[00:00:00] Welcome to part three of my money story spanning over 11 and a half years of personal finances in our family of growing of learning from our mistakes of finding our way through the advice and rules of other people to what worked for us. In this final installment of our money story, I'm going from March of 2019, which is when Debt Free Mom began up to today in the spring of 2022.
So if you recall from part two in March of 2019, I started posting on an Instagram account called Debt Free Mom, and we were closing on our very first home, our home we purchased and moved into in April of 2019. In May of 2019, right after we purchased our home, Kyle left his part-time job as a coffee roaster. Once we knew what the mortgage payment would be and that it would fit into our budget without that part-time job. His full-time job had a very demanding summer as a summer day camp. [00:01:00] So leaving this part-time job allowed him more time at home as his work hours got busy. This was the very first time in our marriage, seven and a half years after we got married and four years after we became parents that we were truly living on a single income that our paychecks coming in, came from one source only.
At the time our kids were for two and a half and eight months old. We got through that summer, we made it on just one income. We didn't know if we would, it felt like a trial period, but we were able to cover all of our family's finances and enjoy life with just that one job. In the fall, we took another family vacation this time with five of us instead of three of us. And we went to the smoky mountains in Tennessee in October of 2019. None of our kids were in school at the time. So this was easy to travel off peak season, both saving money and avoiding crowds.
I'm a beach girl. I prefer to go to the ocean for [00:02:00] any vacation, but this vacation truly was a fun trip. We stayed in a cabin in the woods, up in a hill that I absolutely hated to drive up. We had a hot tub. We had just one bedroom in the little cabin. The kids slept out in the living room, but it was such a fun time together.
In the summer and fall of 2019, I began taking on coaching clients through my Debt Free Mom Instagram account. We would get on a zoom call together and I would set up their numbers in a budget by pay period to show them what was possible with a bit of planning and changing the way they viewed their money. I believe I charge around $40 to $50 for an hour on zoom together. I was so self-conscious about charging money for something like this. And so I low balled myself for a very long time and offered these sessions in the evening after bedtime and on weekends for quite a long time at about the same price point. In the spring of 2020, we felt like we had settled into our home. We had gotten through the steps like debt [00:03:00] payoff, saving a full emergency fund. We now lived in our first home for almost a year and knew that we could handle the mortgage payment and the expenses that came along with that. And we were ready to begin investing more than just the 3% match we were participating in through Kyle's work. So he took on researching what funds would be good for us to buy. We had opened a Roth IRA through fidelity several years ago had dropped $200 in it and then just left it alone because we weren't ready and we didn't understand it.
So we knew that we wanted to invest in our Roth IRA, but we didn't know exactly what funds or stocks we should actually buy. So as he researched, he found a Vanguard target date index fund. It had a $3,000 minimum initial investment. So we planned on taking our full 2019 tax refund and investing it in this target date index fund he had chose. At the time we didn't realize that there was basically an equivalent index [00:04:00] fund that matched this Vanguard one, but there would be a fidelity managed fund saving us tons on fees. So we did pay a $75 fee on this initial investment simply because we were choosing a Vanguard fund inside of a fidelity Roth IRA.
We learned our lesson rather quickly, because it was about this same time that I found a personal finance club and learned from him how to build wealth through investing in index funds, . But our first purchase, we did make that mistake of going ahead to buy a large amount of fund that wasn't owned by Fidelity by the time we filed and received our refund. So we knew how much it was and we were ready to invest, it happened to be March of 2020. Yes that March of 2020. So by no intentional planning of our own, we ended up investing over $3,000 all at once on March 21st, 2020; right when the market was rapidly [00:05:00] dropping due to the uncertainty around COVID.
That purchase alone has returned over 30% in interest since that initial investment simply because we happened to buy at a particularly volatile time in the market. By comparison, our other Roth IRA account and our HSA have both performance between three and 6% returns over the last two years. So this was one of those things in money that is sometimes planning and effort and knowledge, and also sometimes luck. So we were going to do this $3,000 investment in March of 2020, no matter what the market looked like, we just happened to be ready at a time where the market temporarily dipped and then swung right back up. And so we have seen those returns on that investment at that time.
Debt Free Mom in the time of COVID I pretty much stopped coaching altogether and rarely even posted on Instagram in the early days of the pandemic. I felt acutely aware of my lack of expertise in how to [00:06:00] assist someone with their money when I myself had no clue what the next week held, let alone, what would unfold in the two plus years following of stimulus checks, volatile markets, and rapidly increasing inflation. I also found out that I was pregnant with Ruby in May of 2021, and this was our first truly surprise pregnancy. So, so much was just changing at one time that I really took a step back from positioning myself as someone who could give advice and simply tried to be supportive.
