Two animal lovers need our help this month! Harry and Sally (not their real names, but very cute!) are a young married couple living in Connecticut, along with their two dogs and two cats. They’re debating selling their home and carving out a simpler, happier life with a potentially gigantic career change.

Case Studies are financial and life dilemmas that a reader of Frugalwoods sends to me requesting that Frugalwoods nation weigh in. Then, Frugalwoods nation (that’s you!), reads through their situation and provides advice, encouragement, insight, and feedback in the comments section. For an example, check out last month’s case study.

I provide updates from our Case Study subjects at the bottom of each Case Study several months after a Case is featured. You all have requested an easier way to track Case Study updates and I have heard your pleas :)! Here’s list of all the Case Studies that currently have an update provided at the end of the post (and a hint that if you’re a past Case Study participant who hasn’t sent me your update yet, send it on over–your fans want to hear from you!):

I probably don’t need to say the following because you all are the kindest, most polite commenters on the internet, but, please note that Frugalwoods is a judgement-free zone where we endeavor to help one another, not to condemn.

And a disclaimer that I am not a trained financial professional and I encourage people not to make serious financial decisions based solely on what one person on the internet advises. I encourage everyone to do their own research to determine the best course of action for their finances.

With that I’ll let Sally, this month’s Case Study subject, take it from here!

Sally’s Story

Harry and Sally walking their doggos

Hello Frugalwoods Nation! My name is Sally and I’m 33 years old (I’ll be 34 next month). My husband is Harry, he just turned 33, and we celebrated our seven-year anniversary this month! We met at the ripe old age of 11 on the bus in middle school. Harry and I were both born in Massachusetts, but I grew up in Illinois outside of Chicago and then moved to South Carolina in 7th grade. Harry grew up in Massachusetts and moved to South Carolina in 4th grade. We were friends in high school and he dated a good friend of mine and I dated a friend of his. We then just so happened to go to the same college (Winthrop University in South Carolina) and started dating our freshman year. We dated off and on all 4 years of college before graduating in 2007. I double majored in history and psychology and Harry majored in political science and minored in psychology.

After college, I got a job teaching English in South Korea and Harry joined the Navy. We reconnected long distance when Harry went to “A” school (technical training as an Aircrewman). He was then stationed in Pennsylvania and when I returned to the states from South Korea, he asked me to move in with him and I did!  Harry served for four years in the Navy and traveled the world before his contract ended. He proposed to me at the Philadelphia Art Museum and we got married in 2011 at the State Room overlooking Quincy Market in Boston. A few months later, I graduated with a master’s degree in Public Administration from Villanova University.

Hobbies and Pets!

Harry and I have four beloved pets: two dogs (Alexandra, age 9 and Aiden, age 4) and two cats (Henry, age 4 and Peter, age 3), and no human children. I volunteer at a cat shelter every weekend in order to satisfy my urge to bring home and love more animals (because we can’t afford more pets)!  Harry and I both like to exercise. I walk the dogs every day and do yoga or go to spin at the gym before work and on the weekends. Harry prefers plyometrics and weight lifting. We also enjoy going to the movies (mmm popcorn) once and awhile, but otherwise we stay home on the weekends with the animals. I like to read and bake (I have a shop on Etsy) and Harry likes to watch sports (especially football) on TV. Once (maybe twice) a year, we travel.

Where Sally & Harry Live

One of Sally & Harry’s adorable pups

When we first moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia in March 2008–where Harry was stationed with the Navy–we hated it. Compared to South Carolina, it was densely populated, the traffic was terrible, and the cost of living was much higher. In October 2017, after living in Pennsylvania for seven years, we made the decision to move to Connecticut so that Harry could go to the Connecticut School of Broadcasting to pursue a career in sports broadcasting.

We bought our first home in Connecticut in January 2017 for $290,000. We thought the grass would be greener, as the saying goes, but now that we’re on the other side, we find that we actually miss Pennsylvania! Harry graduated from the CT School of Broadcasting this year, but unfortunately wasn’t able to find a job in the field of sports broadcasting. After nine months of unemployment (while in school and after graduating), we decided we needed a second income, and so Harry found a job in shipping for a health and nutrition distributor, which is similar to the job he held back in Pennsylvania.

Another thing I didn’t realize until we moved away is that I miss the familiarity of knowing a place and the connection I felt to my dad since he grew up in Pennsylvania. I also miss my aunt (my dad’s sister) who still lives there and who I spent summers with while growing up.  In general, I miss the city and the easy access to entertainment, arts, and culture.

Sally’s Career

I started working at the United Way soon after graduate school almost seven years ago and spent 4.5 years at United Way in Pennsylvania and have been at the United Way in Connecticut for two years.  I work in the Community Investment Department (or Community Impact, depending on the United Way). I collect data around community conditions in our service area and support our grant making process and funding decisions for programs and initiatives. I also manage program evaluation and reporting and write grants to support our work.

Somehow, I thought I wouldn’t hate the same job in another state… go figure (the definition of insanity, right?!). But honestly, I am not enjoying my work and the two things I hate most about living in Connecticut are my job and our house, which I’ll get into in a moment. I don’t have a passion for health and human services or the mission of United Way, which is supporting education, income, and health. My passions and interest ares are caring for animals and the environment. What I’d love to do is work for an animal shelter/humane society, or a non-profit that supports environmental causes (e.g. fighting climate change and sea level rise or supporting green energy solutions and zero waste), but I don’t have the science or research background that would qualify me for that type of work.

And aside from fundraising, which I don’t want to do, most animal shelters are volunteer-run and the only staff positions (if they exist at all) are the Executive Director, veterinarians/technicians, and animal care attendants that make minimum wage. I get discouraged looking for a new job because there are so few job opportunities out there in the fields I love. However at the same time, I realize I’m not happy in my current work and would like to make a change. Given this, I’m considering making a total career change and going to veterinary school or pursuing a science-related degree.

Sally’s Side Hustles

A raisin scone Sally makes and sells in her Etsy shop. YUM!

During the summers I work as a consultant for the local Boys & Girls Club in Lansdale, PA. I  compile and analyze data including attendance, grades, and reading scores for students enrolled in Project Learn at Club sites in order to produce a year-end report for their Homework Assistance Program. It takes about 40 hours to complete piecemeal and I’m able to do everything remotely.

I also have an Etsy shop where I sell homemade baked goods! Both of these side hustles help supplement our full-time job income.

Sally’s Inheritance

My father passed away in 2016 and when he died, his inheritance was divided amongst his four children (after taxes, medical and estate bills and lawyer’s fees) and included proceeds from the sale of his house, life insurance policy, money market account, and an inherited IRA account. My inheritance totaled $329,003 and with this, I paid off our car loans and credit card debt, paid for Harry to attend the CT School of Broadcasting, and put a down payment on our first house.

Regarding my inherited IRA account, a minimum distribution is required annually, but you don’t have to withdraw the money, you can reinvest it. I’d hoped to reinvest it this year, but with credit card debt and small emergency savings, I thought it was wiser not to. I’d like your advice on what to do in the future. The minimum distribution amount is dependent upon your age and grows over time. I don’t know the exact calculation but I can expect a similar amount next year as I did last year, which was my first deduction.

Sally’s Desire To Make A Change

I discovered Frugalwoods in February 2017, about six months after my father’s passing. Before receiving the inheritance from him, my husband and I were living paycheck to paycheck (beyond our means) and using birthday and Christmas money gifts to get out of debt every year and then falling right back in debt shortly thereafter.

I found Frugalwoods because I was looking for help. I felt like I was squandering my inheritance, making poor financial decisions, and I knew that if my behavior didn’t change I would end up back in debt. After reading every Frugalwoods post and the Simple Path to Wealth book, I invested what money we had left in low-fee index funds.

Unfortunately at that point, Harry and I realized that our house is too big and that we can’t afford it. Now we find ourselves in the position of being house rich and cash poor. In light of this, we decided to put the house on the market in December 2017.  After several months on the market with little to no interest, we accepted an offer only to have it fall through after inspection. We’ve spent $7,000 (and counting) on home repairs since we moved in, using a combination of our savings/emergency fund and credit card. We’d like to be rid of this house! Built in 1974, it’s 2,903 square feet and located in Simsbury, which is a desirable suburb of Hartford, due to the great public schools here.

Practicing Gratitude

Another option I envision is to stay the course and practice more gratitude for my good fortune. I know how much privilege I have, but I struggle with not being happy (or feeling fulfilled) with all the good things in my life. The job that I have pays very well for the position and I couldn’t expect to get paid more for the same job. Additionally, I have a responsibility to support our family because Harry’s income alone could not support us, at least not before selling the house.

Where Sally & Harry Want to Be in 10 Years:

  • Finances:
    • Ten years from now, I want to have enough money saved for retirement.
    • I want to break the cycle of living paycheck to paycheck or needing a credit card.
    • I want to step off the consumer carousel, lower my expenses, increase my savings, and not be worried about money all the time.
  • Lifestyle:
    • Harry wants to own a home outright along with some land (enough that we don’t see our neighbors). I’m still not sold on homeownership after our current experience, but having multiple pets (which we always will) makes it very difficult to rent. I also don’t like the feeling of being tied to the house and unable to pick up and go, which is the situation we’re in now.
    • I would like to have the option of living abroad short-term or traveling for extended periods.
    • Right now, Harry and I do not want children. We may reevaluate that decision in 5-7 years as I near 40 before totally ruling it out (if by then I can still have children).
  • Career:
    • Quite simply, I want to have a job that I like. I want to have the freedom and flexibility to work at a job that pays much less if it makes me happy or be able to work unconventional hours from home and volunteer when I like or decide to go back to school to become a veterinarian or explore another degree.
    • Harry would like to find a job in broadcasting.

Sally & Harry’s Finances

Net Income

Item Amount Notes
Sally’s Full-Time Job $3,964 After taxes, 403B contributions, charitable giving and health insurance. I currently set aside 10% of every paycheck for retirement (403B) and put $100 into savings.
Sally’s Inherited IRA $814 Required Minimum Distribution paid out in December; $9,762 total annually
Harry’s Full-Time Job $460 After taxes, excluding time and a half for any overtime
Sally’s Summer Job $230 This is $2,771 (after taxes) paid out as follows: $500 in June, $1,000 in July and August, and $500 in September.
Side Hustles $111 Average monthly sales from Amazon, eBay, and Etsy Shop
Monthly Subtotal: $5,578
Annual Net Income Total: $66,948


Item Amount Notes
Mortgage $1,229 Mortgage includes homeowners insurance and taxes
Home Maintenance $598 Monthly average home repairs including: fixing a leak from upstairs bathroom through dining room ceiling, fixing the dryer, pellet stove, replacing rotted wood, replacing the electrical circuit panel (twice), plumbing fixtures in the basement, chimney flashing, and mold remediation in the attic (covered in part by homeowners insurance), as well as mold remediation in the basement. We will need to replace the septic tank in the very near future. The tank has cracks and is bowing and will cost $4,800 to replace.
Groceries $450 Trader Joe’s and Costco only (includes non-food items bought at Costco such as: detergent, toilet paper, paper towels, etc. )
Medical $400 Harry just started seeing a therapist once a week (this is $100 per session)
Automotive $300 Monthly average for car maintenance and repair
Gasoline for cars $300 Sally’s daily commute is 28 miles; Harry’s daily commute is 32 miles
Pet Care $275 Includes cat and dog food, cat litter, monthly pet medications (from California Pet Pharmacy, which is cheaper than Allivet): Advantix, Heartgard, Revolution, and $52.70 prescription eye drops, dog grooming, vet appointments, etc.
Utilities $250 Monthly electric, oil heat November-April, 3 pallets of pellets to reduce oil heating costs, and trash removal paid quarterly
Household and miscellaneous $195 A catchall for the various and sundry: coffee, toiletries (e.g. deodorant, eye drops, shampoo/conditioner, toothpaste, etc.), garage door opener, etc.
Restaurants $100 We try not to eat out more than once a week and alternate between Domino’s Pizza (sacred cow) and Chinese food.  This total also includes eating out while on vacation.
Car Insurance $82  $1M in liability coverage through Geico (Thank you, Frugalwoods!)
Cable and Internet $79 $46.98 internet year-round, Netflix subscription June-August, and Playstation Vue (Cable TV) September-May
Travel $70 Includes airfare, parking and EZ-Pass, Airbnb/hotel (not food or entertainment)
Haircuts $61 I get my hair cut every 4 months. Harry goes every month. I tried cutting his hair once… it didn’t turn out well.
Clothing and shoes $50 Hard well water is turning my colored clothes white. Does anyone have a solution?
Entertainment $50 Examples include: Redbox, movie tickets, sports tickets for our anniversary/Christmas, golf for birthday, etc.
Telephone $50 Two phones through Boom! Mobile (Thank you, Frugalwoods!)
Gym Membership $42 For both Sally and Harry
Online Services $37 Harry’s music and sports betting. Grr…
Service Charges/Fees $30 Amazon Prime membership (to be cancelled) and YNAB membership. Also, costs associated with sales from Amazon, eBay, and Etsy
Postage & Shipping $25 Largely costs associated with sales from Amazon, eBay, and Etsy.
Gifts $19 Birthdays and Christmas gifts for family
Charitable Giving $6 NPR/PBS donation
Monthly Subtotal: $4,698
Annual Total: $56,376


Item Amount Notes
Sally’s Inherited IRA $501,553 VTSAX- Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund
Sally’s 403B Retirement Plan $45,601 Mutual of America- 2050 Retirement Fund
Sally’s Brokerage Account $45,268 VTSAX- Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund
Regular Savings Account $9,146
Harry’s Thrift Savings Plan $3,877 G Fund- Government Securities Investment Fund
Total: $605,445


Item Amount Notes
Mortgage $97,379 Traditional 30-year fixed with a 4.25% interest rate
Bank of America World Points MC $3,720 9.9% interest rate; this is used mostly for home repairs
Total $101,099


Car Estimated Value Notes
Harry’s Car: 2014 VW Passat $9,877 Paid off. Harry got in a car accident in May and totaled his Jeep Wrangler (not his fault). We bought a used car from the settlement with better gas mileage. We use Harry’s car whenever we drive together.
Sally’s Car: 2001 Toyota 4Runner $2,775 Paid off. This is the dog-mobile! I love this car and hope to drive it until it dies.
Total $12,652

Sally’s Questions For You:

  1. Should we sell our house? We purchased it in January 2017 for $290,000 and it is currently listed at $290,000 and has been on the market for nine months. We want to get out from under it, but is that wise, knowing that we’ll lose $20,000+ in sellers’ fees on the sale?
  2. Should we move back to Pennsylvania? We moved to Connecticut in October 2017, but we now realize that we preferred living in PA. The job market is stronger there and the cost of living is less. Harry has the ability to be re-hired at his previous job there. If I wanted to pursue going to veterinarian school, UPenn is close by (assuming I was accepted). The closest vet school to where I live in CT is Tufts, which is in Boston and nearly two hours away.
  3. Should I go to vet school of pursue another science degree? And oh by the way I probably need two years of science prerequisites before I can apply. How could I afford to go back to school?
  4. Should we take out a Home Equity Line of Credit to pay for ongoing home repairs? We need to replace our septic tank (which will be circa $4,800) in the near future. The tank is functioning properly right now, but the inspection noted cracks and the tank is starting to bow.
  5. Should I continue to withdraw the minimum required distribution annually from my inherited IRA account or should I reinvest this money?

Please help Mrs. Frugalwoods and Frugalwoods Nation! I could really use your sage advice. This is probably sounding more like Dear Abbey and I can’t wait to hear from you all!

Mrs. Frugalwoods’ Recommendations

One of Sally & Harry’s kitty cats

I am proud of Sally for pulling all of this information together and for putting herself out there. It’s not easy to ask for help and it’s doubly hard to ask for financial help! I am always in awe of the bravery (and organization) of Case Study subjects and commend Sally heartily.

She is doing an excellent job of thinking critically about their lives and her desire to make actionable changes in order to create a happier future. Sally is already on the right track in many, many ways and I think that with a few tweaks she’ll be in even better shape.

It’s Not All About The Money

I think that the nexus of Sally’s questions today aren’t really about money at all. In reading through her case, it strikes me that she is primarily grappling with how to create a fulfilling life. She’s unhappy with where she lives, with her home, and with her current job. At the same time, she has articulated passions in other areas that’s she’s actively exploring through both her Etsy shop and her volunteer work. I get the sense that she’s been trying to achieve deeper fulfillment through these extracurriculars, but that they’re not cutting it anymore. Sally wants to live in a place she loves and do work she loves. While money is part of this process–and money can certainly help you achieve some of these goals–money in itself won’t make you happy.

I encourage Sally and Harry to spend time examining where they want to be in the future and considering what they think would bring them happiness. I will go through all of her specific questions, but I really want Sally to take this opportunity to do a broad examination of her life. One avenue for starting that conversation is to follow the guidelines I have in this post: How I Figured Out What I Want To Do With My Life (And How You Can Too!).

Moving To Find Happiness

The inside of the hot air ballon where Harry & Sally spent their fifth wedding anniversary

I’ve followed Sally’s pattern of moving to a new town and hope, hope, hoping that a new job (in the same field) will make me happier. In fact, I did it four times before finally landing on the right place (rural Vermont) and the right profession (writer). So, uh, yeah, you could say I have some experience with this cycle of trying to achieve happiness through relocating and new-jobbing.

Given this, I will caution Sally that her desire to move back to Pennsylvania might not deliver the euphoria she’s seeking. On the other hand, since she and Harry have experience living there and thus have a sense of what they’re going back to, they just might find true happiness. I moved to Cambridge, MA twice and went back to THE SAME ORGANIZATION in the same department TWICE before realizing that I wanted to work for myself as a writer. So, again, I really do feel for where Sally is coming from here. If she and Harry aren’t happy in Connecticut, then I agree a change is in order.

Selling Their House?

Sally has identified a situation that’s likely going to help them out in the long term: their house is too big and too expensive. Housing is the largest expense most of us have and realizing you’re spending above your means and wanting to live smaller is commendable!

In general, the housing market is good right now and since Sally noted that their home is in a desirable school district, I’m wondering why it hasn’t sold and if perhaps it’s not priced appropriately? I’d be curious to know if their real estate agent has offered any specific insights into why the house isn’t selling. If there are specific fixes/improvements that the agent deems important to making a sale, then Sally and Harry very well might need to make them. Also, since it seems likely a family with kids would want to purchase their home given its size and school district (and they might not be inclined to move during the school year), I wonder if they’ve considered taking it off the market for the winter, doing any recommended improvements, and then re-listing it in the spring when the market heats up again?

It sounds like Sally and Harry might lose money on this sale, but, if they don’t want to live there and are losing money to home maintence every month, then this might just be a bitter pill they’ll need to swallow. In general, I think this a reinforcement of the idea that you shouldn’t buy a home unless you’re very certain you’ll be staying there for a number of years. But aside from this, a big question I have is where Sally and Harry plan to go once they do sell their home? As Sally noted, renting can be extremely challenging (if not impossible) with pets–and especially with multiple pets–although she’s also a bit hesitant to buy again. While they seem resolute in their decision to sell their house, having a contingency plan for their next home is an important part of the process, which brings me to Sally’s question of…

Should They Move Back To PA?

Dog face!

I really can’t answer this for Sally and Harry as there’s no slam-dunk right (or wrong) answer. However, if they’re unhappy in CT and identified that they were in fact happier in PA, then why not? They’re selling their house anyway and so will already be incurring moving costs and hassle (which are not insignificant). While there a lot of intangibles involved in this decision, there are some concrete questions Sally and Harry can explore:

  • Would their job prospects (and salaries) be better in Pennsylvania?
  • Do they know what neighborhood they’d like to live in?
  • Could they reconcile Harry’s desire for some land with Sally’s desire to rent?
  • Would renting with the pets be feasible?
  • Could they get by with one car (and thus reduce a lot of their car maintence and gasoline expenses)?

All of these considerations also call up Sally’s pressing desire to change careers…

Should Sally Pursue Veterinary Medicine Or A Science Degree?

My knee-jerk reaction to this question is a solid no, based on the expense and time and unpredictability of the job market. However, I’m also ALL FOR people pursuing their passions! And so, my suggestions are more along the lines of getting into a vet-adjacent career as opposed to going whole hog on a veterinary medicine degree. A few thoughts along those lines:

  • What about going to a community college for a vet tech program? This would be shorter, less expensive, and would still enable Sally to explore whether or not she loves veterinary medicine enough to become a veterinarian. It might be a way to dip her toes into the profession without the full expense and time commitment. I realize the salary would likely be lower, but the degree would also be cheaper.
  • I encourage Sally to heavily research the profession and the likelihood of getting a job after graduating, etc.

