The Most Fundamental Financial Habit: A Zero-Sum Budget

By on October 6, 2017

Hey, everyone! Today I’m excited to introduce you to fellow blogger Sandra Parsons. She’s talking about one of the financial basics that we here at Changing Our Default haven’t addressed yet: the zero-sum budget. And as a fun bonus, she hails from Canada, so I know you’ll enjoy those distinguished spellings. 🙂 Take it away, Sandra!

If you’ve visited my blog A Theory of Change, you know I’m all about finding ways to develop positive habits to make a better life. I believe that a big part of making a better life is getting in control of your finances.

I love the idea of making my money work for me. It’s not enough for me to know that I’m paying my bills on time and more or less living within my means. I want to know where every dollar is going, why it’s going there, and what it’s doing. I want to know that I’m maximizing the value of my money (’cause, you know, I work pretty hard to earn it).  (more…)


The Email That Changed Our Lives: A Mustachian Anniversary

By on July 30, 2016

What is the Mustachian way of life? Well, to give you all a rather oversimplified summary, it’s the philosophy of living on less than you make in order to retire early and do what you want with your life. Exactly one year ago, I received one of the most life-changing emails of my life thus far: Mr. COD had forwarded the links to several Mr. Money Mustache blog posts.

If you’ve read a few of our blog posts, then you’re probably familiar with our MMM fandom. I wanted to pause and reflect a bit on just how fortunate we are to have come across this guy’s writing. It was a keystone moment in our lives. We don’t follow every single one of his recommendations, but we’re definitely more into his philosophy than the “typical” consumer philosophy.

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How Mr. Money Mustache Found His Way Into Our Lives

So here’s the story (I know you all are dying to hear every glorious detail!). After completing his doctorate last spring, Nate began searching for creative investing ideas. He would be getting a raise from his school for the advanced degree and wanted to be proactive in using it wisely.

We also had been sporadically writing our beginner blog about changing our defaults. This applied to many aspects of life: health, relationships, work, spending, and more. The subject of changing our habits came up on a daily basis in our conversations. (What can I say? We’re nerds.)

One fateful day, Nate did a search for “habit changing”, and lo and behold, one of the first results was this MMM blog post. He forwarded it on to me, I followed the link, and I proceeded to devour the entire body of Mr. Money Mustache articles within weeks. I was hooked.

These articles radically changed our perspective on work, saving, and retirement. We’re not blindly trusting in our state’s retirement system for teachers (a laughably risky plan, as we’re all aware). We’ve decided to take charge of our spending and investments in order to maximize our potential. No longer presuming that we can’t survive on one income, we’re making the decision to do just that. Instead of wondering where our money went at the end of the month, we have a plan and we TELL our money where to go.

Our Life Before

Now, to be clear, I don’t think we were radical spenders before that auspicious day. We didn’t carry credit card debt, we didn’t go out to fancy restaurants five times a week, and we didn’t buy outlandish vehicles with outlandish monthly payments. Nate had already been proactive and found us amazing cell phone plans, cut our cable, and we’d paid off both of our Pontiac Vibes. Going out for drinks or movies or meals was never very frequent (and of course, becoming parents brought any semblance of partying days to a screeching halt). So we considered ourselves fairly frugal by nature.

Mr. Money Mustache didn’t change our inner ideals or beliefs about life and happiness. Those were already ingrained in us. We believed in putting greater value on our time than our possessions. Saving money whenever possible. Stewardship of the planet and its resources (though we fail at this more than we’d like).

What Mr. Money Mustache Changed For Us 

  • Introduced us to the FIRE community (which is AWESOME!). We hadn’t heard much about people retiring early before MMM. That was for the ultra-rich only, and since we weren’t movie stars or CEOs, we surely couldn’t do it. MMM was only the beginning! We soon began following similar personal finance and early retirement blogs like Slowly Sipping Coffee, JLCollins, The Mad Fientist, Our Next Life, and the Frugalwoods. All of these super-cool people and many more like them have taught us a ton about personal finance.
  • Gave us permission to really delve into frugality. Knowing we’re not the only ones rewriting the rule book on work and retirement encourages us immensely! For some reason, there is strength in numbers. Reading others’ stories of extreme frugality, purposeful saving and investing, and general embracement of life has been inspirational and motivational.
  • Showed us the surprisingly simple math behind early retirement. Suddenly, it seemed possible! We had always worried about having next to nothing in retirement even at 65 or 70. (Thanks, Illinois policymakers and terribly broken pension system!) The shift to believing that we actually possessed a lot of control over our financial destiny was mind-blowing.

Within a few weeks of reading about the Mustachian lifestyle, we bought a ten-year-old minivan with cash and sold a Vibe for an equal amount. (We needed more space for our family, but didn’t buy into the hype of spending more in the name of so-called safety.) Between MMM and Dave Ramsey in our heads, we hope to never have a car payment again. Within four months, we had finished paying off my student loans. (See Mr. Money Mustache’s post about why debt is an emergency.) And just seven months after delving into the Mustachian universe, we made the biggest change yet: I decided to resign from my teaching job at the end of the year. Being more present with my kids while they’re young has always been on my heart. Thanks to a few simple changes inspired largely by Mr. Money Mustache, that dream is now a beautiful reality.

Not only will I be able to stay home with my kids until they’re both in school, I’m still planning to retire early. A lot of variables are in play, but we feel pretty confident that we’ll both be able to retire or at least go part-time in ten to fifteen years. That’s even taking into account the three years of my not working. How awesome is that?!

So, thank you, Mr. Money Mustache, from the bottom of my heart. I know you will probably never read this post, but I hope someone else may read it and be drawn to the Mustachian way. You’ve truly changed my life and my family’s life for now and generations to come.

Has someone had a profound impact on you recently? How did that person inspire you to change something in your life? In particular, if you follow specific personal-finance blogs not mentioned here, please share in the comments!

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By on May 7, 2016

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I wish I could pull a Doctor Who time travel and go back in time to save myself from some costly mistakes. I would give myself some sage advice regarding investing or at least tell myself to listen and FOLLOW the advice given by my friend Ryan circa the year 2000. Love those college years and all that debt, but that’s for a later post. (more…)