Learn how one couple creatively used house hacking to pay off their students loans faster!
Paying Off You Debt Faster By Thinking Outside the Box
Welcome back! It's the first week of a new year and I have a question to ask you – how many times have you seen the phrase new year, new you already?
How does that make you feel as you're planning out what you're going to do in 2022?
While I hope you're energized and enthusiastic about your family and financial goals that you want to tackle this year, I can also understand if you're a bit frustrated by all the hype about how important it is to hit the ground running.
Honestly, I kind of feel the same way.
I've been writing about that intersection of personal finance with family and marriage for over a decade.
Every year as we talk about setting and achieving your goals, there are certain patterns that I see happen over and over again.
The biggest one is how few people are actually hitting their goals.
Fidelity and a few others in the personal finance space and beyond do annual surveys and reports to track what people are working in the new year.
While most people start off optimistic about how things are going to go, many times they burn out before they hit their actual goal.
There are many reasons for that and of course, these last two years have thrown a lot of people for a loop, with COVID in the fallout from that.
However, I think a core reason why people aren't able to tackle their goals is how they approach it.
A few episodes before we wrapped up the year, I was talking about setting up those pieces, building those better habits- making sure that your goals are smart, very specific in that you work backwards to break it down into small steps.
Finding a System That Works for You
Those are key components, but there's another ingredient when it comes to not just making your goals but sticking with it and being consistent. That's finding a sustainable system that makes sense for you and your situation.
I see too many families get very focused on this specific of how. For example, when paying off debt – should we use the debt snowball, avalanche or lasso? The answer is it depends.
- It depends how much debt you have.
- It depends on how much extra income you have right now to put towards that debt.
- It depends on the type of debt you have – high interest or low interest.
All these different factors mean that different families will have different approaches. When I have interviews on hereon the podcast. I want to give you models, not necessarily a map.
The map is what you do. You create this destination that you want to achieve. You can then take the habits or systems or ideas from others and hopefully make it your own. You'll then be more likely to stick and be consistent with the process and see it through two, you hit that goal.
So all this month, we're going to do things a little bit different. Yes, we're going to be talking about families that have hit some great goals together and get into the process of how they did that.
More importantly, though, we're going to be digging into how they were able to find a system that fits them and their season of life.
One of the most important steps is to address and acknowledge where you are now with your financial journey. Then you can see which tools would be best for your situation. So that you can achieve whatever goal you're pursuing.
Another piece of that puzzle. Is to find a process that you enjoy.
If you are trying to tackle a big goal, say you have a mountain of debt to pay off. Or you're trying to get a house down payment put together. Chances are it's not going to happen overnight. So again, that consistency's important. But to stick with it, you have to feel motivated. And one of the best things you can do is find a process that you think is enjoyable.
She and her husband had the big goal of paying off their student loans and cashflowing her degree. It took some creativity as you heard in the teaser because they had to find money in their budget somehow.
They went for a big win and did some house hacking. Not only were they able to save and pay off debt; they had a little bit of an adventure along the way!
In this episode, we're going to get into:
- why going for big wins in your budget can be a game changer
- some unconventional ways you can slash your housing expenses
- skills that you may already have that can save and make you money.
Are you ready? Let's get started!
Handy Tools to Pay Your Debt Off Faster
- Best Budget and Money Apps: Personal Capital, Tiller, Mint
- Grab Your Copy: Jumpstart Your Marriage and Your Money
- Join Our Thriving Families Community on Facebook
- Frugal Friends Podcast
- Values Based Budgeting
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Note: Interview is edited for clarity and length.
Paying Off Dent By Slashing Housing Costs
Elle Martinez: You were trying to pay off student loans, which I know is on the minds of a lot of them in the community, but also debt in general. You and your husband, Eric took an unconventional route, especially when it comes to housing.
So before we jump into how you did that, can I ask who started that conversation and who came up with that idea?
Jillian Sirianni: Which one of you is crazier? That's what I want to know. Oh,Elle first of all, I love the theme that you're pulling out. Thinking outside the box, because I think that that is the primary component.
When we're looking at really slashing debt or getting at other financial goals. A lot of times it does take thinking outside the box and moving past some of the limiting beliefs or mindset that we have. Some things are more attainable for some than others so I think there's permission and there's ways for all of us to find ourselves on this journey and what fits for us.
So to answer your question of who's the greatest fear on it? I think for my husband and I, we kind of are neck and neck with that. I don't know that I could fully say who actually ended up making the final call.