I’m not saying that going to veterinary school is a bad thing–it’s not–but it will entail a good deal of time and money before Sally would be able to enter the job market as a vet. And at present, there’s no way she and Harry can subsist on Harry’s income alone, especially with the added expense of tuition. My feelings on a science-related degree are similar.

Sally Should Leverage Her Work Experience And Master’s Degree

Overall, I understand that Sally wants to change careers (I’m a career-changer myself!), but I’m not convinced that she needs to go back to school in order to do so because… she has a master’s degree in public administration and loads of experience in this field!

Sally on Abbey Road in London

I strongly encourage Sally to leverage both of these things in making her career change. I think Sally is discounting her professional prowess here. I also have a master’s degree in public administration and worked for ten years at different nonprofit organizations, primarily in major gifts fundraising. In my experience, a program-specific degree or background is not a pre-requisite. What is a pre-requisite is robust experience in the field, which Sally has. She’s worked at not only her full-time job with the United Way, but also with the Boys & Girls Club! Her specialty seems to me like something that could indeed translate to an environmental nonprofit or an animal-related organization. I advise Sally to start combing through job postings in PA for positions of a similar level to her current role at nonprofits that she would enjoy working for. I imagine she’s already done this and so, if she’s serious about moving to PA and changing jobs, I encourage her to start applying. Sally is a nonprofit professional and she has the experience and the education to hop to another organization with ease (in my opinion). Don’t discount your credentials, Sally!

And a note on fundraising: I know that Sally said she’s not interested in working as a fundraiser, but, as a former fundraiser, I encourage her to at least peruse job postings because a lot of what you do as a fundraiser is talk and write about the mission of the organization. And if it’s an organization she’s deeply passionate about, I think she just might enjoy talking and writing about it for similarly-minded donors.

Plus, taking a job at a nonprofit whose mission aligns with her personal interest areas would be a relatively easy and inexpensive next step. She could see if she enjoys doing program evaluations for, say, an environmental nonprofit. Or she could test the waters in fundraising for the Humane Society or ASPCA. Or any number of other potential jobs! This would be a much cheaper, much less dramatic change than leaping into vet school. If after a year or so she finds that her passion is really in medically treating animals, then she could reassess.

$$$Money, Money, Money$$$

Alrighty, it’s time we delve into Harry and Sally’s finances. First of all, they are doing a lot of things right and I commend them!!! Second of all, there are a few minor edits I suggest:

1) Pay Off The Credit Card NOW

Sally and Harry are carrying $3,720 in credit card debt on a card with a 9.9% interest rate. This should be paid off immediately. ASAP. Like before you even finish reading this. How? With some of the money that’s currently invested in their brokerage account through Vanguard. I commend Sally for opening up a low-fee index fund investment account (WOO HOO!!!!!) as this is, in my non-financial-professional opinion, the best way to DIY invest. However, EVERYONE WRITE THIS DOWN:

Do not invest while carrying high-interest debt

There’s no reason for Sally to pay the interest on the credit card while she has a whopping $45K hanging out in the stock market. Yes, investing is the longterm path to financial stability and wealth, but you’ve got to pay off high-interest debt first because you’re losing money in interest every month. The stock market is very unlikely to return a rate higher than her current interest rate on the credit card, so there’s no reason to have that debt.

2) Build Up That Emergency Fund

Secondly, Sally and Harry have a decent emergency fund, but at $9,146 it’s clearly not enough. Their current monthly spending is $4,698, which means their emergency fund wouldn’t cover them for a full two months.

Cat face!

Without an emergency fund to handle the unforeseen–but entirely predictable–“emergencies” of life, such as a car breakdown, a roof repair, or a job loss, you’re at constant risk of sliding even further into debt. An emergency fund serves as your buffer against financial catastrophe and is a mandatory part of everyone’s finances. Yes, everyone!

An emergency fund is typically three to six months’ worth of your expenses held in an easily accessible checking or savings account. At their current rate of spending, that would be $14,094 to $28,188. However, if they’re able to decrease their monthly spending, they can have a smaller emergency fund. The less you spend, the less you need to save.

In light of this, I think it would be wise for Sally to liquidate more of their VTSAX account in order to properly fund their emergency fund. Again, investing is 100% what you want to do for the longterm, but it can’t come at the detriment of your short-term financial security.

3) Do Not Get A HELOC

Sally asked if she and Harry should take out a Home Equity Line Of Credit (HELOC) in order to pay for ongoing repairs on their home and my advice here is an unequivocal no. Since they have money (currently in that VTSAX account), there’s no reason to take on what amounts to another loan and more debt. Instead, I suggest they use money from the brokerage account (by selling stock) in order to pay for needed repairs. They should stop putting repairs on the credit card and start paying for them with cash from their formerly invested funds.

4) Invest Again

Once they’d paid off their credit card, built up a proper emergency fund, and paid for all needed home repairs, they should absolutely go back to investing in VTSAX. Sally was spot on in her decision to open a low-fee index fund account and she can stay this course once the more pressing financial issues in her life are dispensed with.

Sally’s Inherited IRA

Sally dancing with her father at her wedding

I first want to note that I’m very sorry that Sally lost her father. I can’t imagine the pain of losing a parent and she has my deepest sympathies and condolences.

Sally’s inherited IRA boosts her prospects right now and is what’s keeping her and Harry afloat and out of deeper debt. She fully realizes this and makes note of that and so I’m not telling her anything new. Sally asked if she should re-invest the annual distribution from the IRA and my advice is very similar to what I wrote above.

Yes, of course, it’s always good to invest your money, but you have to be in a position to responsibly do so. Namely, you’ve got to have no high-interest debt (I don’t include a mortgage here) and a proper emergency fund saved up. The inherited IRA is essentially part of Sally’s income and I don’t think she necessarily needs to consider it in any other light. She should spend it when she needs to and invest it when she’s able to. I don’t have any personal experience with inheritances or inherited IRAs, so I’m hoping that readers with this experience will chime in!


Sally is a superb expense tracker! She’s been using YNAB (You Need A Budget) and it shows! I know she’s thorough because what she’s given us are the annual averages for each category, which is the only way to truly represent what you spend. I share my expenses with you all every month and, as anyone who reads regularly knows, they vary WILDLY from month to month.

A viking ship sculpture Sally saw while in Iceland

Looking at just one month of spending DOES NOT give you the full picture of your true annual spending since we buy different things every month (and in different quantities!). Plus, one month’s spending wouldn’t reflect stuff like Sally’s home repairs and my recent purchase of an electric water heater. The only way to truly know what you spend in a year is to track every single month for many years. This is why I use and recommend Personal Capital for the task of tracking expenses–I find it a lot easier to automate and track through their website than writing it all down myself. However you do it, financial management starts with knowing what you spend. If you’d like to know more about how Personal Capital works, check out my full review.

Savings Accounts Side Note

One of the easiest ways to optimize your money is to keep it in a high-interest savings account. With these accounts, interest works in YOUR favor (as opposed to the interest rates on debt, which work against you). Having money in a no (or low) interest savings account is a waste of resources because your money is sitting there doing nothing. Don’t let your money be lazy! Make it work for you! And now, enjoy some explanatory math:

  • Let’s say you have $5,000 in a savings account that earns 0% interest. In a year’s time, your $5,000 will still be… $5,000.
  • Let’s say you instead put that $5,000 into an American Express Personal Savings account that–as of this writing–earns 1.70% in interest. In one year, your $5,000 will have increased to $5,085.67. That means you earned $85.67 just by having your money in a high-interest account.

And you didn’t have to do anything! I’m a big fan of earning money while doing nothing. I mean, is anybody not a fan of that? Apparently so, because anyone who uses a low (or no) interest savings account is NOT making money while doing nothing. Don’t be that person. Be the person who earns money while sleeping. Rack up the interest and prosper. More about high-interest savings accounts, as well as the ones I recommend, here: The Best High Interest Rate Online Savings Accounts.

All that to say, HUGE CONGRATS to Sally for having a thorough handle on what they spend every month. Now, let’s see if we can identify some areas for savings.

In every single Case Study, I like to point out that what you choose to save or not save is a very personal decision. Cutting every last expense is NOT the right answer for everyone and I am NOT an advocate for making yourself miserable in the process of achieving financial stability. I AM an advocate for values-based, goal-oriented spending. I think it’s important to assess whether all of your expenses bring you fulfillment and a good return on your investment.

I think it’s also important to question if your rate of savings will help you to achieve your long-term goals. But what you spend on? That’s a very personal choice and one that you have to make for yourself. My job is to point out areas where you might be able to save, but only you can decide if that level of savings is right for you. If you’re struggling with where to save more and how to map out a longterm financial plan, I encourage you to take my free 31-day Uber Frugal Month Challenge.

The primary issue with Sally and Harry’s spending right now is that it almost outstrips their income. They’re spending $4,698 per month, but their monthly net income (without Sally’s IRA inheritance) is $4,765 (see spreadsheet below).

Item Amount Notes
Sally’s Full-Time Job $3,964 After taxes, 403B contributions, charitable giving and health insurance. I currently set aside 10% of every paycheck for retirement (403B) and put $100 into savings.
Harry’s Full-Time Job $460 After taxes, excluding time and a half for any overtime
Sally’s Summer Job $230 This is $2,771 (after taxes) paid out as follows: $500 in June, $1,000 in July and August, and $500 in September.
Side Hustles $111 Average monthly sales from Amazon, eBay, and Etsy
Monthly Income (minus inheritance): $4,765

Sally noted that prior to receiving the inheritance, she and Harry were living paycheck to paycheck (or beyond) and that they cycled in and out of debt on a repeated basis. However, with the inheritance distribution, they are solvent and able to save every month. It’s not necessarily a bad financial decision to spend the inheritance distribution every month (as opposed to reinvesting it), but it’s not a recipe for the longterm financial stability and flexibility Sally noted she craves. With the inheritance added in, they are essentially treading water financially. They won’t be in debt, but they won’t be saving at a remarkable rate either.

At the same time, Sally is keenly aware of their two largest expenses–their mortgage and home repairs–and is actively trying to sell the house. Selling the house would dramatically alter their monthly spending (assuming they found somewhere much cheaper to live) and might make all other expense reductions moot. But, since they haven’t sold the house quite yet, we’ll proceed with analyzing the expenses we can control right now.

Here are some areas where Sally and Harry could consider reducing their spending:

  • At $300 per category, both car repairs and gas for the cars stood out to me as pretty high line items. If Sally and Harry are able to sell their home and perhaps live closer to their jobs, this would be an area ripe for reduction–especially if they were in a more urban environment and able to get by with just one car.
  • $275 for pet expenses seems reasonable for four animals, but I wonder if there might be any opportunities for savings here? I’m not sure what foods they eat, but I recommend researching generic versions (I used to get grain-free kibble from Costco, which was a generic version of Taste Of The Wild). Additionally, if Sally and Harry could insource dog grooming, that could be a few dollars saved.
  • Utilities seems high at $250, but then again, they have a large, older home, so these expenses might be unavoidable. If there are energy-saving techniques to implement (lowered heat and less AC for example) or any weather-proofing to increase insulation, this might help them reduce these bills.
  • At $100, the restaurants category isn’t terribly high, but it’s also one that could be easily eliminated.
  • Then we get into the drips and drabs of a budget that all seem like very small amounts on their own, but add up over time. I made a spreadsheet because I heart them:
Item Amount Notes
Travel $70 Includes airfare, parking and EZ-Pass, Airbnb/hotel (not food or entertainment)
Personal Care $61 I get my hair cut every 4 months.  Harry goes every month.  I tried cutting his hair once… it didn’t turn out well.
Clothing/Shoes $50 Hard well water is turning my colored clothes white. Does anyone have a solution?
Entertainment $50 Examples include: Redbox, movie tickets, sports tickets for our anniversary/Christmas, golf for birthday, etc.
Gym Membership $42 Sally/Harry
Online Services $37 Harry’s music/sports betting. Grr…
Service Charges/Fees $30 Amazon Prime membership (to be cancelled) and YNAB membership also costs associated with sales from Amazon, eBay, and Etsy
Postage & Shipping $25 Largely costs associated with sales from Amazon, eBay, and Etsy.
Gifts $19 Birthdays/Christmas gifts for family
Total: $384

At the end of the day, $384 isn’t huge money, but it’s not nothing either. It’s $4,608 a year, which is a tidy sum. Making the decision to reduce their spending would give Harry and Sally more flexibility as they make plans to move and change careers. Of course the other option is to increase…


The other side of the equation is income!! The more you make and the less you spend, the higher your savings rate will be. That being said, Sally is already hustling hard with a whopping three jobs!! I am seriously impressed! Plus she volunteers. Way to go, Sally! I don’t know that there’s much room for Sally to earn more (unless she finds a new position with a higher salary), but I do wonder if Harry could increase his income? Sally mentioned that if they move back to PA, Harry would be able to get his old job back and so I wonder if that might pay more than his current position? If so, that would certainly be a pro in the “move to PA” column.


In sum, I advise Sally and Harry to do the following:

  1. Liquidate enough of their VTSAX fund to:
    1. Pay off the credit card in full
    2. Build up their emergency fund to 3-6 months’ worth of expenses
    3. Pay cash for needed home repairs
  2. Work with their real estate agent on a game plan for getting their home sold. What does it need? New paint? A new septic tank? Consider taking the house off the market for the winter and performing needed repairs/updates and re-listing in the spring.
  3. Spend time discussing their future together. Where would they love to live? What type of lifestyle (urban, suburban, rural) would most nearly meet their goals?
  4. Decide where they’ll move when their current house sells.
  5. Job search in Pennsylvania and make a move!

Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice would you give to Sally? She and I will both reply to comments, so please feel free to ask any clarifying questions!

Would you like your own case study to appear here on Frugalwoods? Email me ( your brief story and we’ll talk.

Update from Sally on 1/8/2019:

Here’s what’s happened… We took the house off the market in September and ended our contract with our realtor (also a former co-worker). In October, I contacted another realtor in our area and after looking at the house she recommended that we re-list it in the spring – which we plan to do. She also suggested painting the brick fireplace white and replacing the gold fireplace insert with a black one – which we did in November with the help of my father-in-law. I also went to the emergency room (not to worry all is well). I just got my bill – $2,300 after insurance that I plan to pay off in 12 installments (0% interest) through my HSA. In December, we replaced the septic tank.

Our realtor referred us to another local business who replaced the tank for $4,300 ($500 less than what we were quoted by the first company). By December, our credit card balance had risen to $5,000 in part from having to fix the heat in Harry’s car that cost $1,800. So when we got the Required Minimum Distribution for $8,000 (after tax) we paid off our credit card in full and put $3,000 in savings. It feels really good to be out of debt!

In addition, I am putting $200 into our savings account/emergency fund (up from $100) every month; $100 into my HSA to help pay for my medial bill (see above); and $80 into Qapital to save for future travel. Also note, at the time I wrote our case study, Harry had just started a new job and I used a calculator to estimate his take home pay after tax. It was incorrect. His average monthly salary is $915 (not $460).

Finally, I wanted to thank Frugalwoods Nation for weighing in on whether or not I should go to veterinary school. I was surprised at the resounding “no” from the peanut gallery as it were and I was disheartened at first, but after some thought I have decided not to pursue a career change. I have another year left until my retirement savings are vested with my current employer and then I’ll reevaluate either staying put or changing employers within the non-profit field. Right now, my goal is early retirement!


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  1. Thanks for sharing your story, Sally!

    I think your combined income is pretty good for a couple without kids. I was a bit surprised when you mentioned that you two used to live paycheck to paycheck and are still finding ways to be financially sound. I agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods that the main problem with your finances is the spending. Below are the categories I think you can cut/lower:

    Medical (not sure what the therapy is for, but $400-500/mo also equals Harry’s monthly income)
    Car Insurance
    Gym Membership
    Online Services

    It also looks like Harry needs to explore other job opportunity or side hustles to beef up his income. It’s great to follow your passion, but it’s also important to be financially sound and not draw down on savings or rely on your spouse’s income for an extended period of time.

    I think now it’s a good time to sell your house and downsize to save on mortgage rates and home repairs/maintenance. You might want to explore job opportunities in the vet field that don’t require years of training. If you work in those jobs for a while and know you still want to get a vet degree, then I think it’s a good time to do so. And yes, I think you should cut your expenses to live below your means and reinvest your IRA.

    Best of luck with everything!

    1. Don’t ever mess with a person’s therapy! No matter what type, if it’s listed, it’s probably needed. And I applaud Harry for listing it since they could have hidden it in another category.

      1. In my experience, therapy improves every part of my life regardless of what specifically brought me there. Its possible that going to therapy will open up Harry to explore passions that could make him some side income, or could just make him more productive in his current job and possibly lead to increased pay.

      2. Agreed! Therapy can be an integral part of overall wellness. One thing my work does is 8 no-cost therapy sessions per year, which I’ve been using. I actually do feel that they help, because it’s a great chance to talk to someone, and then I can pay $80/session if I do need more than the 8. Harry may have something like that, or may be able to find a higher paying job with those benefits. However, I wouldn’t leave a good therapist for the sake of saving a couple bucks either. Mental health is so important.

  2. It doesn’t say, but I presume Harry’s job is part-time. Perhaps he should consider substitute teaching. I know requirements vary from school district to school district. I looked up Simsbury and shows $112 / day. If he’s eligible to sub, he could earn twice as much as he’s currently making by subbing 2 times a week.

    1. oh sorry — that does show his job a full-time. That’s confusing. If it’s a full time job,even at minimum wage, shouldn’t that net be higher? Is he contributing a large amount to 401k and it’s just not listed? Or is there a tax burden that brings his net down so much?

      Anyway – sub teaching is a nice option for people. When we relo’d many years ago and I got a job first, my husband sub taught for a bit. He was a popular sub option and even subbed a longer stint when someone had a medical issue.

      1. Yeah – I would think there would be a lot of other options at $15+/hour in that area. The math seems off if he’s working 40 hours a week.

        1. If you’re just after the cash, look into school bus driving. Most places will pay for your CDL and pay you (minimum wage) during training. At my company, the starting pay for drivers is $18/hr. We have a 20 hr guarantee, but I typically get around 40 because I have a longer route. I started at $15.90, but am not at $18.55. If you can deal with the kids, it’s not a horrible job. Haha.

  3. I’d be hesitant to cut out therapy. It might be worth calling the insurance company to see what the mental health benefits are. Maybe this therapist is out of network and there is someone in network that could be seen for a co-pay.

    Regarding the hard water, I’ve used some vinegar in the wash for my clothes (I put this in a downy ball so it’s not released until the rinse cycle).

    I’m not sure what to say about the vet degree. I’m all for going after your passions, but at the same time, I’m hesitant about additional debt you will take on. Also, if you are in school and not able to work your current job, how will that work? Since you mentioned needing pre-reqs, maybe you could enroll at a local community college for a class or two to see if this is something that would work. (Anything science related would have me running in the other direction). Or wait until you sell the house, move, and see if you can get a job at a college while you take pre-reqs at night.

    Good luck! Your fur babies are so cute!

  4. I would also add the idea to pursue other animal related jobs (unless she truly wants to be a vet). I went through this myself–I interned at 2 vet clinics and decided it was not for me. Dog and cat clinics have a LOT of badly behaved/frightened pets, clueless owners, and boring routine exams. I felt very conflicted that when something medically interesting happened–it meant that something really BAD had happened to the pet. I also got the sense that the big money was in owning a veterinary practice–which I was not sure if I wanted to do because I don’t enjoy managing people.

    There are several pet related jobs that do not require as much education and would still provide good income, for example: dog training (can intern with a trainer you respect, or find one via IACP), pet grooming, and even high-end pet sitting (ie. not Rover and Wag). Think creatively, talk to people in the pet industry about your dreams, shadow people with jobs you like, and I’m sure there is a path to a fulfilling career!

  5. I’ve lived in the Philly area since 1985 in both the suburbs and downtown so it warms my heart to read that you (Sally and Harry) like it also. 🙂

    As usual, Mrs. Frugalwoods is spot on! I have just a few additional thoughts.

    A general piece of advice I’ll give is that whenever I have an either/or options I try to expand the number of options. For instance, you say that you can either go to Vet School or stick with your current career. As Mrs. Frugalwoods points out there are many more options than that. I would take the time to enumerate and consider them all. Do the same for either move back to Philly or stay in Connecticut.

