Am I Still Relevant?

Frugality is always relevant, of course.

So much of my successful adventures boiled down to timing. What’s still relevant? Am I just an interesting story, a footnote, riding off into the ether?

Is my story repeatable, even by me?

Maybe. Maybe not.

To start, it’s important to acknowledge the privilege that I had to be able to do what I did.  I came from a solid family that was able to support me as I grew, and my high school was one of the top in our state. My family’s support allowed me to work hard during school and to focus on my studies.  The reality in the US is that good schools are often dictated by your parents' financial situations, and the cycle perpetuates.  This alone makes some of my steps repeatable by only a subset of the population.

Debt-Free After College

My test scores and high grades enabled me to receive multiple scholarship offers, and I accepted one that covered my full tuition. I continued to live at home with my mom and stepdad, saving money, working part time, graduating with no debt.  Had I not received the scholarship, my parents were willing to assist where they could, and many parents save for their kids to continue their higher education.

Still repeatable today? Yes, but only if you are able to make informed choices and/or for those with the privilege and/or good relationships with friends/family willing to support them.

First Job - 2012

I chose mathematics as my field of study for my degree, which is extremely marketable.  I could have graduated in May 2012, but I deferred to graduate in August specifically because I had two credits of tuition dollars left and wanted to take one more class in the summer (yes, for fun).  

I did the rounds and did the interviews, but didn’t get a solid lead until October (I actually started my job the week of Thanksgiving, appropriately enough). My job was a simple data entry role meant for new workers. In a hilarious turn of events, my exact role is currently open and hiring. I just found it on the job search. Not going back, of course.  I've found a much better job.

Repeatable today?  Yes.  The unemployment rate in 2012 was at about 8%, but it has actually improved since then.  2020 was a tough year with Covid and hiring, but this exercise is happening now, so...

First House - 2013

I kept living with my mom and stepdad, saving all my money.  Then I took it all and bought the worst house on the block, 3 bedrooms and 1.5 baths. 1,100 square feet. It cost $30k in cash, 8 months' worth of hard work.  Is this repeatable today?

First, a starting salary comparison.  2021 was a good hiring year, so finding a similar job should have been doable.  Average college graduate starting salary in 2012 was about $45k and average starting salary in 2021 is around $55k according to Forbes, which is an increase of 22%, so taking that $30k saved and multiplying it by 1.22 (original plus increase) would mean I theoretically would have saved up about $37k.  This isn’t perfect, but this is all hypothetical anyway.

Ouch. Here is where it all falls apart. The houses in this range don’t even show photos from inside, and they’re 4-5 miles south of where I purchased back in 2013. Not the safest area. $37k is a great down payment for the $150k houses that dot the area where I bought my first house, but I would need at least another year with my parents and some luck to be able to afford the house outright, even with it being in such rough shape.

Two months, one air mattress in a tent.
Seriously. I gutted the house to the studs in half the rooms and slept in a tent in my garage for two months while I was getting started.  I sold my house for $80k, but I put $50k of cash and two years into fixing it up, so it wasn't like "free appreciation," and I really couldn't have a roommate either since they wouldn't want to live like that, not that I am even good at having roommates... and to be clear, I would never do this again.  My spry 22-years-young self was a BAMF, but I am 31 now.  I like my bed.

Final verdict: repeatable on a longer timeline (or with a higher income or second job to speed up savings), but I was ready to go and wanted my own space, and I imagine Covid would have intensified that feeling. So no, I’d probably have taken out a mortgage on a house that didn’t need so much fixing because I wouldn't have had discretionary income to fix it since I'd be making a mortgage payment on a starting salary.  I might have even just decided to rent.

Move to Florida - Year end 2015

Well, yeah, anyone can move anywhere.  I had my job lined up before moving, and I told them I'd be moving myself down.  Off I went!

My stepsister actually moved back to Michigan in November 2015 with her newborn baby right after I had accepted my new job, though, and I don't think I would have wanted to move down with her being back.  I probably would have kept my house and hung around, especially if we'd been hanging out throughout Covid, just babysitting her daughter on my weekends and spending more time with her and her family.  Or would she be moving back now, and her timeline moved too, in which case we still just missed each other?

I was casually dating a wonderful man, although we weren't serious specifically because I had wanted to move to Florida and he didn't, but I imagine another year with him probably would have made me change my mind and want to stay.  We went on dates regularly in the neighborhood my stepsister moved to, so I imagine we'd have also ended up moving there or he might have moved in with me.   On the other hand, I may not have even met him with Covid because I probably wouldn't have been dating.

We are now veering so heavily into "what if" territory, so I will end with this:

Yes, repeatable.

Second House - February 2016

I don’t even have to do the math on this. Nope, not repeatable.  This house has gone up in value by 150% in two years. The taxes would be $21k per year (thank goodness for the Save Our Homes tax caps!), and the mortgage payment would be $5k per month.  Adding insurance, $7,275/month means an annual income of $174k needed to even qualify.  Assuming I'm still a single 25-year-old woman with a dog who just moved across the country alone?  Nope, can't afford that.

More imperfect hypotheticals.  Average home prices in Detroit actually stayed flat until two years ago, so my hypothetical $30k cash purchase in summer 2019 would have had the appreciation up to $80k (for all the reno) in addition to the market growth, giving me a cool ~$140k hypothetical down payment plus a max monthly payment of ~$3k/month.  Based on $140k down payment, $6,500 taxes and $4,000 insurance, with a 7% mortgage rate, I'd be able to qualify for a house maxed out at $450k.  But I couldn't afford that alone, and none of them are set up in a way that I could accomplish what I did with AirBNB.

Knowing what I know now and judging the current market conditions, I'd probably buy a small condo near work and aim to pay off the mortgage quickly, freeing myself of the burdens of debt and keeping life low-key until I (if ever) partnered up.  The cheaper the house, the less room it has to fall, with our local market the way it is...

So is it repeatable, even for me?

My exact life scenario is not repeatable right nowPieces can be picked up and worked out, and markets change, so it might be repeatable in the future, but it's unlikely that these exact steps will ever be able to be walked.

Had we done this exercise in April 2020 at the start of Covid, nothing was replicable.  Employers weren't hiring, markets went askew, real estate agents stopped listing and selling, and people were staying home, not moving across the country.

So much of life is being in the right place at the right time and just stepping up, but that has always been true.

In hindsight, we could have just started off by saying no.  Here we are, 1,500 words later.

Not all is lost…

I sincerely doubt people are looking around for a life to copy anyway.  If so, there are far better ones than mine.  Just because my exact scenario isn't repeatable, that doesn't mean there aren't valuable ideas around here that you can pull into your own life.

My grit and determination and creativity solving problems are worthy of replicating.  The ideas of creating a frugal box and going reckless inside it are worth sharing, too.  The goal is always crafting your best life, no matter what gets thrown your way.