But I do remember when we were considering well, before we even considered tiny living, we were looking at boats and motor homes. Not for us.
We were not, we were poor by a lot of standards. We were on vacation. Family and they were talking about, oh, wouldn't it be fun as an extended family to have a used boat that we can share in the summer times together.
So my husband loves to scour Facebook marketplace and Craigslist at the time. Although we don't use that as much anymore, it's gotten a little more sketchy.
In that process, as he was kind of scrolling through, it was looking over his shoulder and seeing these motor homes and realizing whoa, That's everything you need. Why would that need to be just for vacation? What if we were to consider living in it?
So I think it was kind of this, he was looking at it. I was looking over his shoulder and we both add this. What if question? And then that turned into reality. Yeah.
Is Downsizing Your Home Right for You?
Elle Martinez: So can you kind of give me an idea, the general timeframe of having that conversation? Because I think all of us get inspired.
I know for me, I look at the tiny homes and maybe not the super tiny homes, but this idea simplifying and kind of paring down the things we don't need. How did that go from, this is a good idea to let's try this out?
Jillian Sirianni: For us, we move relatively quickly so I would say it was only couple of months before we ended up pulling the trigger on a motor home. Now, granted that was because of life, stage and obligation and responsibility.
We were renting at the time, month to month at this point so we weren't locked into. We don't have kids didn't have kids at the time so we were able to make a shift relatively quickly. It really was just a matter of finding the right deal, finding a good fit for us.
That is the case a lot of times, especially when you're buying used to kind of got to be able to jump on the deal as you find it.
My husband, thankfully, he knows a lot about motorhomes and found a really great one for us and we within a couple of months, bought it pared down, moved in, did that life.
Elle Martinez: That sounds exciting, but I want to take a step back cause I know you definitely saved money. A lot of times when we were doing financial goals and family decisions, there's a little bit of melding and the layers kind of get tangled up.
So were you trying to simplify and saw that this was one way you could do it and save money to use, to pay down the debt? Or were you thinking, we got to pay down the debt. Let's look at these big expenses. What can we change? How did that work out?
Jillian Sirianni: That's a great question. For us, it was definitely looking at the numbers, not only paying down debt, but at the time I was in a place in my career and educational goals where I was seeing an opening to go and earn my master's degree.
When we looked at the numbers and our earnings it just didn't line up, and we said, ‘we've got to find somewhere'. That's one of the things that caused us to look at well, what are our biggest expenses? We lived pretty simply before that. I don't know if I would have described myself as a minimalist at the time, but simply, frugally, absolutely.
In that slow going process of paying down debt on very small incomes. We saw as an opportunity to really cut back on a major expense living expenses due for most people represented usually about 30% of our incomes and so if we could slash that, what an amazing opportunity.
So a lot of people, when they saw us do that, their first question was, well, where are you traveling to? And that wasn't the case. That wasn't the goal.
We did do some traveling, but for us, it was living within our means. We wanted to be able to afford our housing and be able to pay down debt and save and potentially earn my master's degree, which by the way I did do as a result of that motor home.
I know it's such a celebration, but that was the reason and that was the, as you said, Elle thinking outside the box, then that we thought, oh, well, we're already just renting and it's very inexpensive rent, but we found a way to slash that even for.
Look for Big Wins in Your Budget
Elle Martinez: Yeah, absolutely. I love that. You bring up a good point. It's like, what's our circumstances at that time?
Every family is different where they are in their season of life, but I really appreciate that you were willing to look at all of the expenses.
I talk about this on the podcast a lot. I said, yes, you know, it's good to save $5, $10 here and build some good habits, but to have some huge wins, like. Housing, big expense transportation, if they have a car payment and food, like those are the three biggies. If you could get those under control or somehow optimize that, not that you can coast with everything, but it's so much easier.
So kudos on just putting that and keeping that on the table to discuss, even if you didn't decide to go that route.
Jillian Sirianni: Yeah and as you mentioned too Elle fun, like cool, to be able to have this experience and be able to see the actual big win and our finances as a result of this decision, but also learning along the way and things that we're able to implement as a result. We had a lot of other even non-traditional living experiences even from there.
I will say at this point it might come up later, but own and live in a home. It's a small home, but this wasn't for eternity and I think that that's a big misnomer about tiny living that it has to be for forever, or this is a lifetime decision now.