    As others have mentioned, I think Harry should try to find some way to earn more income. Could he start his own business? Could he use his broadcasting training on other ways – announcer, radio host, etc? Again, spend some time just brainstorming lots of options even if they initially sound a little crazy.

    If you do sell your property, I would rent until you decide for certain whether you want to have children or not. That could determine the size and location of your ideal home.

  6. Hey Sally!

    I am currently a veterinary student, and there are a few things I feel might be useful to hear. If a career in veterinary medicine is something you are interested in you need to understand the enormity of the undertaking. It is obtaining a doctorate, and the equivalent (if not more) to getting a doctorate in human medicine. It does not allow for a full time job during school, and time management becomes key. Following graduation, an internship or residency is likely something that will be required for you to get a job that meets your needs. Although it is a lucrative career it does take time to build that secure financial base (5 years at the very least).

    That being said the starting salary for small animal vets is between $70,000 and $80,000 currently and the demand is only growing, so it is a good field to go into, and job security is high. I do not think veterinary technician school is the route to go. It is a 2-year program and the pay is far less than ideal. If you are wanting to pursue veterinary medicine the best route is to get started now and enter the application process as soon as you can. It takes some folks multiple rounds to get in, and you need to be prepared to not get into your top choice school (often you get into 1, maybe 2 schools and will be required to move).

    Good luck with everything! I think veterinary medicine is an amazing career option, it does require a lot of work but for me it has been well worth it.

    1. Margo, what would you say to someone interested in veterinary medicine who wasn’t that into science classes in grade school/high school? I have a masters in Computer Science so I am “smart” and can learn anything I put my mind to, and I LOVE animals– I have just never really enjoyed science classes. I worked at an animal shelter as a foster program manager for 6 years and loved it, but it only paid ~$30,000/year which was hard. Now I’m making close to 6 figures working in tech, but I miss the animals. I’m just wondering how science-y the courses and everyday work are– or is it more dealing with pet owners, running the business, etc.? My guess is probably don’t pursue medicine of any kind if you don’t like biology class but just checking! (:

  7. Have you considered working as a laboratory animal assistant?

    These are the technicians who work with and care for the animals at a research university. I worked in this industry for two years and can say the people who care for these animals are some of the most dedicated and passionate animal lovers I have met.

    While entry level work in this field is, yes, low paid, it a.) involves direct, hands-on work with animals (including playing with them – scientists are required to include plans for playing with and mentally simulating research animals) b.) has clear and fast routes to promotion. Once you enter into this field, which is pretty easy as turnover can be high, technicians here essentially get paid to learn more skills. You might start doing just basic cage cleaning and feeding, but within a year or two, can get trained to move up to be able to work with a wider variety of animals, perform many scientific procedures yourself, etc. The American Association for Laboratory Animal Science has different levels of certification you can earn, the company you work for will typically pay for training, and many of my co-workers had chances to present their own research, etc. If it’s something you like, there are also roles for vet technicians who care for any animal with medical needs and help perform any surgeries.

    There are obviously different views on this, but I also believe this work makes a positive impact on the world. You’d be helping with research that directly saves and improves human lives. (As an FYI, because I’m sure I’ll get pushback on this: the process for getting an animal study at a research university approved is more work than getting a HUMAN study approved. Scientists have to clearly demonstrate that the research they want to do is impossible to do without using animals, and then they have to prove they’re using the smallest number, for the shortest amount of time, possible.) Anytime you’ve interacted with the medical system, you’re interacting with breakthroughs that came from animal research. The research labs heavily depend on these technicians to provide high-quality animal care.

    Additionally, veterinary school is harder to get into than medical school, and you typically need experience actively working with animals before you even apply. If it’s a route you want to pursue, this type of job could be a good income (once you’re at the top of the field, you can make $25-$30 hour, and it often has flexible scheduling) while letting you decide if it’s the correct path.

    1. I would think that anyone who loves animals would be heartbroken working in a place where they were seen as expendable tools for “research.”

      1. As someone who has worked with research animals in the past and is an avid animal lover, I could not agree more with Cara. I understand the huge and important role animal research plays in treating human conditions, but it’s heartbreaking for someone who loves animals.

  8. As much as I empathize with the job frustration and secret dream of being a vet (I share it!) I would be very, very hesitant to pursue that path. Vet school is incredibly competitive and hard to get into even with a strong animal science background, and it would likely require a major move. While the costs are similar to medical school (and would likely run into the range of $300,000), the starting salary for a vet (and ultimate earning potential) are much, much lower – you’d likely be earning less than you do know. I agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods that your nonprofit experience could be easily leveraged into a job at an organization more aligned with your values, and with the better financial stability you’d be in a better position to help animals in so many other ways.

  9. I am really concerned about Harry’s income. I know there are a lot of shipping and distribution jobs in that part of CT, but would he make more money in the service industry? With his experience, could he garner a job making $15/hour or more? The math seems off on his salary. :/

    1. Harry just started this job three weeks ago and got paid today for the first time. I used a tax calculator to estimate what his take home pay would be. Also, he works over-time and gets paid time and a half. Unfortunately, it’s too soon to say what his average monthly income will be. The figure I provided is his base salary. He should make more than that.

      1. I wonder if the calculator you used is flawed, or if this is a per week rate? Alternately, maybe I missed this, but is this position full time? If it is full time, even with a 40% tax/benefit rate (which is SO extreme given his salary and a comment that he does not receive benefits), I am showing he’d be making take home $2.30/hour, adding back in 40% for benefits/taxes he’d be at $3.23/hour. Sorry if I’ve missed something, just hoping that his paycheck coming today will be a happy surprise 🙂 Also, I don’t know a ton about this, but could he qualify for Tricare (VA health insurance)?

      2. Is it possible that you gave his weekly salary instead of his monthly salary? If he’s working enough to earn overtime (I’m assuming that only starts at 40 hours a week) then $460 a month would mean he was earning less than minimum wage. $460/week would put him in the $12-$15/hour range that makes more sense for the kind of job you’ve described.

        As Harry continues looking for a more long term career, is he using his veteran network? I know veterans often have trouble asking for help, but I’m sure he has some good connections through people he’s served with that could help him find a good job if they knew he needed some assistance. I also wanted to point you to this veteran broadcasting mentoring program in case you weren’t already aware of it: There are a lot of more general career mentoring programs for veterans too. Usually they pair a veteran early in their career with someone more established who can help them figure out what direction they want to go in, give advice, and share their network.

        Do you have a Vet Center nearby? Vet Centers are fabulous because they help veterans ensure that they are accessing all the veterans benefits they are eligible for (maybe they could help Harry access medical insurance?) and they can help connect you to other veteran resources in the area aside from the VA. It might be worthwhile to reach out to them to see if there are any other veteran career resources locally that Harry could be tapping into.

        I agree with the other advice that veterinary school is not necessarily the best idea. I actually think a few therapy sessions might be a good idea for you, too. You’ve identified your pattern: you move and/or change jobs expecting it to make you happier and it doesn’t. Veterinary school is another step down that path. You need to figure out why this is your pattern and what to do instead. You might still end up moving and changing careers afterward, but at that point you’ll be making a much better decision. I have that same tendency, and after a series of moves and job changes that made me progressively less happy I finally found a therapist who was a good fit. She helped me make some big steps forward in my own life happiness so that the next career change actually supported my happiness instead of digging a deeper hole.

        You’ve got this! I think in a few years you’ll look back on this time in your life and see it as a time that might have been challenging but really helped you build the life you actually want!

    2. Yes! Something is off, or he works part time or only part of the year or something. I did the math and $460 per month is only $5,520 take home per year. Assuming a 30% tax rate, that is $7,886 gross. Assuming he works a 40 hour week (the case study says full time) and 48 weeks per year, that’s $4.10 per hour, which is waaaaay less than minimum wage.

  10. As a veterinarian, I would also echo Mrs. Frugalwoods and say that you need to think long and hard before pursuing this route, especially entering the field as a second career. Average debt coming out of school is over $150k, and the debt to income ratio for a new grad is 2:1. At the very least, work in a veterinary setting FIRST before making decisions about pursuing a career in veterinary medicine, whether it be going to vet school or vet tech school. Becoming a veterinarian requires a HUGE commitment in terms of time and money, and no amount of passion can make up for the lack of time/money when you don’t have a plan for addressing these issues.

    Here’s a great resource for those that are interested in pursuing veterinary medicine:

    1. A friend wanted to become a vet. His undergrad degree was in Math & Computer Science. Before applying to Vet schools, he had to take several years of pre-requisite classes in Biology & Chemistry. It was a tough road taking part-time classes & working.

      I wish you luck in whatever path you choose to take.

      1. I am a wildlife veterinarian and I had a Master of Science degree before entering vet school. Both are incredibly massive commitments – high investment, and potential for high reward. I love my job but I am one of the lucky ones.

        I cannot agree with Fin Well DVM enough. I graduated in 2011 from my in-state school with $200,000 of debt (in PA your in-state school would be UPenn which is similarly $$). I am able to make ends meet thanks to income based loan repayment and public service loan forgiveness programs (which are in jeopardy now so NOT something you should count on). This career can be very rewarding but it is not something you do for the money or free time. It is all-consuming. There is a high suicide rate in this profession now too, and compassion fatigue is real. If you are not adaptable and resilient, you may not be as fulfilled as you think you will. In small animal practice, unless you work in an affluent area, you will be faced with knowing you can do more for people’s pets but being unable to do so because they will not pay for the best care. It’s a tough reality for those who go into this profession simply because we love animals.

        So it is important to make sure it is something your heart, soul and entire being are 100% certain are for you and even more so, it is important to make sure that you have support systems in place. Outside hobbies (other than animals!!) are essential to keep you sane. It is not low-stress for your loved ones, so be sure you do your homework and make certain it’s the right commitment for all of you.

        If animals are your favorite hobby, I think there are so many more options to find joy in caring for them that do not require being a doctor. Dog walking/running is a great way to earn a flexible income, keep yourself healthy, and improve the lives of other animals. You can apply your existing skill sets and work for animal non-profits whose mission you support (do your homework there too! Not all are as wholesome as they may seem).

        There is a whole world of opportunity out there, and I have no doubt you will find the right place for you!

  11. I’m a vet. The ROI is terrible. 6 years of lost wages PLUS the tuition to start our in the 5 digits and be lucky to hit low 6 digits. That doesn’t help you meet your ten year goal.

    More importantly, talk to vets. Many are not happy. It is an incredibly demanding, incredibly stressful career. We have the highest suicide rate among professionals (yes, we passed dentists). We often feel undervalued and under appreciated. People on the outside looking in almost always assume we have the best job. We often tell a different story to those who will listen.

    If you LOVE science and medicine AND LOVE working with people, and can pursue the degree without adding debt, then it may be a good fit. But it really isn’t all about pets. It’s much more about science and medicine and communicating with pet owners. I love that aspect of my job, but I wouldn’t go into debt or take 4 (or in your case 6) years out of my life to go into this career if I had to do it all again.

      1. If you have any interest in alternative veterinary medical care, maybe contact some of the organizations for vets who practice that. I’ll bet they find it way more satisfying than allopathic medicine.

        I worked as a veterinary homeopath with a local wholistic vet and know many others. It’s very satisfying, but requires certification beyond a regular DVM. Check out vital, the vet there is very candid.

      2. Ginger is correct. I used to work for a vet and heard stories of vets he knew killing themselves. It seemed like the euthanasias came in waves. One develops compassion fatigue. And it gets to everyone that works there. Also, with the ability of doing just about everything medically to pets that can be done to/for humans, the financial toll and guilt if you will, can be very frustrating.

    1. This is the best career advice Sally could have gotten. I also would say to not go back to school, because if you want to quit working in 10 years, you’re delaying making money to quit working and ensuring you have to work longer. I never knew that about veterinary medicine though! I imagine the worst part is when you do communicate with the owners and they fail to follow through and the animal remains sick. No fun at all. 🙁

  12. Loved this case study! You two sound a lot like me and my husband: we also have two rescue dogs and two rescue cats. And I also happen to have worked both in the environmental and animal rescue field (I was a science writer for a long time, dabbled in urban forestry, and then worked at a humane society for a year as their PR person and foster care coordinator).

    So maybe I can offer some insight into those fields. My biggest piece of advice is to keep animal rescue as your passion and hobby. Of course, I can’t speak for every situation, but for me, it was incredibly difficult and often heartbreaking work, with many difficult decisions that needed to be made on a daily basis. And I’m not alone in feeling like this: animal rescue workers have one of the highest rates of suicide. It’s really hard to ever stop working when you’re faced with life or death situations–trying to find placements for small kittens that need to be fed every four hours, or when someone brings a dog that’s been hit by a car to the shelter door at 9 pm on a Friday. What I’d initially thought was my dream job (getting paid to photograph/write about/play with/help rescue animals!?) turned out to be a complete nightmare. And while I’m grateful that I was able to help so many animals, it wasn’t worth it for the toll it took on me mentally and physically.

    However, the environmental field is ripe with possibility, and I’ve LOVED the opportunities I’ve had in it. It also doesn’t take much schooling (unlike vet school) to find a position with a decent salary and good benefits. I would research some environmentally-based companies in the Philadelphia area, and reach out to them just to see what sort of classes they’d recommend you take, and what skills they need in their employees. There are many human-dimensions based projects you could look into, and science-based companies need people other than scientists to make the company run smoothly. Think about the skills you have and what you could bring to the table. With your interest in food, look into local/sustainable food initiatives, and get involved as a volunteer. With enough volunteer hours under your belt and on your resume, you may not need classes or a further degree to land your dream job!

    1. Thank you Sarah for your insight into working at an animal shelter. It does give me pause to see abuse/neglect and suffering on a daily basis.

      1. Sally, just to provide another opinion– I worked in the midwest’s largest no-kill animal shelter for 6 years (and continue to volunteer). I made between $28,000-$35,000, which is why I left. I knew I could never buy a house or retire, etc. with that salary. I now make 3x that working in tech, and I volunteer at night/on the weekend (but I still miss the meaningful work).

        I LOVED working at my shelter. Really, the only reason I left was the money and some inner politics that made getting promoted difficult.

        If you decide to pursue this route, volunteer first so you can get to know the organization. What made my experience a good one is that we were 1) no-kill, and 2) did not euthanize for serious but treatable conditions (i.e. diabetic cats got insulin and medical care, dogs with minor bite histories got training and foster care, whereas a traditional shelter might euthanize at a first sign of something wrong). You can never save them all but we had the size and budget to treat each animal as an individual. I suspect a smaller, low-budget shelter would be more stressful.

        Let me know if you have any questions about the shelter-worker route because I have a lot of experience with it and friends who do it too!

  13. With a large house for just two people plus fur babies, have you considered getting a roommate (or two) to bring in extra income? Even for a year or two while you figure things out, continue paying down your mortgage a bit, and make repairs to make it more attractive to buyers? Your realtor should be able to help you with an application, lease, and background checks.

  14. Wow, this is so detailed!
    100% agree with everything Mrs. F said!
    I just have a few thoughts:

    I would avoid going back to school at all costs until at least you’re in a much better situation financially. I know at least two people who have gone to vet school, and ended up not being able to find jobs afterwards in their field. They also said that it was the hardest thing they’d ever done. And they are smart! I would do exactly as Mrs. F said and try to merge your passions with your current experience. You come off as a wonderfully kind person who loves helping people, so you shouldn’t have a problem getting a nonprofit job that pays at least what you make now. I feel like the interview and resume are sometimes everything in a job search. If you are personable and have a clear and cleanly-formatted resume, you’re already doing better than most people. You should give yourself more credit! Besides, you can learn how to do pretty much anything, without going to school for it! Just study up on environmental causes, or animal issues, and put yourself out there!

    I do not think Harry should stop going to therapy. I work in psychology, and the stigma around mental illness is astounding, especially for men, so we should be congratulating him for going at all. Good on you, Harry!!! I justify this spending instantly, because you can’t put a price on health. However, I would maybe see about decreasing the cost by getting therapeutic services through a local hospital, rather than a private care doctor. It is usually cheaper to use outpatient psychiatric services at a hospital, than from a private practice. I love my therapist. I don’t go that often, but when I do, the copay is only like $35. Also, I would encourage Harry to try guided meditation, yoga, or maybe CBD if he’s having anxiety/panic issues. They’ve all done wonders for me, and are cheap ways to keep myself happy and healthy! You can learn how to do anything on Youtube, so I highly recommend some DIY self care for him! Obviously if he has very serious problems, or anything that needs to be regulated with a medication, he should keep going to therapy at all costs and do what he’s got to do!

    I do think that if it’s not too much stress, Harry needs a new job. As someone with work experience, and higher education, he should definitely make more! I made more than they are paying Harry when I was waiting tables or working in a coffee shop in college. He deserves more for a full time job!

    As far as the move, I think moving back to Penn. is a great idea. I love Pennsylvania, and I understand why you miss it. I agree with Mrs. F, about taking the house off the market to keep fixing up some issues, and then trying to sell when the market is better. I’d follow whatever advice your realtor can give! Also, given how HUGE the sports industry is in Penn, I think Harry would have better luck finding work in the field there! I would recommend that Harry maybe try to get on some smaller sports news outlets to build a broadcast resume. Maybe contact some sports podcasts and try to be included somehow, or do sports announcing for smaller-scale local things. Maybe even start a sports blog or social media account. He could easily start an instagram for free, and learn about hashtagging and growing a following there, to be able to use it as a portfolio for what he’s capable of!

    I think it’s really important that you two are able to compromise on what kind of future living situation you want, before one of you settles and is unhappy. I think a nice compromise would be maybe to find a house to rent, that is a little more rural, but close to a city. I think you guys should focus on selling the house for now, but go ahead and start trolling apartment rental sites and looking at different areas in Pennsylvania. Might not be as hard to find as you think! Being homeowners is quite a task. If you’re not ready to do it, you’re just not ready… and that’s okay! Renting isn’t always throwing your money away. If you spend more on mortgage and repairs than you would renting, it’s worth it just to rent, especially if you’re barely making ends meet.

    I would recommend just becoming as DIY-friendly as possible. Things I’ve started to do to save money include: buying groceries in bulk, cutting our hair ourselves, I started making all of our personal care products (toothpaste, deodorant, etc), cut back on eating out, doing home repairs myself if they’re easy enough to learn how to do, using a friend’s hulu account, etc etc. You’ve already found this blog, so you already have a huge resource on how to be incredibly frugal! I struggle with this so much because I love shopping, but at the end of the day, I just have to keep my future goals in mind!

    Best of luck to you guys!

    1. Thank you Lizzy for your comments and well wishes. I have been renting since I was 18. This being our first house, we didn’t anticipate the constant home maintenance nor are either of us handy like the Frugalwoods. Besides painting and some bathroom renovation (with the help of my father-in-law who is very handy) we’ve had to pay others to do the work, but we’re learning. Thanks to this blog, I joined Costco changed my auto-insurance and phone service provider. I’m learning a lot!

  15. This is a really great podcast episode on the prevalence of depression in veterinary medicine:

    And here’s an article:

    I think that pursuing a career as a vet would be a mistake at this point – it’s enormously expensive and it would be such a big time commitment. People go into veterinary medicine because they love animals (I planned on being a vet when I started college) – but so much of being a vet is about dealing with people and money. And the money is no joke – negotiating care for an animal based on what their owners can afford is really unpleasant – and actually heartbreaking. This is why, after interning with a vet for a summer, I decided not to do it. As a vet, euthaniasia is going to be an everyday part of your practice – and so is animal neglect. It’s just a really, really hard job.

    Also – you mentioned your interest in a career in the environment. I have a masters in environmental management from Duke and I consider my degree to be fairly useless. I had a very difficult time finding a job after school, and the one I did get, at an environmental nonprofit paid $36K/year (this was in Boston in 2010). I had three years nonprofit work experience before I went to grad school. I think that since you have a masters already – you should be able to go to another position in a field you find more interesting without having to get another degree. Many places want to see that you have an advanced degree, but don’t actually care that much about what it’s in (my husband’s place of employment actually said this to him).

    1. I have found that to be true at my current workplace. People have advanced degrees of all kinds and yet we all work at the same place.

