Zaria lives in Seattle, WA where she advises students and leads a graduate program at a local university. She’s done tremendous work over the years to pay off her debt, build up her savings and retirement investments, and create a frugal, sustainable, outdoorsy lifestyle. Now, at 52, she’s looking to the future and would like our help crafting long-term plans as well as assistance navigating our increasingly tech-dependent world (computer nerds, your help is needed today!).

What’s a Reader Case Study?

Case Studies address financial and life dilemmas that readers of Frugalwoods send to me requesting advice. Then, we (that’d be me and YOU, dear reader) read through their situation and provide advice, encouragement, insight, and feedback in the comments section. For an example, check out last month’s case study. Case Studies are updated by participants (at the end of the post) several months after the Case is featured. Visit this page for links to all updated Case Studies.

I probably don’t need to say the following because you folks 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 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. I am not a financial advisor and I am not your financial advisor.

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

Zaria’s Story

Zaria on a subalpine hike

Hi, Frugalwoods Community! My name is Zaria, I’m 52 and I live in Seattle, WA where I advise and lead a graduate program at a local university with 100+ students across three degree programs. I grew up in the Midwest where I was unschooled and trained in ballet. I decided against a career in dance, attended college on the east coast, studied and worked abroad, and then moved to the Pacific Northwest where I’ve found home.

I love to hike, kayak, and dance, especially Cuban-style salsa and West African dance. Life has been a rich and rewarding journey, though not without pain. Buddhist meditation and mindfulness are core practices for me and key to staying healthy as a therapist and survivor of childhood abuse. I live with the invisible disabilities of chronic depression and PTSD. My journey with them revealed my calling as a therapist and necessitated me to live intentionally with as much gratitude and compassion as possible.

Zaria’s Upbringing

Bamboo & Buddha

My parents instilled a passion for social justice, languages, art, and learning along with gifting me and my siblings with acceptance and love. They also struggled with, and feared, money. We were money poor, but we were rich in education, culture, and self-confidence. We volunteered everywhere, which allowed us access to otherwise unaffordable social and cultural events. Later, as a dancer and actor, I loved sharing complimentary tickets with my family.

In addition to the resources I mention above, I have the additional privilege of being a white, cisgender woman who passes as straight and middle class in spite of my “invisible” disabilities and lesbian sexual orientation. These privileges helped me develop a financially stable life as an adult. Also important has been releasing my fear of, and distaste for, money. A childhood spent in the shadow of relentless debt and frequent close brushes with bankruptcy lead me to think of money as a predatory mystery to which I was fated to be subservient. I thought people like me could never have enough for a financially stable life or comfortable retirement.

Zaria’s Money Awakening

Cherry blossoms

I’ll never forget the day this narrative started to change. A regular customer came into a store where I worked. He was elated to have just paid off his student loan. What?! He was barely older than me and worked as a low-paid house painter. Was it possible for people like us to live debt free?

At his suggestion, I read Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez’s Your Money or Your Life* cover-to-cover, adjusted my mindset, and overhauled my budget (and life). But once that was done, I ground to a halt. What were my next steps? This was early days of the Internet, so that resource wasn’t available. Also, employers weren’t helping employees become more financially literate the way many of them do now. And it never occurred to me that my credit union could help me learn more and review options.

*Mrs. FW side note: I love, and highly recommend, this book! Also, this is an affiliate link.


For years I muddled along as best I could: paying off my student loans and purchasing Treasury Bonds. I simply had no idea how (and how much) to save for retirement. For years I focused on living frugally and saving as much as I could from my low-paid community-service jobs. Those savings were needed to pay medical bills for medically-necessary therapy, tuition for a MS degree in mental health counseling, and life expenses when I lost my job due to the Great Recession. In 2010, I got a stable, full-time position with decent pay, health insurance, and some retirement resources. In 2016, I discovered the FIRE/frugal online community (especially Frugalwoods!) and never looked back.

Zaria’s Career(s)

A friend gave Zaria a creative haircut

I’m currently on my third career. 1) Trilingual instructor, translator, and dramaturge, 2) Bilingual mental health therapist working with young immigrants and refugees, and currently 3) Academic advisor at a large state university.

When I “retire,” I’ll return to offering mental health support to child/youth refugees and immigrants (I have an MS in mental health counseling and am fluent in Spanish and French).

I look forward to incorporating more physical movement and interaction with nature into what I offer as a therapist.

Zaria’s Hobbies and The Best Parts of Her Life:

  • Immersion in breathtaking nature, in and outside of the city
  • Hiking, especially in WA and southern Utah
  • Time with water – kayak, SUP, wade (I don’t love swimming)
  • Buddhist practice and community
  • Dancing, playing with kids and animals, laughing, learning, speaking my other languages
  • Sharing meaningful connections and helping those around me
  • Exchanging thoughtful weekly letters with my father
  • Caring for shelter dogs
  • Living in a quiet home with a patio and garden

The Most Challenging Parts of Zaria’s Life:

  • Mt Rainier makes its own weather

    Isolation: Managing my disabilities combined with needing solitude to recharge from the job of therapist or advisor (meaningful work that I love and do well) results in reduced energy to socialize and meet new people.

  • Loneliness: I’ve had wonderful friends, but now all but one live far away and don’t have bandwidth/desire to maintain our friendship. Also, for various reasons, Seattle isn’t always an easy place to make friends. Note: I love animals, but can’t have them in my rental.
  • Connection: In September 2019, I started to intentionally seek new friends. I joined a local hiking group, took yoga classes, attended a few social gatherings, and reached out to some interesting people. But the pandemic ended those activities. As of March, I’ve been reaching out online (via affinity groups and free dating sites). No strong connections yet.
  • Doubt: Will I even be able to find and keep friends and community? Is it too late to make connections? So many people, especially around my age, seem to have found the friends they want and not be open to adding more.

Where Zaria Wants To Be in 10 Years:

Zaria with purple backpack hiking with friends


  • Secure comfortable retirement (food, housing, healthcare), supplies for already-existing hobbies, dance/yoga classes, attend occasional theater performances/lectures, winter travel to a warm sunny place.
  • What else: Be able to make some modest donations, explore US National Parks, and take a special trip once or twice a year.


  • Have a few loving, interesting, dependable, long-term friends.
  • Be part of a healthy, diverse, art/nature-oriented community.
  • I welcome an intimate relationship, but cultivating friends and community is my priority.


  • I could continue to live in Seattle or move to a progressive town (e.g., college town, etc.).
  • I prefer temperate weather and need access to beautiful natural places, preferably mountains and water.
  • I love the Pacific NW and could be happy in progressive communities in the mountain west, NH, VT, MA, Europe and Latin America.


  • Daily: meditation, yoga, and outdoor activity.
  • Regular: dance, laugh, time with friends, read, play, garden, socialize, speak other languages, learn about plants/animals and geology/climate
  • Starting summer 2021: volunteer in Mt. Rainier National Park, start drawing and begin a nature journal.


  • Work part-time as a therapist for BIPOC children and youth.
  • Connect my clients to physical movement, art, and nature.
  • Foster shelter cats and dogs.

Zaria’s Finances


Item Amount Notes
Zaria’s net income $2,682 Minus deductions for taxes, healthcare, and 403b contributions
Monthly subtotal: $2,682
Annual total: $32,184


Item Amount Notes Interest/type of securities held Name of bank/brokerage
403b $137,800 VANG INST TR 2040 & VANG INST TR 2035 Vanguard funds managed by Fidelity
IRA-Roth $41,000 Vanguard
IRA-Traditional $35,996 I was told I couldn’t contribute to a traditional IRA, but it seems I actually can. So, starting in 2020, I’ll be contributing the max to my traditional IRA. Vanguard
IRA-Traditional (roll-over) $35,200 Vanguard
Emergency Savings
Emergency $5,466 Goal: $10,932 (Could you recommend a good high-interest saving account for this?) My local credit union
Immediate access
Checking $1,500 My local credit union
Savings $500 My local credit union
Total: $257,462

Debts: $0


Vehicle make, model, year Valued at Mileage Paid off?
Honda Fit (2013) $8,500 33,726 Yes
Total: $8,500


Item Amount Notes
Rent $1,350 furnished apartment with internet, laundry, utilities, garbage/recycle, vacuum, etc.
Food $200 organic/local/unprocessed; free of a number of allergens; diet is similar to Whole 30
Non-food household $25 cleaning supplies, toilet paper, first aid, body care, seeds, batteries, light bulbs
Medical care $16 managing a chronic health condition
Medications $3 generic medications
Phone $13 Republic Wireless
Gas $30
Servicing $12
Vehicle tabs $24
AAA road service $8
Insurance – car & renter’s $102 payment for having an accident-free record = $48.66/year
Clothes $3
Shoes $17 replace hiking/trail shoes
National Parks Pass $7
Seattle Mountaineers $8
Book purchases $5 approx. three books/year by local authors (and then I use the books as gifts)
Monthly subtotal: $1,822
Annual total: $21,866

Credit Cards

Card Name Rewards Type Bank/card company
Fidelity Rewards (primary) Cash back $129 cash earned so far; $20,200 line of credit
Capital One (back-up) Travel (I have 140,405 miles)

Zaria’s Questions for You:

Maple Pass – lunchbreak

1) Technology-related:

  • FIRE Calculations:
    • Is there an easy-to-use online retirement calculator for non-techie/non-math people?
    • I’m mystified about how to know future interest rates and other such details required by these calculators
  • Music:
    • Recommendations for frugally enjoying music? iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify or something else?
    • How do I retain access to my purchased music (e.g., purchased via CD, online, etc.)?
  • Computer backing-up:
    • How does a non-technical person like me securely back-up music, photos, and documents to my iCloud account?
  • Passwords:
    • I’m drowning in passwords and can’t keep up with having to change them regularly.
    • Thank you for your help with password strategies and/or recommendations of password managers.
Alpine Lake

2) Questions for renters living in HCOL areas they can’t afford:

  • Do you plan to stay? If so, do you have any creative budget-friendly strategies for doing this?
  • If you’ve moved to a more affordable location, are you glad you did? What should I consider/do before making the decision about moving?

3) Planning for the future:

  • I hope to enjoy a long, joyful, active, healthy life for many years to come. I may or may not become partnered. No matter what, I welcome your advice on what I should be considering and planning, including how to deal with ageism and aging as a single woman.
  • I’m open to leaving Seattle as long as it’s safe to be gay and I have friends and community. Any places I should consider?
  • Currently, my focus is on saving for retirement, cultivating friends/community, developing technical literacy, and investing in my long-term health. Is there anything else I should be doing?

Many thanks to the entire Frugalwoods community for taking the time to read and comment. I know how lucky I am to be a part of this wonderful community that Liz created.

Mrs. Frugalwoods’ Recommendations

Zaria on Zion hike

I begin with massive congratulations to Zaria for managing to live well in a high cost of living city on a relatively modest salary. I am impressed with her inexpensive rent, small grocery budget and super frugal entertainment. Zaria should be telling ME how to save money!!!!

It’s clear that over the years, Zaria has cultivated a naturally frugal lifestyle that allows her to spend time and money on the things that matter most to her–hiking, yoga, dance, community, animals–and eliminate all the expensive distractions that so many of us (me included) fall victim to. Zaria is the prime example of how to forge a meaningful, fulfilling life in an expensive city with limited resources.

Zaria’s Question #1: All Things Technology

I want to note here that sometimes people grouse about how every single Case Study doesn’t focus exclusively on money questions. Folks, I LIKE it when Case Studies don’t focus exclusively on money questions because if they did, I’d be writing THE SAME responses and advice every month. So, don’t bemoan that these questions aren’t alllllll about money.

Plus, I’d argue that most questions in life do have an undergirding of money–how we use it, how we earn it, how we feel about it, how it serves as a proxy for status–money is integral to most choices we’re able to make and ultimately, to the lives we’re able to live.

Zaria asks, “Is there an easy-to-use online retirement calculator for non-techie/non-math people?”

I respond, “Sort of.” This calculator from Engaging Data is pretty straightforward.

A few notes for Zaria on retirement:

  • She’s not looking to retire tomorrow, so there’s no immediate concerns, and she’s doing all the right things: contributing to her employer-sponsored 403b (enough to receive the full employer match) AND she’s contributing to an IRA.
  • Zaria should go ahead and figure out her anticipated social security payments, which she can do by following these instructions on how to retrieve their earnings tables from (the government Social Security website).
  • The end of Zaria’s Zion hike

    Since Zaria lives so incredibly frugally, it’s highly possible that her social security payments will cover (or nearly cover) her monthly living expenses in retirement.

  • It’s a bit oversimplified, but I like Fidelity’s retirement planning rule of thumb, which stipulates: “Aim to save at least 1x your salary by 30, 3x by 40, 6x by 50, 8x by 60, and 10x by 67.” Since Zaria is in her early fifties, she should have roughly $193,104 saved for retirement at this point (6 x $32,184). And she has, drumroll please…. $249,996 in her retirement accounts!!!!! Woohoo!
  • Based on the 6x rule of thumb, the likely presence of social security, Zaria’s inherent frugality, and the fact that she doesn’t plan to retire ASAP, I’d say she’s in excellent shape for retirement.

Zaria asks, “Recommendations for frugally enjoying music? iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify or something else? How do I retain access to my purchased music (e.g., purchased via CD, online, etc.)?”

I listen to free music on Pandora and Spotify. When I need/want a specific song (like when I’m preparing a song to sing at church), I use free YouTube. If the free option isn’t working for Zaria, I turn this over to the readers in their infinite wisdom.

Zaria asks, “How does a non-technical person like me securely back-up music, photos, and documents to my iCloud account?”

Seattle Glass Museum & Space Needle

I’m an obsessive backer-upper of data and I do it in two ways: with an external flash drive (kicking it old school) and via web-based services, some of which, yes, I actually pay for. The easiest way to think about this is that nothing actually lives on my computer. I could take my flash drive and my web-based log-ins and recreate “my” computer on any computer anywhere in the world. This way, if my computer spontaneously combusts or–more likely–a toddler dumps a cup of water on it, the only loss is the computer itself–all my data is stored elsewhere.

For photos: I pay for Google photos to back-up all of our photos (this means they’re web-based and can’t be lost if you lose your phone/computer/every photo print-out you’ve ever made). Plus, I can upload them directly from my phone into Google photos. Since I take all my photos with my iPhone, this is beyond convenient for me. Readers, I am but one voice here, so please chime in with your recommendations!

For documents: I primarily use Google docs and spreadsheets. These are free, you can access them anywhere, share them with anyone and, like the photos, the documents are web-based and so cannot be lost if your computer catches on fire.

Because I’m old school, I also shovel all my documents onto an external flash drive, ever-present on my laptop. But, the flash drive is a WAY less secure method of backing up because it could be lost or perish in flames if I accidentally leaned too close to the bonfire.

