Author Topic: How have your priorities changed through income and "life stage" changes?  (Read 2024 times)


  • Pencil Stache
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Growing up, my dad made decent money, and my mom did some babysitting to earn a little as well (mostly to afford the Hallmark ornaments she liked to give and collect each year).  However, there were five kids, spread out over 18 years.  They could afford to put my sister through sports/gymnastics, but not me, so I learned early that if I wanted something, I'd have to earn it myself.  This has lead to me working a paying job since I was 11 (which kind of sucks).

Even now, when I can afford all of my needs, and many, but not all, of my wants, I start to experience "frugal burnout" if I don't allow myself a splurge every now and then.  This may be tickets to see a play/musical, some nice fabric for a quilt or sewing project (still bought on sale or with a coupon), or a couple dollars on the really good chocolate (Swiss, Belgian, etc).

I deal with it by figuring out my priorities and working hard toward them while scrimping and "making do" on the things less important.  I have followed this through all my financial situations and have found it works well for me.

I'm using the ssa website to help me figure out what my income was through certain periods.  My income increased once I was able to get into my apprenticeship full time.  At this point, my income varies based on the amount of overtime I get, since raises have been pretty small when they haven't been frozen.

First out of high school and my parent's home, pregnant and newly married (we can't fix past mistakes, we can only move forward, sometimes with long lasting consequences...):
I made less than $6k that first year, but because of all the jobs I worked when I was younger, and a well-instilled savings habit, I had $5k in the bank.  Then-husband was making $14/hour, but doing landscaping or construction, and didn't work in the winter. My job allowed me to make a meal for myself, which helped a lot.  Sometimes the manager would let me take home a couple pieces of chicken leftover from the buffet (usually we wrapped it and it was donated "to the homeless").  I was passed up for the full-time position and the job given to a girl who was not legally old enough to do half the job (had to be 18 to use a slicer).  This sucked, because I really wanted the health insurance (and more money!)  I was back at work the day after my son came home from NICU (two weeks), and full time within a week, though not getting full time benefits yet. Priorities: keep baby alive (preemie), pay bills, pay rent ($400/month for about a 400 sqft house), survive.

2nd, 3rd, 4th year: I made $14k, $16k, $17k.  Then husband made between $14 and $26/hour, but would still get laid off for long stretches.  Finally full-time with shitty health insurance.  We bought a house ($78k, PITI $550).  Priorities: get out of rental (I hated renting), afford daycare, start taking classes at the community college.  Ended up dropping work health insurance for a few more cents an hour, self-bought health insurance so it would actually cover something.

While going to college (associates), through a divorce, with a three-year-old and a mortgage (and no child support from the ex yet): Made $18k.  Life was hell.  At school or at work almost all the time, with a little one at home.  No more meals at work, so had to cook more at home, with little time.  Washing machine broke beyond repair, so I did laundry in my bathtub.  Fridge broke so I kept my food in an ice chest (I did have a working freezer, so that helped a ton).  Priorities: max retirement (new job had a retirement plan!  Max was 12% of income), change health insurance (to work plan, same company I used with self-pay), get through school without giving up, take care of kid, survive.

Finishing college (in June) and into apprenticeship: Made $31k!  I felt rich!  I could finally replace the broken fridge and washing machine.  I could pay my bills without depleting my savings. Priorities: keep maxing retirement, save enough to put DS through private school for a few years (public school was not a good one, private school was a few thousand a year).

Through apprenticeship: Went from $31k to $61k over three years.  Sold old house, bought different house.  No more taking classes, so that freed up a ton of time.  Long commute, but good job.  Priorities: keep sending DS to private school for a few years, pay a little extra on mortgage, keep maxing retirement, save for travel.

Now: base income is around $89k, which is pretty good money for my area.  I increase my income by working overtime when it is available (usually earn over $100k).  I had received a promotion, but two years ago I took a paycut to change careers (still field work, just different).  Live in same house I bought as an apprentice, but have also bought property.  Now work 10 minutes (door-to-door) from work.  DS is grown and going to the community college while living at home to save money.  I finally feel like I have free time.  The fog of a horrible work environment has started to lift (I did not "leave" that job, I "escaped" it.)  Priorities: save to help DS with college, save to build house on property, not currently maxing retirement (benefit of saving hard during early years) so I can save more cash for previous two goals (will go back to max when I can no longer file head of household since DS will no longer be a dependent), still save for travel but have backed off some for now (other savings goals taking priority), enjoy hobbies (quilting, photography, etc), enjoy more theater (live and movie).