  16. Hey Sally,

    When reading your profile, I had several thoughts that I would like to share. I too am a canine-only mommy, and understand your passion for your pets and your desire to work in a field that supports that passion. I also agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods that your current credentials could easily parlay into a rewarding job in either the pet care or environmental sustainability industries. Specifically, since corporate responsibility is a must for today’s companies, have you considered applying for work in those departments that cover volunteerism, corporate giving, etc. for pet insurance companies, corporate-owned veterinary companies (e.g., BluePearl Veterinary Partners), PetSmart, Petco, pet product catalog companies, or any other pet-related organization?

    Also, a good side hustle that could even turn into a self-owned business might be pet sitting. Before my firm let me work from home, I had daily pet sitters come to take out my dog three times per day – OK I’m a helicopter mom, who worries. Pet sitters charge anywhere from $15 – $25 per sit, and if your clients were also your neighbors, you could save some money on gas. Further, the folks that I have hired, left the corporate world and turned their passion for animals into successful businesses. I’m sure you will agree that you can’t underestimate the importance of having a trustworthy, pet-loving person to help you take care of your fur kids.

    Anyway, I hope this helps and/or inspires other ideas. Good luck!


  17. So sorry to hear about your father’s passing. Condolences.

    Looks like the mortgage amount is about $100k. But, the house will sell for around $290k (let’s assume a lower price of $275). That’s $175k in equity. So that equity plus the 500k in the inherited IRA is a pretty great nest egg/ stash. You are very close to being barista FI (essentially you have enough saved to just let it ride in VSTAX until your traditional retirement age). Therefore, you really don’t need to save super aggressively (unless you want to).

    You are a hustler and hard worker, not to mention a saint for taking care of all the animals! But on Vet School. Tread Carefully!

    My father and father-in-law are retired veterinarians and my wife and I went to professional school (law, not vet) and I think you will not see the return on your investment for a long time and going to Vet school will not get you as close to your dream as you’d like. First, Vet school is a hard professional school to get into (very few schools and lots of students who want to be vet). Penn’s website had tuition at $47K a year. But, that’s just tuition. You will have the “cost” of lost income. And, I’m pretty sure Vet school is 4 years long. So that’s 188K in tuition and $190,272 in lost wages (just from full-time job – it Etsy and Summer job will probably have to stop during Vet School).

    $378,272 .00 for vet school.

    Now you do have enough in the IRA to cover tuition (so no student debt). But, you’ll have to do your due diligence on the job prospects once you graduate. Google says vet salary average is 106K ($46K to $164K range).

    But most importantly if your desire and goal is to work with animals, then it seems to me that Vet school and being a vet is a pretty drastic way to make that happen. Other options. Work on a farm. Vet Tech. Volunteer at a shelter. Seems like you work with 4H right now. Flip that into more work or volunteering.

    Sorry, I wrote this post pretty quickly, but I think my point was that if you and your husband work and save for the next few years you can probably become financially independent (you’ve got a great start) and then you can spend your time on your passions.

    1. Thank you JWheeland for crunching the numbers! I have also considered other options like working on a farm and volunteering with 4H. Right now, I volunteer with a cat shelter. The cat shelter operates out of a modified house with 60 cats-mostly in cages. I’d like to volunteer at the humane society or SPCA to get a better sense of what working in that environment would be like. Unfortunately, the closest location is 45 minutes away.

  18. Unless there is a very, very good reason for Harry to have the job he does or the figure is missing a zero, he needs to find a different job, stat.

    Don’t go to vet school. You’ll spend several years in school and enter a saturated field. If your heart is set on working with animals, go the certified vet tech route. The pay isn’t great, but you won’t leave university with med-school levels of debt and no job that pays a salary that’ll pay back those loans.

    Fix your septic tank. Known issues with it being on its last legs will send any potential buyer running, and in the end you’re going to be stuck fixing it before you sell.

    Has Harry used up his GI Bill? If not, he could make more money by going to school than what he’s making in his job. A lot more.

  19. I agree with Mrs. Frugalwoods about not going to vet school. Especially since it seems like you guys are still trying to find yourselves.
    Also, Harry needs to bring in more money. He’s spending most of his $460 a month salary–if that’s not a typo–on therapy. Also, I don’t know why Harry has therapy every week but when you’re working more, you don’t have time to dwell on your problems. I’m not trying to be mean, just what I think.

    1. I just have to reply because “not having time to dwell on your problems” is pretty offensive. I’m not sure why he is in therapy, but that’s not how mental health works.

      I have an excellent full time job. It doesn’t negative the effects of PTSD. I go to therapy weekly. Working more won’t change that.

    2. Did I read your comment correctly? Yes, that was mean and something not usually seen on this site! Often, it’s wise to keep your opinion to yourself.

    3. “if you’re working more you don’t have time to dwell on your problems” I’m sorry but for many people who are in therapy this is simply not true. Please be more sensitive to mental health issues that are very real.

    4. Wow. Just Wow.

      I’m not sure why Harry is in therapy (and it’s quite brave of him to admit that since your comment is an example of the stigma people who seek mental health treatment face), but “not having time to dwell on it” is not going to make it go away. It very well may make it worse. Your comment was uncalled for.

    5. Wow. Not only was it mean but completely inaccurate. If you had some expertise in the area, great, thanks for lending it — but clearly you don’t. You don’t have an understanding of what mental illness is, how it’s treated OR the stigma involved with mentions of mental illness and how harmful responses like this are.

      Perhaps you’re not aware but there is an effort to encourage folks to speak about mental illness and treatment freely (and part of that involves not being put down re it) so that more people feel comfortable and safe acknowledging their mental health situations and getting the appropriate help. In case this is not obvious — this is a cause for the greater good of all society. I would suggest you look into some information about mental health and mental health stigma before making unhelpful comments such as these. (I’m not trying to be mean, just what I think.)

    6. I am a psychotherapist. Jennifer, I understand you say you are not trying to be mean, but your comment is offensive and demonstrates your ignorance of the nature of mental and behavioral health care services. Your comment minimizes the distress that anyone who has ever sought out mental health services has experienced. Mental health care IS health care. Working more is not health care! Would working more help someone with diabetes to not require life-saving daily insulin? Would working more help a cancer patient heal? No. Work is not health care.

      Harry, please don’t stop going to therapy based upon uneducated opinions. I am proud of you, Harry, for being real about your need for therapy and for seeking mental health treatment. Way to go!

      Now, if you want to know how to reduce the costs of psychotherapy, here are a few tips: First, see if there are EAP benefits through your workplace or Sally’s. This is separate from health insurance and covers anywhere from 3-10 visits IN FULL per year or event, if your therapist is on the panel. That could save you a few hundred dollars a year right there, perhaps without needing to change therapists. You need to call the EAP yourself and get a preauthorization number to give to your therapist.

      Also, depending upon the complexity of your diagnosis/diagnoses and concerns, would seeking out a graduate intern be feasible? They are generally either free or available for a low fee $10-20 per session, and you have the benefit of having your treatment monitored by a clinical supervisor. Contact local mental health agencies and ask if they have interns available.

      You can ask if your therapist has a sliding fee scale, or a discount for paying in full at time of service, or a military discount. Is there a VA near you? If so, perhaps you qualify for free or low cost treatment. Also, universities and colleges with masters and higher level social work, counseling, and psychology programs may offer free clinics.

      Just a few ideas. But if you are making progress with your current therapist, stay the course and cut costs elsewhere. A good therapist is worth their weight in gold. Best wishes on your healing journey.

  20. I think “doctor on demand” has therapy sessions as well. I’ve only used the physician side of the service, but it was $40 for the visit. I wonder if that’s a way to reduce the cost of therapy.
    Thanks for sharing your story!

    1. Thank you I’ll look into this. The reason the cost of therapy is so high is because Harry is without health insurance. His employer doesn’t offer it and the cost of including him on my health insurance is more than the cost of the shared penalty for tax purposes. Harry just recently started going to therapy. We hope that this will be a short-term option (maybe 6 months) as it was for me when I was in therapy.

      1. Hold on, this makes me really nervous for you. The tax penalty is one thing, but what about the cost of care if something happens to him? An ER visit for something like a broken leg would be thousands of dollars. Unless there is something I’m missing please reconsider not having health insurance.

      2. No health insurance is absolutely a recipe for big financial disaster. The risk is huge for your financial future. Definitely reconsider to find a way to make it work. New job for him or new job for you with better partner benefits etc

      3. I left my job this year, and I was the one who carried the health insurance for our family. It was a tough decision to make for many reasons, but one of the top reasons it took me so long to make that decision was the cost of healthcare. We ended up on my husband’s plan, which costs us $1250/mth, previously we were spending $600/mth on mine. The cost of his insurance pre-tax is the same as it would be on an Obamacare plan after tax. I refuse to go for even 1 day without health insurance, even at this astronomical cost.

        I mention this because my career is in radiology – x-rays and CT. Specifically I am working right now in a level 2 emergency room, and have horror stories of people doing what you are doing…going without health insurance. I cannot stress to you enough the importance of having health insurance. My husband has tried to convince me that we do not need it at the cost we are paying because we are “healthy”. However, the financial ruin that can happen in an instant because of no healthcare is terrifying. If your husband became ill with cancer, had a heart attack, fell, developed appendicitis, car accident….any number of things could have you on the path to bankruptcy in a heartbeat.

        Please reconsider getting health insurance immediately.

        1. Agreed! Please reconsider Harry’s health insurance options. I am about your age and had to have an emergency appendectomy a few years ago. With health insurance, it cost me around $1000. Still a lot of money, but I cannot imagine the costs had I not have health insurance.

      4. No insurance is dangerous! I was totally healthy until l wasn’t. Without insurance l would be looking at $2+ million. Frankly, some of my treatments were even going to happen without proof of ability to pay.

  21. I would look at studies about the ROI of a DVM, especially for females. Spoiler alert: it isn’t great.
    I don’t think I’d recommend it, especially as a second career.

  22. Having worked at an animal shelter before, I think you’re right on with your analysis, Sally: it’s very rewarding but the pay is low. I love Liz’s suggestion to consider going for a vet tech degree at a local CC. Alternatively, if you do decide to pursue vet school but need to get those pre-reqs under your belt, you should be able to get those wrapped up at a CC as well.

    I really empathize with your situation as I’m going through something similar: I do not find my job rewarding and am looking to make a change. Although I tell myself to suck it up and just do it, we spend so much of our lives at work that I do think it’s important to feel good/content about our occupations. I truly hope that you find a job that you love. I’m wishing you and Harry all the best.

    1. Thank you 76K Project! I too tell myself to suck it up, but as you said we spend so much of our waking hours working that getting up every day and going to a job that you don’t like is challenging. I also hope you find a job that you love.

  23. I agree with the recommendation about not going to veterinary school, unless the ONLY career you envision providing you long term satisfaction is veterinary medicine. I am currently a surgery resident – although medical school/residency and veterinary school are not the same thing, what is common to both is that for the costs to be worth it (school loans, time spent training, sacrifices you make for years to get to the point where you can make a higher salary) – this must be something you are absolutely die-hard passionate about, where you can’t see yourself doing anything except healthcare. Training is neither cheap nor easy, and with veterinary medicine, there is no guaranteed reimbursement/demand for your skills the way there is in medicine (especially surgical subspecialties). Another thing to keep in mind – there are far fewer veterinary schools in the country than medical schools with highly variable entrance requirements, so many people say that it is hard to get into veterinary school than medical school, though obviously I can’t speak from personal experience.

  24. Just wanted to chime in because I’m from the Philly area and currently live one town over from Simsbury! Hit me up if you want to be friends 🙂 I’ve found a decent amount of arts and culture here actually. There’s lots of theater/concerts in Hartford. I like the New Britain Museum of American Art. Real Artways in Hartford is always playing indie movies and has art exhibits and such. I’ve been meaning to check out the Storyteller’s Cottage right in Simsbury, they have tons of author events and cool literary-themed parties and book clubs and writing workshops. I’m taking a drawing class at the Farmington Valley Arts Center right now—they have open studio tours and all kinds of courses. For concerts, there’s Infinity Hall in Hartford and Norfolk, and Bridge Street Live in Collinsville. I’ve found that most of the bands I want to see are usually playing New Haven or Northampton, each an hour away. Let me know you’re into and happy to offer more ideas!

  25. Wife of a vet here – I’d say a hard no to that path. There’s the debt issue – most vets leave school with between 150-300K in loan debt and starting salaries here in very high COL California are between 80-90K. I paid for my husband’s living expenses, he had scholarships that covered half his tuition and he still left with 30K in debt. Then there’s the the reality of the job – if your interest in veterinary medicine is because you like helping animals, it’s actually a fairly terrible profession. You sound like a responsible pet owner but sadly you are in the minority there. A “good” client encounter for my husband is often telling people their beloved pet has terminal cancer and then euthanizing that pet. This is multiple times per week. A “bad” client encounter is being yelled at because vet care costs money or trying to negotiate with people who neglect or abuse their pets, This is most of his work week. He gets a happy owner and dog maybe 1/3 of the time. Veterinarians have the highest rate of suicide of any profession!!!

    Vet tech is a better ROI but it’s a very challenging and underpaid job. Techs make slightly high than minimum wage here in CA. I say keep it a hobby – sorry for the downer of a post – but the reason it’s insanely hard to get into vet school is because there are so many young animal lovers who think it will be a fulfilling career cuddling puppies. That’s some days but not many.

    1. Thank you Sam. Although, I have been told to expect the experiences you mentioned (euthanasia, bad pet owners and abuse/neglect), no one has defined them in terms of time spent on the job. I appreciate the insight from so vets (and their wives).

  26. I have never commented on one of these but always read them with interest. I have to link to this New York Times article that I read a few years ago and it made a huge impression on me – it is all about how many vets have a huge amount of debt and regret getting into the field:
    Not to dissuade you from following your passion but important to read about the possible troubles. Also, a vet I met once said that unfortunately you spend a lot of time “putting down” sick pets (and comforting their devastated owners) rather than helping them get better, which is kind of a bummer to do all day but the reality is that it’s a big part of the job. Kudos to you on putting your information out there and soliciting feedback!!

  27. We live in Philadelphia and love it so, so, so much. The cost of living and real estate can be super reasonable if you look outside Center City and other “hot” areas (Fishtown, Northern Liberties, University City, South Philly, etc.). And, there are many free or low cost options for activities. Come baaack!

    That being said, could you try to find a job working for Penn that would provide tuition reimbursement for vet school? That could be a game changer. With your masters, I bet there would be several job options within the Penn system that could be a good fit.

    Excited to see everyone’s suggestions and hear what you decide to do in a future update!

  28. Re the career change, I’d highly recommend you both read the Designing Your Life book and do the exercises contained within. They have a process for figuring out what you want to do, and how to map a plan of action once you know. It also sounds like you’ve fallen into the pet-parent/frugal trap of not putting out roots in a new place, which may be why you’re not as happy in CT as PA. Building a social/professional network takes time and (sometimes) money to do – but it’s also a good way to learn about career paths and discover information first hand before jumping in. I would suggest you network to meet with other nonprofit professionals and vets working the fields you want to target – if they’re in PA, set up informational interviews over phone or Skype, use vacation time to go back for a week and have in person meetings, attend networking events, or conferences. These conversations are a good way to test your assumptions about what you want to do, and give you a chance to “rewrite” your skills and experience in the language of the field you want to get into.

  29. I’d consider moving in with your aunt – you could try that for a few months or a year or even a few years . Even if you are helping with her home expenses or giving her a small rent of $500 a month (say), this could be a huge savings . Plus you could live there while your house is on the market, and even consider renting the house out for extra income each month. What are the rental rates for homes in your current area? Would it be beneficial for you two in the long term to have an asset like this (minus expenses each year plus taxes and insurance, etc.)

    You can also look into jobs that pay for your education – on the lower paying end atStarbucks, if you work 20 hours a week for two years they will later pay for your education so long as you continue working there. There are also higher paying jobs that will pay for education as well.

    I like the vet tech idea to dip your toes in , along with the nonprofits that light you up like the ASPCA.

    Keep going Girl, you are doing great!!

  30. The line “Harry’s music and sports betting. Grr…” caught my eye. Both the pitfalls of gambling and the disunity in that ‘grrr’ are concerning. I want to believe I’m seeing a mountain in a molehill, but….

    1. Yes. I was in a relationship for seven years with a partner (also a former military vet) who I supported financially most of the time we were together who had some undiagnosed mental health issues and addictive, costly behaviors that made me feel ‘grrr’ too. It got way out of hand and ended badly. No judgment here whatsoever for either of them but I’m worried about Sally, especially in light of losing a parent recently, and I hope she has a good support system.

      1. +1. There are a lot of red flags here and I’m also worried about Sally. In addition to the music and sports betting, “Harry wants to own a home outright along with some land (enough that we don’t see our neighbors)” made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, both for the fact that he seems awfully anxious to spend money he didn’t earn after you already paid for his schooling (Why didn’t he use the GI Bill?) and that it further isolates you when you’re already having difficulty making connections.

        I’ve been there, done that too and I apologize if I’m projecting some of my own experiences on to your situation.

        Please be sure to assemble your ‘Team You’ and keep a close eye on your assets.

  31. As somebody in a science profession, I want to echo some of the advice you’ve already received about going back to school- either for veterinary school or for environmental science. For vet school, you’ll have to attend two years of community course work just to get your pre-reqs, plus take several professional placement exams and get high enough scores to be considered. Then 4 years of schooling (if you get into a school, and you may have to relocate again to go the school you get in), and then another 2 years of specialty training, and then you can start looking for permanent positions. That is at least 8 years away for you to be able to start pursuing your dream. Not to mention that while you are in your pre-req classes and the first coouple years of vet school, you’ll actually have very little professional interaction with animals, and if you are feeling burned out now, you will be doubly so when you have to quit your volunteering in order to study. I’m not saying this is an impossible dream- many people do pursue vet/ med school later in life, but you need to have a really clear vision of what you want to do before making that choice and those sacrifices (and I doubt you will ever make enough income to offset the financial and opportunity cost).

    Now, for environmental work- I would also hesitate to suggest more schooling, but you do have a lot of options to pursue this professionally without a science background. You have a lot of translatable experience, and don’t discount that. One thing that stuck out to me as an idea is something law-related or policy related. You could look into becoming a clerical specialist for environmental law at a law firm- you start out with a decent salary typically, and many times you can negotiate with the firm to pay for law school while you are working (if you want to become a full-time lawyer). From your previous work experience, it sounds like you have the skills that would be particularly suited to this kind of work. Then you can work in industry, for a company, for a government agency, etc. There are a lot of possibilities. If you really are interested in going into research science, you could always look for part-time work as a laboratory technician, which is an entry level position in a lab (no, or minimal lab experience needed). You could try out how you like the field and the work without also giving up the job you have now, and if you find that you love it, you can go back to school. If you find out you hate it, there is very little loss.

    Also, $100 per session for therapy does seem pretty high. I definitely suggest keeping up with it (I think everybody should go to therapy! It’s great!), but I wonder if there is a way to bring the cost down, either with insurance, or with the therapist he is seeing, or maybe reducing sessions to once every two weeks (if that is a good idea for his health right now).

    Either way, best of luck!!

  32. Yay (as always) for Mrs. Frugalwoods!! I totally agree that there’s a big quality of life issue at stake that’s tied up in Harry & Sally’s money question.

    I wonder if “Harry’s” dream job as a sports broadcaster might be closer than he thinks. Don’t wait for someone to hire you—start a YouTube channel, build an audience, build a portfolio of awesome work. This may very well lead to a traditional job offer. Or you could start your own business if your audience becomes engaged enough for you to market a sports-related newsletter or online course, which could easily replace and exceed the $460/mo you’re currently pulling in.

    Double ditto on this for “Sally”—you’re already rocking some side hustles, so why not turn your entrepreneurial spirit toward the areas you’re truly passionate about? Frugalwoods is a great example of how you can take a topic you’re passionate about and turn it into a livelihood. An environmental or animal-lover blog (even a blog about your own adorable menagerie and at-home pet care) could be a way to try out your dream job in a low-stakes way—keep a day job for as long as you need/want to and avoid big-ticket education costs.

    Like Mrs. Frugalwoods said, you’ve already got waaay more credentials than you realize. You can start doing what you love right now.

  33. Given Harry’s military service, he may be eligible for some benefits from VA – these include health care, home loans, employment, etc. If you haven’t already, it might be worth exploring what benefits are available. This site is a good starting place that covers the many benefits available and how to apply: Veteran Service Organizations – like the VFW, DAV, and others – are also very helpful with navigating the benefits process – might also be worth contacting one of these.

    Good luck and wishing you all the best!