The cloud–which is really just the internet–is generally considered the best way to back stuff up because it means it’s not device dependent. You could lose your phone, your computer, etc and still have access to alllllllll your photos, documents, and spreadsheets (am I the only one attached to my spreadsheets? just me? Ok…. ). Having everything web-based is also super convenient if you’re toggling between a work and personal computer.

For music: I honestly don’t know. I listen to the free services I mentioned above and, when I’m out and about, I listen to free podcasts I’ve downloaded ahead of time. I am totally out of the loop on music back-up services. Readers–help out please!

Zaria asks, “I’m drowning in passwords and can’t keep up with having to change them regularly.Thank you for your help with password strategies and/or recommendations of password managers.”

Mt Rainier

Having secure, differentiated passwords is imperative, especially when you’re backing your stuff up online (aka in the cloud)! We use 1password, for which we pay an annual fee. For me, the cost is worth it because Mr. FW and I have a lot of shared passwords and we need a central repository for them all. I also like 1password because it auto-generates highly secure passwords and then remembers them for you.

However, if you want to go the free route, a lot of browsers now offer built-in password managers. My computer nerd husband reports that the password manager built into the Chrome browser is free and pretty straightforward to use. I think having a password manager–whether free or paid–is a fabulous idea in our increasingly-online world.

Zaria’s Questions On Planning For The Future

Salad from Zaria’s garden

Zaria has created a nimble lifestyle and she’d be well-equipped to pack up and move anywhere she wants, if she wants! I think she’s got a uniquely excellent set-up there in Seattle with: dirt cheap rent (WOW), access to nature, a great job, and a queer-friendly community. There are certainly cheaper areas to live in, but I question if she’d be as happy?

For example, I went to the University of Kansas in Lawrence, KS, which is a wildly progressive, hip, artsy, cultural little university town. However, it doesn’t have access to mountains, the winters are harsh, and while Lawrence is ultra-progressive, the rest of Kansas is not. My current state of Vermont has everything Zaria wants, except for climate… “temperate” we are not.

Other towns that come to mind are Ann Arbor, MI and Asheville, NC, but with both of those places, I think Zaria would likely face some of the same challenges I noted with Lawrence (although Asheville is more temperate and has gorgeous mountains). Plus, I think Zaria would be hard-pressed to find rent so cheap anywhere else. If she WANTS to leave Seattle, I think there are plenty of university towns she could consider, but if she’d just be trying to replicate what she already has in Seattle, I’m not sure I see the point.

Whidbey Island – mountain view

The wild card here is her rent. If her rent were to increase significantly, I wonder if she’s considered looking into subsidized housing? At her income level, I think she might qualify for some rent assistance and it might make staying in Seattle more tenable for the long-term.

Zaria’s a long way away from needing elder care, but it sounds like it’s something that’s on her mind. To that end, I wonder if she’s explored some of the options in the Seattle area? Perhaps knowing what’s available–and what assistance she might qualify for–would help frame this question better and give her some reference points for where she might live when she does need care.

Join The Peace Corps?

Given Zaria’s fluency in Spanish and French, I wonder if she’s ever considered doing something like elder Peace Corps or AmeriCorps? Zaria’s interest in social justice, in serving under-represented communities, her love of travel and the outdoors, as well as her training as a mental health counselor all make me wonder if she’d enjoy doing one of these programs in a few years as a sort of quasi-retirement? Just throwing it out there as an idea to consider. Plus, working through the Peace Corps might make the red tape of living abroad easier and might make it easier to receive/access her social security and Medicare benefits (this is me hypothesizing, do your research!!!).

Building Community and Making Friends

Maple Pass – waterfall

I hear from Zaria a desire for deeper friendships and community and I wish I had advice to offer her. It sounds like she’s already done all the right things: joining a faith community, joining a hiking group, attending yoga and dance classes, and using online dating sites. It really sounds like she’s putting forth the effort and, unfortunately, a pandemic has gotten in the way. I hope there are readers who can offer sage advice here!

Zaria’s Finances

Expenses: I have zero advice for Zaria on this front. She is a frugal maven and we should all learn from her! I will note it’s obvious Zaria carefully tracks her spending every single month. Looking at your expenses for just one month isn’t terribly illuminating–you need to know what you spend every month in order to have a clear picture of your spending. I use and recommend the free expense tracker from Personal Capital (affiliate link). You can read more about why I like Personal Capital here.

Retirement: As noted above, Zaria’s in rock star shape.

Emergency fund and cash: Between her emergency fund, checking and savings accounts, Zaria has $7,466 in readily-accessible cash. The standard rule of thumb is to have three to six months’ worth of your expenses in an emergency account. Zaria spends $1,822 per month, which means her savings would cover four months worth of her expenses. This is a perfectly adequate amount, but, she noted she’d like to have more saved and hey, more saved is never a bad idea (but it’s certainly not a hair-on-fire situation, not by a long shot). Zaria noted she’d like to move these accounts to a high-yield account, which is super smart. Unfortunately, most of those accounts aren’t very high-yield right now, but this is something for Zaria to keep an eye on when interest rates rebound.


Credit cards: Nicely done on using a cash-back card! I too am a cash-back card user because it’s the easiest way to earn rewards for buying stuff you were going to buy anyway (affiliate link). If you can pay off a credit card in full every month, and only use it to buy things you were going to buy anyway, a credit card is a fabulous way to: boost your credit score, track your spending, and earn cash back! You can read all about my credit card strategy and the cards I recommend.

Car: Major congrats on driving an older, paid-off car! I’m all about that used car life. Here’s why.

Debt: WOOHOO on being debt-free. Zaria has done the hard work to put herself in fabulous financial shape.

Income: Zaria’s income is modest, but she’s made it work. I don’t hear from her a desire to work more or take on a higher-paid job and, because of her frugality and wise choices, she doesn’t have to if she doesn’t want to.


  1. Retirement: Zaria should calculate her anticipated Social Security income to give her a fuller picture of what to expect in retirement. After gathering that data, she can plug all her variables into the calculator at Engaging Data.
  2. Technology: Look into free, web-based services for back-up (such as Google docs and the Chrome browser password manager) as well as paid options, such as Google photos and 1password. Consider if music needs can be met by free services.
  3. Long-term: Explore eligibility for subsidized housing/rent assistance. Research elder care options in the Seattle area to start gathering data. Consider joining elder Peace Corps or AmeriCorps as a quasi-retirement plan that would provide modest income, availability of US benefits, and the chance to live abroad and use her multiple languages.
  4. Every day: Feel really, really good about all the hard work she’s done to put herself in an excellent financial position despite having a modest salary in a high cost of living city!

Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice would you give to Zaria? We’ll 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 Zaria on 12/1/22:

Garden rose bouquet

Dear Frugalwoods community,

Many thanks to Mrs. FW and everyone who commented on my Reader Study (September 2020). The improvements I’ve made were guided by your suggestions. I especially wish to thank the wise folks who shared insights on cultivating relationships and community. I intended to reply, but right after my reader study, I experienced a long illness. Please accept my sincere, albeit belated, appreciation!

Now, onto the updates.


  1. Fostering cats and volunteering with shelter dogs

  2. Consistent with two long-time close friends (not local), monthly visits with two local friends

  3. Cooking simple inexpensive soups, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, and epic salads

  4. Recovering from illness and building back strength in preparation for hiking/camping next summer


  1. Last Pass: using for password management

  2. Photo storage and music management: researching the FW community’s suggestions

  3. Fidelity cash-back credit card: using for all purchases

  4. American Express (high-yield savings): $10,000 emergency fund; Now saving for a replacement vehicle

  5. Retirement (403b + IRA): $364,000 (current value) for post-65yo special experiences or emergencies

Future snapshot:

  1. Mushroom soup

    2023 & 2024: Regain health and fitness, max out 403b and IRA, and keep working (to qualify for PERS2)

  2. Pre-70 (~15years): Part-time (online) therapy practice; rent or vanlife somewhere inexpensive, sunny, and warm

  3. Post-70: $8,525/mo far exceeds expected my expenses. [PERS2 pension $6,406 + Social Security $2,146 = $8,525]

Finally, in the Frugalwoods spirit of sharing information, please see below for a brief list of resources that may be useful for dealing with stress and trauma.



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    1. Came here to say this! The local library should have lots of free options for streaming, all available without leaving your apartment. Also, there’s always good old fashioned borrowing.

  1. Hello Zaria (and Mrs Frugalwoods)!

    I would like to say congrats for a well planned and well arranged life! It really seems that you have figured out a good life for you. Regarding friends and community, I would have some advice. During this pandemic, I have started reaching out to my old friends. And some of them are long distances, and with some I haven’t talked in decades. And it is very refreshing and energising. Taking into account that we are going through a pandemic, it is natural to have difficulties in making new friends. But don’t give up on the old ones. Even though they might have rejected you somehow in the past, or not responded well to you reaching out, this unusual state that we are going through has changed a lot of mind and hearts. I think reconnecting with dear friends, even though you haven’t spoken in a while, might result in some interesting talks and maybe even a renewed friendship or two. Also, I recommend Tinder. Even though it gets a very bad reputation from some people, I have friends who have found good matches on it, and like a friend said “it is a numbers game”. Recently, they’ve added interests, so this might help with the selection of appropriate persons to meet. And don’t worry about your age. Ever since high-school, I’ve always got the impression that people are too busy and not interested in making friends. I think our culture makes it easy for us to live in bubbles and not go outside of them. But we should remain optimist. Sometimes, life surprises us. Look out for serendipity:)

    1. I just wanted to say “ditto” on reconnecting with old friends, and on Tinder. You’d be very surprised to find out how many Tinder marriages there are.

  2. Hello it sounds like in general you are in a great situation to launch from! Relating to the password, I am also currently evaluating options and JD Roth put together a blog post in that vein that is a good starting point. I have not yet picked a system so I can’t personally attest to anything specific but its a good starting point.
    And as far as finding community, I agree with the advice that finding non-profit/faith community/activities is a good way to go about it, but with the current situation, very difficult.

  3. Has Zaria explored become more involved in volunteering with animals? I work with a foster based rescue and I have made some great friends of all ages. They tend to be women in her age group but there are many people involved. Plus they tend to be kind and passionate. It is not automatic – some of them I would be confused if they invited me to do another activity but we hang out at our volunteer events. Even with COVID, we have fundraising events and communicate via email and phone. I cherish those who are reliable and hardworking and am happy to call them my friends. I plan an annual potluck party for our rescue (again not due to COVID) which I thought might be odd but many more people showed up than I expected. It showed me that many of them enjoyed the people they volunteered with and were seeking more connections.

  4. I use LastPass for passwords. It’s free, super-convenient and there’s an app and chrome extension that all work together. Also I think Zaria should scope out Spain! Especially Cadiz or maybe Burgos.

    1. I agree with Spain! Mountains everywhere. Places it’s easier to meet people, plenty of nature nearby, and an LGBT friendly environment : Málaga, Cádiz, Granada, Zaragoza, Bilbao, Galicia. I hear Burgos isn’t the easiest place to make friends but it’s a lovely city!

    2. I second LastPass for a password manager. Not only will it let you store passwords, but you can store notes such as PIN numbers for various offline needs. It’s very secure, and easily accessible from any web interface, if you don’t happen to be on a personal computer with the extension enabled.

      1. Regarding free music and books (and other things) , try joining a freecycle group on Craigslist or Facebook. Also the radio is always there. Here in Canada there’s a website called MeetUp which consists of groups with varying interests which can help find people to interact with for hobbies and might help with meaningful connections. You may wish to consider whether there are any intentional or cooperative housing groups in Seattle which may help with the living expenses, or Mental health focussed ranches/retreats with outdoor space which may house you while you work for them as a therapist. This might have the multiple benefit of giving you outdoor space, a place to live and also employment in one go.

        1. Hi Leah, Thank you for your mention of MeetUp. Many folks have suggested it. So, in addition to going on FB for the first time, I think I need to set up a MeetUp account as well.

  5. I’d suggest looking into cohousing, which is all about having community among your neighbors (NOTE: I don’t live in cohousing community, but I can see my husband and I doing so in retirement). You have your own space, but there are shared common areas too (sometimes a community garden, kitchen, shared tools/workshop, etc.) Cohousing communities are usually very environmentally friendly, diverse, and with a focus on living simply/sustainably, so I think this environment would align with Zaria’s values. Prices definitely range based on amenities, but I can just see her fitting right in!

    1. Agree here. There are cohousing situations that “specialize” in older adults (as opposed to young families), and some that are focused on the LGBTQ community. Others focus on common values such as Buddhism or meditation or eco concerns. It’s an exciting avenue to explore, either already existing situations, or to start one or join one in the planning stages. Washington State has many options already, as a place to begin looking. You can visit many of them (virtually, these days, obviously) or in person once life settles down. Happy exploring!

  6. Liz, thank you for your illuminating advice! I’ll share that my lack of technology knowledge is directly relevant to money because: 1) I need up-to-date tech skills if I want any better-paying jobs, 2) The more I know the more frugal and DIY I can be, and 3) My lack of tech know-how is already limiting my access to information. (For example, I’m still can’t figure out how to load an audio library book on to my iPhone!)
    Here are answers to the questions posed:
    1) I always make sure to pay enough to get the employer match. As Liz says, that’s free money!
    2) My hope is to wait until age 70 before starting SS benefits which would be $2,146/month. I have to start taking my PERS2 pension payments at age 65 so the idea is to start with that before taking SS. Also, I’ll have the private retirement/IRA accounts.
    3) I love the idea of offering my skills via PeaceCorps/AmeriCorps, especially in Spanish- and French-speaking communities.. I do plan tot do this, but due to my mental health issues, I’ll probably need a bit more control over my situation in order to maintain my balance.

    1. For getting an audio book, have you tried the Libby app? Mine works really well with SPL. Also, the librarians are awesome and tech literate, and they offer some tech training as well. Love from Greenlake / Phoney Ridge 🙂

    2. Zaria–if you’re having trouble with any resources available at your library feel free to ask a librarian for help! We work with people who are new to technology all the time by phone and in person. A librarian can help acquaint you with resources you may not know about as well.

      1. Seconding asking a librarian and (in non-pandemic times) many libraries offer tech literacy classes you could check out to beef up your skills.

  7. If you pay for Amazon Prime it includes unlimited photo storage, and can be setup to automatically backup any photos from your phone.

    1. There is also a free Amazon music thing-y as part of Prime. There’s a “included” music version and a “extra cost” version. DH uses and is happy with the included version (I haven’t told him there is a more expansive paid version.)

      Amazon Prime is ~$12 month so probably not worth it if you don’t otherwise use Amazon.

