When you have no expenses

My MIL recently got a job. This was something I did not expect, for a variety of reasons (health, language barrier, schedule restrictions), but a family friend pulled some strings and got her hired at a nearby restaurant, mostly washing dishes. She’s been doing about two shifts per week, 4-5 hours each. It’s unclear if this will last forever, as it is hard on her.

But for now, she’s bringing in money. Almost nothing, relatively speaking, maybe $200 a month. We are not asking her to shoulder her own bills (health insurance, tickets to the motherland, groceries, etc.), because her entire paycheck would go toward one or two doctor bills per month, and wouldn’t actually help us out that much while super disincentivizing the work. We also agreed to cover all of her needs, and she takes care of Amelia for a few hours each day. Her money is her money.

Since every single thing she buys is actually bought by us, when she has her own spending money, it still saves us money, because she doesn’t have to come to us for things like new clothes or hair cuts.

But it has me thinking about FI, and the big picture of expenses vs. savings. She literally has a 100% savings rate, because she hasn’t cashed her checks, she’s saving up to buy a couch in Ukraine this summer. In many many senses, she is destitute – there’s no way you could consider her income right now even close to above the poverty level.

And in other ways, she is much richer than we are. I’d like a new couch, but we can’t put aside extra money for anything we don’t need, and we don’t need a new couch.

So many people on the road to FI slip in a quick “and then I lived with my parents,” and it’s often framed as a sacrifice on the part of the individual reaching for FI. On the road to FI, do whatever you can – downsize, get a cheaper car, live with your parents, make those sacrifices.

Seeing my MIL with her $200 a month, 100% savings rate, really hits home for me just how significant that can be for improving your savings rate. No expenses for, say, three years? Talk about a supercharged start to FI.

What isn’t mentioned: the sacrifice on the part of the parents, or the people who are shouldering literally all the expenses. When we invited her to live with us, I foolishly expected to be able to fold MIL’s life into our budget, we already have a house and transportation, what more could she need? It turns out that housing an adult is not free, not even close. By the time all is said and done, it costs at least $1000 a month to cover her costs, and we live pretty cheaply.

But what if, while living with your parents, you are paying for your own groceries, utilities, health care, clothing, etc., and are simply taking up a room in their house? Think about the message on the road to FI: if you have an extra room in your house, rent it out, or downsize. Cut every cost that you can, or bring in any form of income that you can. By taking up that space, at the very least there is an opportunity cost for the home owner for not renting out that same room to somebody who is paying or for the parent to be able to move to a smaller space themselves.

Sometimes, in this race to the finish line, the underlying message is to make whatever sacrifices you can, without any consideration of the sacrifices of others. 

I hope someday, if my kids are struggling, or even if they aren’t, that I can offer up space in my house (and budget) for them. I also hope that If that happens, they will see the sacrifices that I am making as clearly as they see their own.

2 thoughts on “When you have no expenses”

  1. (sorry, I winced at “she hasn’t cashed her checks”: back in the day, checks would become uncashable after 6 months, or sooner if the payor runs out of money…)


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