How Do You Pay for Everything?

by Erika Torres

financial plan There are days that I think Eric and I are doing pretty well financially–I wouldn’t consider ourselves well-off by any means, but we make a respectable income for a young married couple, I think.

We both have stable jobs. We have no consumer debt. We pay all our bills on time. We save for retirement and have an emergency fund. We have two completely paid off cars, live in a two-bedroom townhome in an affluent county, and have a dog. All that’s missing is the 2.5 kids and white picket fence.

And yet, there are some days, like yesterday, that I think “How are we possibly ever going to be able to afford to buy everything?”

What I mean by “everything” is, how are we going to:

  • save for a 20% down payment for a $400,000 loan (minimum)
  • max out retirement accounts ($17,500 for 401Ks, $5,500 for Roth IRA)
  • save to buy a new car
  • pay off remaining student loans ($17,500)
  • Pay for my graduate school
  • Pay for Eric’s school

How do you pay for all these things? How do other people seem to do it so well?

And how do you pay for all that without continuing to live as paupers forever and allowing yourself to actually enjoy the money you work for? If we had stayed in the shack, we probably could have paid off debt faster, but I seriously would have been miserable.

A lot of personal finance blogs seem to have it all together, and it makes me feel crazy sometimes when I have to admit that there just isn’t enough money to accomplish all these things at the same time.

I am admitting to myself that if we want to buy a house within the next few years, we will have to take out a car loan. I am also admitting that we probably won’t be able to come up with a 20% down payment. And maybe we’ll still both have student loan debt before we make either of these big purchases. And it will most likely be several, several years before we max out our retirement accounts.

Are these horrible financial decisions?

Of course, nothing has been decided yet–but looking at the big picture, I know that we simply can’t do everything. Notice I didn’t even add “saving for unborn children’s college” into the mix.

While we continue to pay down our debt and build up our savings, progress is slower than I would like, but it’s what we can afford right now.

And honestly, I feel like as a young married couple, we’re probably doing really well for ourselves, and probably better than the average broke young married couple. But as personal finance bloggers, do we hold ourselves to a higher standard? Are our financial decisions judged more because we should always choose the “no debt” route?

How are you able to accomplish all your financial goals on an average salary?



Nightvid Cole February 7, 2014 - 6:33 am

If a house is $400,000, it’s too expensive. Why can’t we ever realize that not having a house does not amount to some horrible failure????

I’m not going to buy a house, EVER, if I live in a place where they are THAT pricey. It’s a waste of money and you do much better renting a smaller place and maxing out your 401k instead.

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Katie June 17, 2013 - 7:39 am

I honestly was just baffled by this last week. I make a below average salary with a LOT of student loans and I’m blown away by the people that don’t live with their parents, have car payments, can afford a wedding, can buy a house etc! Some days though, I work with that I have and take it one step at a time. I make saving and debt a priority and adjust my lifestyle accordingly so down the road there’s a chance I can afford more comfortably. My guess is though, that people seem like they have their stuff together more than they really do! Comparisson will only paralyze you.

Nightvid Cole February 7, 2014 - 6:30 am

Living at home is not really a way of saving money. If you live close enough to work you can walk, you can eliminate $8000 a year of car expenses. Even if your rent is $500 a month (by living with roommates if need be), you come out WAY ahead of living at home and commuting. Of course if you don’t have good transit and/or Zipcar, not owning a car is much less practical.

Jennifer March 27, 2013 - 11:29 am

You can’t save for everything. You can only try to plan as best you can. But if you resign yourself to taking out a car loan now, then of course when you need a new car you will end up with a car loan. You can’t think like that. When the time comes to replace your car you don’t need a new one. SAve what you can and then pay cash. People do it all the time. Figure out how long you think you can go without needing another car and then try to set aside a set amount each month. Personally I would forgo maxing out retirement accts until you have your student loan paid off and money for a new car saved.

Sometimes when I get frustrated about not making progress on our goals I try to come up with a different plan. For instance, right now I take our various income streams and send them to specific places. For instance my dh refs lacrosse on the side. All of that money goes towards a new car fund. The money I make subbing at the schools goes towards our vacation fund, as we are planning a big family reunion for the summer of 2014. If I want to save more towards the vacation, then I need to sub more.