  8. Wow Zaria you are definitely living within your means, and doing meaningful work. Kudos to you! I think you should keep contributing to a Roth since that money can be accessible before age 59, and many people are doing conversions from traditional to a Roth because of this. I like that you have a great rent, but I’d seriously consider getting a pet for your mental wellness. I’m not sure if your housing will allow therapy dogs/cats but I’d look into it. When our dog died in July I realized I needed an animal in the home to thrive. Two months later-we have a new pet and we literally all came back to life again. This is a hard year for everybody and feeling stuck is universal.
    A dog that coukd take hikes with you would be super ideal. Honestly, it’s easier to meet other people when you have a pet. Even cat people really band together lol:).
    I would say try building up your non-retirement savings. Having say $10k would be a good goal and keep it in Ally bank or a Capital one 360 high yield savings account. Pay yourself every month($200 is a great start), and adjust your budget to your savings accordingly.
    There are many places you could live and make things work for you-but if you can open your heart/mind to how you are a special person in your own right, and build that confidence you will draw more people to you. That’s why I like dogs-they have a way to make you feel better no natter what and caring for an animal is like nothing else.
    Take care and I’d stay put for now but still look forward to moving on if that’s what the future holds for you!! You are doing great.

    1. Hi Zaria! I second Cindy’s pet recommendation. COVID hit a few months after I moved to a new state (from Seattle), and my rescue dog has allowed me to make friends during the pandemic, mostly with other people walking friendly dogs. Also, she is a huge balm to my general mental health and wellbeing. You may qualify for a therapy dog, who should be an exception to your apartment’s policy. If that doesn’t work out and you don’t want to move, I would definitely consider getting involved in an animal shelter or foster network! I know you can volunteer in non-fostering capacities with most, and you’d definitely meet other dog lovers.

      Out of curiosity, have you considered a move to Bellingham? It’s cheaper than Seattle, but has the same climate and a lot of similar cultural advantages, and you’d still be in easy day trip distance to your existing network. It’s smaller, but that might actually help you integrate into the community if it’s a good fit. Western Washington University is up there too, and might offer positions in your field.

      Best of luck!

    2. Thank you for your message. When I read about the Roth vs tIRA, it seems that the tIRA is best when in one’s high earning years whereas, the Roth is better for low earning years. Would you agree?

      p.s. I’d dearly love to have a dog!

      1. I would check Seattle laws about emotional support animals. In New York State if you have a letter from a counselor stating that an emotional support animal is needed you are required to be able to have that animal and cannot be charged any extra rent nor security deposit.

          1. Your timing is perfect! My therapist and I are discussing the pros and cons of having a service dog.. If I end up going that route, I’ll definitely share it in my case study follow-up.

      2. Agreed, you’re right! You however, are lucky not to be a super high earner so you really have the option to choose or at least google what tax bracket you’re in so you can see if you really benefit from the tax break of a Trad IRA.

    3. Cindy,
      Your post really struck a chord with me. Our rescue dog passed away in August and it has been so hard without him. I miss having the routine and the easy socialization that walking a dog could bring, everyone loved him.

  9. I think Zaria is doing a wonderful job and is quite frugal as it is! I love the suggestion for the Peace Corp or you could look into Americore if you wanted to stay in the US. As a social worker I can relate to her needing to re-charge and re-center after working. The best friends seem to be found when you share an interest so volunteering or a church/spiritual center/community center might be a good place to look. Keep up the good work you are rocking it!!

    1. Hey! Also, if you have any interest in teaching – Teach for America is a really good option. You are considered an Americore member at the same time and you get paid a full salary with benefits. There is a wonderful, very diverse community that is pretty tight knit.

  10. Hello Octavia, Laura, Nora, and Amhp, thank you for your thoughtful comments!
    Octavia, Great suggestion about Tinder. I was thinking of putting myself onto a number of (free) sites. Also, I like your idea about reaching out again to old friends. I’ve tried that in the past, but as you point out, we’re in a new world.
    Laura, I’m going to read that JD Roth article. Thank you for sharing it with me!
    Nora, Great questions. I was very active with the shelter and with other volunteer opportunities. Then it got to be too much on top of my job. So, I’ve dialed things back so I can carefully adjust bit-by-bit in order to find a sustainable balance.
    Amhp, I’ve never heard of Last Pass. It looks quite promising. I love Spain, but always thought it’d be too expensive. Do you have any tips for frugal living in Spain? I’m all ears!

    1. Zaria, I second all of the accolades to your successes! Check your the local library to see if they offer free technology counseling for library resources as ours does. You can schedule a one on one appointment and bring in your cell phone and they will show you how to download music, books and other services. It is SO worth the effort!
      Good luck and I look forward to hearing all of the suggestions for you.

      1. I was going to suggest this as well. Even if your “home” library doesn’t offer such services, maybe one in the greater library system your local branch is affiliated with might have more, or maybe an outside-system library might have services without residency requirements.

    2. Spain’s actually really cheap, in my experience! I shared a 2 BR, 2 bath apartment in a nice section of Malaga for EUR 250/mo back in 2010, and groceries were astoundingly inexpensive.

  11. Hi A, thank you for your advice about streaming! I wasn’t aware of that library option. I adore my public library and am determined to learn how to use their virtual services. 🙂

    1. Zaria, Especially after the pandemic, check out even more stuff from the Seattle library, which has a stellar reputation. It probably offers free classes online (from outside vendors perhaps) and of course you can borrow many things besides books, music, and videos. Some libraries offer things like telescopes, musical instruments and even fishing poles.
      If you like to read, a friend I know has made new friends by starting a book club when she moves to a new place. I guess she does it through a meet-up site.
      I agree that some places seem to make it harder to cultivate new friends. Many of my best friends I’ve known for decades, so I sympathize with you. I’ve made friends through work, my kids, and my dogs. Hard to know if I will need to cultivate new people when I retire, but I admit that were I to move to a place where I didn’t know people scares me to death! You are doing great though. Keep it up. (Query, at one point did you say you “passed as straight?” Is that in the past?

      1. Your public library probably has some streaming services like Hoopla or Kanopy. I think there’s also something called Lynda that I think is more geared towards learning. But you’ll be able to find something that suits your needs, I’m sure. Just to build upon Leslie’s post, some libraries also offer free passes to local museums or events, so check that option out too.

        I’m 41 and am unmarried, though I started a long-term relationship at the end of last year. I was chronically single throughout my 30s and found it incredibly difficult at times to make friends, but I did eventually make friends. In my experience, it wasn’t that people weren’t interested in making friends, but that they found it challenging to 1) meet people interested in making friends, and 2) finding the time to build and maintain the friendship. Most people our age tend to make friends through their neighbors, work, kids, dogs, or interests.

        When I rescued my dog 4 years ago, I met loads of people through her and built my community quickly (I realize that’s not an option for you). One woman around my age literally asked me if we could be friends after we hung out multiple times at the dog park. She said, “I hope this isn’t weird, but it’s so hard to make friends in your 30s. Can we exchange numbers and hang out and be friends? Like meet for drinks or dinner?” I was thrilled! She was engaged, so it wasn’t going to a single friend I could go meet guys with, but I was thrilled just to have a friend to meet for drinks or dinner like she suggested. Unfortunately, she changed careers and her new job has taken over her life, so I don’t see her much anymore. But I’ve made other friends and still keep up with old ones.

        I think it’ll be easier for you once the pandemic lifts, but I encourage you to join a few meetups to make friends. I’ve made some great ones that way! Not everyone will be compatible long-term as a friend, as I’ve learned, but the good ones will remain friends. Hang in there!! Know that there are plenty of people who want to make friends, regardless of age. And, yes, it’s okay to be friends with older and younger people. 🙂

        Btw, I’m so excited for your “retirement” career that I kind of want you to retire now. It sounds like you’re in the right field and have a good heart, so I hope you help lots of people! Good luck to you! Oh, and I agree that you might want to remain in Seattle if you love it there. I’ve never been, but it looks gorgeous.

      2. Hi Leslie, thank you for your message and question. I could only find present tense (“passes as straight”). I look traditionally feminine, but if I have a buzz cut or an awesome wild haircut (see earlier photo), I don’t pass in less urban and/or conservative areas. Many of my friends and all of my intimate partners are women with strong masculine energy/appearance. So, when I’m with them, it’s unlikely that I pass. [Note: I wish to clearly acknowledge the complexity of gender, sex, sexual orientation, “woman,” “masculine,” etc. In no way am I advocating for or otherwise valuing certain identities and descriptors more than others. Thank you for your patience with this imperfect language.]

        1. Zaria, I find it very refreshing and helpful that you just describe how things are for you instead of using esoteric “woke” language that is in vogue but frankly Super confusing to a lot of people!

          1. I’m so glad to hear this! Like you, I’ve struggled with this issue and value using a language that’s both rich and inclusive.

  12. Hi Lin, thank you for the tip about Amazon Prime. I’ve been considering the idea of plugging a single system of services (e.g., the Google ecosystem, Amazon, Apple, etc.). So many options overwhelm me. So, maybe I’ll do better by choosing one system (that has a range of services) to use.

  13. Hi Zaria, Thank you for giving us a glimpse into your life and the nice change of pace your questions offered. I thought I’d provide a couple more retirement calculators that might interest you. The first is from the same website that Liz offered, but more FIRE focused (and a bit easier for a novice like me to understand)
    This one takes into account your location, which I thought fitting since you were considering moving. :

    Good luck with everything! 🙂

  14. You sound like an amazing woman and I’m sure there’s an awful lot of people out there who would love to be your friend! I too have found it difficult to make meaningful new friendships in my middle age as I’ve moved around a lot and as you say most people are already happy with their existing friendship group and too busy to invest the necessary time in creating new bonds. Anyway, don’t give up hope of creating a wonderful circle of friends where you are – and as Liz said, it does sound like Seattle is ticking all the boxes for you. I also have mental health issues and although it’s been fun in lots of way to have moved around a lot, from a mental health point of view there’s a lot to be said for putting down some roots – but that needn’t stop you keeping Seattle as a base while you have multiple adventures in the future.

    1. Hi Julia, thank you for your message and sharing from your life experience. I agree with you about having a home base. I know that’s essential for keeping my balance. Best wishes!

  15. Hi Cindy, You hit the nail on the head about animal companionship. In fact, I’m beginning research to see if there are any support animal options for me. Also, thank you for the encouragement to continue Roth contributions (I agree!) and build a non-retirement savings in Ally Bank (new to me) or a Capital one 360 high yield accounts. Above all, thank you for your kind and insightful comment, “if you can open your heart/mind to how you are a special person in your own right, and build that confidence you will draw more people to you.” That’s so true and reminds me that , when one lives with disabilities, there can be a tendency to see my limitations more than my strengths.

    1. Just my 2 cents, but I find American Express savings accounts have the same rates as Ally with better customer service.

  16. Dear Liz and Sharon, Supported living and co-housing are a wonderful suggestions for me because I’m a social introvert, someone who needs both solitude and community. I realize that my childhood poverty mindset is showing itself. I say this because I’d simply assumed that co-housing was financially out of reach. However, instead of assuming this, I need to actually research it! Thank you for getting that ball (and me!) rolling.

    1. Zaria, thank you for your story! You sound like terrific and very organised person! Best luck to you! And thank you for the “social introvert” term – I am same way and was always confused to call myself introvert because I can’t live without a community. By the way – second the tip for cohousing. I used to rent a room and have 3-4 neighbors living in same flat in other rooms – for 10 years (it was not same flat and neighbours changed also) and last two years I live in my own appartment. I noticed that I seriously miss having neighbors:((

      1. I’m happy the term resonates. It feels right to me because I must have solitude *and* intentional doses of high-quality people time.

  17. I don’t have actionable advice for Zaria but just wanted to comment that her life sounds beautiful and hard-won! And that I wish I were in Seattle so that we could be friends, she voices many of the same desires for intentionality and true community that I have. Keep on seeking! <3s

    1. Kristen, what a kindhearted thing to say. Thank you for your generosity of spirit and willingness to share it. Namaste my friend

  18. Hello Christa, I admire and appreciate social workers – thank you all that you do. Also, thank you for your encouragement and tip about the Shutterfly App. I’ve never heard of it. Adding it to my research list.

  19. Hi all,

    Love the sharing of practical tips like this. The pandemic has brought out some DIY spirit that’s really good…

    I recommend the Libby app to download audio books from the library. It’s super easy to use and ties to your local library card / ID. Just go to the App Store on your iPhone and download the app. Sometimes you have to wait a bit for books but I can usually find something else appealing to listen to in the meantime.

    Also, I love the Pocket Casts app for listening to podcasts.

    And for cooking, I am loving the BudgetBytes website. Terrific and inexpensive recipes.

    1. Just a note that different libraries pay for different apps, so some might be Libby, others might be Axis360, Hoops, etc. But the process is the same and the library site will link to the app(s) to download. Ours even offers creative bug for online classes!

        1. Here’s another Seattle area hint –

          Once we get to the point where you can enter a library again, you can use your Seattle Public Library membership to gain access to the books and audio/video available with King County Library systems and Sno-Isle library systems – they offer reciprocal privileges. It’s well worth the effort to get access to the items available from all three – books, audio books, videos through the kanopy app, magazines through RB digital, museum passes. Furthermore, these libraries offer activities – book groups, lectures, and other activities. Info here for Seattle public library digital resources:

          1. Lots of library love on this thread! Just wanted to add that there is no need to wait to actually enter the library to get a Sno-Isle card. You can sign up online ( and start using digital services immediately. To check out physical items, you’d need to show photo ID (which can be done even now during contact-free hours). The more libraries the better…

  20. Hi Julia, I appreciate you sharing your personal experience. It’s helpful to hear from others who navigate these waters. I agree that Seattle is a strong base for me. In fact, I don’t want to relocate. Instead I prefer to focus on connecting more deeply and, in the future, keep Seattle as my home base. (p.s. I like the flower in your hair!)

  21. You might want to check, out Harrisonburg, VA area. It’s nestled between Shenandoah National Park mountains and National Forest on the other side. It’s a university town that is progressive and also a place where a lot of refugees are resettled. It also has nice weather!

  22. I’ve had luck with FIRECalc to calculate retirement success, You can make it complicated or keep it simple, and get a ballpark idea of where you stand. Great job, Zaria, on frugalizing your life! I am also in my fifties and was also inspired by Your Money or Your Life. As far as the passwords, I am a luddite and share your frustration. I keep an old-style address book, with tabs for A-Z, and write my passwords in there with an old-fashioned pen. haha. All the best to you.

  23. Zaria, since you are fluent in Spanish and French (lucky you!), you may want to consider retiring to a country in Central America such as Belize or Costa Rica. Ecuador also has good buzz. All of these nations are inexpensive,, health care is decent, and you will find expat communities. I know you’re several years away from retirement, but this might be an idea to keep in your back pocket, as it were.

    I frequently listen to Pandora and absolutely love it.

    On a side note, thanks to everyone for the password suggestions. I need to do this!!

