How This Family of 6 Lives On $53,000 a Year (with $22,000 of that going towards their student loan debt)

Today, I have an article from Penny. Her family of six spends just $53,000 a year, with $22,000 of that going towards their student loan debt. Here is her story. Dear Readers of Making Sense of Cents, I’m Penny. I write a blog with my cousin, Rich. It’s called Penny and Rich. He’s rich. I’m poor. Get…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: December 28, 2023

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Penny's family of six spends just $53,000 a year, with $22,000 of that going towards their student loan debt. Here is her story.Today, I have an article from Penny. Her family of six spends just $53,000 a year, with $22,000 of that going towards their student loan debt. Here is her story.

Dear Readers of Making Sense of Cents,

I’m Penny. I write a blog with my cousin, Rich. It’s called Penny and Rich. He’s rich. I’m poor. Get it? I’m a stay-at-home-mom with four kids. We have a household income of $43,000 a year and my husband and I have over $153,000 in student loan debt. Rich is a busy professional with a household income of $250,000 and he is well on his way to becoming a millionaire. This blog is our way of writing to and trying to understand each other, financially and otherwise.

We accumulated this massive student loan debt when my husband went back to school to become a chiropractor. He has been in practice almost six years now.

It’s doing better every year, but it’s taken a lot longer to grow a business than either of us thought it would.

We don’t regret taking out the loans, because we value having me staying home with the kids and family time over money and debt and everything. And, honestly, having the debt is not that big of a deal.

Rich doesn’t understand how my family of six can get by on such a small income, let alone tackle our massive student loan debt. But let me tell you, dear readers, how we are going to do it. Maybe you can make sense (that’s a shout-out to you, Michelle!) of our madness.


Our 10 Year Plan To Repay $153,000 in Student Loan Debt

Very simply, we are going to put $22,000 toward the debt every year. Here is a spreadsheet of what that is going to look like:

(Keep in mind that this spreadsheet is an estimate, because student loan interest is typically compounded daily, and I didn’t want to work through those sorts of calculations when creating the spreadsheet.)

$1,000 is taken out of our checking account automatically every month (for a total of $12,000 a year), plus an additional $10,000 will be thrown at it when we get our tax refund. This will eventually make a dent in that massive behemoth of a loan, and we will have it paid off entirely in 10 years.

Right now, it feels like we’re doing nothing more than throwing money at a wall. So much of it is going toward the interest. We have to pay $812 a month just to keep the loan from getting any bigger. Which sucks. At the end of the 10 years, we will have paid over $55,000 on the interest alone.

We’ve tried to refinance the loans, which is where all the really cool, fiscally responsible people are going, but they won’t have us given our debt to income ration (which, of course, makes sense on their end)…

But here’s another thing:

We are on a Income-Driven Repayment Plan with our lenders. This means that we make payments in accordance with our income. Right now, they are requiring us to pay:


And they will forgive any loan balance remaining after 25 years.

Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, right?

So, why are we putting $22,000 a year toward student loans when we technically don’t have to pay anything and the remaining balance will be forgiven anyway?

Well, let me tell you, because here’s the catch: We would have to pay taxes on the amount forgiven!

So, let’s say we continue to remain at this income level ($43,000), or thereabouts, for the next 25 years, and let’s say we pay $0 the whole time. At the end of 25 years, due to the constant growth of that friggin’ interest, the loan will have amassed itself to an astounding:


​Thanks to this little handy Tax Calculator, I can calculate that we would have to pay $229,545 in taxes on that amount, which is actually $9,545 more than what we would pay doing my little 10 Year Repayment Plan thingy.

(Plus, we’re the ones who took out the loans, we’re responsible for paying them, and we really do want to be able to pay them back. Blah, blah, blah.)

So, now, a question you’re probably asking yourself is:

How in the world can you afford to put $22,000 toward student loans when you have an income of only $43,000 a year (and four kids to boot)?

First, let’s take a look at how we spent our money in 2016, and we’ll get into it:

Okay, so now you’re going to have some more questions here. And your first question is going to be:

How did you spend only $528 in food to feed your family of six?

Well, dear readers, here’s our deep, dark secret… since we are low income, we get the majority of our food covered by Food Support. I’ll write more about that at the end of this post, but, for now, there you have it. We get Food Support, and this enables us to put more of our money toward student loan loan debt.

Which will bring you to your next question:

Where are those student loan payments anyway?

For some reason, I like to keep them separate in my head (and therefore in this post). Since we are not *technically* required to pay them, I see it as a *somewhat* nonessential expense (although, really, it isn’t, I know this).

So, with the loan payments, our grand total of expenditures in 2016 was actually:

$31,942.03 in regular expenses

+$22,000.00 in student loans payments

$53,942.03 total

Which brings us to your next question:

But Penny, you’re only making $43,000 a year? How can you pay all that?

My second deep dark secret, dear readers, is… we get a massive tax refund every year.

Let’s look at these numbers:

$7,321 – 2015 Federal Tax Refund

$2,655 – 2015 State Tax Refund

$2,006 – 2015 Property Tax Refund

$11,982 – Total

So, add that number to the $43,000 in income that we made, and we get:


There, now we’re ahead of the game.

Let’s put together some fun charts on this. Here’s a look at what we spent our money on in 2016:

Okay, and now let’s see what it looks like with the student loan amount thrown in:

Pretty crazy, huh? Good thing I have that 10 year plan!

Now, about Food Support…

As I mentioned earlier, our family gets food support. We’ve been getting it for about eight years now, ever since my husband started chiropractic school. We could have gotten it before then, when he was a Catholic elementary teacher making only $18,750 a year, but I hadn’t known it was available to us. I didn’t realize we were poor.