I know it can be overwhelming and hard. But one of the perks of being childless is that you can work more without feeling so much guilt. Now is the time to work as much as possible so that you can reach your goals quicker. But there will always be something else to save for. You will always need to save for another car as they don’t last forever.

Good luck, I know how frustrating it can be to feel like you aren’t making progress fast enough.

Mrs. Ripples March 25, 2013 - 7:08 am

i used to always look at what other people had and wonder how can they afford to do all that. The thing is, most people can’t… they have debt. I don’t think debt is such a horrible thing. I used to and I wanted to be completely out of debt. But life happens. We don’t have any credit card debt and my student loans are almost paid off. Once those are paid off, then I will start putting that money towards my children’s education funds. You just have to pick what is the most important to you and work on those goals. I would love to max out our retirement accounts but right now that isn’t a reality for us. So every once in a while, I will up my 401k 1% at a time. We used to have both our cars paid off but we had an opportunity to get a van at a great price and then my husband’s car started breaking down a lot so we had to get a better, reliable car for him. Now we have two car payments, but we still live below our means, so I’m ok with it. You can’t do everything at once but if you just keep working at it, it will all come together.

Well Heeled Blog March 11, 2013 - 3:09 pm

Dude, I feel this way ALL THE TIME. Then I feel a little ashamed because we made a decent combined salary before I went to school and our income should increase once I graduate. In any case, we make enough to not complain about making too little, but then I add up all these costs of what I want to accomplish and I feel like we need to make more and make some lifestyle changes – i.e. move to a lower cost of living area.

The Norwegian Girl March 11, 2013 - 12:17 pm

I`m kinda in the same place as you, though I`m still a student, I`m worried about how we`re going to save enough for a downpayment. Housing prices has increased A LOT in Norway the last couple of years. A decent place of living cost from $600.000!!! And just the general cost of living is tough, so saving so much money for a downpayment, all while we`re renting an semi-expensive apartment. And then there`s all the other things to be saved for/payed for. So much to save, so little time!

Jordann @ My Alternate Life March 10, 2013 - 4:21 pm

Simply put: I can’t. Right now I’m trying to pay off my debt. There’s absolutely no way that I could accomplish this in a reasonable amount of time while living decently, saving for a downpayment on a house, and saving for retirement.

So I’m not, I live in a 400 sq. ft. house in a permanent house sitting situation, I don’t have any retirement savings, and I’m not saving for a down payment on a house. When the debt is gone, I’ll reassess, but I know there’s no way I’m going to be able to accomplish the three things above that I’m not doing right now, simultaneously.

I definitely get overwhelmed like you do, there seems to be so much on my to do list, and not nearly enough cash to do it with!

Elizabeth @ Broke Professionals March 10, 2013 - 3:57 pm

I don’t think you really can have it all in your 20s; that’s a decade for building up your portfolio, your career, your reputation. Unless you’re a real high-flyer, most of us are going to have to work up to the place where we can have “Everything.” I just accepted a new job last week, and for the first time, it will allow me to do everything you listed above and more – it took almost a decade’s worth of work and climbing the ladder to get there. Just be patient!

Sunshine Money Geek March 10, 2013 - 3:37 pm

We chose to only put 10% down when we bought our house – it was our dream house, and outside of the budget we were really looking at, and still a complete steal at the price we got. Low interest rates made it more affordable, and we knew we would have two roommates paying rent as well.

Personal finance is about balancing the different options and choices available to you. Also remember that time is also on your side. You don’t need to max out 401(k) benefits from age 21 in order to enjoy a comfortable retirement when you’re older.

Nicoleandmaggie March 10, 2013 - 1:22 pm

We were patient and waited years until we had the money to do things, one at a time. Graduate school, student loans, starting retirement savings, a car, a house, a second car. We weren’t even bloggers back then. There will still be decades and decades of our life left to live.

As a side, what kind of graduate school are you talking about– for most graduate school, you shouldn’t be saving to go. They should be paying you.