  34. A lot of great comments here, so I’ll just add my one observation. You mentioned that when you first moved to Philly you hated it, so you moved to Connecticut. Now you find that you hate Connecticut. If you do want to move back to Philly, by all means do so. (I lived there for 2 years and loved it). I just wonder if the issue goes deeper than the location and even deeper than the job. Those seem like easy things to blame for unhappiness, but the root may lie somewhere else. Good luck!

  35. I agree here about fundraising jobs–there are a lot of non-profit organizations in the Philly burbs (I work for one!) and many are ones that support animals and working as a fundraiser and/or communications employee for an animal-related organization should not be too difficult to find. Providence Animal Center in Media is one in particular that comes to mind that does seem to have a budget for staffing. I have Indeed job alerts for anything with a specific software name (Raiser, for Raiser’s Edge, a commonly used donor management software in fundraising) so any time I see something pop up with that, I see if it’s something I’m interested in (as I love my current job, but I am looking for a shorter commute). So if there is a topic and/or skill-set you have interest in, add an Indeed alert to get the ball rolling on the job search.

    I also agree that taking your home off the market, re-evaluating the price, and speaking with another realtor or home expert on why your home isn’t selling might help. After next month, you don’t get a lot of people looking for a home unless they are job-move related, and the longer your home sits on the market, the less likely people will want to look at it (as they will think something’s wrong since it still hasn’t sold and not even give your home a chance). I don’t know if Connecticut is like that, but here in the Philly area, homes don’t sell during football season, lol, so I know last year when the Eagles made it to the Superbowl, it really delayed a lot of home-shopping sales til late winter in 2018.

    I would say that although income is an issue for you guys, one thing you have going for yourself is the very large retirement assets you currently have. Not that I would advise stopping saving for retirement, but if you can get a job you like in an area that works for you, as long as you can live within your means and not get into credit card debt. if you both are happy, then that works, even if you don’t have too much left over to save for retirement (just never withdraw from what you have). You have more in retirement now than most people have when they reach retirement age, so that is a big accomplishment.

    If the area you’re looking at moving back to is MontCo (near Lansdale), it is a pricier area (compared to where I live in DelCo) but I have friends in Bethlehem where the COL is even cheaper and it’s not a bad drive to Lansdale area (if that’s where you’d be working). We got our small twin house for minimal money in DelCo but in PA you have to take property taxes into consideration as that can add to your mortgage costs (as school funding is heavily subsidized by property taxes, and that can vary widely between school districts). It might be best to find an apartment or rental-home that allows dogs to live in for a year or two before you figure out where you want to move to.

    I would wait on vet school. It’s a very HIGHLY competitive program to even get into, and if you don’t get into Penn but a school in a different area, you’d be hard-pressed since you’d have to up and move again. Also, if you complete the program, where you work affects your earning potential. If you were open to moving to rural areas as a Vet after you finish the program, I recommend that route, but for city living, depending on the area, there may be a lot of vets in the area so it may not be as lucrative financially, and it would be more difficult to pay off any accrued student loans. I know in Central PA, where there are lots of farms, you can make a good living being a vet (especially if you specialize in farm animals and horses), but in my neighborhood, there are 4 vets within a 3 mile radius, so it’s a bit more competitive. Just something to keep in mind. (Dentists are another thing that are a dime a dozen in our area since there are two dental schools.)

    1. FYI, you will not make a good living in Central PA with a large animal practice. Rural large animal practices, in general, make far less as farmers simply can’t afford to pay very much. The margins on farming are very slim if negative right now. I just had this conversation with a VetSci major at PSU as she came to me to chat about alternative career paths. Her rose-colored glasses have been removed as far as vet school. I will say that PennState VetSci program does not sugar-coat veterinary practice and makes sure that students hear the reality from many different types of practices. Sally, I would suggest that if you do want to continue to considering vet school that you look beyond salary averages and really dive into the day to day of being a practicing vet.

  36. Thank you for sharing your story and putting yourself out there, Sally! As someone who has an advanced degree in an environmental field I would not encourage someone to go down this path. Caring about the environment is an honorable thing, but I have come to realize that one does not necessarily need to obtain a degree(s) to pursue this. The working degree in many environmental related field is a masters, so unless you want to go through a rigorous grad program (and all the associated stress), then this is something to consider. Also this field is extremely difficult to get stable work in. Many jobs are temporary, lasting 6-9 months at a time and will require you to pick up and move frequently. As someone with a spouse, a home, pets etc….this is really tough to manage. Some folks make it work, but it’s not for everyone. Finally the job market is super saturated… Lots of biologists and not many jobs. For the level of education I have, I am underpaid and underutilized and have been trying to find a new job for a few years with no luck. That’s just me though! As Ms. Frugalwoods mentioned, with your skills in data analysis and your work with nonprofits, you might be able to work for an environment-centric nonprofit or NGO. There is a lot of behind the scenes work that goes into conservation work and environmental stewardship work and I bet you could transfer your skills! If you are interested in reading more about being a biologist Lindsay at the Notorious Debt keeps an awesome blog (it’s also a personal finance blog too!!) Anyway, good luck with everything!

    1. Thank you EJ. I’ll check out Notorious Debt. I love reading personal finance blogs. Of course, I’m partial to Frugalwoods. She’s the best!

  37. I second Mrs. FWs hesitation about a veterinary degree. I work at a university with a vet school, and the total cost of getting a DVM degree is around $150K. And that doesn’t include any undergraduate prerequisites you’d have to take before you can even apply. I would take a hard look at the numbers, and look at the cost of getting the degree vs. the income you could expect to have afterwards, especially if you choose to work in a shelter or other nonprofit, where salaries are lower.

  38. I’m concerned about the plan to go back to school to become a veterinarian. Here’s why. I left my career to go back to school to become a registered nurse and I am still on that path, but what universities don’t tell you is that they have limited space in their programs and only the top scorers get in to those programs. Any grades that were lackluster the first time a student went to school will come back to haunt you, even if they were acceptable to your first degree program.

    Many veterinary schools are harder to get into than medical schools due to the number of applicants. I would recommend she meets with an academic advisor and takes some online courses while keeping her regular job. This will help her make an informed choice about going back to school.

    Good luck.

  39. I was also wondering about the figure for Harry’s salary. Is it because this was the monthly average including the months that he was unemployed? It might make more sense to use his actual monthly amount for planning going forward?

  40. Does Harry have VA benefits? My legally blind, medically retired son-in-law was an active duty Marine for 9 years with 3 tours in the sandbox. He is in college now, full time with two classes a week he tutors plus he helps raise my two granddaughters. Therapy is non-negotiable. Thank you Harry for your service to our country. Sally I’m sorry about your dad. How wonderful he left you and your siblings a nice inheritance.

    I agree vet school is not necessarily the nirvana you think it would be. I also can’t work with shelters because it’s so heartbreaking. My daughter does who has decided on no children (Thank God I had that surprise 3rd daughter who gave me two granddaughters)! Sally you have a great education! I agree with everyone who says use it to explore other possibilities.

    Without knowing more about Harry’s issues its hard to give advice. It took my SIL about a year to figure out what he was going to do, going through VA voc rehab and finally on his own realizing what his focus would be. If Harry’s interests are sports and broadcasting, is there a career track around that. My middle daughter has a friend who along with her husband work in public relations for sports teams.

    There is nothing wrong with having a job to make money to live and have your passion in your spare time. I wonder if working in your passion would make it less of a passion. I know people might argue that point but sometimes work is just work. As an example people have told me I should sell my quilts on Etsy, and I honestly think it would be not as fulfilling a hobby if I did that.

    I hope the feedback helps you and Harry some food for thought. You really have a good start and are ahead of us in savings I’m embarrassed to say, and we are both 60!

    Sometimes if you start looking at life and just being grateful that can help you look at things differently. Uh oh I’m starting to sound like a mom! I’ll stop now. Again please thank Harry for his service.

    1. Thank you Cheryl. I find that baking on Etsy does take something away from the enjoyment I get out of it when I bake for family and friends/co-workers.

      1. That is so interesting. I have a PhD in a field I fell in love with and am still in love with (have been all my life). It is by far the top worst job market, and I had a rough time getting a job. During my post-doc years I was told by many many admirers of my cooking to start a restaurant, write a cookbook (they’ll do all the work, just jot down your recipes) etc. All that time all I could think was, how much I enjoy my cooking and how guarded I feel to not sell it for the fear of loosing that enjoyment. Real food for thought, isn’t it?

        In addition, I also recently bought a house of similar age that needs some repairs/updates. Some updates I knew to expect, other repairs and the shocking price-tags are depressing me so that I haven’t enjoyed my cooking since the house purchase. My frugal apartment living seem so blissful now and I miss it. Reading yours trials made me feel less alone. So thank you.

  41. Hubby can contact local religious institutions who often run talent nights, etc. He may be able to get jobs as an MC or announcer of these events.

  42. I’m married to a veterinarian, it has to be for the passion of the role and not money. Clinical veterinary work has a high burnout rate / suicide rate. There are lots of ways to help animals in the four to six years of education it would take to become a vet.

  43. Obviously, 100% home cooked meals saves the most money, but sometimes a few managed splurges is the best way not to completely fall off the wagon.
    –I’m a big fan of supplementing takeout with a bag of pre-chopped fresh or frozen veggies from a cost and health perspective (more expensive than chopping my own but less than ordering an appetizer or another dish)
    –Did you know Domino’s carryout large 2 topping pizzas ordered online are $7.99 + tax across the US? At that price, it’s more of a caloric than a money splurge. My husband and I eat 2 slices each so we get 2 meals.

    Postage/shipping as part of your business isn’t really part of your spending (unless those businesses are operating at a loss)

  44. I think most of the advice here has been spot on, particularly giving serious thought and due diligence research into veterinary medicine, prior to pursuing such. That includes talking to at least a handful of veterinarians who have been practicing for at least five years. The other glaring issue which has not been addressed is your desire to have children, If I recall your goals correctly.
    I also went back to medical school five years later then is typical. Even ignoring the prerequisites you mentioned, I believe it is a seven-year endeavor at least. Please don’t under estimate the discipline, sacrifices and energy required. Although I and many other women have done such, it involves extremely significant Requirements of your time. And although I am certainly no expert in the veterinary field – the changes in medicine itself have been enormous just in the past five years, so make sure this is addressed when you research this goal. That being said, best of luck to you, just don’t go in with blinders on!

  45. I think your analysis is spot on. My only two comments:

    – Can Harry get a better paying job? If he did any kind of technical equipment work in the Navy, he stands to make a lot more money – engineering, technician, field service. These skills are in high demand. I’m an engineer and all 3 of our current equipment engineers and techs are former military (no degree).

    – I would put an unequivocal no on Vet school. I spend quite a bit of time on the MMM boards, and there are a few veterinarians on there. From there comments, and general “college” costs, I did the analysis. It does not pay unless you have someone else footing the bill. If you do the analysis (copied below) – In fact, my best buddy’s niece wants to be a vet, and I told her the same thing.

    Google tells me that 4 years of vet school costs between $147k and $250k. So let’s split the difference on $200k.

    $200k of loans, using the government website, will require monthly payments of $2121 for 10 years.

    The average starting salary of a veterinarian in 2017 was $60k. The median of all veterinarians is $88k.
    >$25,000 of the $60,000 starting salary will go to loan repayment.

    That’s a hard no.

  46. I tried to sell my house for almost a year with a realtor and then fired them and sold it myself. I put an ad in the newspaper and it sold within a couple weeks. The realtor charges 6% so I was able to lower the price of the house and the lower price is what made the difference. Just a thought.

    1. I was wondering the same thing! It sounds like your realtor is not doing much to help sell your house in terms of advertising, pricing help, etc. I do think you need to get it on the MLS, though. If you didn’t want to go totally DIY, my sister had great luck with Redfin both purchasing a home and selling a home (they are flat fee, I believe).

      Mr. Money Mustache also had a great post on how to sell a home with some great DIY options:

      Good luck!

  47. I am wondering if Harry could get therapy for free at the VA? I do know that it is important to have a therapist you know and trust, and if the VA does not have a therapist that has helped, and his current therapist is excellent, I certainly understand. Sometimes the extra cost is definitely worth the benefit. I have had a therapist who was worth their weight in gold. I have also had one, that made me even more depressed (I am not assuming that is Harry’s health issue, I am just stating that a good therapist is worth the money, if one at the VA is not working out). On the other issues, I would sell the house, even at a loss, and move back to PA if you were happier there. Life is too short to be miserable. However, I would not make that move without having jobs lined up. I would not go to vet school. It is so expensive to get a practice up and running, after the hideous costs of going to school. I think you are doing relatively well, and best of luck to you.

  48. I am a veterinarian. After those 2 years of prerequisites, you may get in right away or it may take a few years. admission is very competitive, more than human medicine. Average debt load is over 150,000, and can get much higher. Salaries are very low in comparison to debts. New vets are crippled by their debts. You will never pay off this debt or save for retirement.

  49. Several things not all inclusive- she gets no benefit from taking RMDs monthly versus annually. If she takes her RMD in 1 lump early I the year it adds to the cash cushion/emergency fund from the getgo.

    Biggest issue is veterinary school and pre-requisite STEM courses. Penn is expensive as are most vet schools and not sure what grants/scholarships are available. The biggest issue is time out of the job market. She would likely not be done with school and required internships until her 40s. That means remaining earning years are compressed- will she make back that investment? And she will likely not have total control over where she can get a vet job so would likely have to uproot her household again. I’d suggest animal related volunteering. Besides Humane Society she could offer her services on the weekend to a vet practice either as a personal assistant to an individual vet practice or at the front desk of a larger practice. Plus as you mention she could pursue nonprofit animal related organizations.

  50. A couple other things I neglected: if she doesn’t taking RMDs annually she will have to accelerate and take the whole amount within 5 yrs of the end of the year of her dad’s death- big tax bill! If she needs more cash there is nothing preventing her from taking a distribution larger than the RMD. And she could somewhat counteract the RMDs by turning around and doing deductible IRA contributions for herself and her spouse f they have enough combined earned income to do so.

  51. I wanted to be a vet also in my younger years, so I majored in zoology and minored in chemistry. In those years that kind of a background was absolutely essential in order to get into vet school. I suspect that things haven’t changed much, but you need to do some serious research before you even consider vet school. In my case (I came’ from a poor background, put myself through undergrad, and student loans hadn’t been invented yet) I just plain couldn’t afford to go. Sometimes we have to change paths because of the reality we are facing at the time. After much trying to climb job-wise (hard to do as a female in those years), moving to another town and researching the best paying opportunities, after 3 years of a junk job, I ended up as an environmental specialist handling public contracts in that area. That and my side jobs and “fixing up and selling” houses, I ended up with a comfortable retirement and a fulfilling career.

    I won’t go into the buying of houses here as I have put up a number of posts on that in other folk’s stories, but I will talk about selling here as that is your big immediate problem. You have run into the same problem I did when the bottom fell out of the local economy when I was still married and living in Seattle. It’s hard to believe now, but in those years the entire area was dependent on Boeing. At the time they were heavily into government contracts, and when they lost a large government contract, the layoffs were horrendous, houses were on the market all over the place and folks were putting furniture on their front yards trying to sell their possessions. My husband was among the layoffs and headed for LA to find another job, but I fortunately had a job elsewhere. I ended up giving the house away as there was no way we had enough equity to pay a realtor. there was too much competition in the sales arena, and I ended up finding a real estate investor and giving the house away in order to save our credit rating. I learned a hard lesson in sussing out the local economy in any place I considered living from then on. Unfortunately, you are in a similar position.

    Keep up with what is going on in the economy. Connecticut used to be the home of the wealthy, was loaded with insurance companies and other firms with high paying jobs, but those days are over. Many of the higher paying firms have left Connecticut due to the taxes and cost of living, and in order to survive the State, and probably local entities, have kept raising taxes so more and more businesses keep leaving. All this info, as well as the shops closing, etc., is easily found on the internet in the many news channels. If you keep up with the economic news, it will eventually sink in what is going on in your area or State and you can react accordingly (hopefully before the crowd). Obviously you have to get out, and unfortunately you are going to lose money on the house, but better now than later. It may get worse down the road.

    Selling your house: It has to be in top condition in a slow sales area, so get it off the market and do the fix-ups pronto. At the same time start going to open houses to see what the competition is selling for, and finding the best realtors. You need to collect cards from those realtors who show an interest in you as a buyer and want to tell you about all the great things about the house. Skip the realtors who say, “look around and let me know if you have any questions”. You need top realtors in your pocket to make this happen.

    The first key to a fast sale (besides the right realtor) is never give a realtor more than a 3 month listing. They all want at least 6 months, but just tell them you don’t do business that way, and as much as you would like to do business with them, it they can’t accept a 3 month listing you are sadly going to have to find someone else. And do it. It’s been my experience they will take the 3 months as they don’t want to lose a listing.

    The second most important thing is the marketing plan. I insist that they use a two pronged approach to the open houses (yes multiple as in 2 to start with). The first one is for Brokers only. It is on a Friday, and your realtor has to scrounge up every broker in the area and get them there. It will be from 10 AM to 4 PM and the visiting brokers are invited to a brunch and a walk through. They will be told that you will not be accepting offers until Sunday when the open house for the public will be held. Your realtor should provide the munchies, but I always have paper plates, cups, etc. there as well as some extra goodies in the frig in case your realtor comes up short on the munchies. Have water bottles, not coffee. You don’t want coffee spilled on any rugs or furniture. They should have advertised not only to the brokers, but should have ads in ALL social media, Craig’s List as well as ads in any newspapers that are still around. The second open house will be on Sunday from 1 PM to 5 PM (after church) and this date should be in the advertisements.

    I have been lucky in that every house I have sold to date was sold on the first weekend, the last two each at $10,000 each over ask. I don’t expect that for your house as it may take a bit longer due to the fact that it became stale (in RE talk) by being on the market too long. I just bought another fixer house (took me 8 months to find the right deal) and the sales market is slowing down so my current house will go on sale in a couple of weeks and I expect it may take a bit longer this time around. We shall see. Grannie is still always looking for the next adventure.

    The third thing is the price. You will have to realize that you may have to lower your price. Remember that the idea is to SELL the house, not keep it around for months trying to get a higher price. This is what you will find out by going to open houses, get on Zillow and all the other internet real estate listings an watch for “price reductions” coming up all over the place. This will help you figure out what it is going to take to get out. I always check the competition, and price a bit lower (with a firm non-negotiable price) to bring in potential buyers.

    Be aware that the brokers are the ones that will sell the house, not the lookies that will come on Sunday. If this doesn’t work, insist on open houses every week on Saturday and Sunday until you get a sale. If it unfortunately doesn’t sell in 3 months, get another realtor. Don’t stick with a looser no mater how nice they may be. You need a fresh look at the situation from someone new.

    OK, that’s my formula in a nutshell for selling a house. I hope this is some help to you both.

    One thing I felt when I read your story is that you may not yet have bought into the notion of delayed gratification. Review what the Frugalwoods did by slamming jobs and cutting costs to eventually get where you figure out what you both want. I wish you luck.

    1. Thank you Soggysuzzi. You’re very thorough. Our realtor’s contract is ending in September. We’ll decide then whether or not to take it off the market or list with another realtor.

      1. Ok, good for you for thinking things out. I can’t stress enough how important it is to do any repairs prior to putting the house on the market, and that includes the septic system. Also, don’t be afraid of putting the house on the market in the off season. I always try to sell in the winter (but I don’t have the heavy snow etc. that you do, so take this with a grain of mustard) as you will have less competition. It works. I sold one house between Christmas and New Years, but that was probably a fluke.

        Also, has Harry tried to volunteer at any of the local radio stations or PBS. In the arts (which I consider broadcast work to be) the rule is that the world works on who you know. There are several journalists on TV who started in radio, and if he makes himself useful he may be able to sub on the local high school football games, etc. in time. Making connections outside of the “earning job” may open a door or at least give him something to put on a CV. Just a thought. I also agree that you are at a stage where you may want to start applying for jobs at the next highest level. They are out there somewhere. You just have to find them. I feel you have the guts and determination to succeed in any advanced job you may trip over. You can do this, you just have to get through this hard patch. I did it as a single divorced woman with two kids, so you can do it with a husband and four wonderful fur babies.