When we first started getting food support, I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. I was kind of embarrassed. I felt like we were too good for it, like we were above it.

Now, I receive it with gratitude. I know that we are not any better or worse than anybody else getting it. I am no longer too proud.

Could we get by without it? Yes.

Do we use what we save on food to help pay off our student loan debt? Absolutely.

Is that fair? I think so.

I recently read this amazing book called The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer. In the book, she writes this little tidbit about how Henry David Thoreau’s mother would bring him donuts while he was squirreled away working on Walden:

The idea of Thoreau gazing thoughtfully over the expanse of transcendental Walden Pond, a bluebird alighting onto his threadbare shoe, all the while eating donuts that his mom brought him just doesn’t jibe with most people’s picture of him as a self-reliant, noble, marrow-sucking back-to-the-woods folk hero.

I think a lot of the time, people might expect those getting government assistance to look and act a certain way (poor), and that they shouldn’t be able to enjoy any kind of treat or luxury (like going to Harry Potter World) because of that. Kind of like how we expected Thoreau to look when he was living at Walden Pond.

It’s not the act of taking that’s so difficult, it’s more the fear of what other people are going to think when they see us slaving away at our manuscript about the pure transcendence of nature and the importance of self-reliance and simplicity. While munching on someone else’s donut.

I’m not working on writing a literary masterpiece here, of course. I’m just trying to raise my kids while my husband tries to grow his business… and, yes, all while we’re munching on someone else’s donut.

And I’m okay with that. I’m learning how to take the donuts.

It is a gift to be able to accept support from another person (or the government). It makes you humble. It makes you grateful. It makes you human. It is a gift to be able to give, and it is a gift to be able to receive.

Unlike before, I am slowly starting to realize that I am (kind of) a poor person. However, I still don’t feel like one (I think being “poor” has less to with money than one might expect). In many ways, I live a life similar to wealthy people, just one with a lot more support: We send our kids to a private school (thanks to a scholarship), we eat healthy, organic food (thanks to food support), and we own our own home (thanks to our moms co-signing on the mortgage).

Should my life look differently? Should I look like I am poor and suffering? Or should I gratefully take the donuts and do what I can with them?

That’s the road I’m taking.

And is that fair? A lot of people, like my cousin Rich, have worked hard to get where they are and for what they have acquired. But have they worked any harder than my husband worked in chiropractic school and in starting his own practice? Probably not. Do busy professionals work any harder than construction workers or a teachers do?

It’s all relative. Different people have different interests and values and jobs and income levels. And some people just get lucky. (Even Rich recognizes that we all have a role to play, and he wrote a parable about how we are different types of squirrels and our conversations make the “forest” a better place.)

We all need to take care of each other, in any way that we can. We belong to each other.

And that’s a good thing.

Here’s another excerpt from The Art of Asking (I can’t recommend this book enough) that sums this up:

Our first job in life is to recognize the gifts we’ve already got, take the donuts that show up while we cultivate and use those gifts, and then turn around and share those gifts – sometimes in the form of money, sometimes time, sometimes love – back into the puzzle of the world.

Our second job is to accept where we are in the puzzle at each moment. That can be harder.

I recognize that our circumstances are unique. There probably aren’t a lot of people making $43,000 and putting $22,000 toward student loans every year. I hope to be at the another place in the puzzle in the future, a place where I can share more of my gifts and take less. Until then, I think it’s good to have conversations like this… conversations about money, about life, and about our place in it all.

Low-income people are not usually represented on personal financial blogs. I want my cousin, Rich, to understand what it’s like, and I want you, dear readers, to understand as well.

And along the way, we all might learn something from each other.

Thanks for reading,


Do you have any questions for Penny? What are you doing to pay off your debt?

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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. Ooh ooh! I can actually help here. You’re already paying an exorbitant amount of money every month towards those loans — why not make that same amount work harder for you? A sub-prime lending friend of mine (haha) gave me this advice back when I was paying my student loans: Since the interest accrues daily, make two half-payments per month and it cuts the percentage that goes towards interest way back. The very first month you do this, you should actually make 1 full payment and then 1 half payment (so you’re half a payment ahead), meaning you do have to budget extra that first month, but after that payments are the same.

    As an example, here’s what I did over two 6-month periods:

    From 1 July – 15 December 2008, I was paying $400/month around the 15th of every month.

    Total Paid: $2,400
    Amount towards principal balance: $1,655.05 (69%)
    Amount thrown away towards interest: $744.95 (31%)

    From 31 December 2008 – 15 June 2009, I was paying $400/month, but $200 around the 1st and $200 around the 15th. (*I started at the end of December, meaning I paid $600 total that month — but that was the ONLY month I paid over the $400 — And STILL, across the 6 month stretch, the total amount paid was the same.)

    Total Paid: $2,400
    Amount towards principal balance: $1,960.14 (82%)
    Amount thrown away towards interest: $439.86 (18%)

    The percentages are the biggest thing to look at here, because the amount that goes towards the principal is always going to go down over time as the remaining balance goes down. LOOK how much less, percentage-wise, went towards the wasteful interest during that second 6 month stretch! That means more of my money was going towards paying the actual loan balance than paying the bookies. And it only got better with time. I’m horrible at math, but do this and you might be able to cut that 10 year plan back!

    1. Victoria

      That’s a great tip!

    2. Penny @

      Thank you so much for this! I will follow your advice. This is awesome.

    3. Anne from Weird Hacks

      Wow. This would be a smart thing to do.