Alexis Marlons March 10, 2013 - 9:30 am

Love these tips. As a couple, we have plans on our family and on our future. Though life may be hard, we are slowly doing things to realize our plans.

CashRebel March 10, 2013 - 6:55 am

I know what you mean. I feel way ahead of most of my friends in terms of personal finance, but when I read about the awesome stuff my favorite loggers are doing, I get a little down. I make a great salary and things are good in the budget front, but im itching to create something new. A new business, a side gig, a new website, something else to help me keep the financial momentum up.

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American Debt Project March 8, 2013 - 8:54 am

Thank you for writing this…I know exactly how you feel! We can’t pay for everything…and we’re getting married next summer. I thought that would be far enough away but we won’t even start saving it for until July…gulp! And yeah I want to buy a place before that too! Add in non-existent inventory in the OC and I AM GOING INSANE. Phew, ok just relax. What I’m doing is just paying off my debt by July then focusing on the next thing. I’m doing one step at a time. It’s the only path I see to us being somewhat better off financially. Also, we’re only doing 10% down and for a way less expensive place. Although it won’t get us much!!

Leslie March 8, 2013 - 7:40 am

This is a good article to help with normal jealousy, “Never Compare Your Beginning to Someone Else’s Middle” –

I try to remind myself of that because I started on a rougher foundation than some and others had a rougher start than mine. We all come from different places/backgrounds so it’s pretty ridiculous to wonder why I don’t have $50K+ in the bank like some other 30 year olds. Well, if I didn’t have to pay for my own college and was able to live at home for a while afterwards, I certainly would be closer to that. But that’s not what happened and I can’t let myself get down about that.

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Teacher Girl March 7, 2013 - 4:44 pm

Honestly? I struggle to pay all of my bills on time in the same month, so saving anything for the future is out of my hands. I am working on life changes to hopefully make saving a reality soon, but I think you guys are doing extremely well. Give yourselves credit for what you’ve accomplished!

Canadian Budget Binder March 7, 2013 - 2:05 pm

I think we make an average combined salary and we’ve had this talk before. How on earth do we pay and save for everything we need to and we still don’t have any kids. It’s not easy that’s for sure but the best part was saving aggressively since we were young and having the ability to pay the mortgage in full now. We still didn’t max out our investments over the years it was near impossible. I think we as society put a lot of stress on our finances trying to keep up and max out while staying out of debt. While it is possible not everyone can walk that path and certainly not starting out in life with school loans, debt and so forth. We just take it as it comes, and balance it all the best we can.

Renee W March 7, 2013 - 11:26 am

I think you may have read my mind, how is it possible to do all of that? Its probably not like you said. Luckily for you though I think you have a lot more figured out than I do, it is surly a journey.

Emily @ evolvingPF March 7, 2013 - 11:19 am

I have many of the same thoughts, especially because we are looking to move to southern CA so we are going to need that huge downpayment just to break into real estate. I guess I just know that I can’t compare to other people, especially other bloggers who live somewhere else and have different careers and different expenses and goals. I’ve accepted that we can’t do everything now but have hope that we will be able to do more – in sequence – in the future. You also don’t have to do all those things or at least not all at once.

Poorfatchick March 7, 2013 - 10:32 am

I have conversations like this with myself all the time. I often am worried about the same type of things. I worry about how am i going to save for retirement, move back to my homeland, pay off debts, buy a house, have kids, save for their education (the list keeps going) without sacrificing the things i want in life such as travel and being a stay at home mum for when i do have kids. I just can’t see past that.
Often these thoughts come into my head and i work myself so much into a frenzy i end up in tears.. Doesn’t help when i have a partner who spends now and thinks about saving money later. He sees the credit card as disposal income.