        1. Chris, you and your husband are very welcome. Each deal is different and if you end up doing what I did to get to where I am now financially (I didn’t know anything about the stock market, etc. when I started in my 30s) you can do well. The only thing I could figure out at the time was the real estate gig as a sideline. Move in, live in it, doll it up, sell it and do it again. Since you will be moving and apparently buying another house, let me give you good folks one more goodie: Always,, ALWAYS buy either the worst house in the neighborhood or the smallest house in the neighborhood. My last house (in another State) was the worst house in a neighborhood of custom homes and fixing it up over time (one project at a time) brought the price up substantially and I did well on the sale. My current house is one of two houses that are the smallest in the neighborhood. That fact alone will raise the sales price. My next house is in what is basically a group of tract homes and also the smallest house in the neighborhood. However, all the neighboring house are large homes with 3 car garages and the seller of my new old house (single story) didn’t do their homework and neither did their realtor and it was priced substantially under what was on the market. If you can swing it, following that notion will help you financially when you sell. If you buy a house in a neighborhood where the houses are all comparable, you will have exact comparisons on price and you will only be able to sell at similar rates to the existing comps in the immediate area. I basically bought the neighborhood in the last two transactions. No immediate comps there so I should do well on this house and on the new old house if I decide to sell. You will learn as you go along, both in the legal transactions and the DIY fixes. Do what you can figure out how to do an hire what you can’t do (usually the big messy stuff). Learn when you need to get a permit, and when you don’t need one. In most areas you need a permit if you have to redo (move, add to, or replace) plumbing or electrical, add ons, etc. Try to work within the existing footprint if you can because every time you pull a permit the property taxes will go up. However, if you need to pull a permit do it. It is a safety issue and could become a problem when you come to sell if a permit was required and you didn’t get one. However there are lots of fixes you can do that are essentially cosmetic so paint and hammer away. If you want to follow this path, be aware that it took me over 8 months to find the current deal, and I was able to hold on selling my current house until I had a new one locked in. The previous deal took well over a year to find and I ended up living in a rental between houses. You have to figure out if you can deal with the time issue or if you want to buy a house NOW. Looking for the right deal frequently takes time and you have to decide if it is worth your time to wait. There is a whole list of ways to buy a house that I did for another Case Study, but I don’t remember which one at the moment. If you want to look for it, it may be of some help when you move. I think it may have been the San Franciso one, but I’m not positive.

        1. Chris: I checked it. It was San Francisco. September, 2017. Look it up. One other note: Always do the landscaping first in your fix ups if the yard needs work (mine always seem to need cleaning up or updating). Source out the best ways to get stuff inexpensively and remember that the plants will be small at first, but time passes and plants and trees grow so when you go to sell the yard will look great. Have fun with this. Think of it a challenge that will enhance your future.

    2. EXCELLENT advice on the home selling side. (Have sold several in 30 days or less in different states.)
      Definitely change agents – take it off the market and start over. Look for someone who has “many” sales a month… 10-ish minimum. Not a coworkers’cousin who dabbles 🙂
      S/he needs to be personable and BUSY and straight with you about what to do or not do to the house.

  52. I want to second (or third or…) what Mrs. Frugalwoods said about exploring how your education and experience can be put to work for animals before going back to school. I have a MS in Biology, loads of research experience, but this has been not at all helpful in finding work in the animal or conservation nonprofit world. There are surprisingly few jobs with these organizations that require advanced (or any) degrees in science or experience in that field. And vet school is sooooo hard to get into (more competitive than med school because fewer schools) and doesn’t usually pay well.

    This is a great jobs site that lists a variety of types of jobs for a variety of animal organizations:

  53. Hi Sally,

    Thank you for sharing your life with us. My sincere condolences on the loss of your father, I can’t imagine your heartbreak.

    When I read the title of your case study, I was expecting to read a passionate story of a lifelong dream to become a veterinarian. While I very much enjoyed your piece, I never came across that passion I was expecting. It doesn’t seem to me like you are dreaming and wishing and hoping to be a veterinarian at all. What does come through is your passion for animals! I have it too and boy is it a good feeling. I’m wondering if you’ve considered certifying as a dog trainer instead?

    The barrier to entry for becoming a dog trainer is much lower. It’s inexpensive and not nearly as time consuming and you can do it on your own time while maintaining the job the currently pays the bills. My husband is becoming a trainer with a program called CATCH (it seems fine, this isn’t an endorsement though, just a place to start googling if you’re interested) Kyra Sundance also offers a trick dog trainer certificate. Both are self study with online exams and assignments.

    You’re clearly very intelligent and great at managing your time and juggling your jobs. I can only imagine how successful you’d be as an entrepreneur in the dog training world. Just something to consider.

    Wishing you and Harry all the best!! -Jana

  54. For the hard well water, you can buy water softener to add directly to the laundry. I believe Borax can be used for this purpose and it may be more cost effective than dedicated water softeners.

  55. Hi, you already are in a strong position with your finances, just a few tweaks as already mentioned to ensure you don’t get into the debt cycle. Your fur babies are lovely and clearly you are a caring couple who love animals. Have you considered buying a house with some decent outdoor space and perhaps opening up a dog boarding kennels? You could learn new skills in the animal field to help with that and jointly run the business. Don’t stress over your unsold house. Get some practical advise around what will make it more saleable. Good luck and live the life that calls out to you. P.S I love your doggie pictures. I just lost my Springer George last week and I miss him desperately.

  56. The only community colleges in PA that offer vet tech programs are Lehigh Carbon and Reading – both outside of Allentown, FYI. There are some very large pro-environment groups in Philly — maybe you would find some employment with a pro environment group and volunteer with, say, one of the anti-puppy mill groups?

  57. My initial reaction was in regards to some of the expenses that look like they may have some room for reduction! I understand the $450 per month grocery bill includes house hold products, but then there another category for Household and Miscellaneous at $195? $645 a month seems a little high for two people for groceries and home goods, I would take a close look at those transactions and see if there might be a generic equivalent of items you may be willing to switch to, perhaps switching from Trader Joe’s to a bargain outlet grocery store entirely and considering bulk preparing meals with low cost ingredients to eat throughout the week. If possible, substitute a reusable option for house hold items that get bought on a reoccurring basis. Could they grow food in a garden in the summer months to help supplement produce or join a local CSA? I would also examine the pet costs/necessities closely as well, $275 seems pretty high in my opinion without knowing if any of the animals have serious health conditions, otherwise perhaps do the grooming and such at home.

    Have they considered working for a site like Rover for additional extra income dog sitting or walking? It’s so easy and a wonderful way to spend more time with animals, getting paid to do it! My partner and I are dog sitters on there over a year now just very part time making about $300 extra per month. My partner was in the Navy too actually and is in his last year of school, we supplement his housing allowance from the GI bill with the dog sitting money and my full time income and it works great for us. Since Sally used her inheritance to pay for Harry’s degree, could Harry use his GI bill benefits to pay for Sally’s degree if she wanted to go back to school? It seems like this is a fair exchange. GI Bills can be deferred to dependents and the living allowance you get for being full time may help off set costs of losing her income if she were to go back, although I do agree with previous comments she has great experience and education already it’s probably not advisable. I am not sure why they didn’t use this instead for his schooling to begin with, it’s a great benefit if being a veteran!

    I agree mental health therapy should not be eliminated and is important part of overall health. I personally am struggling to find cost effective mental health care in my benefits network, I feel as though we as a society need to do better in making these services more affordable and accessible to everyone. I have been researching Better Help ($260 per month) and Talk Space ($196 per month) and may consider one of those options as they are more cost effective for me right now. I know it’s not the same as an in person relationship but might me a good alternative option for Harry too if he was open to it and can help them save. He also should look into getting mental health therapy for free through the VA.

    Perhaps Harry should consider leaving his job all together since the commute is 32 miles away for what seems to be not very much pay, it is probably not worth the cost in wear and tear on his car and gas to get there. He could likely make just as much somewhere closer for minimum wage, or focus full time on dog sitting or even grub hub/uber/lyft driving in the Hartford downtown or near the airport. Has he looked into the shipyard maintenance positions in Groton? We used to live there, many veterans go there after they get out with their experience and make GREAT money something like that would be worth the commute perhaps if he doesn’t mind it.

    Best of luck to you both in whatever you decide to do! 🙂

  58. My initial reaction was in regards to some of the expenses that look like they may have some room for reduction! I understand the $450 per month grocery bill includes house hold products, but then there another category for Household and Miscellaneous at $195? $645 a month seems very high for two people for groceries and home goods, I would take a close look at those transactions and see if there might be a generic equivalent of items you may be willing to switch to, perhaps switching from Trader Joe’s to a bargain outlet grocery store entirely and considering bulk preparing meals with low cost ingredients to eat throughout the week. If possible, substitute a reusable option for house hold items that get bought on a reoccurring basis. I would also examine the pet costs/necessities closely as well, $275 seems pretty high in my opinion without knowing if any of the animals have serious health conditions, otherwise perhaps do the grooming and such at home.
    Have they considered working for a site like Rover dog sitting or walking? It’s so easy and a wonderful way to spend more time with animals! My partner and I are dog sitters on there on the side making about $300/mo. He was in the Navy too actually, now in school, we supplement his housing allowance from the GI bill with the dog sitting $ plus my income and it works great for us. Since Sally used her inheritance to pay for Harry’s degree, could Harry use his GI bill benefits to pay for Sally’s degree if she wanted to go back to school? Seems like a fair exchange. I am not sure why they didn’t use this instead for his schooling to begin with, it’s an amazing benefit of being a veteran!
    I agree mental health therapy should not be eliminated and is important part of overall health. I personally am struggling to find cost effective mental health care too, I feel like we as a society need to do better in making these services more accessible to everyone. I have been researching Better Help ($260 per month) and Talk Space ($196 per month) and may consider one of those options as they are more cost effective, it might be worth looking into. He may also be able to get mental health therapy for free through the VA.
    Perhaps Harry should consider leaving his job all together since the commute is so far for what seems to be not very much pay, it is probably not worth the cost in wear and tear on his car and gas to get there. He could likely make just as much somewhere closer for minimum wage, or even grub hub/uber/lyft driving in the Hartford downtown or near the airport.
    Best of luck to you both in whatever you decide to do! 🙂

    1. ugh sorry for the double comment, I thought it wasn’t showing up because it was too long so I shortened it a bit but now there’s two! Oops!

  59. May I make a quick suggestion about your side hustles, Sally? I know how much time side hustles take (I’m converting mine into a full business soon!). I do wonder if, since the earnings are around $100 each month, time might be spent better elsewhere? I totally get doing something you love that just so happens to earn money! It just sounds like you may need that extra time to focus on school, etc., if the returns don’t match the amount of time you put into them.

    Either way, I wish you guys the best of luck! Your pets are so adorable! 🙂

  60. If you go to vet school, throw your 10 year goals out the window…you’ll be lucky if you can make those goals by 20 years. That being said, if your heart and passion is to be a vet, then do it. However, it doesn’t sound like you actually want to be a vet… you just want to work at a shelter and vet is the only position you figure that pays well. I’m a vet and use to work at a shelter on the East Coast and our large shelter had several white collar positions: clinic director, shelter executive director, various assistant directors such as kennel, cattery, front desk, etc, volunteer and event coordinator (as in she managed the volunteers among other duties, not that she was a volunteer), and an education coordinator. The education coordinator held summer and school break camps at the shelter. She took animals to schools for education. She worked with “junior volunteers” (under 18), special education/disabled adult employment, community outreach and education, etc.

    Animal shelters in the cities and coasts have a lot more money and community outreach than small rural animal shelters that have 1 dog catcher and kennel cleaner. These positions are varied, can be quite rewarding, and while most, except the executive director position, make less than the vet, they are immediately available to you now, with your current skill set, without $200k in student debt.

  61. 1) If you have hard water, add a water softener.
    2) I know people with vet degrees and it sounds like 85 percent of jobs in the field are agriculture factory farming kinds of jobs. A friend of our family has multiple vet degrees and isn’t using them. His last vet job was managing a large rat colony for medical research. He’s 45 and still has vet school debt. Setting up your own practice, on top of school, would be quite a financial risk. Getting into an existing practice servicing pets would be difficult. That said, there are other animal related ways to make money. People sometimes set up boarding facilities, and some will pay a tidy sum for dog training. Those aren’t things that would pay as well, but they’re also a lot less expensive to get into.
    3) This imbalance in your incomes makes me worry for your husband. You are very much carrying the financial weight of the family, and that can be hard on both partners.
    4) Absolutely downsize the house. I know you say you’ll lose 20k, but what would you have spent renting for the time you’ve been in it? Probably close to 20k! There’s a myth that we’ll make money on every real estate transaction. We might not. That’s ok. Especially if you can move into something smaller close to where one of you works, or move to where Harry would have a better job, I say go for it. (Also, it’s ok to rent for a year or two while you figure an area out.)

  62. regarding the inherited IRA – should max fund your 403B to keep that tax sheltered. So…theoretically – take out 18,500 Jan1 each year, and then max out your 403B contributions from your paycheck to $18500 a year.

    Take your property taxes out of your mortgage payment – you’re prepaying your tax bill since its not due every month – but twice a year. That will ensure you have enough free cash flow to pay off your debts.

  63. Hi! I am a paid employee of a dog rescue organization in a major city and I just want to echo what PPs have said about working in veterinary medicine. If you LOVE science and medicine in addition to animals, and are very emotionally sound and think you could handle performing regular/sometimes daily euthanasias on healthy animals (if you’re working at an open-intake shelter), this might be a good option for you, but if you are more strongly attached to the idea of working to help animals in general I would not recommend that route.

    Though you are correct that many rescues and shelters are largely volunteer-run, animal welfare is experiencing a lot of success right now (shelter euthanasias have plummeted since a decade ago!) and there absolutely are paid careers helping to lead and direct this work. My current position is very much a combo platter (a lot of development, communications, fundraising, event planning, volunteer management) but I love it and it keeps me challenged & fulfilled on the daily. When I’m ready to move on or up I see a lot of potential in the field for decently-paid, interesting positions (though I will say decently paid for animal welfare IS considerably less than you’re currently making).

    Another thing to note is that if you’re looking for a paid position in animal welfare, you either need to be willing/able to wait a while for the right one to come along OR be willing to move to a major city where the job pool is simply bigger. I agree with Mrs. FW that with your background and experience, you could jump right in to a more administrative position in animal welfare and see how you like it. Check out the ASPCA, the Humane Society, Best Friends Animal Society, and similar large orgs to get a sense of the paid jobs available. They’re out there–they just might take a combination of luck and good timing!

  64. Hi Sally, thank you for being brave and putting all your numbers out there for everyone to look at. You and your hubby have a lot of items to consider. I agree with the advice of paying off your credit card debt, shoring up your emergency fund & fixing what needs to be fixed on your house. Once that is handled, I would suggest you and your hubby sit down and talk about setting priorities and what that might look like or take to accomplish. Heck go all low tech – write each idea down on a piece of paper and list the pro’s & con’s. That way both of you can actually see the information together. You’ve got a good start going – knowing where your monies are currently going. Now its time for the next steps. You got this!

  65. Sally, I have another thought when it comes to finding work that you love. Instead of trying to figure out “what” you should be doing to make you happy, and “why” you want to do it, have you considered instead figuring out “how” you want to feel? In detail, not in broad strokes. That was the immense life altering switch for me. I started from this thought “I want to be happy to go to work, and happy to come home at the end of the day”. As I walked to and from work that I despised (supervisor in sales for car insurance) , I would focus on that thought and what it felt like. I didn’t care what I would be doing, that was what I wanted to experience.

    After mulling it over during those walks and on my lunch breaks. I eventually figured out other things. I wanted to feel comfortable at work. I wanted to feel intellectually stimulated. I wanted to feel like I was fairly compensated for my work. I wanted to feel *useful*. I wanted to feel proud of the work that I did. I wanted to feel competent. I wanted an employer that was worthy of respect. I wanted to feel satisfied at the end of the day.

    As I went about my work day, every time I experienced that rush of frustration, I would ask myself “what do I want feel instead of this?”

    None of those things have anything to do with a job title or a specific career choice, but had everything to do with how I felt about my life. Within 6 months, I made a radical, insane, crazy move to the field I’m in now in. It had literally never crossed my mind to think of this job before, and I now know I will be in it for 30 or more years. They will have to drag me out at the end of my career. I have never before had such certaintly that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. The difference it has made to my life is immeasurable. It’s been three years and it just keeps getting better.

    Don’t give up on finding work that fulfulls you, but maybe try and let go of your preconcieved notions of what that is. You know what your passions are, but you don’t know the kinds of jobs that already exist that perfectly fulfull that. You simply might not *know* that they exist. Chances are good that your skillset is perfect for something totally obscure and comptetely aligned with what you are looking for, you just need to connect the dots. It will be perfect for you and other people may think you’re insane. Maybe you love all the tedious admin stuff that everyone else hates. Maybe you don’t mind cleaning up dog poop, but you can’t stand e-mail. Maybe you feel fulfulled after a good phone conversation, but you never want to meet another person face to face ever again. Maybe you take exquisite notes that everyone copies. Maybe it’s all about the mission, and you’d feel satisfied knowing that at 72 steps removed, you have helped clear up a natual disaster or an oil spill, because you work the community angle of a policy change that impacted environmental regulation that allowed aid to be released more quickly. Maybe you want your hands directly in it, cleaning oil off birds.

    Maybe you’re just the person for an emerging solar energy company, who needs to do studies and work out the implementation of a 25 yr plan. There are so many things you could *do* that would be fulfilling. so don’t focus on that.

    Focus on how you want to *feel* about your job. It worked for me.

    And that job they’re going to have to drag me out of in 28 years time, with the best co-workers, the least stress, the most laughter, the most amazing intellectual stimulation, the most satisfying schedule, and the best work balance for me?

    911 Operator and Police Dispatcher.

    Just saying. You never know what’s out there that you haven’t thought of.

    1. My middle daughter is a 911 dispatcher and has been for about 10 years. She started in a small town (her hometown) in California, then Charleston, SC for a few years and then to her permanent job in Reno, NV where she met her PO husband and married at age 37 for the first time this past May. She was a medical transcriptionist for many years (I trained her summer going into her senior year of high school). This helped her transition nicely. Her job is pretty stressful with mandatory overtime, but she met her husband dispatching him on a foot chase. My SIL said he had to meet the dispatcher who did such a great job. If I was younger I would consider it. It’s a very important job!

    2. Wow, ok you sound like the ultimate dispatcher. I would love to connect with you and I’m curious about your agency. It sounds like a dream. I’ve worked for two and been in the field fifteen years. I have several friends out on stress leave and lots of us have diagnosed or undiagnosed trauma disorders and little support (they say tough it out and take the next call). When I go to conferences I’m approached by many who feel the same, working long sedentary hours and missing out on their families and lives. But YOU have certainly found a place that is wonderful! I have always wondered if they existed! I would love to learn more.

      1. Heh, don’t get too excited BJ, it’s not heaven for everyone (expecially for those who have been here a long time) and I’m still a complete newbie at 3 years in. But that’s what I was getting at in my original comment. It *is* a stressful job, with difficult hours and specific challenges. It is not a career that ever crosses anyone’s mind as as something enjoyable. I was astounded at how much laughter there was when I went to sit in the first time. But the point is, it’s perfect for me and my specific skillset. All the things that make it difficult and stressful for my coworkers are part of what makes it work for me. I have a large, pre-existing skillset in managing my own emotional and mental health, I am data-oriented, not people oriented, which gives me emotional distance on calls, and I’m a super nerd who goes home after a 12 hr shift to spend more hours on the computer.

        Several key factors: 1) I work for a fairly small city 2) As an integrated dispatch center, we hand off medical calls to EHS directly, we give no medical advice. 3) Just before I was just hired there was an enormous push towards mental health programming and initiatives. We have our own wellness coordinator that works just with us, for the specific problems you mentioned; sedentary work, back problems, mental and emotional stress, nutrition, etc. We somehow miraculously have 2 kitchens, a quiet room, a gym, and a break room available for our use, and are encouraged to use our lunch to nap, work out, or geuinely take a break from the noise in the quiet room. We are also part of the (excellent) police union, with the same benefits and similar vacation (a lot), which is what allows for reasonable work-life balance. It’s the only place I’ve ever worked where people actually say out loud they they get paid enough for the work they do. …and a couple of months age we started getting visits from volunteer therapy dogs every week. It still boggles my mind that this was even brought up as an idea, let alone one that was actually put into practice. I am incredibly, unbelievably fortunate with my specific workplace, and I know it. For some of my coworkers, all the support in the world cannot make up for how the job has changed over the course of their careers, and they are simply counting years until they retire.