    4. Maya

      I actually make weekly payments toward my student loan in addition to the monthly minimum payment amount. I started doing this in January 2017 and my balance went from almost $22k to $6500. I expect to pay off the balance by the end of August and that’s due in large part to making more than one payment per month. You can do the same thing with a mortgage too.

    5. Michael

      Great tip. As a realtor it’s one of my favorites. One question though- I don’t get why you should make one full- and one-half payment. Can you please elaborate?

  2. BMG

    Hi Penny,

    First, congrats to you and your husband for doing a great job making this work with your limited resources. Kudos.

    Second, is he self-employed as a chiropractor? If so, why is he giving Uncle Sam an interest-free loan for the full year? I would recommend not paying so much in estimated taxes and putting that money back on the loans immediately, rather than waiting till you get your refund.

    And even if he is not self-employed, you should decrease the amount withheld from his paycheck so that you get more money every month that you can apply to those loans right away. I imagine this would cut down on the amount of time it will take you to pay those suckers off.

    FYI – I’m a self-employed lawyer by day, and have done my own S-Corp taxes since 2006. And we are currently working to pay down $198,000 of debt (mostly student loans)… yikes.

    1. Penny @

      Yes, he is self-employed as a chiropractor, also an s-corp. The reason we get a big tax refund isn’t because we’re paying an excess in taxes, it is mainly because of the deductions we get for the number of kids that we have, plus the earned income credit which we get because of our income level. I had my cousin Rich take a look at our taxes, and he came to the same conclusion.

      Glad to hear we aren’t the only people out there with this much student loan debt. Good luck paying yours down as well!

  3. Victoria

    I have to admit I looked somewhat askance at the money going toward restaurants being more than you spend on food. I don’t quite know how I feel about that as it jars and seems like it should be wrong.

    I don’t mean to have a go at you, I was trying to think through how I felt about it. I think it might be worth me reading that book.
    Thanks for sharing though, it does show how much can be achieved when you set your mind to it and it’s clear that you work hard.

    1. Penny @

      Well, like I said in the article, the reason we don’t spend much money on food is because the majority of it is covered by food support. And I don’t think the money we spend of restaurants is an unreasonable amount… it averages out to only around $64 a month (most of which is spent during birthdays, our anniversary, or other special events).

      But I understand where you’re coming from. It’s a hard thing for me to wrap my head around too sometimes.

      1. Lyn McNamee

        When you buy food at restaurants are you not contributing towards the wages and livelihoods of the people that work there? That money goes into the “money roundabout” which is what makes the system work (or not depending on your views). Also everyone should budget for a little luxury in their lives. It helps to keep you sane and prevent sudden blowouts when you just can’t take penny pinching any more. Good on you for managing your finances so well.

        1. Penny @

          That’s a good way to put it, Lyn. Thanks.

        2. R

          I totally agree. I once went without a much needed vacation for over 7 years due to feeling guilty that I didn’t deserve it because I didn’t pay off my debts yet but I always paid my monthly fees on time. A lot of able bodied people totally forget about disABLEd people who struggle financially, socially and physically. So occasional dining out as a special treat (especially for celebrating) is encourage to keep sane.

  4. Wow, what a story! I’ve seen your blog but didn’t catch all the details. I’m really impressed at your discipline and hard work to keep costs low (with 4 kiddos!) and pay off the student loans. Keep up the good work!

    1. Penny @

      Thanks! We will keep at it!

  5. GREAT point about the tax impact of loan forgiveness!!! This hardly ever gets discussed on personal finance sites. Very glad to see you’ve considered it and are choosing to pay down your loan early. Good luck with your plans!

    1. Penny @

      Thanks, Owen.

  6. Crystal @ The Frugal Sisters

    I enjoyed reading about your journey and it’s very impressive! I appreciate that you’ve done the math to show that taking the student loan forgiveness actually works out less in your favor than paying it. A lot of people don’t fully understand the loan forgiveness program and what it really means, especially if you are on an income driven repayment plan.

    1. Penny @

      Yeah, I think it ends up working in some people’s favor if the loan is a lot less, so I’m glad I did the math on it. Do the math, people! Thanks for reading.

  7. Penny @

    Thank you so much!

  8. VacationBarbie

    It’s so nice to see someone on the same page as us!

    I’m on the lower end of the income scale too, but I don’t feel poor. I was fortunate to be able to buy a house, a foreclosure, nine years ago. I’m hoping to pay it off in the next six years. (Paying $400 extra to principal every month and refinanced to a 15 year 3 years ago…eliminating PMI and lowering my interest rate.) I’m a really good shopper and I think that helps. I’m trying to do “no spend July” as it’s my slowest month in the year. (Self employed)

    I manage to take a vacation every year because I work my mileage visa in my favor…playing the float and using their money for free and paying it off every month. I also drink my coffee at home, take my own water with me when I go out, and we rarely go out to eat…maybe every other month we’ll go out to dinner, and we both take our lunch. Sometimes it’s a drag…especially when see others with all the toys…but I know in 6 years I’ll be able to “do” all that stuff. I just wish I could have bought this house 20 years ago!

    I’m going to follow your blog.

  9. Penny @

    That’s awesome! Glad to know someone else is on the same page.

  10. OK you’re amazing and this post just stole my attention completely! I can’t wait to read more of your stuff. This is so real, I can’t even…

    Thank you for sharing with us your struggles. It’s very brave and I can relate to you in a variety of ways.