I'm looking forward to the next stage, when the house on the property is built, and DS is on his own.  My job has a lot of downtime where I can work on hobbies (or whatever I want, within reason), and a crazy schedule that I actually really like (mostly nights and weekends).  My predicted priorities for new stage: Max retirement, accept overtime only if it is a "good shift" that I'd want to work, make lots of quilts, drink coffee on the porch instead of the couch, take cool photos, travel someplace new at least once a year (because of my crazy schedule, I can take two weeks off five times a year, using only 16 hours of vacation each time).  Keep on track to retire on an "early out" if it ever becomes available to me, and, if not, hope things stay good enough that I don't mind waiting until my minimum retirement age of 57.


  • Stubble
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Re: How have your priorities changed through income and "life stage" changes?
« Reply #1 on: December 17, 2017, 02:22:43 PM »
I dont have a lot to add as we are in different stages of our life, and my son is only 18 months old!

but I did want to say wow and good for you, I found your story inspirational.  Thank you for sharing!


  • Magnum Stache
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Re: How have your priorities changed through income and "life stage" changes?
« Reply #2 on: December 17, 2017, 02:56:00 PM »
My priorities up to age 24 were 1. Survival and 2. Maintain a reasonably comfortable lifestyle.

Then I did my first international vacation and came back a changed person. Basically, "This whole travel thing is WAY cooler than anything else I could do with my money. I need to change course completely here". I was vaguely aware of ER, and spent a few weeks hammering out a plan that involved finding a better job, paying off my (small) debt load, and saving most of my money. So right around my 25th birthday, my priority changed to "Stash money like crazy for ER, while also traveling like crazy", and that has not changed (I'm 31 now). I don't think it will change either.


  • Handlebar Stache
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Re: How have your priorities changed through income and "life stage" changes?
« Reply #3 on: December 17, 2017, 05:13:18 PM »
Thanks for sharing your insights & your experiences. My wife and I are in the "keep toddler from hurting self" stage. So far that's going fine. The biggest changes for us have been a shift (especially from me) from looking towards a high-powered academic surgery job (where we'd probably have to move to a less desirable location, and take a pay cut) to looking for a well-paying, less "prestigious" community surgery job. Part of it was me maturing and realizing there's more to life than becoming a famous surgeon (such as being a husband and father who's available), and part getting burned out from the extended training. I started thinking that way when we started talked about having a kid, and now spending time with him has seriously shifted me into finding a "work-life" balance. Our income is muuuch higher now than when we were training, and our lifestyle is essentially the same. That makes FIRE a fast-approaching goal.


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Re: How have your priorities changed through income and "life stage" changes?
« Reply #4 on: December 18, 2017, 06:50:22 PM »
High School (14-18): Work and not spend money was generally the plan.  My parents had a farm, so there was always hard work if I wanted to make a few bucks.  Learned the value of a dollar, graduated with about 10k in a drawer in my room. 

College (18-23): Wanted to graduate debt free.  Worked 60 hours/week in a factory each summer so I could focus on double major and playing tennis in college and visiting my girlfriend (now wife) on the weekends.  I ended up with 8k of student loans, which I was happy about. 

Starting teaching math/coaching tennis/marriage (24-28): Lived with parents during first year teaching while my wife finished her final year of college.  Paid off the 8k of loans and save for down payment on a house.  We bought a tiny condo and lived there for 4 years, stashing cash with no plan.  We were natural savers but knew nothing about MMM/Fire.  Saved about 100k over 4 years. 

Started Family/Working towards FIRE (29-present...34): Moved to a larger home, now have two kids.  We were one of the only people with money in the bank in 2011 during the housing crisis, and we found a very nice home at a rock bottom price.  Having the little ones got me thinking long term, which lead me to MMM, which lead me to where we are today.  Our incomes combine for about 150k currently, and we have about a 60% savings rate.  Everything goes into VTSAX.  Refinanced to a 15 year note on home, which will be paid off in 13 years.  I will FIRE in 13 years at 48. 

I've had a very privileged life so far.  Lots of good health and support from family. 


  • Pencil Stache
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Re: How have your priorities changed through income and "life stage" changes?
« Reply #5 on: December 19, 2017, 08:10:41 AM »
High School - Got a job so that I could save up for college, buy food, clothes and pay for school necessities. Also gave a little money to family to help with expenses. (~5k)
College - Tried to minimize debt accumulation and got a job to pay for necessities and a few splurges. (~20k household (DH and I), ~20k in student loans, majority from 2nd year (~12k)).
Post college - Move, get a job and start paying off debt. (~60k-80k)
Great Recession - keep enough money coming in to keep afloat. (~60k-80k)
Both DH and I get higher paying jobs - pay off all debt beside mortgage and begin heavily investing. Money is spent for sanity and stress relief to keep high paying, high stress jobs until FIRE but majority of income is savings. (~100k-182k)
FIRE (next year) - Money will be spent as necessary and the game will be to see how little we need with no high stress jobs.