        4) Probably most important factor is that I do not work in the U.S. Anywhere else in the world has dramatically lower gun violence and emergency call volume, which, in pure numbers, equates to significantly fewer traumatizing calls due to the smaller proportion of violent crime. Basically, my job is easier because of geography.

        If you are a dispatcher of any kind in the U.S., I have no idea how you do it. I am not surprised by how you describe your job, and I have no solutions for you. I know there are certain states and cities that have a model closer to ours, but overall, it’s really a completely different paradigm.

        A significant number of our members have small farms on the side (beekeeping/pigs/chickens/vegetables) as do I. It’s a wonderfully physical counterpoint to the 100% mental exhaustion that is my work day. On the other hand…I specifically wanted to work somewhere that would use my brain to it’s fullest capacity, so even that is evidence that I found a career that suits me.

        Compatibility with spouse, job and location is I think, a far more useful measure of happiness than passion, over the long run.

  66. I also worry that loving animals does not mean being a vet would be a great life. I love children and did a year in pediatrics after medical school. I spent all my time off crying and was convinced almost everyone was mistreating their children. And I was depressed. Running a summer camp would have been a better choice. How about dog training? Running a dog hotel? Baking dog treats?

  67. Congratulations on the progress you have made so far! I agree with much of what was said above, but really need to echo two things. 1. Pet sitting! I have a friend who takes care of dogs via Rover and she nicely supplements her income that way – she sometimes makes $400 a month and is primarily doing it only on weekends. 2. Your house is definitely too big. I live in 1500 sq feet with two teens, a dog and a cat, so I would definitely downsize ! However, until you can sell the house, I would consider doe short term rentals – a friend rents to traveling nurses who typically have 3 month contracts for work so they only need 3 month rentals. They receive very generous stipends for living. There are websites and Facebook pages specific for this type of rental. I was shocked to hear how many traveling nurses there are-hospitals often use them to fill in for nurses on maternity and other types of leaves!

  68. Thank you for sharing your story! There is a lot of good advice here, but I just wanted to add a suggestion as you think about changing careers and that is doing a skills based resume. I am sure you have a lot of transferable skills that would carry you into the environmental field. I’d try applying with your current skills and see how it goes before investing many years and thousands of dollars into another degree. Good luck with whatever you decide!

  69. An anecdote: I have a friend who was miserable in a PhD program, was volunteering in shelters on the weekend, loved it, went to vet school and just graduated at 36. She’s happy she did it. But she had to start with the prerequisites which took a year or so before even applying. I haven’t gone into the details of cost with her but I think she and her husband did some savvy real estate investing along the way and sold a house to pay off her loans. THAT BEING SAID… the financial investment is no joke. When my 2nd vet friend finished school and started internship, her take home pay was $100 less than the standard monthly loan payment. It’s not for the faint of heart.

  70. You should look into a cheaper cell provider. I use MintMobile. Their plans start at $15/month for unlimited talk, text, and data (throttled after 2 GB). If you want more data, it costs more. You can BYOD, and they are on the T-mobile network, so if that doesn’t work well in your area, it might not be for you.

    I cut my own hair and have for years. If you’re interested, there are a lot of videos on YouTube that instruct how to cut male or female hair. I just buzz all around with a #2 guard (1/2″).

    I have never had cable. I was raised by a single mother and we could never afford cable. I could probably afford it now, but I really don’t see the need. I have a set of rabbit ears and get over 40 channels. Doesn’t cost a thing beyond the electricity. In a pinch, a paper clip or safety pin plugged into the center of the aux port for the antenna can work. You’ll get slightly fewer channels, but it will definitely save you a few bucks. I regularly get free movies from the library. I really like movies, so this helps me resist the temptation to buy them. It can add up, even from the $5 bin at Walmart. Haha. My ISP is the local phone company. They are the cheapest around, even cheaper than TWC/Spectrum. They run about $32-$34/month. The bills can vary by a couple dollars per month for reasons that have never been explained, but whatever. It’s DSL and works just fine for my needs.

    Harry might consider trying to find a university with a clinical psychology graduate program. They will likely offer therapy either free or (more likely) on a sliding scale. Barring that, he might look into a community mental health clinic.

    Did you get estimates for the septic tank replacement? The price might vary quite a bit from person/company to person/company. Can you do any of the prep work yourself?

  71. Hi Harry and Sally – I loved reading your story. It is a journey, isn’t it?
    Your wedding pic is beautiful, and your situation reminds me of ours….a few years ago. My husband and I moved to a new state due to high expenses in Philadelphia area (and money pit house needing a septic redo- – sound familiar? :), and job changes, not sure where to live, and then…my Dad passed away 3 months after we moved out of state
    A few thoughts for you two: a) true, the grass isnt always greener in a new place – but you can’t go back exactly either. If you return to PA, you are different (experiences), so be careful of your choices (and why). There are always more options! Go with your eyes wide open…
    b) using a portion of my inheritance to pay off the rest of our mortgage was the right move for us. The rest is saved “forever” (inherited IRA- it felt right to use it as a boost, not something to be dependent on for daily lifestyle. For me, it’s been comforting to know I spent on things my Dad would be pleased about 🙂
    c) You have a lovely life and cute animal friends… and I say this with love and respect for you both: Harry husband has got to get his income up. (Unless there is disability or some type of health issue – if so, I apologize!). Take an extra job that is temporary (meaning you don’t like it probably- it’s only for income 😉 and he can quit The Very Instant something better comes along) It will grease the wheels for your family. You’re going to need $ to move or if *anything*comes up. My husband did something similar. I love him for “taking one for the team” because we needed it – and it turned out great in the end – because another opportunity came up and now he is making about double plus better career path. Sounds simple now. It was not easy, I’m sure you know.
    Anyway, thank you for being brave to share your story. The FW’s example is wonderful, because there ARE a different ways to choose to live. The wonderful part is that you’re thinking about all this – and I’m so excited for your next steps. Best of luck to you!

  72. I haven’t gotten to read every detail of this case but was attracted to it by the headline about going back to vet school. From what I read, two things stuck out: 1. You talked very little about being interested in treating animals, in fact you didn’t talk much about animals at all. 2. It’s very odd you can’t sell your house. Are the septic problems disclosed? Then I’d get that fixed.People don’t want to buy a house with septic problems. Or perhaps it’s something else. I can’t believe a house at that price won’t sell in Simsbury.
    I also feel like you really don’t have a passion for a certain job. I’m also not sure that there are a lot of openings for sports broadcasting. Perhaps your husband could go into a related field, or start doing something sports-work wise and network in the field to get another job he likes more.

  73. Thanks for sharing all of this and way to hustle, girl!
    There have been times in my marriage when our total income looked very much like yours and Harry’s does now, including the therapy and $400/month paycheck, and it wasn’t a typo or something I really wanted to have to explain to anyone. I understand why many people have commented and said that Harry needs to look into making more money or pay less for therapy, but I wanted to chime in and say that it is also totally fine to do neither of those things if they don’t serve you or Harry or your relationship. $400/month is better than $0/month, and therapy is always better than no therapy (and where I live, $100 is a steal!).
    As for life options, my first thought for you was to sell your house and look for jobs overseas working for an NGO! The pay and benefits are good and it makes travel easy and cheap if you fly discount flights in your area of the world. I don’t love my job but I live overseas and the lifestyle makes up for what my career is lacking at the moment. Having pets throws that idea out the window a bit as relocating with even one animal can be problematic, let alone four.
    My second thought was to combine Harry’s desire to live in a house with some land with your love for animals and start a dog walking/pet sitting venture out of your house. If it’s possible that Harry will not be working or will be working part time, he can manage things at home while you are able to work full or part time and provide both of you with insurance. I have a friend that lives in a rural suburb near a big city and dog walks/pet sits and makes enough to do it full time. She thought about being a vet but realized that what she really loves is being around happy, healthy animals all day and being active outdoors. She is also able to foster animals for a shelter which she was never able to do before. Her clients pay more than they would for a kennel or a pet sitter in their home because she has land for dogs to run around and they feel like their pets are getting a better vacation than they are! She isn’t making as much money as she did before but she loves her life and is able to hike with happy puppies every day and set her own hours which was always her dream! Buying a house was a struggle when she first started out, but as a dog walker she was able to build a list of clients while saving money.
    Whatever you choose to do, I wish you nothing but the best of luck!

  74. I read in a comment that Harry does not have health insurance, I think you should have him contact the VA and see if he is eligible. He would be able to see a therapist for half the cost if so.

  75. I have found that I sometimes need to do some soul searching about what makes me happy. I have come to the realization that having a job that pays me well, that I can tolerate and that I’m good at is worth more than a job the feeds my passions (most of which would yield significantly lower pay). What that paycheck allows me to do is to follow my passions outside of work and I don’t have to consider how well it pays.

    I also greatly believe I can find the best in wherever I live. It may not be my first choice but it will do for now while I plan how to go somewhere else. I have lived in areas that I really don’t like but I have made some lifetime friends in those places and still have some good memories.

    I have to agree that there is something going on with the house. I would have a serious talk with the realtor. You may not want to hear it but it is likely that the house is overpriced for the market. It would probably be best to take it off the market for the winter to give it a fresh start in the spring. Meanwhile, what does it need? You have the choice of doing those things so that it can sell or lowering the price. As an investor, I will buy an undesirable house in a good neighborhood for the right price.

    While your endeavors with Etsy/Amazon/Ebay are a good effort, is it cost effective. About 50% of your revenue is spent on fees and shipping. What about inventory cost? How much are you making per hour once you take that out? Could your time be better used to create better income?

    Sometimes it takes patience to get to where you want to be. It can take working extra jobs.and giving up some things. When you have a goal, it is easier to be patient when you see your efforts moving you one step closer.

  76. Wondering if Harry’s monthly income is an average that reflects the period of time he was unemployed during the past year… if so, we need the full new monthly amount to better advise!

  77. Best wishes to you as you search to make the best decisions! (not the perfect-right-everlasting decision, as there is no such thing).
    The costs of getting in to vet school are enough to put someone off. Expect several hundred dollars in application fees, for each school. Plus costs of visiting and interviewing. Plus any testing fees. Plus catch-up science classes. Not something to be taken on lightly, even before you get in.
    As Harry is now using health care, perhaps re-figure putting him on your insurance, or on some kind of plan, instead of leaving him un-insured. You might consider the availability of veterans’ services in choosing where you move to.
    If I was a buyer looking at similar homes and saw “septic system needs to be replaced”, I would immediately move on to another house in the neighborhood. I’ve never lived other than with city systems and that sounds frightening! If you aren’t getting good advice from your realtor about why your home isn’t selling, consider switching, as you said you could in September The word “mold” is of course off-putting, and pets may add their own odors. Your house would need to be spotless for me to consider it, (and maybe it is, though it is exhausting to keep a home always in show-ready condition, especially with strange water).
    “Jana” commented above; perhaps she was the case study of the Dog Circus a few months ago? The comments written on that case might give you some ideas about how to focus your passion for animals.

  78. Well count me in the minority. I don’t necessarily think vet school is out of the question. Yes, there will be some debt. There are options. The vet who started my vet clinic is very pro-active when it comes to those who choose a vet career. While I am not privy to financial specifics, I do know he helps to some extent. The latest addition to his staff came right out of vet school and has had two children since she stared working at our clinic. She, and the other vet (female who also has children) are awesome. If you want to also be large animal vet, some cities/states have programs where they pay off/help payoff loans in exchange for you working X number of years in their state. Caveat: might not be in a state you want to live – aka more rural and more midwest-ish.
    Another option you have is to be vet tech. Our local business, excuse me “career” college (I hate smarmy marketing name changes) has a program (I am not in your area). This might be a happy medium – you can work in the vet field yet have less debt and possibly more free time. Money is nice (and a necessity) but if you hate your job, it doesn’t matter how much you are paid.
    Either choice leaves you the option for working in an ER vet clinic. Your hours may not be the best but you would be providing a much needed service.
    I flat out don’t agree with generic pet food. I’ve yet to find one that is equivalent to name brand. I am an avid label reader and will not buy any products (human or animal) that are not made in US. Even then I am a bit skeptical as to from where the ingredients are sourced. I don’t consider saving a few dollars on food that could be a detriment to pet health a budget win. Your vet is probably the best source to go to when considering a food switch.

  79. Two questions: 1) I’ve read through all of this and the comments and am puzzled where the 10K difference in net income and expenses is—that is income exceeds expenses by that amount and is unaccounted for; 2) as many have commented, we’re baffled by the calculation for Harry’s monthly income—can you explain how you arrived at that? Both of these answers would help guide the comments!

  80. Sally, I think you are actually in good position money-wise (better than I was at your age!) Sounds like the other issues are what you are really worried about. I also think people here have given some great suggestions and things to mull over.
    I am worried about your husband’s betting. My ex husband (father of our2 children) was a gambling addict and worked a night job in sports! It didn’t seem like it was an ‘addiction’ or real problem until we had kids and he started charging cash advances on his credit card and coming in late in the morning from casinos. Now, one of my best friend’s husband was a gambler who overcame his problem, so far as I know. But this is a big warning sign. Stick with the therapy for him, but I’d definitely want to see progress on all fronts. Good luck

  81. Hi Sally,

    I say this gently, but it is irresponsible for Harry to go without health insurance. One small incident will wipe you out financially. I sense there may be some relationship problems, so perhaps this is a decision Harry made. If he insists on going without health insurance, consider a paper divorce to protect yourself.

    Also, please consider therapy for yourself. I think there is a lot going on here that has nothing to do with your career path or where you want to live.

  82. I would agree with selling the house and becoming more flexible. I would focus on Harry looking for work across the country in either broadcasting or something using skills he acquired in the Navy, or using his Political Science degree. It seems like he has a job that underutilizes all of his education and training, so I would get more flexible on him looking for work outside of a set location. There are many great places to live in the USA. On some levels you will have more flexibility to pursue your dreams if you can help your husband first get established in a career that pays him what he is worth or at least a decent salary!
    Once he finds a job that has a decent salary in a place you both would like to live, then I would look for non-profit work that you at least enjoy using the degree that you already have. Both of you have degrees that you have already invested a lot of life and money into. I would figure out how to make the education you have work for you. You could always branch out and maybe see if you can find an animal advocacy group either locally or nationwide that you could volunteer for or telecommute part time for or even possibly start your own!

  83. I’d like to offer an alternative viewpoint on this supposed dichotomy between “doing what you love” versus “doing something that doesn’t make you happy”.

    Do we really need to see it that way, or are there other ways to frame things?

    One alternate way of seeing things, is that work is simply a way to trade time for money. If somebody will pay me $20/hour to make lattes all day, then I’m willing to find ways to inject joy and delight into my day. But if there is not a steady market for me to earn wages from my ability to draw well, then that’s not a stellar candidate for a job.

    I like the practical method of building up a side hustle, UNTIL it becomes the top earner in your life. When there is a lot of credentialing that happens before the job starts paying YOU, that starts to be a reverse-job. In other words, going and getting a lot of credentialing means that you pay, say, $50/hour, for your first 600 hours of work. Can anybody afford to pay so much to get into a field, or is that best left to people who work for the passion and not for the money?

    In other words, I think there may be something to be learned from our parents’ generation. My father made an abundant living running a plumbing and heating company. Was he passionate about pipes, or sprinkler systems? Probably not, but it was a good exchange of time for money, and those were the skills that he had available to him (learned from his own father).

    Using the skills / experience one already has, is an example of resourcefulness. Our parents’ generation would’ve just called that “smart”. If you have a good source of income in one area, then take full advantage of that! Or leverage what you have to make a lateral move. Starting over from scratch (or worse, from deep debt) may not be exactly smart. There is more than one way to be happy, and more than one way to make it work! 🙂

  84. What’s the financial plan if Harry gets seriously injured? That could go right through your inherited IRA and your house!

  85. I think a lot of people out there are struggling to “find their passion” and thinking that “their best life” will come with the next job, another degree, the next house, the next city, more travel, etc. You sound like a lovely family and have many good things in your life. In your case study write-up, I like what you said about Practicing Gratitude and I would recommend focusing on that area. I’m not saying there isn’t a place in everyone’s life for change, for wanting more and for setting goals, but sometimes it’s really good to focus on being content with what you have and making the best of it.

    Sally, you ARE doing good work that makes a difference in the world — and you can continue to work with animals and the environment outside of work (or find a similar job for those types of nonprofits, as other have suggested). Focus on what you like about your job and realize that the rest of it is why they call it work — every job/career has it’s drawbacks. 🙂 Make the repairs to your house and make it feel like a home you love — if you do decide to move later, it will sell faster. Find more ways to build a connection with the community in your city so that you feel more at home there. Keep reading Frugalwoods and other sites to find ways to cut expenses and increase your savings. It sounds like Harry is on a good path and I think that his income is probably higher than you listed and other opportunities will come with some perseverance and patience.

    Mrs. Frugalwoods and others have given you excellent advice, and I just want to offer encouragement to you to stay positive and focus on the good — I just know the right paths will open up to you … And, give a hug to your fur babies for me!

  86. Sally, I want to commend you for putting your case study out there–you’re super brave! You’ve received a lot of excellent advice already, but since you are possibly looking to make a move–and have excellent qualifications to do so–may I suggest checking out the askamanager blog? I’ve found that she has so many great suggestions for parlaying the spirit of a lot of what Mrs Frugalwoods advocates in a job setting (getting what is really important to you, whether more money, flexible hours, work from home, happiness at work…) and she has a ton of experience with non-profits and how to successfully field switch, job switch, negotiate for more money….

    As for home-boying…oy, I was also initially very unhappy once we bought our apartment/condo (first home). It wasn’t perfect (ha! what is?) and, despite a home inspection, ended up needing many more repairs than we first anticipated. Instead of quickly remodeling the kitchen ourselves, we had to get rid of mold (eek! What we specifically were trying our hardest to avoid!), a minor infestation resulting from now-evicted tenants, and the noisiest pipes known to man… We can hear neighbors flushing their toilets. And neighboring GI problems. Needless to say, before we sell, we need to get the place totally sound-proofed! I put a lot of energy into hating my circumstances/home and not very much into being grateful that I had a home and looking for ways to be happy in spite of the challenges. Now, I’m starting to embrace the flaws and decorate wildly–we have the absolute ugliest wallpaper in the main hallway, but we don’t want to replace it with something beautiful or even cheap right now because…toddler. So, I’ve started “repapering” with kid drawings, a temperature colorchart (I paint a new line every day that corresponds to a the current high temp for the day), and encouraging friends to write on the walls like graffiti-loving teenagers. I yarn-bombed the ugly piping near the ceiling with yarn scraps from a friend’s stash that she was going to get rid of, and now it looks funky and intentional. I now love my ugly hallway and can spend hours sitting in it looking for inspiration. Starting to finally see the good in the apartment again, too–despite the repairs, we don’t need to own a car, we have an extra room (currently my office/guest room) should we need to take in a family member (a distinct possibility in the future that we decided we must plan for), the neighborhood is inexpensive but lovely and diverse, and our neighbors are nice, kind people.

    For you two, it sounds like it does make sense to move, especially money-wise, but I’d encourage you to take some serious time to think about what made you unhappy initially in PA, then CT. Is it something specific that you can definitely change? Are there common themes? I think your idea to rent for awhile is solid; Nothing worse than jumping into homeownership again only to find yourself mired in the same problems…take the time you need to really think about it!

    I commend your husband for getting therapy, but I’m also wondering about you. Do you have access to some sessions through your healthcare plan or your employer? And/or, if you have a religious affiliation, can you see a paster/priest/rabbi/etc. who is also a certified counselor? (Bonus: free!) Sounds like you have a heavy burden that you’ve been shouldering for a number of years (being the primary breadwinner while your husband has been in school, staying in jobs for extended periods so that you can fulfill that role while being markedly unhappy, taking on sidehustles to try and bootstrap yourself out of debt…) and that you’re also a very generous, giving person, donating a significant portion of your time to animal welfare. Just to have a space where you can talk out your hopes and fears in a judgement-free space might give you the clarity you need to find some of the answers for your future that you’ve been searching for.

    Best wishes for your future! Please update when you have a chance–I’d love to know how things are going for you!

  87. I think there is more going on here than just financial decisions, but here on my thoughts on the financials:

    Home maintenance is part of home ownership (especially if the house is a little older), so I don’t think those expenses necessarily justify moving. However, if you really feel that you need to downsize, I would sell the house and rent in the area for awhile. Talk to your agent about why your house is not selling (perhaps it needs more staging?), but it may make more sense to stay where you are… Changing homes is expensive and I’m not sure that moving back to PA is the answer.

