Real Life Family Finance: Airplane Mechanic and Stay at Home Mom

Sometimes we find ourselves in family life, struggling to maintain a budget, and think we are the only ones out there dealing with similar issues. I mean, it’s easy to look at the neighbor across the street with the new truck, your best friend who is excited to spend money for the entire bottle of wine EVERY time you go out with her, and even family members that seem to have it all together when it comes to their finances.

The truth is…things aren’t always as they appear…am I correct?

I’ve been really nosey lately, asking questions about people’s financial lives…even some of the uncomfortable ones…so that we can all better understand that we are not the only ones struggling (or succeeding) when it comes to making the right financial decisions for our families, or powering through when times get tough.

Real Life Family Finance: Airplane Mechanic and SAHM

It’s my pleasure to have the opportunity to feature Deborah today. Deborah lives in Montana with her spouse of three years and two-year-old daughter. Although Deborah is primarily a stay-at-home mother, she can also be found blogging about family, travel, and budgeting over on her blog, Her husband is an Aircraft Mechanic with the United States Air Force.


One or Two Incomes?


What’s the biggest struggle your family has when it comes to income?

Our biggest struggle is just feeling like we’re not making enough. Andrew is at the beginning of his career and I am currently staying at home. We get overwhelmed trying to put money away “in all the places we should” like retirement, school savings for our daughter, paying off student loans, saving for a down payment, and still being able to live a little! It is easy to feel stretch very thin and we are working at best as we can to not gain any new debt.

What method do you use to keep track of your budget and why?

I have a paper calendar where I put what payment is due and the amount. I try to automate as much as I can, on that calendar I add if it’s automated such as American Express Credit Card or automatic withdrawal. Then I have a document on my computer where I keep track of how much income with make as well as our estimated expenses versus our actual expenses for each category. It’s definitely not a perfect system, but it’s working right now. It’s simple enough for me to track and doesn’t take a huge amount of time so it’s good for now.

How do you budget for kids clothing, school supplies, shoes, activities, and everything else kid-related?

Since our daughter is still pretty young I don’t have a monthly budget for this. Instead when we need things I try to find it as cheaply as I can, and the money gets taken out of our ‘luxury budget’ which is used for outings, dining out, shopping, anything that’s non-essential. 

What is the biggest struggle you are currently having related to your budget?

Still trying to figure out which is the best way for us as a family to set and track our budget, ensuring that we stay under budget!


What percentage of your income do you save each month?

We try to save some money each month, but we are not good at doing a certain percentage each month. During our major debt overhaul, we were sending as much as 50% over to debt. More regularly I would say we try to save about 20%, not always accomplishing that and some months saving a bit more.

Do you have an emergency savings account?

Yes, we do. I personally need it to feel safe and secure. It gives me some assurance knowing that if something bad were to happen we would have to time to recover! For me personally, this is necessary.

Would you consider your emergency savings to be able to cover one major emergency, or to be of long-term assistance if, for example, you were to lose your income?

It would be able to cover short-term assistance, our basic necessities for about 3 months.

Do you have special savings or “funds” set aside for vacations and/or other big purchases your family plans to make in the future?

We have three different accounts. Our checking account that pays for our expenses during that single paycheck, our savings account that we use for big purchases and vacations, and finally our emergency savings account.

What is ONE of those funds you know you couldn’t live without? (or if you don’t have one – what is one you could see your family creating?)

I couldn’t live without an emergency account! I need that, even when we need to pull from the account I get stressed until we get that back up to the amount we have set. I would like to split up our savings a bit more, so we can more easily tell what money is for what. Currently, we are trying to save a down payment for a house, but that money is just in a savings account. Whenever we use some of that money on the family it feels like we are back-tracking in our goal of buying a house. I would like a separate account for vacations or family purchases, so I don’t feel that as much, but that is a part of the feeling very stretched to put money in so many different areas.


Do you have debt that you are actively working to pay off?


How soon do you anticipate being out of debt?

We plan on being done with our student loans in less than two years! Yay! We are working very hard to not gain any new consumer debt, but we do want to buy a house within the next few years, once we can accumulate a down payment. We know that we will gain debt again when we buy a house, but it’s a trade we’re willing to make.

What is your current strategy (if any) for debt elimination?

We just finished a year of major sacrifices and major debt overhaul. We were able to get rid of our consumer debt and the majority of our student loans. During that time, we pushed off buying everything possible, even getting a haircut next month rather than this so we could pay off a bit more this month. We did a combo of the debt snowball and debt avalanche. We focused on one debt at a time, and the smallest ones first. Once the debts got quite sizeable we focused on the one with the highest interest first. We are now left with our last student loan, which has the smallest interest rate. This loan we are now paying off at a slower pace, but still faster than simply the minimum payment, so that we can now focus more on saving for a house.

Anything else you’d like to include about debt, as it relates to you and your family?

I learned a lot through our year of debt overhaul! I learned the importance of what is really a necessity and what is a luxury. I also really learned the importance of making do with what you have. Things as simple as putting off haircuts or if there is a shirt you want waiting until the end of the season and hoping it’s still on the sales rack, little purchases can add up to a lot of extra debt payments when you force yourself to make it with what you have.