I think even not having a limiting belief in that regard, that I could just do this temporarily to get at a financial goal and then make changes from there based on life situation and my desires that next juncture in the road.
Elle Martinez: Absolutely. You mentioned you had to pair down. Yeah. So first of all, how big are we talking about this, RV, this motor home space was and how much pairing down did you have to?
Jillian Sirianni: So we went from an apartment that was probably about 1200 square feet so not massive, but two bedrooms, big living space, full kitchen, everything you would imagine there to about 800 square feet in that first motor home that we lived in. So relatively big, it had slide outs and. Yeah, it was a good size motor home, I would say, but it was quite the process.
Thankfully, I had moved a lot of times before that, so I became pretty good at understanding what that's going to take, but I, I definitely made throughout our transition time of what am I donating? What am I selling? And what am I taking? And actually there's a fourth category of storage.
We did end up taking out a small part of my parents' attic to put some things that we imagined we might need eventually this may not be an eternal life decision that we live in 800 square feet so let's put some things aside, so we don't have to rebuy them years down the road.
So those four different categories found their homes in four different locations throughout the house. And it really was quite an exercise of identifying and really paying attention to my lifestyle throughout those couple of weeks of what am I using most often? What might be necessary and what's not what is not going to be able to fit? And isn't going to actually have value or benefit to my life in a tinier situation.
Elle Martinez: Yeah. I know sometimes that can be difficult. Like this past year, my mom moved, she's getting closer to retirement. She wants to be with the grand babies so she's rightsizing her house.
She had a nice space, but now she realizes she still wants to have people over. But she had to kind of do that inventory of like the stuff that she had. How often does she use it? Does she want to keep it? Does she want to give it to her friends? Sell it? Like you mentioned, temporarily she stored it just until she knew for sure that this was something she wanted to keep or not. It is the process.
You mentioned your motorhome was used. So be honest with you, was it moving ready or did you guys have to update that or did you do any customizing?
Jillian Sirianni: It was move in ready, quote unquote, but dated. So my husband and I in a previous. I would say life we've been married almost 10 years now, and we've had different side hustles together throughout our marriage. One of which was home renovations.
So we actually had a small business doing renovations for people. It's something we enjoy doing. It's a fun thing for us to do together so we did do quite the overhaul of this motor home. Did our own renovations.
It wasn't necessary, but we wanted to make that little space beautiful and our own so we certainly did our own renovations.
I mean, I'll be Frank about numbers. We were able to purchase it for $18,000 and we put a couple thousand dollars into it and ended up selling it at a profit. We made about $12,000. Yeah. Yup. Great. And that's how we were able to cash flow. My master's degree was through the sale of that motor home then eventually. So it did, it did. I mean, we –
Elle Martinez: get a home for 18,000 now.
Jillian Sirianni: We were able to say we own our home. Just within our means. And at the time, I mean, I'm a social worker, so you can imagine what my salary has been that, but
Elle Martinez: I do love that because it allow you to pursue a career that's meaningful for you, you know? And you do it on your terms.
You lived in another motor home and you tried some other, can you tell me a little bit of those adventures and how that went?
Jillian Sirianni: Sure. I'll take you a little bit on the quick snapshot of the journey. It was the larger motor home and then we moved into and house sat in a log cabin.
So a couple who was nearing retirement, but final years of work and they needed to. I go work in England, but yet they didn't want to sell their home or rented. They just wanted it taken care of. And so us moving into that log cabin allowed us to sell the motor home, but still live rent, free cash master's degree.
Yes. Amazing. From there, we moved in with my grandmother who has dementia and wanting to prolong her ability to be in her own residence for as long as possible. So we then moved in with her. Of course, that was rent-free, but we cared for her. So there was a lot of exchange there yeah. In the caretaking role.
And then from there we bought and lived in a trailer. So the pull behind, not the vehicle version, but a pull-behind trailer. That was the biggest downsize at 170 square feet.
It was so good though. And then sold that and the sale of that was our down payment on our current home.
We are now homeowners and live in St. Petersburg, Florida, but that was the kind of non-traditional living situation that we were in for about four years .
Elle Martinez: Yeah, that's fantastic. If you don't mind me asking, how did you learn about that house sitting? Was that like a friend of a friend or in your network?
Jillian Sirianni: It was within our network. Yes. So it was a friend who knew that we were the type of people who might be open to something like that. Flexible and able to live in someone else's home.