    Honestly, I don’t think you really know that much about what is involved with being a veterinarian or even going to vet school. I’m not convinced that it is something you really want to do. It would take a huge amount of time and money and I don’t know where living expenses would come from while you were in school. Stick it out with your job and keep your eyes open for other opportunities in your field. Continue to do volunteer work with animals.

    I think there is a lot of confusion about Harry’s income and I’m guessing that it will higher than what you have listed. Harry should continue to look for entry level opportunities in broadcasting or even some kind of internship that would still allow him to have another job.

    Harry needs to get health insurance immediately. Either add him to your insurance or buy a private plan that will at least cover anything catastrophic. It is not financially responsible for him to not have coverage. Maybe he could look for another job where they do offer benefits.

    Pay off all credit card debt and do not even think of getting a home equity loan. Paying interest is a complete waste of your hard-earned money.

    There is a good bit of room to cut expenses and still live comfortably. I would use the inherited IRA money distributions to build up savings and to pay for home repairs — and then reinvest.

    Is the Etsy shop really earning you much? Maybe reconsider if it’s worth the time and effort.

    Overall, you are not in terrible shape financially, but you need to be smart about making any big changes and make sure that it’s really what you want and that it will improve your life. It may be better to work on being happy with where you are and what you have. Wishing you success!!

  88. I noticed Harry’s TSP is in the G fund. That is basically a bond portfolio paying about 2% interest, if I remember correctly. Since TSP is a retirement fund and you guys are fairly young, you should look at diversifying into some of the stock funds.

  89. Also – grant writing and project evaluation are really valuable skills that you could parlay into a role at an NGO more in line with your passions. Take what you enjoy about your current job and see where those skills can be useful in another Organization, rather than starting from scratch. If you do want to get a science-related degree, think about shorter programs that would go along with your policy degree and work experience.

    If you do want to go a completely different route and do something with animals, you may want to look at something entrepreneurial, like a cat/dog cafe with rescues that need adoption or high-end pet boarding. Something that would incorporate your interests or helping/spending time with more animals without the delay, expense, and downsides of becoming a vet.

  90. Hi Sally,
    Have you considered becoming a CCRP: Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner?
    My daughter recently has become manager of an animal rehab facility; a job she truly loves, always having been an animal lover. They do physical therapy for all kinds of animals; an up and coming profession. Some CCRPs do home visits.
    She went to a 4 year school to become a vet tech, the equivalent of an animal surgical nurse. Then became a certified vet tech, which last night she relayed you can obtain certification with just the 2 year program at a community college! (where you become a vet tech assistant).
    She interned at vet hospitals, dental clinics, and the rehab facility where she found it most rewarding. Then attended an accelerated program of one week at the U.of TN for CCRP. She studied for 6 months on her own before sitting for the CCRP.
    While these positions are far and few between due to the relative newness, it might be another avenue for you to explore.
    I wish you the best of luck in your next career!

  91. I’d say take the house off the market. Let Harry get therapy, maybe go with him for couples therapy, and go easier on yourselves. Your mortgage is tough to beat with rentals being so hard to get with pets. I’m not saying stay forever-just stay through the winter and get that house in better shape to sell fast in the spring. You guys are in much better shape than you think, you have an opportunity to really cut back on your spending and make changes to the way you view your lives. You make a great income, hopefully Harry will be too once the bonuses and overtime pay kick in. Concentrate on making your little world with him a happier one-less dependent on where you live or what you do for work. Sometimes happiness lies in refocusing on yourself and your partner. I’m sorry for the loss of your father, but he certainly made great decisions with his money and left a legacy to you and your siblings-most of us don’t get anything but just the heartache of losing a parent. Take that and manage it well, live within your means, pay for those home expenses, maybe do some updating to your decor or decluttering, and put off selling again in the spring/summer. Families rarely buy homes or move during the school year-its just too hard. I’d also say no to vet school, the cost to you of life energy and tuition would be more than what you’d get compensated for coming out. Do look into animal organizations that need fundraising/underwriting. Do not underestimate what you can do for animals by huge donations of money and time when you live below your means! Btw-I think you have a great profession now, people benefit so much by what you do! Humans are animals too right? Anyway, I must get some rest, but felt compelled to add to the commentary.

  92. Late to the party and haven’t had a chance to read all the comments, but this really resonated with me. Coming from a background where you move for scarce jobs (and take a good job pretty much regardless of the location), I would suggest that Sally might want to broaden her net in terms of looking for a job she would enjoy that uses her current skill-set. Based on the info provided, it doesn’t seem like PA has compelling advantages over CT. It seems like she is really seeking work should would enjoy, and that so far she hasn’t been able to make it work by choosing a location and then choosing a job. Perhaps try doing it the other way around. Secondly, the two-body problem is one that is very real (and a serious millstone for many in my profession). So perhaps she and Harry should be looking for jobs together. As in, look at what is available in a given city. This might take some time, but is there a place that would provide both of them better opportunities? Chicago? Wichita? Houston? Just throwing out ideas but depending on how specialized Harry’s desirable work is, that may limit where they can go and both find work in their fields. Lastly, I would also agree on no for the veterinary training. In my current profession I work with many students who think they want to become vets. Most don’t really want to do the actual work involved; the fantasy of what it would be like is very different from the actual work. I would caution anyone who “loves animals” to be careful about what they are committing to. The debt loads are high, the stress is high, the work-life balance is poor (want time to play with your own animals?; it’s not yours to choose when that occurs in many cases). And if you make it successfully through vet school, once you assume that debt load, your other options become extremely constrained in terms of what you can do for a living while still paying off that debt. I agree with the recommendation to try to work for an organization that does work for the benefit of animals. Believe me, fundraising is extremely important. I am very grateful to those who work in fundraising that provide opportunities for students to live their dreams, and to explore what the foundations of those dreams involve. Best wishes for your and your spouses’s future!

  93. Hi Sally, I’m a year older than you, and my husband and I have been facing a lot of similar life purpose questions the past couple years. Our backgrounds are very different than yours, BUT I haven’t seen anyone bring this up yet, so figured I’d throw it out there:
    1. If you ARE able to sell your house, what about buying an RV? that way, you’re free to try anyplace in the US you’d like, and you don’t have to worry about whether you can rent with animals. Usually, RV monthly rent is far less than regular rent. This would keep you free enough to try out a few life options should you choose to! You could probably even live cheaply enough to live off the IRA + online side hustles for a year and discover America (I’d be jelly). But, in all seriousness, it sounds like you need a very different kind of reset than your move to CT provided. Also, if you choose this option, you can get free rent by being hosts at private campgrounds, plus national and state parks – usually requires 3-4 hours of work a day.
    2. If you have to stay put for a while, can you get a roommate or two to give you more monthly income? It sounds like your house is big enough!

  94. Hi Sally,

    I realize you probably are tired of reading comments by now, but you’re post was shared on a vet Facebook group and I’ve been thinking about it for a few days.

    I am 33, and I’ve been a vet for 7 years. I worked in a small animal practice (which was horrible), a large animal shelter (which was awesome), and now I work for USDA as a food safety/public health vet. I think it’s funny how many people have commented that “you don’t seem to be that passionate about animals”, which I think can actually be a benefit to someone in the field of vet medicine. You should like animals, and respect animals, but you don’t have to be a “crazy animal lover” to be a vet.

    Realistically, though, vet school is extremely competitive to get in to. If you do get in and make it through 4 horrible years of sleep deprivation, the average graduate has $170k of loans and earns $60-80k at graduation. I do know vets who have spent their life savings on vet school, and it hasn’t ruined them. For reference, I now make about $85/year plus I earn another $10k per year in the National Guard as a vet. I have great benefits and I’m hoping to have my loans forgiven as part of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, if Betsy DuVos doesn’t gut it before I qualify. I am the breadwinner in my family of 3 and we live a humble but comfortable life. My biggest concern is my student loans (I owe $190k), and I regret that I couldn’t take more time off for maternity leave when I had my daughter because of them.

    I wouldn’t say vet school is implausible for you, but it would be a big change.

  95. Dear Sally:
    Should you sell your home and it is available at the time, I own a home near you, that I would consider renting to you, Harry and yes…the “fur children.” I normally would NOT rent to pet owners but having seen your story on the Frugalwoods site puts you in a different category. For me having the home lived in and renting it to someone for whom it would be a blessing… and who would take care of it… is of much more importance to me than making a huge profit. Perhaps you could take what you can get for your home and stay in the area long enough to let Harry have consistent therapy and for you both to take a deep breath and decide what truly is the best next step for your family. If this is of interest to you feel free to send me an email at Peace, Jennifer

  96. I say go for vet school! I don’t think you would ever regret it. In fact, I think you would always wonder what if. I will say, my biggest regret in life is not pursing more education than I did post-high school!

  97. Hi Sally
    I don’t have any financial advise for you. I just wanted to say that I am so so sorry that you have lost your dad. My dad passed away at the beginning of the summer, I don’t think it’s really possible to explain what it feels like, you just have to live through it. Since he died I have spent a lot of time at his house, I feel better being there and it makes me feel closer to him. You say in your piece that Pennsylvania has that feeling for you as it’s where your dad was from. Don’t underestimate how much something like that can add to just how you feel day to day, it might not feel that way forever but if it takes the edge off the sadness then it is a pretty good reason. I don’t think I’d be able to get through each week without being at my dad’s house, just so I can be with him a little bit. I know this will change eventually but for now I just accept it for what it is. You also mentioned that you miss your aunt, having someone who can be there for you (and you for her) at this difficult time is worth so much more than money can ever buy. If you feel you need to be near her and you can make it work then you should do it. In the end, the people that we love are really all we ever have.
    I have quite bad nightmares that my mum has died, I can’t do anything to stop them but spending as much time as I can with her makes these worries feel more manageable.
    Before my dad died I doubt i would have thought this way. But you know what, it turns out somethings really are more important than money!
    Take care x x

  98. After reading Sally’s story and ALL the comments, the following occurred to me. If Harry is active in sports betting online, and a prospective sports broadcast employer knows this, there is no way he will be offered a job. Broadcasting is a very competitive and cut-throat business. I was in it when I was just out of school and not having any “friends of friends or relatives in the business”, when I was let go due to a union lay-off (in Boston where there are lots of tv outlets) I finally went another route entirely and have loved what I’ve done. If he loves sports and broadcasting he needs to quit the online betting asap. I know there are lots of personal issues that none of us know and I am sorry that you have to deal with it all. As a vet wouldn’t Armed Forces Radio-TV be a place for him to start? It might give you the opportunity to live overseas, which is also one of your long-term goals. Lastly, no health insurance could bankrupt you with one bender-fender. That needs to come before anything else.

  99. Sally, thanks for sharing your story. First off, please get health insurance for Harry. I can’t offer advice on your career path, but I can on Harry’s because I’ve been in broadcasting for 15 years. Sports broadcasting is a pretty narrow field and hard to break into as you and Harry have discovered. Does he have a bachelor’s degree? I understand he went to broadcasting school, but entry-level jobs often require a BA (after a few years of experience companies will waive the degree requirement but you have to somehow break in first!). Here’s an entry-level job in your area:
    Now it’s probably not what he wants, but that’s how this industry works (unless you have really good contacts). Unfortunately, there’s also going to be a lot of competition and 20-somethings on their parents’ insurance willing to work for minimum wage. Yes, minimum wage. If he’s serious about a career in broadcasting, there’s going be some lean times and probably a few moves around the country. On the plus side, most broadcasting companies are large enough to offer excellent insurance.

  100. Hi Sally,

    I see that not many people are commenting on the inherited IRA aspect of your story. I also have an inherited IRA from when my mom died 3 years ago (when I was 27yo). I find that, for better or worse, I feel very different about this money than I do about MY money. My philosophy with the inheritance has been that my mom would be pissed if I didn’t use it wisely.

    I don’t think your dad would want you to be in debt, so I think that it is reasonable to use that money to pay off debt. BUT, I also wonder if your dad would be sending you an allowance every month. I suspect he would probably want to you to live within your income. If you restructured your life so that you could live within your income, then you could use your inheritance for really meaningful things like: pursuing the education that will get you a job you enjoy (vet or otherwise), buying a house in a place you love, etc. To me, it just seems much more meaningful to say, “You know, it was terrible that my dad died, but I’ve honored his memory by using my inheritance to do xyz with my life, which he would have been proud of,” than to say that you spent your inheritance on groceries and gas.

    An inheritance is an incredible gift at a terrible cost. I’d give it back in an instant to have my mom alive. To me, at least, I would rather have that gift be life changing (enable education, or housing, etc) than just slip away in dribs and drabs. I’m not saying you can live within your income starting tomorrow, but maybe with a series of small changes, it would be possible in a year or two.

    One final thought: Make sure you’re emotionally ready to make a big decision before you decide to go to vet school. Right after my mom died, I also considered making a huge career change. Fortunately, my now-husband told me I was being crazy. Make sure you’re not running away from your grief (or trying to distract yourself) by changing your career.

    Good luck!

  101. Hi Sally, Thanks so much for being so brave. After reading through the comments, I have to add my voice that Harry needs health insurance pronto. My sister broke her arm & the bills were over $14K! Doctors would not even treat her w/o insurance. I reminded her that I had signed her up for a basic health ins. plan the year before & prepaid it myself, so she was able to get the surgery & treatment she needed. Does Harry qualify for VA Medical? My USMC hubby uses the VA and loves it. The therapists he has seen have been awesome, also. Also, if you love animals, a growing field is bed bug detection via dogs. You own a pup & go into homes, hotels, etc, and the pup sniffs around to alert the owner to any bedbugs. Just Google “bedbuginspectors”. It’s something you or your hubby could do & you get to hang out with a dog all day, which sounds like heaven to me. Good luck!

  102. My notes are just about the clothes: I had the opposite problem-iron in my well water turning my clothes yellow-but I think that checking the filter on your water pump may be the solution. Sediment builds up in those things and part of the maintenance and filter changing process can also be flushing out the pump.

    Hope this helps!

  103. Sally, we are all rooting for you! I know for many of us, it is not easy to find a career and place you are happy with. I have personal experience with a few things you talked about:

    -Wanting a career in the environmental field but not feeling like you qualify: I thought the same thing. I went from getting my undergrad and Master’s degree in English and thinking I wanted to teach, to working at a company that managed mostly medical non-profits, to a position at a renewable energy company that I am happy in now. I am really passionate about the environment and climate change. I wanted to work in this field but thought I would need a technical/scientific background. I found a company that develops, sells, and manages utility-scale renewable energy projects, and found a position that only somewhat fit my varied experience. The company has many different positions-HR, legal, accounting, and positions like mine that don’t necessarily have a specific skill set that you would’ve studied in school. My position involves getting land under lease so that we can develop wind projects build wind turbines. I am much happier than I was at my last company and I am glad I applied for a job that I wasn’t 100% sure I was qualified for.

    -Renting in the country with pets: My sister and her husband found a great rental house with some land and it allowed pets. We live in a different area, so I’m not sure what this would be like in PA, but it is worth looking into! She had two large dogs and chickens for a while. She and her husband realized they didn’t like living in the country because they felt far away from friends and isolated (she worked from home alone and they already had a great group of friends in town), so they were really glad they rented and got to try this out before making a permanent decision. Obviously many people are happy in the country, but it doesn’t hurt to rent somewhere and try it before making a decision to buy!

    -Vet school: I know many people have already chimed in about this, but I have friends who went through vet school and I know it is more difficult to get into vet schools than med schools, and grad school itself is incredibly stressful. I’d think about other jobs or try working in a vet’s office before making the decision to apply.

    -Identifying how to make yourself happier: A few years ago, I felt like I needed to make some changes to my life to make myself happier. One strategy for this was to think back on times when I felt happiest in my life and try to replicate them now. For example, I loved the last 3 years of college. I realize that it was because I was surrounded by a close-knit group of friends in college, I had more free time, and I was doing work that I loved in class and at the part-time job I had. My husband and I decided to try to implement some of these things back into our life by moving away from a big city where the norm was job that demanded often 50-60 hour work weeks, and moving close to family. We are still working on making a close-knit group of friends here, but we are much happier with our work-life balance, and this felt like a step in the right direction.

    A podcast I listed to recently also helped me to figure out many of the reasons I’m still not more satisfied with my life. It is an episode of the Ezra Klein Show called “Is Modern Society Making Us Depressed?” Ezra Klein interviews a writer Johann Hari about his book Lost Connections (I’m reading the book now as well). It touches on lost social connections, the amount of time spent at work, and loss of control over the work you’re doing. I found it super helpful and related to so many elements of the book. My long term plan is to hopefully work part-time at the company I’m at now at some point after my husband and I hopefully have kids so that we can spend more time with friends and family that we moved to be closer to. We are lucky enough to be in a position that this would work financially for us. Either way, I recommend the podcast and then the book to see if anything resonates with you!

  104. All of those vets who commented offered some great guidance and advice.
    They failed to mention the obvious. Getting into vet school is very difficult. It’s more constructed than Medical school. So even if you are pretty sure you might want to do this, it may take several years of course prerequisite plus the application process plus several years trying to gain admittance- with no eventual guarantee that you will be accepted.
    Just something to think about.

  105. Hi Sally,
    What would happen if you took a year, took your house off the market and both you and Harry researched jobs in your area? I’ve found many times that it takes me more than three years to adjust to a new place, find the right job, and generally settle in. If after a year of trying to find alternatives locally you could relook at the possibility of moving. I think the earlier comments about your looking for fundraising or non-profit Work in your area of passion are good suggestions. Fundraising also doesn’t necessarily mean asking people for money. There are positions maintains donor databases, positions in Stewardship etc. It sounds like Harry is going through a rough patch – would hisnew job allow him enough time to participate in some volunteer or unpaid broadcasting opportunities? What about the alumni networks at both you Alma maters? Wishing you both the best, whatever you decide.

  106. Another great case study! And thank you to Harry and Sally for putting yourselves out there for us Frugalwoods people 🙂 On top of the loads of advice you’ve already received, my 2 cents is that you don’t necessarily want to go to vet school – you’re really just looking for a change in career that will pay you to work with animals. Nowhere in your narrative did you mention how vet school has always been at the back of your mind or that you want to heal animals (per se). Instead, you talk about how you don’t like your current job and that you love volunteering at the animal shelter. What if, instead of vet school, you were to find a job with a rescue organization or a local shelter? There are plenty of jobs in the animal field that require much less training/school and where you can use skills/education that you already possess.
    No matter what, good luck with your 10 year goals and good luck finding a better job!

  107. Sally,I’m wondering if you could give us an update on what areas you now are ruling out/ in? It might save you reading and re-reading advice on things that you’ve now resolved, and will highlight things you’re still looking for ideas on.We are all so excited to help with ideas that have worked for us, but your feedback will clarify what your particular situation needs!

  108. Sally…I live on the Connecticut shore and love it down here…it’s totally different than Simsbury. You can jump a train and be in Boston or NYC in 2 hours if you want real gun. I work from home as a marketing consultant after working for 20 years in advertising in NYC. I’m horse crazy and dog crazy so I volunteer at the local therapeutic riding academy in old lyme where I’m in great demand as a horse leader and barn assistant. I love the herd…28 horses like they’re my own. That said…have been working with horses my whole life and almost went to vet school until I took a horse for an operation once and cried hysterically the whole time. I couldn’t take it. There’s opportunity down this way at Mystic Aquarium as it really is a non profit educational institution and there’s fund raising and development jobs at High Hope’s Therapeutic riding where I volunteer. They have amazing educational programs.
    Did Harry ever intern at a station after he graduated? Connecticut Public Media has a program right now for vets and educating them on broadcast media I believe that’s free.
    It would be a great way to get in…which you need to do with broadcasting jobs. Also, there’s good reasonable housing down here…in fact down the street from me are very pet friendly condos with their own dog run that are going for $135k…they are cool loft apts. I think you overlooking some good parts of CT.

  109. Hi Sally! I know I am reading this a while after it was posted but I scanned the comments and didn’t see anyone mention Humane Education as a possible field for you. Not all shelters have this department but it is basically community outreach where shelters will teach about proper pet interactions or might host students’ tours and volunteer events. I volunteered at a shelter in Kansas City that had this and I have seen a few in other locations. I think with your background in nonprofit work you could be an eligible candidate. The lady I knew who was the director in Kansas City had a nonprofit background not education or veterinary. I hope you are able to find an easier house in an area you love. It is so challenging to find the right location/job/lifestyle fit so I am rooting for you!!!

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