has to worry about not being able to afford medical treatment. That seems a lot kinder to society in general to me.

Pauline
Pauline
7 years ago

Great post Holly. My vision is pretty similar to yours, enjoy life along the way but cut all the fat that is not needed. I didn’t know Greg worked at the mortuary too, how cute, blogging together, working together…

Ian
Ian
7 years ago

It is interesting, yet not surprising how common the story is. Spend too much on stuff that you don’t really need or want. When time with friends and family is what many of us really want. I am in the same boat, luckily you figured this out pretty early and are headed towards your goals. Congrats Holly!

My big hurdle now is student loans. Big breath…go time!

Joe
Joe
7 years ago

Great Story Holly.. it sounds very like a very familiar one that we’ve gone through ourselves. You have the greater advantage of having figured this stuff out younger than we did! We must be a little slower, but I’m glad that you’ll reap the rewards.

Congratulations!

Tiffany
Tiffany
7 years ago

So proud of your success Holly!

I agree that even I sometimes am blown away by how much I spend on food when I go out. I must spend at least 500 monthly and that doesn’t even count groceries!

It definitely makes you consider where else that money could be going. I’m only allowed to eat 2 meals a week now at a restaurant 🙂 I’m still a foodie so I need something to look forward to, but I told myself all weekend long and occasional weekdays is a bit excessive

Wm
Wm
7 years ago

Good introduction! I also follow you on your blog. Some of my dreams overlap with yours like the desire to travel and I’m hoping from the year 2013 I will start making the necessary progress in my financial life. Fingers crossed!

Mary Rhodes
Mary Rhodes
7 years ago

I think it’s important that it’s on your terms and no one eleses!!

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