I will say that's not for the faint of heart. And I did learn a lot through that, both in living in the log cabin, as well as with my grandmother, what it is to live in a space where you don't have any of your own things. Right. And I didn't have my own towels. My own dish were my own home goods, but am I able to be content and live in an instant.
Where nothing of it is mine, but I'm able to still make a home there and be content. And my goodness did that teach me so many things that I've now carried over into my own home.
But that, that was through friends or friends however, anyone interested in it absolutely is available to people. There are websites that help connect those who are looking for house sitters with how cities, many people find themselves in those situations where they don't want to rent it.
They don't want to sell their home. They just want it taken care of. So, it's, it's not only for those who have connections.
Elle Martinez: Yeah, but I think it also goes to show that when you take those first steps, your network knows oh, they're willing to try something different.
I think most people their loved ones want to help them out so communicate your goals. Like, Hey, we're trying to tackle debt or, Hey, we're doing this being up you know about your goals.
You never know what opportunities can pop up. Cause I think that's something we overlook or we think loud. I don't want to talk about like, you know, I'm cutting back because I'm, you know, trying to pay off this debt or I'm trying to save up for a house down payment, but if you put it out there, a lot of people will support it.
Jillian Sirianni: It can feel daunting, but I think it's such a good tip Elle to, in anything, right? Whether we're looking for work or we're trying to reach financial goals, or we need a housing situation, I think exploring our own community and telling people that I think sometimes it can feel uncomfortable and maybe even taboo for whatever reason.
But man, do I admire my friends who send me their resumes and say, Hey, I have no expectation here, but if you hear of anything, let me know. So many times it has worked out that, okay. Maybe not in the immediate moment, but now I know so-and-so is looking for something and, and I can help out in that way. So utilizing our own community, I think that's great. Absolutely agree.
Elle Martinez: Yeah, I know for us, it was that stage where we were saving up for a house and we just put it out there. We love to eat that's our socializing, but we needed to save money and it actually was so beneficial. We didn't realize that that time we had friends who were already homeowners and they're like, let's do some potluck.
Let's get out of that rut of going out and meeting somewhere and let's go to each other's places and they realized like, you know, we could save some money. This is always good. Uh, upped our kitchen game with cooking years later. You don't know until you put it out there.
Everyone has a talent and I think most people want to share, you know, if I can help them out, I'll help them out. If there's an opportunity that they think that could, help me, they do that. But if you keep it to yourself, if you're not sharing your, your goals or what you're looking towards, it's hard for people to, you know pitch in.
Jillian Sirianni: It's an untapped form of wealth and capital. If I can even put it that way of when we might find ourselves limited and finances, well, what else do we have available to us?
Who's in our community. How can we utilize friendships with reciprocity? I'm not just saying. Take advantage of, but you might find that others are in a similar place and there's so much that can be gained through relationship and given, and we all desire that that reciprocity and relationship that we don't have to.
I know I described myself as, you know, Poor by some standards, when we moved into our motor home, but also rich and wealthy by others because we did have an amazing community of friends and family. And so I think recognizing that there is more to it than just what's in the bank account.
Elle Martinez: Yes. And I think a lot of people want to share their talents too. Like you mentioned, think outside, that box of only helping financially, maybe there's a talent or something we could swap with each other where it's mutually beneficial.
If someone's listening and they're thinking, you know what, I'm not sure if I want to do the motorhome thing, but I love this idea of trying something different.
Even if it's temporarily, like you mentioned, what are some life lessons or tips you would suggest?
Jillian Sirianni: Absolutely. And again, there's freedom in this not one person's journey needs to be everybody's journey, but I think we don't talk enough about the intersection of our finances with minimalism simple living.
Uh, eco sustainability. And I think that is something that I did learn more about through my non traditional tiny living experiences that I think can be passed on without actually doing something drastic. And so I think even the message of what can we scale back on? Where can we simplify even where in our current lives with how.
Now looks, where can we declutter and free up mental space and energy within our homes? Where can we cut back on some of the mindless spending? I know for me, that prior to moving into tiny living, I love thrift store shopping and yard. I still do like that, but I will say I did it almost as a hobby or weekend activity.
Whereas when I moved into a tiny home, it's like I can't just bring in things, even if it's inexpensive things, I don't have space for it. I think just being more intentional and mindful about what we're spending money on, even if it's inexpensive, even if you have room for it, Do you need it?