However after that i remind myself that i need to be patient and remind myself it will be ok. I tell myself that saving for things you want is much better then paying on credit card and paying interest. Saving something for retirement or moving is better then saving nothing at all. I have 6 separate accounts for various savings goals.. that’s how i see that i am doing ok

I remind myself that just because i can’t see the eventual outcome doesn’t mean i shouldn’t try and get there. Just because i am worried i wont have enough doesn’t mean i shouldn’t start now. saving something is better then doing nothing

One Frugal Girl March 7, 2013 - 9:26 am

For my husband and I it was a combination of living without and high salaries, but big salaries were really the key. We drive old cars, all made before 2000, almost never make home improvements and rarely go out to eat. We don’t deprive ourselves, we just prefer to stay home most of the time. We were fortunate to acquire high paying jobs with good benefits like tuition reimbursement too. Don’t feel sounds like you have your priorities in order. If your salaries aren’t high enough to accomplish everything try your best to prioritize. Now that I stay home money is much tighter and our list of ‘one day’ is growing longer and longer.

Chaddogg March 7, 2013 - 7:43 am

I think it’s important to remember that progress builds on progress (another way of grasping onto the Dave Ramsey Snowball idea, I suppose).

When your student loan debts are paid off, that will be extra money to put towards the house downpayment. When you’ve collected enough for the house downpayment, that’s more money to go towards the car, or grad school, or whatever….

As a newlywed myself who is hoping to have a kid soon, living in a relatively high-cost area (Chicago), with massive student loans (I went to law school without any financial aid, so we’re talking 6-figures, albeit at reasonable below 6% interest rates, with nearly half just at 3.875%) but fortunate to have a relatively good paying job, I understand the struggle. We’re paying down some credit card debt now (a remnant of wedding costs/me being unemployed for a brief time), while saving for a down payment and retirement and paying off student loans, and we’re living in my wife’s one-bedroom condo even though we both REALLY want/need more space. Once the credit card debt is gone, though, that “credit card debt” money is freed up to save up for a down payment, or pay extra on the student loans, or put extra towards retirement.

Soon after that, we’ll probably move to a rental condo that is larger (higher monthly cost), but we’ll be able to afford it using some of the money we had been putting towards the credit card debt. We’ll also easily able to rent out my wife’s condo for some small profit ($200-$300 a month), meaning that money can go towards debt reduction/down payment savings, and we’ll no longer need a storage unit (goodbye $170 a month charge!). Eventually (think 2-4 years down the line), we’ll sell her condo, combine that with our down payment fund, and buy a house, probably reducing our monthly payments (a big down payment means lower monthly costs!), freeing up more money for retirement/debt reduction, etc.

You just gotta keep making progress. Progress builds on progress, exponentially.

Holly@ClubThrifty March 7, 2013 - 4:18 am

The way most people do it “all”- including us- is to learn to live on less than 50% of your income. That should help! Have you drastically cut your expenses yet?

Tina @ My Shiny Pennies March 6, 2013 - 4:59 pm

I have to force myself to be patient and save a little bit towards each goal. Otherwise, it means giving up one goal in order to reach a more immediate goal. I’m putting most of my money towards a Roth IRA, and the remaining money I have left over at the end of the month I put towards other goals like a car fund and travel fund. You may not be able to have everything at the same time, but don’t let the discourage you. Maybe you guys can work on figuring out what matters to you most and tackle those first.

Budget & the Beach March 6, 2013 - 4:03 pm

I totally agree with Jessica. I have a whopping $400 I saved for retirement this entire YEAR! And that’s the first in four years I saved anything for it, and I’m 40-freaking-2! It’s easy to get lost in the numbers and comparison game (if you’d like a guest post from me I wrote one called the green-eyed monster about the times where I have felt jealous of other PF bloggers), but you just have to focus on one thing at a time…step by step. You can’t map out your whole future (try as we might) because things happen…things change…shit breaks down on the 405 (ha ha!)…you just gotta roll with things as they come. Feel free to email me if you really need to vent. 🙂

Tanner March 6, 2013 - 3:34 pm

I’ve been thinking around that same wavelength for a while now. I know for a fact I cannot max my IRA, which makes me a bit sad. I never even dreamed of maxing my 401k. My goal is to get $2k extra for a car down payment, but that’s a bit shifty. All in the while I’m still paying my loans and saving money for when I move. There doesn’t seem to be enough money to go around, but as you did point out, some things take priority, and instead of being discouraged by not being able to do it all, focus on one goal. Always one goal. After that’s done, move to the next, then the next.