    As another Seattle-ite, the late chef Jeff Smith (The Frugal Gourmet) used to say, “I bid you peace.”

  24. Zaria – just had to comment as our overlaps are striking. I turned 52 this week, have hidden health issues, was raised with some similar money aversions, am struggling in a new community with finding real friends when my bandwidth is already stretched thin with a challenging job, am multilingual, hate passwords and all that, and we even have similar retirement savings. I could learn from you with cutting my budget, especially food. Lately I’ve been looking at intentional communities as a place to live when I’m ready to transition to a less work-focused life and I would like to be as off-grid as possible. I am concerned about my healthcare costs increasing significantly as I age, as well as long-term care costs later in life, especially as I don’t have family. I do have friends who are like family, however, and in the next couple of years a priority is to get nearer to them.

    1. Happy Birthday Marie! How cool to meet my virtual twin :-).
      – Of course, it won’t come as a surprise that being off-grid appeals to me as well. Also, I share your concern about healthcare.
      – I hope the wonderful suggestions being shared will be of help to you. You might want to check out Budget Bytes – delish recipes, an upbeat tone, and great practice at managing food costs.
      – So, when do we get to see your Reader Case Study? (Of course, there’s no pressure. Only affectionate encouragement, if needed.)
      – Best of luck of you build your chosen family!

  25. Hi Zaria! I don’t have any advice, just wanted to pop on here and say that you sound like a super awesome and interesting person! If I lived nearby, I would definitely want to go hiking with you. I’m in my 20’s and single and I feel you on how hard it is to make (and keep) friends. All of my friends are in relationships and don’t make a lot of time for friendships. Seems like that’s a fact of life for single people of any age!

    1. Excellent point about make time for friendships. It’s certainly has been my experience. I’ve been partnered, but most of my life has been lived as a solo-ista. Yes to hiking! 🙂

  26. Zaria, Thank you for sharing your story. What an adventurous and interesting life you’ve led!

    I also really love “Your Money or Your Life” and am now enjoying another book by Vicki Robin, “Blessing the Hands that Feed us.” It’s about how Vicki cultivates friendships in her community by supporting local farmers and food producers. Perhaps you might enjoy it.

    My favorite retirement calculator is a simple Nest Egg calculator by Vanguard with only a few easy to understand inputs:

    I use LastPass for managing my passwords. It’s very helpful.

    1. Hi Tim! Thank you for your kind words and the book suggestion. Have you read “The Feast Nearby” by Robin Mather or “With These Hands” by Daniel Rothenberg? You might find them interesting.

      1. The Feast Nearby was the book that got me started on my whole/local foods journey. I loved it so much, I bought it in hardback!! Great recommendation

        1. Hello fellow fan (I purchased an hardback copy too)! You might enjoy “Paradise Lot” by Eric Toensmeier, “Garden Letters” by Elspeth Bradbury, and “When Wanderers Cease to Roam” by Vivian Swift.

  27. I am 60. I think she is doing a fabulous job and her rent is extremely cheap, well, for most places in the U.S. I am amazed she was able to get that amt of rent for Seattle. University jobs are hard to come by and I am not sure if transferring to another location would be that great. She has mountains which she likes, and a temperate climate, which she likes. My only “thing” about the rent is the fear that it will go up in such an expensive city, and her salary not increase correspondingly. I also “get” it about the tech thing. My son says I am a bit techno challenged…lol. I have four kids, but my best friend died 14 years ago, and I have been essentially friendless since, so I understand how she feels. Yes, it is really hard to make friends as we age, at least I have found that in my part of the country. Medicare can only be used in the U.S. , at least that is what I have been told, so if she goes to live in another country after age 65, she just may need to enroll in their healthcare system, if possible.

    1. Dear Cindy, I’m so sorry to hear about your friend. I hope you’ve found ways to stay connected to the beauty and energy of that friendship. Thank you for your encouragement (and understanding about the tech thing!).

  28. Just seconding the Shutterfly suggestions. I also use this app to back up all my photos for free. It’s easy to use and has worked well for me for years.

  29. We had our emergency savings with Marcus, but I’m in the process of moving it to Vio Bank. Marcus has steadily decreased the interest and I finally decided to make the switch. With that said, there aren’t any great options right now, but meh… switching is easy and I’ll give it a shot with Vio’s current .83 vs the Marcus .60. It’s not much of a difference, but Marcus has been steadily decreasing since March and I suspect they’ll continue to lower. In regards to moving, I recommend really looking into the why. If you’re tired of Seattle (it doesn’t sound like it!), then that’s one thing. From the summary, it sounds more like a thought that things could be better elsewhere, a new start, a change that could result in finding the friends and community you seek. Obviously just my opinion, but you likely won’t see a big change. I say that from my own experience. 🙂 In each place I’ve lived, I’ve had access to groups, clubs, events, volunteer opportunities, etc and I’m coming to accept that I only put forth so much effort toward them even though I like the theory of it. I’m definitely not saying that’s the case with you. I’m saying that in Seattle, you likely have a ton of options in which to engage with like-minded folks if you know how to seek them out. I use the internet for most of this, but my library is also a wealth of options. Honestly, what I find in my current area is that I’m often on the out because we don’t have children. Many women in their 50s either have their own chilldren and/or grandchildren. I’m in a lovely community, but also one where there are primarily traditional families in nice homes. Absolutely nothing wrong with that, but I often feels it makes it a bit more difficult to connect with other women. The pandemic has changed everything, but some stuff is starting to open up again and in writing this, I realize I’m not happy in my personal life and need to actually make an attempt to do something about it. 🙂 My husband is wonderful, but I miss having girlfriends, GOOD, CLOSE girlfriends. This can surely happen in my current location just as easily as it could in some other area I move to. I might be off-base with my assessment on your interest in moving, but it really does sound like Seattle is working well for you except for the loneliness.

    1. Thank you for your message! I agree with you about Seattle. I think it can continue to be a good place, especially if I can cultivate some friends and a community. Of course, rising expenses may force me out, but it’s more likely that I’d move away in order to live in a more rural and nature-oriented location. I hope your future holds a couple of good close girlfriends!

  30. If you will get a PERS pension when you retire, you should look at the Social Securities Windfall Elimination Provision. This provision means your Social Security payment will be reduced by a certain percentage based on your employment years that were higher than a base amount. Social Security has a calculator to determine the percentage your Social Security will be reduced.

    1. Yes, that could be an issue, but I would imagine she would know by now. I’ve worked for 2 employers that have a PERS pensions. One paid into SS and one didn’t pay into it. It’s totally up to the organization if they want to pay into SS and many do, as is the case with my friend that works at a university.

  31. Zaria, well done. I will chime in with another great library resource. Check out your library on line resources. In all likelihood you have access to Morningstar Investment Research Center. Go to the Portfolio section(Far Right). Click on Retirement Cost Calculator and have a ball. In drag down analyses you can solve for annual retirement savings needed (current or annual), or rate of return needed. Again, what triumphs in your life!

    1. Gosh, I’ve never thought of these as “triumphs.” I know I’ve worked hard, been lucky, and received wonderful support. Occasionally, I’ll notice sadness at how long it took to heal. At the same time, I’m filled with gratitude for healing and
      the opportunities to interact more freely and fully with the people and world around me.

  32. Finding friends and community (including queer community) can be so tough. I live near Boston and my wife and I were both relatively late to come out (mid-20s) and nearly all of our friends are straight or are in hetero partnerships, so I relate. MA is a great, comparatively safe place to be queer but it’s also a high cost of living state. And we can have pretty extreme seasons although we haven’t had a bad winter since the legendary horrible weather of January-March 2015. In non-pandemic times, the best ways I’ve met new friends were in a personal training group at the gym, playing on a softball team in a queer women’s league, and through volunteering with a neighborhood development group where we made decisions about upgrades to a playground. Online, I’ve made friends through facebook groups related to my love of cooking, like One Bad Kitchen (loosely associated with the One Bad Mother podcast, but lots of people there aren’t parents or podcast listeners). A lot of podcasts have those kinds of peripheral online communities.

    I wonder if maybe it would work for you to find a residential advisor role at a college or boarding school, which may provide free accommodations. Might be more work than it’s worth, since you’d be at work basically at all times, but I’m sure best practices exist to create and enforce boundaries to avoid burnout.

    Best of luck to you, and thanks for sharing your story!

    1. Thank you for your message. I responded to your residential advisor suggestion further below. I like your idea to strategically use the internet to connect with like-minded people. Your gym training group reminds me of two of my happiest pre-pandemic spaces: very community-oriented yoga studio and exercise class. Sending you best wishes!

  33. Zaria, I think this is the most insipiring case study I have ever read! And I love reading all the tips here in the comments. I wanna echo Octavia’s advice about rekindling old friendships; my college friend group has been doing biweekly skype calls since the start of the pandemic, sometimes playing board games and sometimes just chatting. The four of us are spread over 2 continents and 3 different countries, with a 7h time difference, and because of that we hadn’t been in close touch, until the pandemic hit! And playing online board games + having more than 2 ppl in the friendship has been helpful for introvert-me who doesn’t always handle the intensity of 1-1 conversations well. I don’t know if you have any groups like that, but for me group-friendships tend to have a different dynamic than 1-1. Maybe an idea for starting something like that could be to look within your existing communities? For example, my sangha is starting a social justice focus group, and if I wanted to start a new board game or book group I’d also reach out to folks in that community. I also second the thoughts about adopting/fostering a rescue, or volunteering with an animal rescue. Your lease may not be allowed to exclude a service/therapy dog! And if you’re worried about the long term responsibility (what with the peace corps options), there are many lovely older dogs needing a home & i know that my local rescues always need foster homes. I struggled with depression/anxiety in the year after my dad passed away. We adopted a puppy, and while I was still struggling with mental health, I met a whole new group of (dog)friends through my pup, and her puppy antics and love were such a source of joy amidst the grey. That being said, I also had moments of overwhelm with having the responsibility for a young high energy dog (if I had been living alone, I think I would have gone for a calm older dog). And finally, YES to communal living. Several of my sangha friends live in various housing co-ops here in Madison, WI, and there’s a surprisingly wide range of costs and situations; I think you would fit right in, and I imagine a city like Seattle has even more options than my relatively small midwestern town.

    1. Elise, I’m deeply honored by your words. I bow to you with gratitude and joy for all the creative and loving ways you’ve found to touch the world around you through online board games, book group, sangha social justice group, and being a puppy parent. Also, thank you for adding your voice to those recommending communal living.

  34. Mrs Frugalwoods and others have mentioned Personal Capital for finance management, however one of the things I like best about Personal Capital is the Retirement Planning that the site offers! If you enter all your finances into the site for financial tracking purposes, you can then go to the Retirement Planning tabs and input how much money you will need per year, and the site will give you charts that show how long your money will last. One thing that is great is that iIt also allows you to put in specific events in the future (for me it is things like college expenses, financial gifts to my then adult children every 5 years and a new to me car every 10 years). You can create numerous scenarios for your retirement (for instance, different amounts you might need to withdraw per year for living expenses) and see how things will change.

    1. Also, I can highly recommend Cambridge, MA as a wonderful place to live! Weather may be a bit harsh (but 4 distance seasons are each lovely!) and of course it is expensive, but the Frugalwoods have proven that it is possible to live in this area frugally. Plus, ifthe rest of the country fall apart, I know that my state will be at the forefront of providing healthare and civil rights to all of its citizens!

    2. Thank you Monica. As my tech ability improves so does my confidence that I could actually succeed at using Personal Capital. I look forward to taking some time (perhaps during winter break) to give this a try.

  35. Great job, Zaria! Just a couple of tips—your local public library might offer free classes for computer/tech literacy. Also, I am sure someone at the library can teach you in person how to download books onto your phone (post Covid). How about the good ol’ radio for free music? I also use the free iHeartRadio app which is amazing. I like the retirement calculator at Plug some numbers in there, and study the report, which will help you tweak the numbers you enter to play with different scenarios.

  36. oh and I wanted to reiterate looking into using the Libby app for audiobooks and ebooks through your public library, it’s simple to use! And, your library may offer resources like workshops or 1-1 help from a librarian if you need help figuring out how to use their audiobook and ebook content 🙂

    1. I’m going to echo Elise’s suggestion to use the Libby app for audiobooks and ebooks. I also live in Washington State (on the dry side, however), and libraries in our state are part of the Washington Anytime Library system. That system uses the Libby app. You’re going to love this frugal hack!
      Thank you for sharing your inspirational story.

  37. Password keeper: KeePass
    High Yield Savings: Ally Bank, Barclay’s (online bank)
    Free Music: Pandora and Amazon music have free options

    Asheville, NC is a nice place but surprisingly expensive. It’s still cheaper than Seattle though!

  38. For music I like to stream favorite programs or radio stations and donate (they’re all public). World Cafe, The United States of Americana on The Current, WNCW 88.7– my favorite music station of all time (western NC, wonderful place, to add to Mrs. Frugalwoods, Asheville has a vibrant lesbian community, high cost of living though)

  39. It seems like you’re enjoying Seattle, but I wonder if you’ve explored nearby towns? My partner is from Olympia, and it has the art and culture vibe of a small college town, and a large lesbian community.

  40. Given what you have said in your case study and in your comments, I would not pursue the Peace Corps. I think most of us likely have a highly idealized notion of the Peace Corps. I know I did until my daughter spent nearly 2 years in service before being evacuated during COVID. If you have any mental health issues, the Peace Corps is not an organization to consider. I know in my daughter’s country that many PCVs that arrived with some mild mental health issues, which worsened in country, and they early terminated and returned to the USA. Peace Corps, when they start up again or if they start up again, has increased medical screening for mental health and are declining more potential volunteers with medical records that include prior mental health related care. It is very very very hard to provide adequate basic medical services in many of these countries and mental health services are very lacking. If you need specific drugs, they may be very difficult to obtain during service. The every day stress of living in the country can exasperate even the slightest insecurity. I think there are some short-term service opportunities in other countries that could be a perfect fit for you.

  41. I don’t know how much (if any) money could be saved, but if I were Zaria, I might consider relocating to one of the surrounding communities within commuting range of Seattle–maybe in the Kitsap area? Bainbridge, Poulsbo? While home-buying prices in those areas are still sky-high, creative alternatives are available. Plus, they have a more small-town feel, which might offer better opportunities to create meaningful relationships. And they’re awash in parks, water, forests…

    Anyway, good luck! I love Seattle, but the Seattle Freeze is real (and I’m still sad it won’t be the name of our hockey team).