Does it serve a purpose? Is it going to help you towards a financial goal? So I think some of these learnings we can implement, even if our current circumstances aren't forcing us to live super small. I also think that just aiming more at that values-based spending, really identifying what's important to us.
Where are our values? How can we make sure that our spending and saving aligns with our values? And where it doesn't the freedom and permission to get rid of that thing. That I don't have to do that even if other people are doing it, people think I should be doing it. I think I should be spending on it.
If I don't actually enjoy it or value. Yeah, there's there's room to adjust our lifestyles. Again, not needing to do something incredibly drastic. And I just think intentional living, we w there are components of what I walked through that I think anybody could implement to varying degrees somewhere along that spectrum.
I think at the end of the day, also looking at what we deem fixed expenses. I think sometimes we just blow past rent, transportation bills, mortgage, you name it because that's fixed. Those are the bills. Now what else? Let me cut coffee. Okay, great. But like you said, L that's not gonna help us long-term cut debt. Really have those big wins that we want to have.
Thinking outside the box, looking at those fixed expenses again, doesn't mean you've got to move into a motor home, but where might there be room? Maybe we're stuck in a mortgage that is super massive. It doesn't align with our values anymore. Kids are out of the house.
I love the term you used for your mom sizing for her current lifestyle. Maybe. Super important. So you don't need a large house anymore and downsizing or whatever capacity that that means. Or maybe you no longer need two vehicles and one vehicle will do it for you. Or maybe we could flip the whole thing all together and you've got room to host people on your property.
You could be the place where other park their motor home or tiny house, or you've got something to rent out on your property and thereby gain community, but also earn more money. So I think, again, we think outside the box on these massive things, and we might find room for ourselves. I think just people often myself included.
We need permission to do that. We need somebody to kind of. AHRQ the fire to think, well, what is available to me with the resources that I currently have?
Elle Martinez: Yeah, absolutely. I love this and I am totally in agreement about value based spending. I know initially it's hard because you do, especially if you've dealing with these bills, you feel like they are all fixed in a way, like you're stuck with us.
But I think like that first step is, can you define the one or two, the few priorities that absolutely. You will never cut from your budget because they bring you that much joy or, you know, you would be miserable without it.
It took us a little bit of time, we did like little money challenges to figure out like, oh, okay. I definitely want to have this in my life or yeah, I really didn't care. But for you, I'm curious, kind of like to wrap things up, like if you had to summarize your must do's or your priorities, that absolutely your budget will support, what would you say those are?
Jillian Sirianni: Yeah. At this point in time and I think that there's room for that to change as life seasons change, but I've narrowed down that I think some of my highest values and priorities are community and our relationships, generosity and beauty.
I think most of what I spend on most, if not all, could be correlated to those top three values and priorities. And so again, what that means for me might shift but at this point it does include food. I am with you on that one.
I that doesn't always need to mean going out to eat, but sometimes it does definitely supplying food to other people. Hosting is the generosity and community piece.
We have a lot of people in our home and staying with us and, and the beauty piece is traveling. Right now for me, I really well COVID really did a number on me with
So thankfully I then moved to a place that I find beautiful and I live near the water. Right now, So means is renovating our home and making it a space that we find beautiful. And so those things I'm okay with spending on and we'll make room to spend on within reason. Of course, we've all got to look at our income and what we can afford and what makes sense for us, but that's where my money is going currently. And I'm thrilled for it.
Elle Martinez: That's exciting. That is fantastic. Now I know. Just scratched the surface because I feel like you have a ton of good stories. So if anyone's listening and they want to, learn more about you and those adventures and lessons learned, how can they do that?
Jillian Sirianni: Oh, you're so kind out Elle I have a podcast with my good friend and cohost Jen, the frugal friends. So you can listen to that anywhere you find podcasts. And also just our website for FrugalFriends podcast.com.
We've got all kinds of fun stuff going on. You can learn about it there and find our episode archive. I know you Al said you might link some episodes specifically about tiny living, but we did do a couple of spots on that.
Elle Martinez: I hope, and I feel like this will inspire families to, find what creative path makes sense for them at this stage of life to tackle those family and financial goals, because it should feel like an adventure.
I don't want anyone listening saying, I have to pay off debt in three years and I'm going to be miserable. No, you can have fun and take care of those financial goals. Thank you so much, Jillian. I'm so glad you came by.
Jillian Sirianni: Thanks Elle for having me. I love the message of freedom you're spreading. Thank you.
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