    I’m from a poor family and my husband is from a well off family. Hubby can gross 250K and I do my best with AirBnB at 50K. I always pale in comparison to him,

    That’s why I want to blog… I don’t feel like I’m contributing as much to society as my husband does. Terrible way of thinking about a marriage but if you’re honest with us here, I’ll be honest too 🙂

    Love ya already, thanks again!!!

    1. Rich @

      Hi Lily — I’m Rich, Penny’s cousin and the other half of our blog. I think it’s fascinating the way people relate over money. My family makes $250k or so, like your hubby, and Penny’s makes much less. But I know Penny, and we really aren’t that different in most ways.

      I’ve learned to see money more as an effect than a cause. It’s the result of choices but also plenty of external factors as well.

      Anyway, I’ll be checking out your blog more often — it looks cool! –R

  11. Unfortunately, I know too many chiropractors in this situation! 🙁 Sounds like you’re making the best of it! Also, it’s very refreshing to see someone actually paying their loans and acknowledging the challenges of forgiveness. Finally, my pie chart looks similar – a big ol half of it going to student debt!

    1. Penny @

      Yes, I think we went into the chiropractic profession thinking he would make a lot more money than he does. Although, some of the friends he went to school with are making a lot of money. The good news is that he earns more money every year, it’s just at a gradual incline.

  12. Kim

    Food support? I have never heard this phrase. Who is paying for that? Do you mean welfare?

    1. R

      This is wonderful to know… SNAP is a nutrition program. It is NOT a welfare cash assistance program (which is called TAFDC). You do not have to be receiving TAFDC to get SNAP — these are separate programs.

      SNAP is a federal entitlement program. This means anyone who is eligible will receive benefits. You will not be taking away benefits from someone else if you apply.

      The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees SNAP at the federal level.

      1. E

        Anything that is taxpayer funded from the rest of the population is a form of welfare, regardless of the name we give it. This is not social security where the recipients have paid in over a lifetime. Saying something is an entitlement does not mean the money is free. Other people have had the money confiscated from their pay, for which they worked. Which is what the earned income tax credit is, as well. She pays no income tax and gets thousands “back” on her return, all of which comes from other people who have earned it and will not get it back.

        1. H Allen


  13. Nita

    Wow! I have 4 kids and both my hubs and I had student loan dept that we paid off. However, we both worked, did side businesses and carved out childcare expenses. My husband was home with our kids during the day while I worked, and he worked weekends on a part-time job then had a real estate business where he worked with a team during the week. In addition, we homeschooled some of our kids during middle and high school. I believe people deal with what they want to deal with. There are ways to make income, even working part time out of the house opposite the schedule of one spouse is possible. Sure we all want to be in the position where we don’t NEED a job, but having one does have benefits.

    1. Rich @

      Hi Nita — I’m Rich, Penny’s cousin and the other half of our blog. I’ve often thought, what would I do if I were in Penny’s shoes? I think your comment is an example of what I’d do. I’d work shifts and lose sleep and try to get financial stability ASAP. It’s part of my makeup.

      What I’ve learned over time talking with Penny is we are motivated in completely different ways. I still don’t completely understand, but I think the conversation is important.

      Anyway, appreciate your thoughts!

  14. Penny @

    Thanks, Cory. Yes, unfortunately, the only way for us to get to where he wanted to be (a chiropractor) was to go through student loans. It was worth it, because he is doing what he wants to do, but it does come at a pretty hefty price.

  15. Penny @

    Thanks, Megan! I love this comment. 🙂

  16. Heather @ bizewife

    Really excellent report! My only suggestion is this (and I appreciate that you want to pay your loans but in the interest of fullness): You’ll surely have to pay taxes on your forgiven loans. That said, the tax due could be lower than you return if you were investing the money elsewhere and could draw a higher rate of return. This is super risky and has no guarantee of return, but if you could make more than the 10K than it’s worth a look.

    One question: are there loan forgiveness programs for health care professionals that do public service? Maybe your husband can look into a community health program where he could volunteer some services.

    And to the commenter that asked what Food Support is: SNAP, Benefits, Welfare, Food Stamps etc. Yes all programs to help people get appropriate nutrition.

    1. Penny @

      I’m not sure about loan forgiveness programs for health care professionals that do public service. I don’t think so, if I’m remembering correctly from when I looked into it. Thanks for the idea though. And the investment idea… it’s a good one, just a little too risky for my taste. Plus, I don’t think I’m knowledgeable enough in that arena to do any good.

      1. Whitney

        Oh man, these folks with their “if you can afford to take vacations, you can afford to pay for your own food.”

        Sorry, but I am quite content with my tax dollars paying for the food of folks like Penny and her family. I have to wonder what sort of experiences the commenter has or hasn’t gone through that has left her with such a lack of empathy.

        Anyways, Penny, thank you so much for sharing this. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I feel like so much of this personal finance space is filled with single people or people with no kids trying and succeeding to get rich. I haven’t ever seen a family like yours share their “behind the scenes” details on how they make it work, i.e. the experiences of making difficult decisions. I will be checking out your blog. Thank you for your honesty!

        1. Melissa

          Hear, hear, Whitney! I totally agree. So much of our tax dollars are wasted on nonsense, I’m happy to know the loads of taxes my husband and I pay as a married-without-kids family go to people to help them eat.

          I liked Penny’s post too because it was helpful for me to see how she budgeted! We’re almost in the same boat as she is except for a few differences, and I was always wondering how to find more money to throw at my loans. To the point, I like how she laid out her PLAN – I could find more money, I’m sure, but such large debt #’s make me think it’s impossible. Penny shows it’s NOT impossible!

          1. Penny @

            Thanks, Melissa.

        2. Penny @

          Thanks, Whitney.