  42. Hi Zaria! I relate to parts of your story as a mental health professional now higher ed administrator. Some suggestions for retirement calculators — I have enjoyed playing with the Retirement Planner in Personal Capital, Vanguard’s retirement calculator, and the Mad FIentist’s Financial Independence Laboratory. With regard to building friendships, I have noticed that my closest friends in adulthood are former colleagues and (graduate) students. While we maintained professional boundaries while sharing an employer, we already had a foundation on which to build a personal friendship once our work roles changed. I wonder if this network of former colleagues might be a source of new or deeper friendships over time. Thank you for sharing both your financial and personal questions about how to plan your best future.

    1. Hi Tara, like you, I’m seeing some of my graduated students coming into my social circle. It appreciate the richness of our connection. Many thanks!

  43. I’m so impressed, Zaria, with your array of interests, multilingualism, and savings! I can relate to the difficulty in meeting friends, as at 51, my husband and I moved from central Winnipeg, Manitoba, to a somewhat rural area of Nova Scotia. Just as I was beginning to get settled in our home, and decide on some potential opportunities to make friends/engage in my new community, the pandemic hit. I do finally feel that I’m ready to get back to work on this, though, and your story inspires me.

    I recently discovered Radio Garden, a free website where you can literally pick any place on the globe and listen to local radio stations from that area. I really enjoy choosing a random place and introducing myself to new and different genres of music that I’m not ordinarily exposed to. I like to have it on in the background while I’m cooking or working on hobbies.

    1. Hi Melinda, thank you for sharing from your life experience. As you slowly grow your new community, you might enjoy Elspeth Bradbury’s “Garden Letters: A Growing Correspondence.” Radio Garden sounds amazing!

  44. Hi Zaria, thank you for sharing your story! Some ideas from me, some which will echo suggestions above —

    – music listening – Pandora, youtube, and Spotify are free with ad support. You can access any from your web browser or the phone app. Another great option is your local radio stations. Seattle probably has university-affiliated stations which focus on local or global music in genres other than Top 40, and those stations are likely streaming on their own websites all day (for example – !)

    – meeting people – I’m near 30, but have moved a few times in the last 10 years and I have met absolutely wonderful people through the website (this is a free-to-use account based website with different interest-based groups – maybe lesbians who hike, or 50s+ dog lovers, or queer book clubs? spitballing, but they might very well exist especially in the Seattle area!) In covid times my book clubs are still meeting via Zoom and my outdoorsy groups have also started pandemic book clubs (and hosted a few socially distant outdoor activities i.e. paddling). I recommend checking out the groups near you for anything that sounds fun. and remember – you can always leave, and you never need to go again if it isn’t a good experience!

    – meeting people part 2 is Facebook, maybe surprisingly. they are not always true connections, but I get much joy out of my “special interest” facebook groups (which for me range from barefoot hikers to women runners in Massachusetts to busty lady clothing to bike repair to cleaning science). there are probably local-oriented groups as well as global for more specific things (maybe people who share some of your managed health conditions?) and it’s an easy opt-in/out. something to think about!

    – passwords I agree with the lastpass suggestion. We got my mom set up with this on her phone and laptop and she sings its praises frequently.

    – also agreeing with the suggestion to check out your local library for tech support. (they might also have book clubs meeting remotely if that’s anything that interests you!) or, if you have any interest, you might be able to find a local kid (or one of your students?) who for a small fee or buying a beer/coffee/ice cream would be happy to walk you through what you want to set up for your technical life!

    – there are so many options for backing up and they depend a bit on which hardware you’re using (android or iphone, macbook or windows or chromebook?) and what you’re trying to back up (photos, music, documents, etc). google drive is certainly a solid option; perhaps worth the annual fee to keep a good chunk of storage space available.

    I wrote a lot. Good luck and sending you awesome vibes for friend making!

    1. Thank you for your generous message Kerri! I’ve replied/will soon reply to your suggestions further below, but wanted to thank you for the nudge toward using I’ve added it to my Friendship project to-do list. 🙂

  45. I’d recommend using Meetup to make new friends. I’m the same age as you and a few years ago decided I needed to make new friends and it worked for me. You live in a beautiful place affordably, so unless you are going to do something exciting like move abroad, I’d suggest staying there. Your surroundings and ability to enjoy nature can have a big difference on quality of life. I don’t think you’ll be able to find another area in the US that is as pretty and gives you all the outdoor opportunity for less money.

    1. I agree with you about the beauty of where i live. I hope to stay here with some opportunities to travel and spend extended time in other languages. Thank you for recommending Given how much it’s been suggested by readers, I can tell it’s time for me to explore how to use it!

  46. I can only speak to the tech side of things: I’m a bit of a privacy nerd, so something to be aware of is that no service is free, someone is always paying for it somewhere, and for free-to-the-user services that’s usually companies buying your data.

    I use Bitwarden as a password manager, which I pay for. It has pretty much all the functionalify of 1password but is significantly cheaper. It does also have a free version with more limited functionality.
    For backups, I don’t trust Google or Amazon or any of the other big unencrypted players, so I pay for iDrive and have a scheduled backup that runs every night. I originally signed up for their incredibly low-space free tier but they send “90% off” emails once a month so it’s only cost me $7 for the first year of 2TB backup.

    1. This is so helpful Kat! Like you, I wish to protect my privacy as much as possible. So, your suggestions are very welcome.


    It’s a mystery shopping website that has grocery stores as one of their clients. They reimburse up to $9 of groceries and pay $5 per shop. It would take 22 shops per month to get $200 worth of free groceries, but they are super easy, would shave 2400 off your yearly spend, and you would also make an additional $1320 in income.

  48. Hi Zaria,
    I live close to Boulder, CO. Very friendly here. The housing in the city is expensive, but the areas around Boulder/Denver are cheaper financially. Tiny houses are becoming big in the CO Springs area, if that’s an interest. Woodland Park even? Regarding passwords: someone taught me a formula and I just cycle through it: one-digit-number,symbol,3-letter-word,symbol,2-digit-number,symbol,4-letter-word. When I say “cycle through”, I just choose the next symbol or number on the keypad, the words are similar to each other in meaning. So, it takes me like 9 iterations to work through all my passwords.

  49. I have a few suggestions for finding a community, although they are not necessarily frugal… I grew up dancing as well and about 5 years ago I started dancing again at a studio in my suburban Bay Area town and it’s been amazing. This particular studio might be a unicorn in that there are dancers of all ages and the owners really try to build community – everything from adult only performances and parties to going out for drinks after class every so often. The downside is that the classes are not cheap. It’s worth the money to me because I love it and I’m supporting a small business I love, but it’s not very frugal. Also, the Bay Area is way too expensive in general!

    You are a little young for my next suggestion, but something to think about for the future. My mom is single and she moved to a 55+ retirement community. She said she has made more friends in the past 3 years she’s been there than she made in the 40+ years prior. It reminds me of college, there are clubs and groups for every possible interest. Her actual condo was relatively affordable (by Bay Area standards) but she does have a hefty HOA. Just something to consider in the next 10-15 years. I know there are many people where my mom lives in their 50’s and 60’s that are still working, so it’s not only retirees.

    Also, I use LastPass for passwords. It’s free.

    1. My grandmother (who is also a lesbian and an introvert) moved to a 55+ community upon retirement and made friends very, very easily. One of them ultimately became her partner for 15 years, although she sadly passed recently. I think a communal living situation, as suggested above, might work equally well for this!

  50. Questions
    *FIRE Calculations: it’s simplistic, but I liked the “calculate your own savings rate” available here:
    *Music: echoing others on Pandora, Spotify, and library streaming services:
    *Computer backup: I pay $1/month for an extra 50GB of iCloud storage for photos. I use Dropbox for documents (free).
    *Passwords: echoing others with LastPass (free). I love that you can sync it across devices (e.g. computer as well as phone app)

    *I recommend using your Roth IRA as your Emergency Fund until it’s built up. At Vanguard, you can invest in a stable Money Market fund. Here’s a good explanation of Roth as Emergency Fund:

    *Once that’s built up and you’re looking at the tIRA, make sure you’re under the income limits for deduction: Increasing your 403b contributions will help lower your MAGI to get you under the limit as well

    *If you have access to an FSA through work, I’d contribute for the medical care and medications. (This will also help lower your MAGI)

    *You’re eligible for the National Parks Senior Pass at age $62 ($90 for lifetime access):

    *As noted above, make sure to research and understand the Social Security implications of your pension

    *Will you have access to retiree healthcare coverage through PEBB? It will be useful to understand if this is available to you and what the cost will be.

  51. In response to the question on retaining access to purchased music – I had to research this exact thing because I am too cheap to pay for a streaming service and had what must be thousands of dollars or more worth of old cds sitting around. What I did was rip all my favorite cds onto a thumb drive (I bought an external, LG brand “ultra slim portable DVD writer” off amazon for pretty cheap since my laptop doesn’t have a disc drive). That way I didn’t need to store the cds anymore, and I can still play them over my computer if I want. You can use Windows Media Player for this, which was included software on my machine. Then, I got a large memory SD card for my smartphone and copied all those same music files from the thumb drive to the SD card (using my phone’s charging cable in the usb drive on my CPU). I have a Samsung phone, and I can play the songs using google play music right from my phone. There was a little bit of finagling to get the files to read properly, it seems like google play is set up to stream things as its base mode, but it can find and read files if you put them in the right place. I was able to find directions with a little google search and it was easy to do. I hope this helps. I love this case study, thanks for sharing and best of luck!

  52. Hello from the other side of Lake Washington! If it weren’t for the pandemic, I’d happily show you how to use some frugal technologies in person 🙂

    I use LastPass for my password manager (and don’t pay for the premium version), though the built-in Chrome one may be just as good. One thing that paid versions tend to have is syncing between multiple devices (like between laptop and phone), but I get around that by pulling up the info on my laptop and just typing it into the phone when I need to, which isn’t very often.

    We had our savings in our old Midwestern credit union account for a long time, and I finally convinced my partner to move it over to Ally Bank where it earns much more interest (0.90% vs 0.013%). It was really easy, and we were able to do it cautiously, a bit at a time, until we got comfortable having it there and confident it was working as we expected.

    You’ve kept your expenses amazingly low! Our 2BR place is $2100 and that doesn’t include internet, power, or water. $200/month for food, while still eating organic and local, is impressive too.

    I’ve been trying to make friends in the area as well, but haven’t managed to form any strong bonds in the ~2 years since we moved out here for my job. I went to a few Meetup events, but didn’t find the crowd to be a good match.

    1. Waving to you across Lake Washington. 🙂 Hmm, maybe it’s time for us to form a Frugalwoods regional chapter. I’m wishing you lots of friend-making luck!

      1. My husband and I moved to Seattle in 2018 for his job and we were just starting to socialize with some of his work friends outside of work when the pandemic hit! If we’re starting a Seattle regional chapter, I’d love to participate!

  53. Congratulations, Zaria on your hard work to achieve the life you want and do manage your financial situation well.

    You’ve received lots of good comments from others, so I’ll try not to overlap with their suggestions. But a few things come to mind for me, focusing on your interest in connection with animals.

    I’m very active in some animal rescue and welfare groups and I think there would be some great opportunities for someone like you to make a difference while also benefiting from the companionship and healing effect of sharing time and space with non-humans. There is such a wide range of ways to get involved, from hands-on caregiving, helping with adoption drives, being a foster parent, helping seniors and vulnerable members of the community keep and take care of their companions, taking care of feral cat communities, etc. With your background in counselling, being an interviewer/assessor for organizations who are looking to place animals for adoption might be a great fit. I’d add that it can often be challenging to get started with volunteering so you’ll need patience. Rescue groups are often very short-staffed and with their focus on urgent issues, sometimes offers of help from would-be volunteers slip through the cracks. Be persistent, and check groups out through social media to find an organization that you feel a connection with.

    I’m involved with some farmed animal rescue groups in your area (including a chicken sanctuary), so if you’re interested in introductions, contact me via my website below.

    Also, there is potential for working with animals to become a side hustle, e.g. pet-sitting, depending on your experience, interests and ability to get around.

  54. Can I also suggest you might look into pet and house sitting if you want to spend some time moving around in the future. A couple of writer friends do it and have spent the last two years living across Europe and Asia. Obviously, this is for future times, but it’s a cheaper way to live. And you could opt to pick places in the environments you like so you can keep up your active activities.

  55. A note about cohousing since that came up – I used to live in cohousing in the Triangle area of NC. There are numerous cohousing communities there and at least some have affordable units (usually administered through the local affordable housing agency). They are very queer friendly (as is the area in general). In our community, we lived across from another queer family, who lived two doors down from another queer couple, who live two doors down from… You get the picture 🙂

  56. Thanks for sharing, your case study has given me lots to think about. We’re about the same age, and are wrestling with your excellent question- stay in a high cost of living area or relocate (and the other big question- where)? Especially once we are actually/partially retired/in an empty nest. Speaking as an expat/immigrant (it’s been 20 years) in Ireland, I wouldn’t rely on moving somewhere to acquire friendships There are newbies and locals wherever you go- I think it’s “bloom where you are planted” on that issue. BTW, if you’re interested in Ireland as a location: it’s beautiful- because it was never very industrial there aren’t lots of decaying industrial black spots. Heavily farmed so a bit denuded of trees, though. Dublin is one of the most expensive cities in the world- but the countryside can be affordable (good luck getting wifi).Culturally speaking, rather more liberal than much of the US. About 1 person in 6 in Ireland is foreign-born, but French and Spanish wouldn’t be the most common immigrant languages. Four very temperate seasons- there’s really something to the idea of cross-quarter days, the weather here does change then.

  57. Zaria,

    Looks like you’re in great shape and with some minor tweaks as outlined by Mrs. Frugalwoods, you’ll be in even better shape financially!

    As a Peace Corps Volunteer (Nicaragua, business) — I think that might be a great suggestion. I wouldn’t worry too much about being “older” in the context of PCVs just because it’s really quite common. There’s a lot of value in having some with more experience and wisdom within the individual PCV groups at specific communities/stations, too. They tend to be able to keep things together.

  58. Nice job on your life, Zaria! I appreciate your questioning. I think you are articulating what many people are seeking, too.

    For making friends and community, I came across the formula “do difficult things with others.” Things that require people to depend on each other, which breaks the barriers down and allows trust to form quickly. That trust then allows people into other parts of our lives, the not-so-glamorous ones, and enduring connection is born. So, I think “hard and fun” things like backpacking trips, team sports with a consistent group, Peace Corps, even building a house deck together all would be examples, IMHO. (Post-Covid will make it easier to do these types of things, obviously). Some of my deepest, longest friendships were built on experiences like these.

    I think you are doing a great job on your expenses etc, to echo the others and Liz. Amazing job. For a calculator, I like to run savings/early retirement calculations.
    Best of luck to you.

    1. Hi Jan, I’m including your fantastic advice in a reply I’ll post gathering together all of the amazing friendship ideas shared by readers. However, I want let you how impactful I found your formula of “do difficult things with others.” It resonates with me on many levels, including my lack of interest in social consumer activities and preference for strenuous hiking, supporting shelter dogs, etc. Also, your formula helped me to develop an additional mantra, “do creative things with others.” Many thanks for your wisdom!