We were on of healthcare sharing ministry at the time, so as soon as we knew I was pregnant, we began saving for medical expenses, because we knew at minimum, our out of pocket would be $4200 for this pregnancy and labor and delivery based on our plan. So we had about nine months to prepare for that and we prioritized saving cash. You've probably heard me say this before, but it's advice I truly live by when faced with a major life, transition, a death, a birth, a [00:07:00] move, a job change, pause or reduce sending money to goals that you can't get back like an investment or a debt payment, and instead prioritize pocketing as much cash as possible into your savings accounts. Once you get to the other side of the life transition, you can decide what to do with any money leftover and make a lump sum investment or a large debt payment. But I've just found for myself and others, that those life transitions often cost way more than we estimate or predict, and we end up feeling in a bind. So we chose to pause investing more than the 3% employer match and to put as much of our money aside in savings before Ruby was born, including increasing our emergency fund from $10,000 to $15,000. That was our financial focus at the time.
In July of 2020, I was a few months pregnant and we had a rapid rainfall in a thunder storm in the summer, and it sent water shooting up to [00:08:00] drains in our basement and completely flooded our basement with several inches of standing water. Our older boys were downstairs watching a movie in the afternoon and one of them started shouting "Mom, there's a fountain!"
I ran down the stairs and literally it looked like a geyser coming up to corners of our basement. While our basement felt very unfinished to us. It was technically a finished basement in the eyes of our insurance company, because there was wainscoting on the walls. Built-in shelves in multiple spots in the room and carpet with padding that was simply laid down on top of the concrete floor. Because this was still the early days of the pandemic, they did a virtual walkthrough of our basement where I held my phone with the camera pointing around the basement and the person on the video chat. Would it tell me what to show them in different corners of the room, different pieces of furniture, the walls, the ceiling, the floor, and they would take screenshot pictures from the camera of my phone to assess [00:09:00] the damage.
They assessed our basement and calculated how much we would need to pay a cleanup crew to professionally get all of the damage items out of the room. And we were granted the maximum allowed on our policy. Under the coverage for water in a basement, which was $5,000 minus the $500 deductible.
So that gave us $4,500 as a check from our homeowners insurance company. $1400 of that $4,500 went to having our basement professionally cleaned up and all the damaged materials being disposed of properly, and then cleaning the basement to mitigate for mold or other bacteria that could grow from the water. We were able to replace toys and a few small pieces of furniture that had been tossed. That left us with an extremely unexpected $3,100 and a completely cleaned out basement. So we decided to finish the main space in the basement into a playroom that would [00:10:00] add roughly 300 square feet of finished space to our currently 1300 square foot home. Kyle and his dad decided to take this project on DIY overtime in the little nooks and crannies of their day, weekends and evenings, getting little projects, done, many, many, many runs to Menards, and Lowe's getting the supplies and figuring this project out for the first time.
They slowly worked on this project from August of 2020, all the way to February of 2021, just a few days before Ruby was born, the room actually became usable. In total, we spent about $3,000 of our own money in addition to the $3,100 leftover from the insurance company. With this money, we had walls, trim, lights, we had moved a few ducts so that there was now air and heat into the basement, which there hadn't been before. And then we bought a couple of basic shelves, a couch, and a rug. This was [00:11:00] the perfect room for our boys to run and play in the winter months when their sister was born and they were only five, three and a half and two.
So let's backtrack a little bit to August of 2020, right? When this basement renovation started was also when our oldest began kindergarten at a private school. We had received a scholarship that's called a tax credit scholarship. Now Illinois and Georgia are the only states that I know for sure that have these kinds of programs, but here's how it works in a nutshell. It's a nonprofit organization that accepts donations from private donors, not money from the government at all, private donors who then can receive a tax credit on their personal taxes, because this is a charitable donation. The organization then turns those donations into scholarship money that's distributed for K through 12 students who can apply and earn a scholarship based on family size and [00:12:00] income. Their mission is to simply make private school possible for families who couldn't otherwise simply because of finances.
Our kids have been awarded anywhere between 75% of their tuition paid for two of the school years we've been in this program, and one year of having 100% of their tuition paid because our family had grown by one person. As our income has now grown, there'll be back to 75% scholarship next year, but this is still amazing and has been one of the biggest blessings to our finances and to our family in recent years.