        3. Rich @

          Hi Whitney — I’m Rich, Penny’s cousin and the other half of our blog.I think there’s a lot of ink and vitriol being spilled these days over rich people (selfish!) and poor people (lazy!), and the thing is, you don’t really know how someone got to their situation without listening to them first, and having a conversation. So thanks for listening!

          1. Heather @ bizewife

            Hear hear!

  17. Mrs. Picky Pincher

    Great job paying down that debt while providing for your family! We’re married with no kids right now, so we have the chance to really pay these suckers down. Everyone’s situation is different, but what matters is that you’re able to pay them off in the best way you can.

    1. Penny @

      Yes, and I think it’s a great idea to get as much of your debt paid down before having kids, so good job there.

  18. M Bowden

    I appreciate your openness and hope that things work to plan.

    10 years is a very long time to live so close to the edge. Obviously, the self-employed income should go up over time. But unless I missed it you are not saving for retirement, don’t have life insurance or long term disability.

    So if something happened to your husband and he wasn’t able to work or he passed away you would be in a very bad position.

    It sounds like you may want to re-evaluate his work choice by joining a more established chiropractic office, moving or getting a part time job to attack more of that debt. He doesn’t really have the luxury of not maximizing the earning potential of his degree with that much debt.

    What you have going works if it works but doesn’t leave a large margin for error beyond the general social safety nets.

    1. Penny @

      I hear what you have to say, and you remind me of my cousin who writes on the other half of our blog. The thing is, we don’t feel close to the edge. We live simply and feel that we have everything we need. We’re happy and content and doing fine with our lives. My husband and I don’t want to compromise on the chiropractic office he is choosing to operate, or the family time we are choosing to have in order to maximize our earning potential. That is not what life is about for us, and we are better than okay with that.

      But, yes, I do agree with your last sentence especially, but we are okay with that (what I view as a minimal) risk.

    2. Rich @

      Hey M Bowden — I’m Rich, Penny’s cousin and the other half of our blog. This is actually my biggest point of disagreement with Penny and I’ve learned I can’t convince her. We are both stubborn! (must be related)

      Bad breaks (car accidents, etc) happen all the time to very good people, and a little life insurance can be the equivalent of a financial and societal seat belt. Interesting that we are required to have car insurance but not required to have life insurance.

      I actually wouldn’t even quibble with Penny not feeling “on the edge” right now. The reality is that even my family, with a $250k annual income, would be scrambling if tragedy struck. Everyone is one or two bad days from being on the edge, right? So, in my view, life insurance is a good idea for everyone. Cheers! –Rich

    3. Judith

      My husband has a mental illness diagnosis so life insurance is incredibly high. However, when I crunched the numbers I found that social security survivors benefits for our kids almost replaces his income. I’ll bet that with their income being on the low end that’s probably the case for them as well. That money would give her time to transition to earning an income of her own if he were to pass away.

  19. Melanie

    I’m sorry, but if you can afford to take vacations, you can afford to pay for your own food.

    1. R

      Define “afford vacation” – there are many different kinds of vacation spending — some are extravagance and some are low budget, and some are even free – now a days, many are having staycations. Europeans takes a lot of vacations and it’s no wonder they’re healthier than most hard-working Americans struggling to get by and end up paying for counseling from stress. Stress is the #1 killer in our world. Vacation is to replenish the body, the spirit, the minds and bonding for families. Once the kids grow up, that’s it.

  20. Carolyn

    I am not impressed at all with you taking food stamps (paid for by our tax money) with an income of $43000. That is one of the reasons our economy is such a mess. Going out to eat,taking vacations and I believe you used the word luxury. Sorry this is totally wrong. Not sure how you can sleep at night.

    1. Rich @

      Hi Melanie and Carolyn — I’m Rich, Penny’s cousin and the other half of our blog. I admit, these thoughts crossed my mind as well. They cross everyone’s mind, so I don’t blame you for saying it. I’m not sure what I’d do in Penny’s situation, but we’re different people and I’m an ambitious guy, so maybe I’d be working 3 jobs and missing my family in the process. Maybe that would lead to greater stress and to divorce and child support and so on. If there’s one thing I know about Penny, it’s that her family is strong and her kids will be in a good position to contribute to society. That is a social good that lasts generations.

      What I’ve learned from Penny is that low income people are human, and every choice isn’t a choice about money even if I might do things differently.

      Either way, I appreciate your honest reaction. –Rich

      1. Nita

        Both spouses working does not threaten divorce. The relationship should be built with stronger substance than that. I grew up with a single mom who worked 3 jobs while my brother and I stayed with aunts or grandparents when she was at work. The funny thing was, I don’t remember that being a bad experience. We were always poor but as a child, I didn’t feel it. My husband and I eloped, rented a room for the first year of marriage before we could qualify for an apt and even then had to get a co-signer. We lived in a 1 bedroom apt with 2 of our kids for 4 years while he finished school. Again I say, it’s a matter of choice. I was low income for 12 yrs of my marriage, and now we are in a good place because we both worked at making it happen. Me working or owning a business also opened opportunities for my husband to find jobs as well as him working and owning a business opened opportunities for my kids and I.

    2. Heather

      Yes Carolyn, bc low income people don’t deserve nice things. How do you sleep at night being such a hateful twat? Anyway. You do realize that you pay under $10 A YEAR towards SNAP, right? If you’re of average income, it’s more like $3. And that is towards the entire nutritional program, NOT just SNAP benefits. If you’re going to get so pissy over contributing what amounts to less than a value meal, maybe you should move back underground with the rest of the trolls.