      1. Hi Jan and Zaria,

        Just chiming in with another FIRE calculator you may be interested in taking a look at:

        All the best Zaria, this was an amazing read. 2020 was obviously a tough year in so many ways, one of which is building friendships. Hopefully we’ll return to at least some level of normality in 2021.

  59. Hello everyone, Thank you for your comments! I apologize for the delay in my responses. I became quite ill yesterday from the wildfire smoke here in Seattle. I’m doing better and look forward to responding to your generous inisghts and suggestions.

    1. The fires are heartbreaking–I’m really sorry the smoke is making you and others ill. I just wanted to thank you for sharing your case study!! I can really relate to your broader questions for the future (I am 49). I also love your approach to your life as well as your money. Your case study sparked great conversations that are perfect for this site. . . but you seem pretty great with the money!

      1. Thank you for your kind words Meg! BTW: I’m already working on a my Case Study follow-up so I can be sure to share all of the wise comments as well as whatever information I was able to find. Stay tuned for that follow-up in a a few of months. 🙂

  60. I think you have asked great questions and you are doing very well with what you have. LastPass was referred to me this past week, so glad to see it mentioned a lot here. Technology can be a huge time-sink to get working, but it does seem to be easier now. I think most libraries have help desks, especially now, for downloading books and music. For music, you also can download free recording software, turn it on when you play the song on YouTube and then download it to listen later, although listening to the free version of Spotify would be easier.

    Like others, I’m concerned about your rent increasing, probably not now because landlords are just happy to have paying tenants, but later. The community living seems like a great idea to check into. Maybe a roommate? It seems where you are is cutting off a huge part of your life, mainly having pets. You might find something pet-friendly if you start looking now.

    I’ve moved around a lot, and it’s starting over each time, which takes a lot of time. Asheville is nice, but it’s very small and surrounded by extreme red. After Seattle, I think you’d find it boring and limiting. I’m also family, and if I didn’t have my kids to raise I’d be super lonely. It’s challenging as a single woman – I think couples are wary of letting a single in since there are many instances of that person breaking up the relationship – and singles are very, very busy searching. An older woman once recommended that I volunteer for a gay festival to meet people. I had very young kids at the time, but maybe you can do something with that. MeetUp is a great way to see what’s in your area. I think you need to keep showing up in order to make connections, be the one to reach out, and not take it personally if people don’t respond right away. Also, you might find that old friends are more open to an ongoing relationship because they’re not as busy. I’ve reconnected with an old friend though bi-weekly walk and talks so we’re both getting exercise and out the house. We live several hours from each other and speak by phone. One final comment, and I mean this only in a positive way. I think relationships stand the best chance when both partners’ actions aren’t defined by the past, knowingly or not. This time might be well spent addressing your trauma and how to live as freely as possible from it. Untamed, a new book by Glennon Doyle, speaks somewhat to this. You can download it from the library ;). I cringe when I think about what used to be my story. Slowly that story is no longer defining me.

    I think you’ll make friends in time after Covid is over. My initial thought was more that you need to make more money. You have an older car, and your rent could increase at some point. You have talents, and you could tutor French or Spanish online (see iTalki and there are others). My accountant also told me about Arise, which is basically a CSR platform. You do have to pay for training – my accountant said to start with the cheaper ones, which of course pay less but also don’t take a long. She likes it because it allows her to choose her own hours so she can still run her accounting business and be a mom. I haven’t tried it, and I think you would make more money tutoring.

    Good luck to you. This is a challenging time for everyone, especially those who live alone. Could you spend this time visiting your dad or other relatives? Regardless, you are resilient and I’m sure things will work out for you.

    1. Thank you for your perceptive insights. I look forward to addressing several of your comments by topic. I completely agree about the imperative of addressing our past. (Thank you for the book rec.) It’s one of the reasons I’ve engaged in a great deal focused therapy work over the years, including an incredibly effective 12-week treatment for PTSD. Maintaining a dedicated practice of meditation and mindfulness is necessary to my health as is connecting to compassion, gratitude, and joy.

  61. Your local public library typically offers tech classes or the friendly librarian can help you learn to load a book on your phone! Librarians are happiest when helping us!💕

  62. Hi everyone, I’ve gone through all of the wonderful feedback and compiled it by topic. I’ll share them here in case it’s helpful to any one. Again, thank you for your incredible help. I know this community is generous, but have still been moved by your attention and care. A heartfelt thanks to ever single person who responded. **For anyone thinking abut submitting a Case Study** I strongly recommend doing it. Mrs. FrugalWoods is kind and insightful. Also, you’ll learn a great deal from the community and, as you think about their questions/comments, you’ll realize so much more about yourself.

  63. Dear Whitney, Stephanie, Sarah, Jan, Paul, Tim, Frugal Portland Gal, and Tara Red: I truly can’t thank you enough for sharing the following information about retirement calculators. Thanks to you, I feel much less overwhelmed!
    – Whitney recommends:
    1) and
    2) Witney writes, “This one takes into account your location, which I thought fitting since you were considering moving.” (Thank you to Deborah for sharing your kudos for calculator #2]
    – Stephanie, Sarah, and Jan suggest using for a ballpark idea of where you stand. Sarah also shared
    – Tim listed the Nest Egg calculator by Vanguard which he felt is simple with only a few easy to understand inputs:
    – Paul mentioned Morningstar Investment Research Center’s “Portfolio” section (see far right), click on Retirement Cost Calculator where you can solve for annual retirement savings needed (current or annual), or rate of return needed.
    – Frugal Portland Gal likes the retirement calculator at which produces a report that’ll try out different scenarios
    – Tara Red recommended playing with Personal Capital’s “Retirement Planner,” Vanguard’s retirement calculator and the Mad FIentist’s Financial Independence Laboratory.

  64. Dear Cindy, Michele, KP, TJ, Mary Ellen, and Monica – you taught me how to fish by sharing the following strategies and tools to help me with the next phase of my fiscal management evolution! The places you mentioned for high-yield savings are American Express, Ally Bank, Capital One’s 360, Barclay’s (online), and Vio Bank.
    Cindy described the strategy of paying yourself every month ($200 is a great start), and adjust the budget to these savings accordingly which facilitates building a non-retirement savings in Ally Bank or a Capital one 360 high yield accounts.
    Michele shared that American Express savings accounts have the same rates as Ally with better customer service;
    KP has moved emergency savings to Vio Bank (Vio’s current .83, the Marcus .60)
    TJ mentioned the high-yield savings at Ally Bank, Barclay’s (online bank)
    Mary Ellen generously shared an example from her life, “We had our savings in our old Midwestern credit union…I finally convinced my partner to move it over to Ally Bank where it earns much more interest (0.90% vs 0.013%). It was really easy, and we were able to do it cautiously, a bit at a time, until we got comfortable having it there and confident it was working as we expected.”
    Monica referred to Mrs Frugalwoods and others mention of Personal Capital for finance management, adding “one of the things I like best about Personal Capital is the Retirement Planning that the site offers! If you enter all your finances into the site for financial tracking purposes, you can then go to the Retirement Planning tabs and input how much money you will need per year, and the site will give you charts that show how long your money will last. One thing that is great is that iIt also allows you to put in specific events in the future…You can create numerous scenarios for your retirement (for instance, different amounts you might need to withdraw per year for living expenses) and see how things will change.

  65. Sarah, you took things to even further! Thank you for your wealth of information about Roth Emergency funds, Money Market accounts, as well as using tIRA and FSA accounts.
    – You wrote, “use Roth IRA as your Emergency Fund until it’s built up.” and gave the helpful example of how, “At Vanguard, you can invest in a stable Money Market fund.”
    – I found these next steps useful: “Once that’s built up and you’re looking at the tIRA, [Sarah’s note: make sure you’re under the income limits for deduction: Increasing your 403b contributions will help lower your MAGI to get you under the limit as well.”
    – I haven’t heard of FSAs (Flexible Spending Accounts) Are they the same as HSAs (Health Savings Accounts)? I have access to HSA through work. It sounds like I need to consider contributing “for the medical care and medications” It’s good news that this too will help to (also helps lower the MAGI).
    – I’ll check out the explanation of Roth as Emergency Fund at

    1. So glad you found those helpful! My recommendation would be:

      *Max out your Roth IRA for 2020 ($6k) to meet your Emergency Fund goal. You have until 4/15/2021 to contribute for the 2020 tax year
      Confirm your income is within the limits for traditional IRA contributions for 2021 – onward; if not, increase your 403b contributions accordingly and contribute to the tIRA

      *FSAs and HSAs are a bit different. An HSA is available only if you have a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP or CDHP). An FSA would be offered by your employer, and can be used with a regular HMO or PPO plan for qualifying expenses (prescriptions, glasses, etc.). Here’s a good overview:

      *And from the HCA website, looks like they offer an FSA as well as an HSA: My recommendation: tally up your 2020 eligible medical expenses, and then set a reminder for 11/1 when open enrollment begins to contribute that much to your 2021 FSA!

      *Finally, for PEBB healthcare coverage, looks like they have a retiree plan: I would confirm you have access to it. Make sure to research the monthly cost, but it could be very helpful as it may cover vision, dental, prescriptions, and other benefits that straight Medicare doesn’t cover.

      1. Hi Sarah, I can see that you’re clearly a frugal finance superstar! Thank you for these clarifications. I cut and pasted your comments directly into my to-do list. That way I won’t miss any important steps. I appreciate you sharing this helpful information with me.

  66. Social Security’s Windfall Elimination Provision* – thank you for bringing this up! In fact, I heard of this from an earlier Frugalwoods Case Study. 🙂 You won’t be surprised to know that I immediately contacted my employer and SS to find out if this was true for my PERS2 pension. Happily, this isn’t the case for my PERS2 pension (whew!).

    * Sherry’s description: “If you will get a PERS pension when you retire, you should look at the Social Security’s Windfall Elimination Provision. This provision means your Social Security payment will be reduced by a certain percentage based on your employment years that were higher than a base amount.”

    1. Hi Zaria,
      I was also going to comment on the WEP, but due to your response I assume you either are still paying the SS tax on your employment that provides your pension, or you have 30 years of substantial income that you paid SS tax on. These are the only ways to avoid the WEP reduction I believe. Also if you are eligible for the supplemental retiree health insurance through your school employment, be sure to look at that and take advantage of it. Even though you will have to pay for it, it is a good idea to have as Medicare excludes a lot of expenses and doesn’t have an out of pocket maximum. Looking into the 55+ communities is a great idea, as they are often less expensive and include a lot of group activities to keep people connected and active. Good luck!

      1. Wow, I didn’t know, (but am not surprised) that Medicare excludes a lot of expenses and doesn’t provide an out-of-pocket maximum. I agree that this makes the supplemental retiree health insurance all the more important. Thank you for this helpful information!

  67. Password/PIN# management
    Dear Laura, Shey, TJ, Sarah, Mary Ellen, Natasha,, Amhp, Natasha, AW, Tim, Meredith and Kerri, Wow, thank you for this detailed list. I can’t wait to get started on the research!
    – Laura, I appreciate you referring me to JD Roth’s blog post on the topic:
    – Shey, thank you for sharing how you cycle through the formula of one-digit-number,symbol,3-letter-word,symbol,2-digit-number,symbol,4-letter-word by choosing the next symbol or number on the keypad. Question: do you worry that this might be a common or well-known strategy?
    – TJ suggested looking at KeePass (thank you TJ!)
    – Amhp, Natasha, AW; Tim, Sarah, Meredith, Mary Ellen, and Kerri recommended Lastpass ( for its security, accessibility from any web interface, and ability to store both passwords and notes (e.g., PIN numbers for various offline needs).
    Sarah: appreciates that LastPass can sync across devices (e.g. computer as well as phone app)
    Mary Ellen uses LastPass, but observed “the built-in Chrome one may be just as good.” Also, she noted that paid password managers, “tend to have is syncing between multiple devices (like between laptop and phone), but I get around that by pulling up the info on my laptop and just typing it into the phone when I need to, which isn’t very often.”

  68. Back-Up/Storage

    Dear Sarah and Kerri thank you for this advice about backing up and storage! This is an important topic for me because losing my music is one of my main concerns.
    – Kerri: “there are so many options for backing up and they depend a bit on which hardware you’re using (android or iphone, macbook or windows or chromebook?) and what you’re trying to back up (photos, music, documents, etc). google drive is certainly a solid option; perhaps worth the annual fee to keep a good chunk of storage space available.”
    – Sarah: “I pay $1/month for an extra 50GB of iCloud storage for photos. I use Dropbox for documents (free).”

  69. Photos

    Dear Christa, DarthMama, and Tess, thank you for your Shutterfly suggestions. It look promising!
    Dear Lin, I didn’t know that Amazon Prime includes unlimited photo storage. I like the automatic backup for photos on the phone.

  70. Hi everyone, a quick note to say that more is to come from me about Moving, Health Care, Housing, Rent, Service/Calling, Music/Podcasts (including music previously purchased), Friends/Community, and more! With gratitude, Zaria

  71. Tech-literacy/Libraries

    Dear Michele, Elise, Amanda, Kerri, Librarian on the East Coast, Barbie, CKW, Lindsay, Leslie, Hannah, Jennifer B., ZinniaOH, Frugal Portland Gal, Barbara, thank you for open the door to me finally learning how to access virtual library materials. Not only did you share much-needed information and tools, but you taught me something I hadn’t realized: I was stuck in thinking libraries = books. For example, it never occurred to me to ask a librarian for help in becoming more tech literate! Of course, intellectually I knew otherwise, but can now see that my discomfort with technology greatly limited how I perceived of and used libraries.

    – The Libby app sound great! (Hannah, thank you for the heads-up about about Axis360 and Hoops!). I’m relieved to hear that Libby is easy to use. I’m on my way to the App Store!
    – Lindsay, thank you for pointing me to
    – Kerri: I like your idea about asking one of my student’s for advice. I’m considering doing this with one of my graduated students.
    – Jennifer B: I’m pleased that the two King County systems and Sno-Isle are offering reciprocal privileges! Also, I appreciate your mention of kanopy ( and RBL ( I need to learn more about how to use these services.

  72. Password/PIN# management

    Dear Amhp, Natasha, AW, Sarah, Mary Ellen, Meredith, Kerri, Laura, and Tim, I’m grateful for your recommendation of LastPass as well as TJ for your suggestion of KeePass and Mary Ellen regarding Chrome,

    – I like that Lastpass ( stores passwords and notes (e.g., PIN numbers), is secure, easily accessible from any web interface, and can sync across devices
    – Laura, I’ll certainly read
    – Shey: are you concerned that using this predictable system* might be(come) well-known to hackers?