We feel in a unique spot with school. We live in the town that Kyle and I both grew up in our public schools here are fantastic, and we have attended them for at least part of our schooling. I worked in one of the public schools. I also attended this private school in grade school, and I loved my experience there as a student so much that I wanted to send my kids there if it was financially possible, but [00:13:00] knew that we would need some type of support or scholarship in order to make that happen.
I mentioned this on Instagram a few weeks ago when I was talking about sports with kids, but because we have four children, we can't just make decisions for our first child. That only work when one child is participating in something. We have to be planning ahead, especially something as big as education and make choices that will work for our family. Even when all four kids are then participating.
So August of 2020, our oldest started kindergarten on this program at this private school. And we have been there ever since this coming fall will be our fourth year at this school and of receiving this scholarship program in some form that has made this dream of mine, of sending my kids to the elementary school. I attended a possibility. We still have 10 years to go in elementary school for our family. So we have a long road and I honestly don't know what each of those years will look like. We choose to take each year at a time and each [00:14:00] kid at a time. At some point, one of our kids might just need different supports from a different school, and we will take that on as its own individual decision.
On the business side in November of 2020, I slowly began opening coaching sessions back up. The pandemic was now six months old. At this point, we were all at least somewhat settling into a new normal and craving some normalcy, some of those accounts to come back, some of those posts to look regular and not be about quarantine. So I started writing the Debt Free Mom pay period budget guide, which was a PDF ebook walking through exactly how to set up and use my free template. I only charge $18 for this product. And it was a way to earn just a little bit of money while helping people out, and it didn't require me to fill up my schedule with Zoom calls in order to support other people in their budgeting.
I was about to have my fourth baby and five and a half years. I could not have my only source of income be [00:15:00] Zoom calls every evening and weekend. So in January of 2021, I released that ebook. And then in February of 2021, just a couple of weeks later, Ruby was born just like we expected her medical bills were about $4200 for her birth, but we had been preparing for that since we found out we were expecting her. And so we were able to pay those in full and not have too much time after she was born, where we were taking care of bills.
In April of 2021, a couple of months after Ruby was born, I reached 10,000 followers on the Debt Free Mom, Instagram, and it had been almost exactly two years of posting at that point. Back in the spring of 2021, this was the only way to be able to share links with my audience. You couldn't have the swipe up feature at all until you had 10,000 followers. So this was a big milestone for my account and for my business, I was able to increase my income and increase my audience more rapidly by having easier [00:16:00] access to some of these things that existed outside of Instagram. As an aside, just a couple of months later, Instagram so graciously granted everyone the ability to link to things after I had been working for two years to earn that feature, but that's neither here nor there. And now everybody has that feature and we're all quite used to it.
In May of 2021, we used our 2020 tax refund and some of the stimulus money we had received to upgrade our minivan from a 2007 Honda Odyssey with 183,000 miles to a 2013 Toyota Sienna with 197,000 miles. And yes, you heard me, right. We upgraded to a van with more miles than our older van had. Our older Honda was starting to have a few issues that were going to need big investments in repairs and upkeep. And we decided that we wanted to buy something newer. At one point, my mom had asked our mechanic that we both use what's more important to pay [00:17:00] attention to the year of the vehicle or the number of miles. And in his expert opinion, he said the vehicle being newer will help you out more than the vehicle having more miles on it. So we decided to go with a van that was six years newer and had only 14,000 more miles than our current van had. We sold our Honda for $3,200 and then bought our Toyota for $9,400. So the difference between our sale and our purchase was $6,200 out of pocket for this newer van. We're now two years later, and that van has 228,000 miles on it. It still works wonderfully for our family. We've driven it to the beach multiple times. We have driven it to Texas. And lots of smaller trips along the way. It's now 10 years old and we plan to drive it for several more years and could easily see our family crossing 300,000 miles on that vehicle.
As a note, this is one of those things that happen [00:18:00] to be luck and decision-making combined. So we just happened to upgrade our vehicle right before the chip shortage and the used car market rapidly increasing in price. So I believe that we could not get this exact same van for anywhere near what we paid at the time. And I'm so grateful for it. I think another factor of that is that not a lot of people are willing to purchase a vehicle that has 197,000 miles on it, but being faithful Toyota owners for over a decade now we knew 197,000 miles on a Toyota is not anywhere near the end of its life.