Have you made short and/or long-term goals that you and your family are working toward? If so, will you share one or two of those goals and the steps you are taking to reach them?

Yes. One of our short-term goals is to finish paying off our student loans, we made a plan with how much we need to pay each paycheck to be finished with them in two years. If we get an extra paycheck or some money we were not expecting, we send that same amount over to our student loans, so we should finish before two years. Our long-term goal is to buy a house within five years. Similarly, we figured out how much we need to save monthly to save a 20% down payment for an average sized house in our area. It sets amounts that are attainable on our paycheck right now so hopefully as pay increase we can accomplish this within five years.

How did you come up with those specific goals?

We sat down as a couple and talk about all sorts of financial goals that we had. Some we have already implemented such as pay off some debt with each paycheck or give 10% of our income away to charities or missions. Other’s we are working on such as finish paying off our student loans or saving for a house. We have some other goals that are more fun and further off such as travel for one month each year or buy a trailer!

Do you engage in a reward system for you and your family to celebrate the accomplishment of those goals?

No, it is something I have thought about adding, but have not currently.


What is the biggest success you have had to-date when it comes to your finances?

Paying off that first sizeable debt felt fantastic, that first one that was several thousand! That really pushed us to pay off the next one, bigger ones, even faster! 

Do you have other successes you’d like to share related to your finances?

I am most proud of how we handled/are handling some of our sacrifices and the blessings we gained through those sacrifices. Andrew joined the Air Force and ended up finding a career that he loves and will pursue after the military as well. We moved in with my parents, which was a sacrifice losing our own place but also, we know is a huge privilege that they were willing to take us. It was a huge blessing that we got to know my parents better and all that time my daughter got to spend with her grandparents. I reverted back to a flip cell phone for two years, we just this weekend bought me a new smartphone and it feels like such a luxury! But the biggest blessing has been the mind shift that we don’t need to spend a certain amount to have a good life or that the income we make doesn’t define us. It has forced us to get creative, but we live a really good life, on a small budget.


What is the biggest struggle you have had related to your family finances over the past year?

The biggest struggle is still going over-budget on our “luxury budget.” We struggle with tracking it and often end up finding ourselves buying something and hoping it still fits into the budget.

If you could pinpoint one major failure you’ve had in your finances over your adult life, what would it be?

My biggest failure would definitely be simply ignoring our finances for so long. Neither Andrew or I really took control of our finances. We were both working and there always just seems to be enough. I didn’t even know a ballpark amount for our debt. At the time making money just seemed to be an easily renewable resource. When I became a stay-at-home mom, we knew we had to tighten up, but it wasn’t until a few months in that we realized how much we really needed to tighten up.

Have you overcome that failure or is it something you are still working on? (Explain how.)

We have definitely overcome this failure. I have since taken control of the finances and now can tell you almost exactly how much money is in each account and how much student loan debt we have left. This doesn’t mean I do it alone, it is a discussion on how we will spend money or how we should budget our money. We also have now split up tasks within finances. I do the majority of the tracking, bill paying, grocery shopping, family necessities. While Andrew handles issues that don’t need to be addressed weekly or monthly, such as choosing our insurance or taking care of our car maintenance. When I realized the total amount of our debt and realized how much interested we would be paying if we simply paid the minimum we buckled down to pay off as much as we could, as fast as we could.


If you could go back and tell your young adult self how to handle finances differently in the future, what is the one thing you would most like to share?

I would definitely recommend talking about finances as soon as you get married or get in a significant relationship. We joined our finances as soon as we got engaged but we were both still doing our own thing with our finances. Once you get married and have children new financial goals arise quickly. Make sure you communicate with each other what your goals are and be sure to include why you want those goals so the other can help see your point of view. I would also recommend having one person “more in control” to ensure you stay on track, bills don’t get forgotten about, and you’re not stepping on each other’s toes trying to both do the same things.

How are you currently educating your children when it comes to finances?

I haven’t thought about this fully since Eden is still quite young. But I am hoping to use allowance to help explain giving, savings, and spending to her.

What is one topic you wish you knew more about, related to budgeting or family finance?

I am hoping to take a course more on family budgeting. We are quite motivated with both savings and debt repayment, but often we have a hard time not going over budget, which always makes things tighter the next month. It’s a bad habit and I know that it could get us into trouble again fast.

If you could share one piece of financial advice with those reading today, what would that be?

If you need to start cutting expenses, just do it! Give yourself a timeline so it seems possible. Start with a no-spend week, then onto a no luxury month. As time goes on it feels easier, you get more creative, and you’ll realize how much stuff you actually don’t need!

Is anyone else excited about Deborah’s financial journey? Being so close to paying off student loans is a huge feat and definitely not one to be taken lightly! I loved her suggestion to talk with your spouse early on about your financial situation. It can be a hard thing to do, but once you are on the same page, it makes it a whole lot easier to pay down debt (if you have it) and begin meeting your goals, whatever they might be. Want to connect further with Deborah? Check out her blog, 12by12 Travel, or follow her on Twitter.

Additional Resources:

Eliminating Debt for Good: In 7 (Not Always) Easy Steps

How to Implement a Budget & Achieve Your Goals

FREE Family Budget Template Download