    *Cycle through: one-digit-number, symbol, 3-letter-word, symbol, 2-digit-number, symbol, 4-letter-word. Shey writes, “I just choose the next symbol or number on the keypad, the words are similar to each other in meaning.”

  73. Music/Podcasts

    Dear ZinnieOH, Kerri, Frugal Portland Gal, TJ, Kate, DarthMama, Hannah, Melinda and Sarah, my heartfelt thanks for the depth and breadth of information you shared. I look forward to researching (and listening!).

    – Listening services:: Spotify, Pandora, YouTube, Spotify (free with ad support), Amazon music, iHeartRadio app (it’s free; is it ad-free as well?)
    – Local library ( Also,
    – Local/public radio likely to be streaming on their websites all day (e.g.,
    – Hannah, since one of my favorite genres is contemporary global music and I love World Cafe, I can’t wait to listen to The United States of Americana (The Current) and WNCW 88.7!
    – Melinda thank you for telling us about Radio Garden. What a beautiful concept to offer a free website where we are able to, “pick any place on the globe and listen to local radio stations from that area. I really enjoy choosing a random place and introducing myself to new and different genres of music that I’m not ordinarily exposed to.” Sounds like fun and a useful way to learn/practice other languages.

  74. Music – previously-purchased

    Hi serabee, thank you for your advice! Much of my music comes from unique sources which can only be found in person (e.g., music from lesser known artists in other countries, CDs produced “by hand,” etc.). I’ll need to adapt your steps since my CDs are gone. Right now, all of my music is on an aging MacBook Air. Theoretically, the music is also saved in my iCloud account, but I don’t see any music in my account so the back-up may not have been unsuccessful.

    Did I get your steps right?
    1. Rip CDs onto a thumb drive (e.g., external, LG brand “ultra slim portable DVD writer” from Amazon) using Windows Media Player. Benefits: a) no need to store the CDs and b) can play music on the computer.
    2. Copy all those same music files from the thumb drive to a large memory SD card (for smartphone) by using phone’s charging cable in the USB drive on the CPU (Central Processing Unit).
    3. With a Samsung phone it’s possible to play the copied music (using Google)
    Note: Finagling may be needed to get the files to read properly. Google Play is set up to stream, but it can find and read files if files are located in the right place. (Do a Google search to figure out what steps are needed for a specific phone.)

    1. Hi Zaria. If your music is currently in a digital format living on your Macbook Air, then what you should be able to do is import those music files into iTunes (which is the App for all Mac devices – from computers to iphones that plays your music. For an example, many years ago I spent a weekend burning all my old CDs onto my computer as digital files, and then importing them into iTunes. Also, incidentally anytime you buy music from the iTunes store it will be automatically added to your iTunes library.
      The beauty is once you have imported your music into iTunes it now lives in your library, and you can access that music on your iPhone as well. Also, by backing up your computer regularly, whether to an external hard drive, or to the cloud (or both), your iTunes music library will always be backed up. Computer breaks, or is lost, or you upgrade to a new model? No problem, restore your new one from your back up and all of your music is right there in your iTunes library. I hope that helps!

      1. Hi Julia, Thank you for reading and taking the time to reply. I did the exact same thing as you with all of my CDs. Where I’m having trouble is with saving my music library to my iCloud account. I want to do this so I have a backup copy of my music. If you know any strategies for doing that, I’m all ears! 🙂

  75. Relocating in WA/US

    Dear Lindsay, Nabes, and JuliaI., Thank you for your thoughtful suggestions of places near Seattle. I welcome your thoughts because, when I no longer work full-time, I can see myself living elsewhere in western Washington. Important factors include: safe for non-mainstream and BIPOC folks, healthy ecosystem (e.g., less polluted, robust small farms, etc.), respectful relationship with the region’s tribal nations, access to hiking, and within a couple hours of water. I also keep in mind the impact of climate change, wildfires, volcanic eruption, and/or tsunami. Having lived on a beautiful island (which I loved) north of Seattle so I know that I need to be okay with the dependence on ferries, impact of rising sea levels, and accessibility of high-quality medical care. Wow, as I wrote this, I realized that a location would be on the bank (at a healthy distance of course) of a healthy, *non-motorized* fresh-water lake where I could SUP/kayak every day.

    Dear FaithSams, TJ, and Hannah, thank you for your recommendation of the Harrisonburg, VA area, Asheville, NC, and Western NC. I look forward to visiting these beautiful and vibrant places. There’s just one issue, I’m in love with the western US. After 25 years here, I still crave the breathtaking mountain ranges, forests, Alpine lakes, Utah’s red rock country, temperate/less humid weather and access to the Pacific ocean.

    Dear Shey, Thank you for mentioning Boulder, CO. I’ve spent time in Boulder and Fort Collins (home to Colorado State University) and like it a great deal. However, the vigorous winters are a deal breaker. After spending winters in North Dakota, northern NY, VT, MN, and WI,, I’m committed to mild winters!

    Dear Monica, How perfect that you mentioned Cambridge, MA. That’s where I was living when I decided to move to Seattle! I consider Seattle and Boston to be peer cities and like them both. I feel exactly the same way about WA as you do about MA, “if the rest of the country fall apart, I know that my state will be at the forefront of providing healthcare and civil rights to all of its citizens!”

  76. Relocating internationally

    Dear Amph and Michele, muchas gracias for your helpful information about Spain, especially the list of cities! I’m excited to hear that living there could be affordable. I visited friends there and we had a great time hiking. Also, it’s a dream of mine: 1) learn the palmas style of music and 2) hike in the Dolomites of Italy. So, I can easily see spending time in Spain. First, I’d like to develop my fluency in the Spanish as spoken in Latin America (given its wide-spread use in the United States) and then I hope to visit Spain.

    Dear Kate, I appreciate your mention of Belize, Costa Rica, and Ecuador. I’ve spent extended time in Peru and Guatemala. Do you know anything about Mexico and Colombia?

    Dia dhuit Cara! I lived and studied in Connemara (near Clifden) during my teen years. While I definitely need a place with more sunshine, I’m forever grateful to have live in that rich and storied place where so many people played musical instruments/sang and perfected the art of leisurely visits filled with craic and laughter. Connemara truly is a magic place (home of poet and mystic John O’Donohue). And Ireland is home to some of the best theater in the world. I feel about the plays I saw there the way Emily Dickinson did about poetry, ““If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”

  77. Zaria,
    Random thought… depending on your schedule, where you do non-pandemic yoga, social distancing ordinances, need for solitude, etc… is it possible to trade services? As in you work the front desk for X amount of time in exchange for free classes? If being ‘in house’ isn’t an option for a variety of reasons, perhaps they have a website and you can help with a Spanish and / or French version in exchange for free classes. That would allow you a chance for meeting others with likeminded interests while the studio possibly expands their reach. I’m thinking since you’re geographically located close to Canada (which has a number of people speaking French), that your fluency in French would come in handy. Never done something like that, so no idea how feasible it is (or even if you do yoga in a studio).
    Regarding additional learning (specifically technology learning), can you take classes through the university you work for at no cost? Does a local community center offer classes? If you have Apple products, can you sign up for any free classes they offer regarding their products? There’s also trading with individuals, someone who wants to improve or maintain their Spanish or French and can help you with learning technology. We’re in the middle of a pandemic which does not bode well for in person gatherings / learning, but there are options to explore. There are platforms like Zoom where you can meet with someone virtually and learn / teach that way.
    There’s also that drain on personal / mental / emotional energy that comes along with an introvert being out with people… I get the social introvert aspect, needing time to re-center and mental health challenges. My anxiety issues are largely socially based – I can rock a formal presentation, but expect me to need solitude after to regroup. It’s not a matter of being anti social, more of needing time to find one’s self again. Throw in depression and things can get real interesting, real fast.
    Please know you’re not alone and are excelling in what you’re doing. From one introvert to another, I hope you succeed in your goals beyond your wildest dreams.
    Hope the ideas help.

  78. Note about Zaria’s rent

    Dear Cindy in South and Mary Ellen, After renting in Seattle for almost 25 years, I found a Housing Unicorn! When this situation changes, I’m likely to live in co-housing, cost-assisted housing, and/or place outside of Seattle. Meanwhile, I treasure this lovely quiet apartment with its generous of amenities and a huge private patio overlooking Lake Washington and mountains. My kind, quiet and good-natured landlords are retired and live upstairs. (They plan to age in place so I hope this can be a long-term home.) Since they (used to) travel a great deal, they appreciate my willingness to care for the house and gardens during their regular absences. In fact, they decided to lower my rent in light of the support I give them. And, best of all, we’ve become close friends.

    1. Wow, in some ways, it sounds like you already have your ideal co-housing arrangement! It truly sounds wonderful and I hope it works out that you can stay where you are for a long, long time.

      Also, I love McClain’s idea about exchanging services to meet new people and develop more community (kind of how you have with your landlords). You have so many desirable skills and interests that it should be easy in the After Times to volunteer for benefits. My MIL teaches occasional yoga classes at the Y, one for older folks and one all-ages, and both have been a great source of new friendships and acquaintances for her, plus she gets access to Y resources. My yoga studio also brings in teachers to lead meditation and other similar types of workshops, which you might be qualified to do. My husband has always taught ESL classes and found them meaningful way to connect with folks he wouldn’t in ordinarily interact with. And, as others have suggested, in my observation, animal rescue groups seem to be really tight-knit and active social groups. It does take effort, but as the Avenue Q song goes, “when you help others, you can’t help helping yourself,” and it sounds like that is what you are looking for!

      1. You’re so right CKW, I’m all about nourishing community and participating in the barter economy. For example, I’m following in Mrs. Frugalwoods’ footsteps as a yoga studio volunteer which allows me to take classes for free. I look forward to when I don’t need to work full-time so I can be more involved with others.

  79. Future housing
    I know that my housing will continue to be low-cost, shared in some way, and as environmentally friendly as possible.

    Dear Sharon, AW, PJ, Rebecca, and Lindsay, I love the idea of diverse mixed-age co-housing, even more so as a single person. I also think a 55+ retirement community could work well. I know from my past shared housing experiences that I can thrive in this type of environment, especially one grounded in a shared value/vision.
    – Question: What do you consider to be some of the downsides of co-housing?

    Dear Rosalie: I appreciate your mention of a residential counselor because it resonates with daydream I have of renting a big house near a college or university and making rooms available to students. I’d love to mix international students with student at promise (I use this term rather than “at risk”) such as children of migrant workers, former foster care children, and immigrants/refugees. There would be field trips, cooking adventures, gardening, English practice, cultural celebrations, and special guests.
    – Looking at this, I realize that I just described a co-housing community!

  80. Healthcare

    Dear Cindy in South, thank you for asking about international health care. To be honest,, healthcare no matter where I live is one of my main retirement concerns.

    Dear Sarah, I appreciate you bringing up the question of PEBB (Public Employees Benefits Board) retiree healthcare coverage.
    – Yes, I can choose to continue my PEBB medical and dental insurance. BUT, as a person on the PERS2 retirement plan., I must start taking my PERS 2 retirement income, This means I can’t postpone taking my retirement income while also continuing my insurance coverage. This may not be an issue, but I do need to keep it in mind.
    – One approach: work a meaningful PT job at 50% FTE to give me a lighter workload (and salary) while continuing my employee insurance.
    – Happily, I now have user-friendly FIRE calculators so I can start to looking at my different retirement scenarios! 🙂

  81. I loved reading this case study and I am so impressed with Zania’s numerous accomplishments (savings, education, healing and mulitlingualism). You’ve received so many great suggestions, I just wanted to chime in to offer my best wishes to you in finding supportive and nourishing friendships in the near future. I struggle with this as well and will need to get out there and meet like-minded people as well. Rock on!

    1. Thank you for such a lovely and encouraging message. I feel *much* more confident hearing from you and all the other readers. To be honest, the part of my life about which I felt the least hope was friends/community. The warmth and kindness of Mrs. Frugalwoods and every single person who has replied, gives me hope (and perhaps a bit of a reality check) that I’m someone people might want to know and include into their world.

  82. Zaria – congratulations on doing such an amazing job with saving for retirement on a small salary! I have a couple out-of-the-box thoughts: You are so right about Seattle – I have lived here a decade and have like one real friend, plus a few work friends I’ll occasionally have a post-work drink with. Very different from other places I’ve lived. Anyhow, since you like to dance and are looking for community, I can’t recommend Divine Movement (a pole and boudoir dance studio) highly enough. They do trade for classes, and it’s the most supportive group of women/female-identified people of all sexual orientations that I’ve ever come across. Also, it sounds like you’ve done a lot of work on the mindset aspect of finances, but if you’re open to going further with that, the book “Tapping Into Wealth” by Margaret Lynch uses EFT (tapping) to work through blocks to earning, saving, and investing. I’m a huge fan of EFT a healing modality and this book was incredibly helpful for me. It connects to a series of videos in which she take you through the exercises. You can probably ask the library to order it if they don’t have it.

    1. OMG, as a dancer, I think Divine Movement (never heard of it) would be a delight. I appreciate you sharing that they’re inclusive (a non-inclusive community is a deal-breaker). EFT has been effective for a work colleague. Thank you for the nudge to learn more and the recommendation of Margaret Lynch. Finally, thank you for the sanity check about Seattle. I know our experience isn’t universal, but if it is, the “Seattle Freeze” is likely to have a significant negative impact on quality of life. BTW: It seems you might still living in Seattle. If so, I look forward to seeing you at Divine Movement! 🙂

      1. It would be wonderful if you checked it out!!! I took a break b/c of COVID but should be going back to classes there soon!

  83. I’m truly impressed by your frugality and by the way in which you’ve created a life that is aligned with your values and priorities. I’m a queer, introverted, single woman with mental health issues (anxiety) in my early 40s, and so I relate to a lot of what you wrote about the difficulty creating and maintaining community. For myself, online dating has been a huge source of connection, and most of my current close friends are people I’ve met through dating (although not necessarily people I’ve personally dated). I am also looking into cohousing options, and it seems like the perfect situation for an introvert – opportunities for socializing, but also private space to retreat to when you need a break.

    I noticed some people mentioning Spain as a retirement/travel destination. Have you heard of English schools that provide room and board to native English speakers in exchange for conversing with the students? A friend of mine volunteered with one and loved it. (She is admittedly quite extroverted, but I think it’s worth considering even for an introvert.) I’m not sure which one she went to, but here is one example:

    1. Hi Solitary Diner!
      Thank you for taking the time read and reply to my Case Study. And hail fellow queer, introverted, single, co-housing enthusiast! [Hey folks, if there are any readers living in co-housing, perhaps you’d be willing to share a Reader Case Study? No pressure, just sayin’ 🙂 ]
      As a “social introvert,” online dating sites work well. I can meet (and screen) people online before investing time and energy into meeting. You’ve given me the idea of posting my profile on sites in addition to OKCupid. (Of course, I’ll only post if I can do it for free.) In my posting I’m going to make clear that, while I welcome an intimate relationship, I’m most interested in developing friendships and community.
      So, I’ve gone back-and-forth on the residential question. [If anyone has experience with doing this, I welcome your thoughts.] There are excellent benefits. (The main question is if I’d have enough privacy/down time.) I was even daydreaming about doing it in order to learn a fourth language! Thank you for the link. It helps me when I have a place to start.