So that was May of 2021. We went through the summer of 2021, which was Kyle's first summer back to in-person camp after having a summer off in 2020, where the camp did not open in person because of COVID. Late in the fall of 2021 and into December, I started to think about ways [00:19:00] to shift my business away from primarily having the coaching calls be the primary source of my income and towards products that I could offer to people that wouldn't require me to then get on Zoom with them. I began writing a course that is now known as Pay Period Budget Academy and now has over 300 students in it. While I was writing this main course, I also launched my $9 upgraded Debt Free Mom template with additional analytics to understand more about your numbers and a few tutorial videos to help you set it up accurately. I had absolutely no idea at the time the success that that product would have. I had always, and still have a free template so that anyone can download a pay period template and start to plug their numbers in and see what their finances would look like in a pay period budget before committing a single penny to the process. But this $9 upgraded template is just a few dollars and offers additional [00:20:00] insights into your numbers and a little bit of assistance in how. How to set it up. That $9 budget has now sold over 3000 copies in the year and a half that it's been available.
I condensed all the work and recording of the pay period budget academy into November, December and January of 21 and 22. And the course went on sale in the middle of January. From there I really had to start treating DFM like a real business. So in May of 2022, after operating for over three years, I formed an LLC. Once I went through the process, I realized how not a big deal it is to form an LLC and that people literally do it all the time. Like as soon as someone has an idea for something, they'll just go ahead and form an LLC. But for me, this was such a milestone in the way I approached the business and what I thought about it. I had constantly felt this idea that, well, this is this little side thing that I'm doing. And if it all goes away, it's [00:21:00] fine because I'm not depending on it for anything. When people ask me what I do, I would say I do this for fun. Forming an LLC and being official made me put my big girl business pants on and say, this is a real thing, and I need to start acting like it. I need to start making decisions that assume this income will continue to flow and that this business will continue to help people change their perspective and their outlook on their finances. So forming that LLC while it might not at all be a big deal to many people, still stands in my mind as a big benchmark and turning point of who I. I was instead of seeing myself as a sole proprietor working on the side, I now considered myself to actually be a business owner.
At that point, I was earning about $3,000 per month without paying for any additional childcare while still having two kids that were in elementary school and two kids that were home with me full-time. In the summer of 2022, about six months after the Pay Period Budget Academy had been [00:22:00] available and growing, Kyle started to think about what was next for his career. He had worked full time at the same summer camp since he graduated college, he'd been there for eight years full time. In addition to lots of years prior to that working as a student employee. He had also been the executive director for the last three years that he was with the organization. And now he began to ask what his next steps might be and what his future would look like.
He began looking at job listings online, that would allow him to work remote from home. And he even did a few initial interviews in, in areas like nonprofit, donor management or marketing. But Debt Free Mom was continuing to grow at the same time. Now I am very risk averse. So this never would have been my idea, but it was his, he is 100% the first one who said, I think this could be our full-time thing. Now he had been saying that for years. And speaking about the future, like this is going to grow, this is going to pass my income was what he always kept telling me and being so supportive and dreaming for me when I was not able to [00:23:00] dream for myself. But now he was starting to speak in the present tense.
Like this could work for us now. So in August of 2022, after he finished, what would be his final summer at camp, we decided that he would leave his camp job in the fall, and we would commit to a three month trial period from October of 2022 through the new year to test two things. Number one, do we work well together? We know that we're married and we're friends and we enjoy being together, but being coworkers is an entirely different dynamic. And number two is this sustainable for our family? Just because we enjoy being coworkers doesn't mean that it's actually able to support our family of six. We stepped out in faith, not knowing the answers to either of those questions by giving ourselves an out after three months that we could assess at the end of the year, whether or not this was working. October 6th, 2022 was his last day of camp. And that kind of felt like a financial free [00:24:00] fall. Like, we were voluntarily saying goodbye to the only steady income we had. He cashed out vacation days . So that he still got a full paycheck, both that Friday and the two weeks after that for his unused time.
Just a couple of days after he left his job, we drove to Texas to visit family and spend time with cousins. And it was a great way to celebrate that milestone for us and to see people we hadn't seen in a while. And then in November of 2022, we also flew out to Colorado to see other family members and take our kids on their first airplane ride. We used credit card hacking and travel points to make this possible and we stayed with family. So fall of 2022 felt nothing like our lives had felt before. We had traveled multiple times across the country with our kids within the span of eight weeks, which we had never done. And Kyle was always with me. He was working from home, but he was also sharing the home responsibilities and the parenting responsibilities and everything that came with it. It has not been easy. [00:25:00] It has not just been smooth sailing and all happy and roses and just a joyful time to be together, and we're always smiling because we're in the same room. That is not at all been the case. We feel like we have been tested. We have been tried. We have faced new challenges that we wouldn't have faced if we weren't trying to also be coworkers.