    3. Lin

      Agreed. Our family has taken two vacations- driving to visit relatives for family events- in 20 years. Ideal? Not in the least, but it’s all about priorities. We are not on food stamps or public assistance- I was taught to pay my own way unless it is *truly* impossible, and to accept financial help for life-sustaining needs only, for as brief a time as possible. Choosing to be self-employed, paying down loans at higher rate than may be feasible, and yes, vacations, are all priorities of luxury when you’re accepting money from your neighbor’s pocket. We scrimp and go without so we don’t have to, and frankly, are disappointed when others take advantage of a system meant to help those fallen on hard times until they work their way out as quickly as possible.

      I realize this will be an unpopular opinion, but it’s honest, and has evolved through lots of self-examination, observation, and trials over the years. People need to really grasp that the government has no money of their own to give you- that public assistance is dipping into your friends’ and neighbors’ pockets so you can obtain something they may not even have themselves, and that many of those friends and neighbors are running out of money.

      1. E

        It’s utterly amazing to me that many people have no idea that the government has no money of its own. It only has the dollars that it takes from those who have earned it to distribute as it sees fit. So when someone tells me it’s government money, I realize it’s a losing battle.

      2. T

        I’m more in your boat too. While my husband was attending professional school (meaning he did not have a job because of the strenuous workload required by his program), I worked the night shift at the hospital so that we could stay afloat. I was exhausted during the day taking care of our boys (childcare is expensive) and we didn’t get to take vacation: all spring and Christmas break I was picking up extra hours since my husband was home. Contrast this to my neighbors (student husband with stay-at-home wives) who got Medicaid (=free babies), Food Stamps (and SNAP is very generous to zero income families), Tax “refunds” (despite the fact that they didn’t pay any taxes due to having zero income), nearly free rent. They all claimed to be poor yet they frequently ate out and took nice vacations during Christmas, Spring Break, and the summer. One family on all of the welfare assistance listed above went to California, Jamaica, AND Hawaii in a single year! [Those were vacations, not visiting family vacations.] I personally find it to be dishonest, using another hard working person’s money to help fund your vacations. My parents have worked hard all of their lives and have not visited any of those locations, so why is it okay for those using taxpayer dollars to do it? We freak out about AIG and other large institutions with government bailouts throwing expensive parties but it’s okay for welfare recipients (which is nothing less than a government bailout) to do the same? I think a modest trip to see family is okay, but as a taxpayer who has seen the system used and abused (now these previous welfare families have minimal student loan debt, contrasted to our $400k in loans [yes in-state tuition and on scholarship]). There is no fairness in that. We’ll still have the same income and pay the same in taxes despite the fact that I didn’t use a taxpayer penny for my healthcare, food, etc. I don’t care what people spend their money on but I do care about what they spend *my (taxpayer) money on. I’m not saying that “poor” families can never splurge, but I’ve witnessed that most of these families have a lot of material things that they don’t “need” but claim they do (smartphones, tablets, name brand clothing, manicures, etc.). Ask any nurse or person who works in the hospital: you can almost guess who has Medicaid based on what they have with them in the ER waiting room. Penny clearly does live modestly, though I would certainly say the vacation budget is excessive.

  21. Thanks for sharing your story Penny! I absolutely love your positive thinking and the action plan you’ve laid out. Wishing you and your family much success. Cheers to your blog bringing you extra income in the coming months! xoxo

    1. Penny @

      Well, not sure if our blog is going to bring in any extra income, but we’ll see. I don’t think we’ve made any money off it yet.

  22. Melissa

    I am SO glad to see a post like this! My husband’s a teacher, and I just started my own business, so we’re in about the same boat as you, money-wise. I also have a ton of student loan debt – if I only paid what IBR required of me, I’d have ~$156k “forgiven” by the government by the end too – but that looks like $23,000 in taxes, according to your tax calculator. No thanks.

    I’m 100% on board with everything you say – particularly to those people who look at us with lots of student loan debt and refer to us as “moochers” (I’m mainly talking about random Yahoo commenters; don’t know why I subject myself to those boards).

    What I find funny, though, is that we pay so much to student loans (and, in yours and my cases, the federal government) yet the government is also subsidizing your food support. (My husband and I don’t qualify for food support). Why doesn’t the government lower student loan interest rates? My interest rate for, of course, my largest loan, is almost 8%. That’s more than our mortgage interest and much higher than my husband’s car loan interest rate. Wtf? Pardon my language.

    But maybe if we had lower interest rates, we’d pay off our loans faster, and not have to be on food support in your case, or flat out refusing to buy anything new (my case). Wouldn’t the government prefer to have us all out there, spending money, versus hoarding it to pay interest? I guess not!

    1. Penny @

      These are some good questions you’re raising, Melissa.

    2. Rich @

      Good point Melissa — the whole student loan situation is becoming a crisis. Some of it is based on choices (taking out the loans), but some of it is certainly the system — interest rates and schools that are charging fees completely divorced from income potential. –Rich, from pennyandrich.

  23. Tara

    While I commend you for your honesty and your strategic decision-making about paying off your loans (I’m doing something similar with a similar amount), I think your view of food support as being willing to accept someone else’s donuts is mistaken. You’re accepting something that really isn’t yours to be taking because you want to pay off your loans faster. I don’t have an issue with people eating out and taking vacations but your acceptance of public support enables you to do that – and I don’t know ANYONE else getting public assistance that can even remotely afford to do that. Other people shouldn’t have to pay for your decision to pay down your loans faster. There are lots of ways of making extra money so you can do that, but taking resources meant for people in desperate situations shouldn’t be one of them. And you sound a bit proud of yourself for doing that. Sadly, I think you may need to go back to the Bible on this one, because it has lots to say about managing money and social support.