  84. Zaria, I really hope I’m like you when I “grow up” (I’m in my late twenties) – you know yourself so well, and have designed a life that focuses on what is really important to you. I’m really inspired by your budget and intentionality. You’ve gotten a lot of great advice already (I also use LastPass, have a Spotify family plan with friends, and use Google Photos) so I’ll just throw in a couple things I hadn’t seen mentioned yet.
    – I open (and close) new bank accounts to get $200-$400 in bank bonuses a few times a year. Typically the accounts require ~$500 in direct deposits a month, so I direct $250/paycheck to that account, then transfer most of it back out. I will also set a reminder for myself (using TickTick) to close the account seven months later (if you close earlier than six months, they usually charge you a fee). This site will show you accounts you’re eligible for:
    – Credit card companies are offering an even larger amount of signup bonuses recently. I open one or two new accounts a year, keep them open for 12 months, then close them. It used to be for travel, but a lot of them (like Chase) can be used for things like shopping on Amazon or getting gift cards. You can find a good list here:
    – When it becomes possible again, I’d highly recommend visiting Latin America. Someone with your skillset could be a huge asset to underprivileged communities there, and the culture is to really bring people “into the family” which could bring the sense of closeness and community that you’re looking for. The only thing to keep in mind is that stability and safety is very dependent on who is currently in power, and that can change quickly and dramatically (I was born in Venezuela, and we left right before things started to go downhill).

    1. Hola Es, thank you for your reply!
      I appreciate knowing that you use LastPass and Google Photos as well as have the brilliant idea to share a Spotify plan with friends. And you’ve provided me with two goals. Once I’m less overwhelmed by all of the computer/internet stuff, I can give your system a try with banks with https://everybankbonus.comase) and credit cards starting at I’m organized and always pay off credit cards on time so this could be a fruitful strategy.
      Do you wish/plan to return to Venezuela? (I’m so very sorry about the suffering being experienced there.) Depending on politics (as you pointed out), I’d like to live and work in a Latin American country in order to regain and then deepen my Spanish fluency. I’ve travelled throughout Latin America and enjoyed living in Guanajuato and Oaxaca. I’m also considering Colombia. Any other suggestions?

  85. I spent yesterday thinking deeply about service opportunities that need what I offer and can provide support to their volunteers.. I welcome your thoughts, caveats, suggestions.
    1. Children: a) Volunteer at Childhaven. I used to work there. My favorite job ever, but it didn’t pay enough for anyone to stay . (This has the added benefit of getting to play with kids!), b) Spend winters in the SW supporting Spanish-speaking children in ICE detention centers (for however long that lasts), and/or c) Volunteer with StreetYoga which collaborates with Seattle-area communities to provide trauma-informed yoga for youth. I’d like to do this in Spanish.
    2. International: I’d love to be a part of an impactful global service program. My father served in the Peace Corps when it first began. To this day, he considers it as a defining experience of his. Also, I like how older volunteers are welcome as mentioned by Chris@TTL (thanks Chris!). However, I decided against it for two reasons: 1) Mental health (as so clearly pointed out by Kim Nelson) and 2) Being female. (Female acquaintances and others have experienced significant difficulty with getting needed support and safety during their postings.) I like Kim’s suggestion of short-term service opportunities (thank you Kim!). Or I could develop an international service opportunity for myself in the language and with the organization/community of my choice.
    3. Animals (including a big yes! to the international pet-/house-sitting idea). Many thanks to JH, Ara, Mary Mary, and Nora (love your potluck idea!) for expanding my thinking on this topic. Already, I’m a trained volunteer in the local shelter’s dog rehabilitation and training program. When I have more time, I plan to develop additional skills with a local expert dog trainer and/or enrolling in classes/programs. I’d hope to work with dogs needing extra support since not many people have the time/skills to do this. Another great fit for me is JH’s suggestion of supporting our elders and other community members so they may keep their pets. Additionally, JH’s observations inspired me to consider directly supporting the volunteer (and/or foster) program. Most of all, I look forward to fostering cats and dogs because when an animal is fostered the likelihood of adoption skyrockets. Right now I can only foster on long weekends and vacations. I’m happy to foster from pregnancy/puppyhood through end-of-life (“fospice” care; foster + hospice). My local shelter pays all fostering expenses (it’s frugal to foster!), but I plan to donate that amount (at minimum) to the shelter. In this way I’ll be fostering and offering it for free.

  86. A few follow-up questions:
    Does anyone:
    1. Use their Roth as Emergency Fund? If you do/don’t could you share why?
    2. Track the books (articles?) you’ve read? If so, any favorite tracking strategies/systems?
    3. Live (has lived) in co-housing? What factors/questions should I consider?
    4. Have suggestions re: elder years as a single person? About anything: exercise, transportation, budgeting, emotional well-being, etc.
    Thank you!

    1. In a ‘normal’ world, my Roth / other investments are just that… investments for my future because if I withdraw funding early, I face penalties. My ‘normal world’ job isn’t high paying, but covered my expenses and allowed me to invest / save a little. I try to both invest in retirement through a Roth account and ‘traditional’ 401k while saving what I could in a money market (higher interest rate) as an emergency fund (used for car repairs, etc).
      COVID changed all that, most of my office was furloughed / laid off in the spring. I lasted until April 8, which is eight days into the second financial quarter. I was denied unemployment because Florida didn’t like what I had made with a previous employer in 2019; so I had to wait to reapply in the beginning of financial quarter three.
      Insert COVID Plan B. My emergency fund turned into the OH CRAP I JUST LOST MY JOB, GOT DENIED UNEMPLOYMENT AND NEED TO LIVE FOR THE NEXT 3 MONTHS IF I CAN’T GET ANOTHER JOB ASAP fund. Going ‘bare bones, but still functional’ brought my already strict budget down to 1500 – 1550 a month total (this includes a mortgage and HOA; I also live in Florida and need to budget more during the summer for a higher electric bill – it’s true, going without A/C scares me more than a Category 3 hurricane). I then made my long term calculations – if I couldn’t secure a job by November, my Roth / other investments would need to be cashed out… I knew I’d be losing about 30% to taxes / early withdrawal.
      Fast forward a little over 5 months. I did get approved for unemployment in July which eased a lot of stress. I did get a call back on Tuesday from my old job and will go back to work on Thursday. Major relief. I have to move into my COVID Plan C which is working again, not sure how long we’ll be there (we primarily deal with people in New York state) since winter is coming and we have no idea what that’ll bring with COVID and I may still have to use my investments to live on in case my company has to shut us down again or streamline work force due to decreased workflow.
      In the mean time, all I can do is work for as long as I can, throw as much as I can into savings / investments and not let my anxieties get the better of me. I’ve been blessed in so many ways – including finding Frugalwoods and a frugal community that provides so much emotional support.

      1. Wow, McClain, what a worrisome time! I’m glad to hear that you’re working again. I send you my warmest good wishes that you remain employed and able to proceed as you intended. May you stay safe and healthy.

    2. #2:
      For books, I use Goodreads for tracking:
      You can add books you’ve read, set an annual challenge, and mark books to read in the future

      For articles, I use Instapaper:
      There’s a Chrome extension for clipping articles directly, or you can email them to your Instapaper account. It syncs with an iPhone / iPad app that formats the articles nicely for reading. I’ve also heard good things about its competitor app, Pocket

      Also both are free!

    3. We lived abroad last year, and our living situation really had us thinking about elder years accessibility to nice and essential things. We were living in a high-rise in a big city, basically for the first time, and our extended block included our kid’s school, many restaurants, a grocery store, pharmacy, several urgent care-type clinics, a dentist, a weekly street market, a hospital, a few gyms, a few regular stores, and several office buildings. It was also on a busy bus line and not far by cab to the subway/train station (we were carless). We got to be friends with quite a few of our building neighbors, mostly just through random interactions in shared spaces, like the gym, pool, and playground). Also, there were elevators to bring us up and down. Even before but especially after the lockdown happened for Covid, we were marveling about how little we *had* to leave our block, and how easy it was for us and also our elderly neighbors to live in this space. There was so much out there to do, but all our necessities were in one place (Even if our choices on our block were limited). One big drawback was the lack of nature access but dems the breaks in the city. Anyway, not to say this would work for you (though some international destinations are so much cheaper than the US that is it surprisingly affordable!), but intentionally choosing a place to live with so much built in seems to be of paramount importance for creating a healthy and enjoyable living situation, especially when older. You’ve emphasized that health care is important, and of course it is, but so is creating a living situation where you need as little of it as possible, because you are living a healthy, enjoyable, interesting, active, and adequately social life. Just some thoughts!

      1. Hi CKW, thank you for your reply. Your living situation sounds fantastic. One of the reasons I love Seattle is because it’s such a green city. Also, I’ve alway made sure to rent where I can walk to everything. The two reasons I got a car in 2017 was to volunteer at the local shelter and go hiking 2+ days/week. If I didn’t have those factors in my life, I’d still be car-free. As an elder, I’d like to live in some type of friendly, caring, community housing with easy access enjoyable green spaces (to garden, walk, relax), a library, healthy local food, and good healthcare. In the western US, I think this dream could be realized in green cities like Seattle or Portland as well as in healthy college towns such as Bellingham, Walla Walla, Flagstaff, and Eugene. Do you have any favorite cities in the western US or abroad I might want to consider? I’m curious, is there a special place you’d like to call home?

        1. It was truly a dream situation and has us re-evaluating our regular surburban life and ideas for future housing/living. Our experience is in SE Asia (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), which is hard to beat for leveraging Western salaries, but I’d be concerned about the queer-friendliness factor. But if were interested, KL is an amazing place to live and so very affordable, even on a “small” Western salary. We lived a VERY fancy life for a family of 4 for about $40K/yr. We have visited areas of Thailand and Vietnam that are also super affordable. Vietnam especially, while less English-friendly, might actually be easier for you with your French background. In Europe I have heard great things about the affordability and quality of life in the Azores (Portuguese islands) and you did mention you might want to learn new languages. Our favorite city in North America is Vancouver but it’s $$$$ there. If you did want to leave WA, you mentioned your past in MA and the state-sponsored health care there is hard to beat. Maybe a lake or river-bordering town in Western MA? Less $$$ but most of the good things of MA (my home state).

          Anyway, while it is fun to dream of expat life, my real point to you is actually that, in reading the comments, you sound quite sure of where you want to be – greater Seattle or those other WA cities sound perfect for you! At this point it seems like you are talking less country/state/city and more micro-neighborhood. What amenities you can walk to, practicalities of aging in place (elevators! fewer stairs! walkable shopping! We saw every day how key this was for our elder friends’ self-sufficiency) how friendly you can be with your neighbors, library access (essential for me), if you can have pets, etc. Seems like that level of research in your chosen communities is the next step for you.

  87. The Seattle freeze is real! I have been here 20 years now and it took several years to find a group of friends that I regularly meet. It looks like you have awesome answers for your questions. I will add that there is a local ChooseFI Facebook group for Seattle and we are still meeting semi regularly online for video chats. It’s a great way to meet people! Prior to Covid we met up monthly for discussions at parks, libraries or coffee places. I have made good friends (women, POC, LGBT+) through this group. Would love to see you there! 🙂

    1. Thank you for reading the Case Study and suggesting the ChooseFI group. I’ve been avoiding FB for as long as possible (so much unwanted info). However your recommendation shows that it’s time to set up a FB account and join the 21st century. 🙂 Perhaps this is the step needed to get beyond the ice ceiling of Seattle friendships. See you soon on at ChooseFI!

  88. Wow Zaria! Impressive! Please share how your groceries are only $200 a month for a whole food diet? Any gricery meal tips are appreciated!

    Also how do you keeP your gas low while driving to hikes?

    Thanks, Molly

  89. Hi, I really enjoyed reading Zaria’s story and I loved her thoughtful, intentional lifestyle. “Living in a quiet home with patio and garden.” That’s the dream.

    I just wanted to recommend a book, in case someone hasn’t already mentioned it: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, by Lori Gottlieb. Lori is a therapist and writes about going to therapy herself. She also weaves in stories about her own patients, one of whom is in her 50s or 60s and has concerns about making friends and feeling lonely and reconciling her past. As a therapist yourself, I thought it would really speak to you.

  90. Wow, I am so impressed with your ability to live in Seattle so frugally and save up such a nest egg!! As Mrs. FW already said, we should all be learning from YOU! 😉 I lived in Seattle for 7 yrs and loved it, it’s so beautiful! (I still miss it actually, especially the mountains)

    I wanted to comment specifically on the mental health perspective. First, I want to say that you are an amazing person to go through what you did and now help other people. Second, this is not at all to discourage, only to bring awareness…before moving abroad (if you are seriously considering that), I would highly recommend to check into mental health support in that country or have resources in place to still access them in the US. I am currently living abroad in EU as an American and also have mental health issues, and can say it never occurred to me before moving especially to a country with good socialized medicine (Germany). BUT, I can say I’ve struggled immensely here to get help from therapists and also get medications when needed. There are a lot of cultural differences in mental health support and honestly even acknowledging mental health is a real thing is not so commonplace here (it’s like going back in time)! I’ve been a little shocked. And although I don’t regret living abroad (it’s been such a huge opportunity for growth, etc.!), the lack of mental health support is a main reason we’re now looking at moving back to the US. The other main reasons for moving back (being far from family, difficulty meeting friends, differences in work culture, etc.) are very much related to and affect mental health in a strong way.

    Again, just bring awareness to think about some of that before moving abroad. I hope I could help someone else with my own experiences in that area! Seeing that you currently help with immigrants in US (which is amazing by the way), maybe you already have some insight into this. 🙂

  91. You’ve done a great job with your finances! I’m also a survivor of childhood abuse. I can tell you there’s light at the end of the tunnel. I would highly recommend reading Pete Walker’s book on Complex PTSD. It deepened my understanding about triggering events and the “depressive fog” I experienced. EFT, a tapping technique , also helped me move faster through difficult times. You can find instructional videos by Brad Yates on the internet. May I suggest reconsidering the priority of a life partner? I have tried to fill the lack of companionship with friends. I found that my new friendships weren’t as fulfilling as the friendships I made when in college. I was open to finding a new life partner which turned out to be much, much easier than finding a new friend. Why make friends a priority over finding a life partner? Why choose for a little love when you can have it all? Whatever comes up, and we all have things come up, can be examined, changed and lead to finding a fulfilling relationship.

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