Kasey March 6, 2013 - 3:30 pm

I was debt free except for a car loan for all of 4 months. I now own a house and a Homedepot CC with $8700. While I vowed I would not get into CC debt again here I am. Sure I could have waited and saved more money but I found a great deal and doing a remodel before moving In was what I wanted. The home depot is interest free for 12-18 months and so I know I have a pay off date. It’s easy to be impatient and find a way to get things you want now (as I have shown) much harder to be patient and save save save. My current situation works for me but not necessarily the next person. You need to find your happy medium. digging-my-way-out

J.W. March 6, 2013 - 3:27 pm

I am a relatively new reader, and really appreciate this post. My husband and I are newlyweds and are trying to make smart financial decisions. We’re comfortable, for sure, but we’re far from reaching our financial goals. We have good salaries, but even so, it will probably take us three- four years to save for starter/fixer home in our part of the country. Sometimes I feel frustrated thinking about how long we’ll need to save…but it also is an added incentive for us to make wise financial decisions so we won’t have to wait even longer to reach our goals.

Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies March 6, 2013 - 2:36 pm

I don’t think you should hold yourself to some standard just because you blog about pf. First rule of “personal finance” – it’s personal. =) What works for you and Eric might not work for me and Mr. PoP, and that’s okay. It’s reality.
Our reality is that we weren’t able to start hitting many of the goals that you have as bullets talked about until Mr. PoP and I were together making over $150K combined per year. Before that, yes, we bought a house. But it cost ~$130K, not $400K. We maxed out IRAs, but weren’t even close on 401Ks. Heck, we borrowed money to buy a car (just paid that balance off this month!) – because Mr. PoP was unemployed in a giant recession at the time we did and we weren’t 100% sure when he’d have a job again. A huge chunk of the e-fund was going to the new AC unit that we desperately needed in our house because it was May in Florida, and if we tried to buy a car with the rest the car would have been a crappy one and we might have had no $ leftover for repairs when it needed it!
I guess what I’m trying to say is that having goals that change is a part of life. Our original goal in keeping close track on our finances was to figure out a way to take a year off of work and travel. That goal is starting to change a bit now and we’re still trying to flesh out what our main goal is now. It’s a process. And we’re trying hard not to compare ourselves to others along the way.

Mo' Money Mo' Houses March 6, 2013 - 2:33 pm

The only way I don’t go crazy by comparing my situation to other PF bloggers is to count my blessings, make clear and concise goals, and go step by step in order to achieve them. Also, I try to remember as much as other bloggers say they are doing well, we don’t really know the whole story and we should compare ourselves to them either.

SavvyFinancialLatina March 6, 2013 - 2:19 pm

It’s hard. I battle the same questions every day. i worry about it every day. Look at the bank accounts, and try to figure out, okay we have this much coming in, how can we save, how much do we pay for bills.

And just because we are pf bloggers, doesn’t mean we don’t make mistakes.

We want a lot of things, but I know it just takes time. We are doing pretty well for our ages. And so are you and your hubby!

Michelle March 6, 2013 - 1:49 pm

We’re always working on increasing our income and trying to determine where we want to spend money. We decided that going out to eat every night was of course not worth it, and are able to shift this money to other areas.

eemusings March 6, 2013 - 1:45 pm

Yeah, I dunno … I just don’t see how it’s possible. There’ll be a lot of struggle and compromise along the way, for sure. You guys and us two are in the same boat, sister.

CeCe @Frugalista Married March 6, 2013 - 1:44 pm

I wish I had accomplished all financial goals! I never feel like I’m saving enough but I know I’m doing what I can. I try to balance enjoying life with being frugal and it’s hard sometimes. I feel like we are doing pretty well too for the most part. Very little debt and a house. I guess you can only do what you can do. Wish I was rich!!

krantcents March 6, 2013 - 1:23 pm

Everything? Maybe not, but it helps that I started early and never accumulated debt except for mortgages. I think you just have to adjust some of the numbers and consider the start of your goal as the goal. My first house was a fixer, 25% below market. If you look, you will find it. I started saving early and keep adding to it even when I no longer need to. Remember success is reaching or accomplishing your goal. Adjust your goal and make it more reasonable. You don’t need to accomplish “everything” at once!


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