    1. Gretchen

      Agreed. You/your husband chose to take out those loans, and it’s great that you’re determined to pay them off…as you should be. Taking money from people who truly need it, as in desperately need it, is wrong. You can afford to feed your family and pay onto your loans at the same time from what your numbers show. Your post just sounds so entitled and proud. You’re actually scamming the taxpayers to pay off your loans faster. Not much to be proud of there.

      1. Rich @

        Hi Tara and Gretchen — I’m Rich, Penny’s cousin and the other half of our blog. I’ll try not to repeat an earlier comment I made, but I appreciate your honest thoughts and don’t blame you for airing them. I know Penny was concerned about this reaction.

        I’m not sure what I’d do in Penny’s situation, but we’re different people. Maybe I’d be working 3 jobs and missing my family in the process. Maybe that would lead to greater stress and to divorce and child support and so on. If there’s one thing I know about Penny, it’s that her family is strong and her kids will be in a good position to contribute to society. That is a social good that lasts generations.

        I will tell you, Penny couldn’t scam anyone if she tried — she’s honest to a fault. We may disagree with some of her choices, but she’s human and a great mother.

        Either way, I appreciate your honest reaction. –Rich

        1. Heather @ bizewife

          To the previous commenter, it’s simply not correct that Penny is choosing to take benefits in order to pay off her loans. She and her family are at an income threshold where they automatically qualify for these benefits. How she chooses to allocate her non-benefit income has nothing to do with her ability to claim benefits. In fact, situation is more analogous actually to an independently wealthy retiree taking Medicare.

          Responsible student loan repayment should be lauded. Penny could be allocating her money to less “worthy” causes.

    2. Kim

      Beautifully said, I have been pondering this all day. The taxpayers are basically paying for their loans. I looked into the food stamps (and I asked this earlier about the Food support phrase, I think the use of that phrase was to mislead), I believe you are supposed to be working to receive this entitlement.

  24. Deb

    Are you intending to receive food support the entire 10 years? You both are capable of bringing home money and not need to burden tax payers for such an extended time. I understand wanting to stay home with your children. I am just now able to stay home with my children (10 and 5) but my husband now can finally support both of us easily. But before then we worked opposite shifts so only we watched our children. Yes that means one works days and one works nights. No daycare. I didnt want strangers watching our children. Yes it was tough. There were days we were dead tired. But it was that or one of us stayed home and we took in government assistance. We could not morally do that. As we both were fully capable of working. Government help I know is necessary in times of need. Lost jobs. Disability. Etc. But your family chose to take on student loans and chose your husband’s career. Money-wise things didn’t go as you planned. (Plans usually don’t go the way we want, keep that in mind with your current plan) But now you are taking hand outs that could go to someone who actually NEEDS it. Basically you are taking a bail out. If everyone (and a lot of people do) rely on the government to bail them out for their plans gone awry and their mishandling of money then where would we be? Your situation is exactly why people stigmatize people on government assistance. Because people see two adults, four kids and one adult doesn’t work. Your family is low income BY CHOICE.

    1. Janet Khokhar

      I used to feel that way about food supplement from the taxpayers…before I ended up needing them myself. I just look at it like helping my neighbors, even the ones I can’t see from my front door. When I was working, someone else got to eat and, as a Christian, I feel good about that. And the taxpayer burden per dollar earned is pretty minimal.

      1. Deb

        I understand helping people in need. But even the Bible says if anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. There are single moms with several kids working multiple jobs to support them and can not get government assistance because she “makes too much money.” That is a person who NEEDS the money. And she is doing what the Bible says to do, WORK, providing for their own especially those within their own house.

    2. Rich @

      Hey Deb — it’s Rich, Penny’s cousin from our blog. I agree with you in part, and just wrote about how Penny and I are from similar backgrounds and our financial situations are the result of certain choices.

      That said, I would also say that I disagree Penny is not a good candidate for aid. Her family is solid, and if she worked a night shift or something, they would certainly be worse off as a unit. In the long run they will be fine and that’s what we want as a society. There’s an argument to be made that it is much, much harder to pull people out of abject poverty than to help people through lean times. Just a thought, but I do appreciate your reaction. –R

    3. Heather

      Deb. Do you have any idea how much child care costs in America? She would be working to afford to send her children to daycare and that’s it. That’s the sad state of things. Promise you that eventually her family’s tax money will go towards helping other people and we can all be even.

      1. H Allen

        Heather, if you read Deb’ s earlier post, she and her husband worked opposite shifts in order to keep their children out of day care.

  25. Janet Khokhar

    Lol, you scared the tar out of me about the Income-Based Repayment surprise when taxes are owed on the forgiven amount! My student loans have continued to grow (metastasize?) since I graduated and I don’t have income to throw at them. My kids and I live with my parents while my husband struggles to grow his business and the kids and I receive food supplements. I, too, want to pay them off in time and I’m finally starting a blog to make good use of my writing skills. Thanks for your honest sharing and I hope God richly blesses you and boosts your husband’s business income so you can pay off your loans even earlier

    1. Penny @

      Thank you so much for these words, Janet. We lived with family for awhile too, when my husband first opened up his business. Good luck and blessings to you as well. 🙂

  26. Penny @

    Thank you, Katy. I was expecting to get some flack for my guest post here on this widely read blog, but it actually hasn’t been as bad I as I was expecting, so I am thankful for that. And I am thankful for comments like yours, so thank you, again. Your words are greatly appreciated.