But this also was not our first time voluntarily reducing our family income in order to prioritize time together. So if you've listened to all three parts of this story, you know, that multiple times throughout the last 11 years of our marriage, we have made choices that gave up income that reduced the money that was coming in because we prioritized being together, whether that was me leaving part-time jobs so that I could stay home more with the kids or him leaving part-time jobs to have just one full-time job or ultimately him leaving that last full-time job and becoming a self-employed family.
It wasn't adjustment in our parenting, in our marriage and in our business to jump [00:26:00] both feet first into self-employment working from home being coworkers and going from a business that I treated like a fun side job that added bonus money to our home, into the one thing that we were depending on to support our family. Here's something I now know about. Self-employment having been self-employed part-time for three years and and full-time for the last seven months. It is a life of extremes. The highs are high, like making several thousand dollars in a few days when running a sale, which it used to take me months to do that. But the lows are also, oh, so low you can work for 60 to 80 hours on a project and firmly believe that it is the thing that your audience wants and needs only to have it not produce any results at all.
In self-employment, there's the potential to earn more than I ever could have in a traditional job, especially as a public school teacher, but just as much potential as there is for that is also the potential to work yourself into [00:27:00] the ground and never get paid a penny for it. But it changes from month to month, which end of that spectrum we find ourselves on. And so writing out the unpredictability and just having to put good faith and good effort into believing that there will be more good months than there are bad months has been a big growth process for each of us to figure out what it means to not only be self-employed, but have to be self-motivated. To put our heart and soul into a project, not knowing what kind of returns it will have or not knowing if we will continue to support our family, or if we'll have to pivot into some kind of other income.
We've now been self-employed for seven months, and it's really only been about the last two months of feeling like we weren't white knuckling it in some area of our life that we now have just a little bit of breathing room back into our personal budget and back into our routines and our rhythms to know when each of us is working, when each of us would be acting as the primary parent for the little ones at home, and [00:28:00] who should be where when. Kyle has also been able to grow a small side business for himself updating websites for small businesses on Squarespace. So he has had a steady stream of consulting clients who have either small businesses or trying to develop one who have a passion for something, but don't have the time or expertise to build a website. And he has either taken existing websites and improve them for marketing objectives or sales objectives, or been able to build websites from scratch for people who don't have one yet.
So this time has been so much learning, so much growth, but out of things that are challenging comes so many good things. And we're so grateful for these last seven months of growing together as a couple of working through the hiccups and the kinks in what each of us needed as a coworker and not just as a partner. Now we feel like we've nailed that stride in our routine and our rhythm. It's just in time for summer force kids to be home for school, to be done and to throw a wrench in the [00:29:00] routine all over again, but such as life, no matter what your employment looks like.
So speaking of summer, this episode, not only concludes bringing you up to date on our family's financial story in a three-part series. But it also concludes season one of the Debt Free Mom podcast. This journey of podcasting has been a joy and something I would not have done without the help of Kyle. Sitting down each week with one of you willing to come on and share a bit of your story and your frustrations with money, just like I've done the past couple of weeks has helped others to hear productive conversations that can benefit not just the guest and not just me, but the whole audience. We're planning to take a break from our regularly scheduled programming for the summer, but we'll do a mini series or two throughout the summer so that we're not just leaving you high and dry until the fall.
We'll take the opportunity to do something fun, do something different than what we have been doing. And then start back strong in the fall with our guests coming on to talk about money, frustrations and money goals. Would you [00:30:00] do me a favor as we close out season one, if anything in this podcast has encouraged you to persist in your budget. or empowered you to get off the fence with a money decision you needed to make and take action, or simply made you smile instead of worry about a topic as heavy as personal finances, would you do us a favor and rate or leave a review? Those numbers help our podcasts become visible to even more people, just like you who are out there maybe confused about their money, but afraid to take action for fear of what other people will think of them, or for fear that they'll make the wrong move. We want them to find relatable and realistic advice here at the Debt Free Mom podcast, and your reviews can help us accomplish that goal.
Thank you so much for listening, sharing, and supporting the Debt Free Mom podcast. It's our mission to help you grow your confidence and contentment in your personal finances, and I hope that's happened for you in some way during this season one. I'll see you in the summer.
(*Credits) Thanks for listening to the Debt Free Mom [00:31:00] Podcast. If you want to join me as a guest on the show, go to dfmpodcast.com. The Debt Free Mom Podcast is hosted by me, Carly Hill, and is produced, edited, and mixed by Kyle Hill. Music for this episode was written by Kyle Hill. Hit subscribe wherever you're listening to join in with every new episode as we grow our confidence and contentment in our personal finances.