  27. Donna

    WOW! JUST WOW! When I was a single mother and HAD to depend on food stamps to feed my daughter, I couldn’t wait to get off and support myself. That’s because I was raised to support myself and my decisions. It’s one thing to do all of this but totally another to BRAG ABOUT STEALING FROM THE GOVT. I guess there is a first for everything and this is the first time I have seen someone with balls big enough to brag about ripping the govt. off in writing. SMH. THIS is why people do without because people like Penney “steal” and there isn’t enough for others who NEED IT. my grandparents worked for everything and was dirt poor and very proud. They didn’t take anything. We are raising 6 kids, 2 in college and 3 are adopted (again, my choice) and it really pisses me off that you feel the need to rub it in hardworking american faces. Someone else’s donuts? It sure would be nice to take my family out for donuts once in a while but we consider that a “luxury”.

    1. Gretchen

      That’s what made me so angry. The pride and bragging. They chose to take out the loans, have 4 kids and start a business. Love all of that…but why brag about stealing? (Because, that’s exactly what she’s doing.)

      1. H Allen

        Yes, their choices we taxpayers are supporting. I raised two children, and am working a job post-retirement to finish paying off bills. Never asked for help, and did it without a degree. I worked at “man’s” job to provide for my kids, and they are now wonderful, productive adults. When you really need a hand up, ask, but not for a handout.

    2. K

      You are so right. This is maddening. Let’s be clear, however, she is NOT stealing from the government–she is taking from you, and me and every other tax payer by living in this way. The government has no money of its own. The “government money” she is receiving comes from all of us who work for it and pay taxes. And before anyone tells me she pays taxes too–no, she doesn’t. She has said that she gets Earned Income Credit back for her big tax “refund”. That means that not only does she NOT PAY income tax (they get back everything that they pay in during the year on payroll taxes), but she gets thousands more “back” that she never paid in. That comes from all of the rest of us who DO truly pay taxes. And she is getting food stamps/SNAP benefits, which means the family is also able to get several other benefits, such as Medicaid.

      There are people out there who are truly in need–her family is not among them. They make enough to live modestly. But then why should they–they are “entitled” to your/our money for which we worked.

  28. Sara

    I’m as liberal as they come and certainly believe we all belong to each other. That being said, in my opinion, this is scamming. You made choices in your life – chiro loans, 4 kids, SAHM. Those choices are YOUR obligation to pay for, not ours. SNAP is supposed to be temporary help for families in need to assist them in becoming self-sufficient. It’s not meant to be relied on for years by families enjoying lifestyles they can’t afford. What you’re doing is a red-ribbon-wrapped gift to all of the anti-government haters who rage on about welfare queens. It may be legal, but it’s an abuse of the system.

    1. Willa


    2. Sherry

      Agree and using the phrase “food assistance” for welfare/food stamps/snap benefits is an interesting twist. Choices and consequences, you made specific choices, student loans, 4 kids, SAHM, and now you want someone else to subsidize those choices. Not cool……

    3. H Allen

      My faith Is being restored by those that worked, or are working themselves out of debt. Penny, I’m sure you are doing what you are allowed to do, but this just shows how wasteful the government is with our tax dollars.

  29. Robin

    I am a self-employed single mom with a special needs kid. I have massive student loans and have struggled greatly taking care of him and growing a practice all on my own, at times I would have certainly qualified for assistance. I am very liberal and support the existence of social programs for people in need. But this is disgraceful- you don’t have “need.” Read what I am writing: you don’t have need, you have “want” and are gaming the system so that other people are paying for it. Other people’s tax dollars are funding your food stamps and earned income credit, while you deliberately under-earn and use the earnings of others to pay loans you voluntarily incurred, rightfully owe, and will reap the rewards of as your husband’s practice grows. Shame on you.

    1. Rich @

      Hey Robin – I understand your sentiments. I disagree that Penny is deliberately under-earning. I know her. She has made a choice, sure, to stay home with kids, prioritize family, and so on. I don’t even agree with every choice. That said, the system as currently constructed sees Penny as qualifying for assistance, that’s not really up for debate without new legislation. It’s great that you didn’t accept assistance, but you were well within your rights to do so.

      Again, I completely understand what you’re saying. If I didn’t know Penny and her complete lack of a dishonest bone in her body, I might even agree. But I think the conversation is important. In this country, we want the poor to be VERY POOR. And we want people to succeed, but to be TOO SUCCESSFUL. I see this all the time. I just think we need to find a new way of talking about it.


      1. Robin

        My entire career is based on maximizing opportunity in systems. I help people who are at their worst, financially. There is nothing morally right about this. They pay nearly $2k/mo to student loans from money that other people earn, when they could pay their own bills by accepting responsibility for their debt, extending their repayment schedule, and living within their actual means. I made a choice to be a stay at home mother who worked part time for years, when my son was first diagnosed. I could have worked more, but I chose not to. I never asked anyone to pay for that decision for me. I lived within my means instead. Feeling entitled and actually BEING entitled aver vastly different.

        1. Rich @

          I don’t disagree with much of what you’re saying. The part I’d challenge is the assertion that you know exactly how Penny feels. She put herself out there with this blog post, fully aware that there would be some angry responses. But let’s not assume that one post can express all the complex feelings she has about her situation. She is not a proud or entitled person — she’s humble and generous and feels strongly about helping others and paying her debts. How many people in her situation would give to charity or pay $1k a month on loans? I’m not saying these are perfect choices, but they indicate the kind of person she is. She has shown — to me, at least — a willingness to think about her choices and question them. But we don’t persuade people to new courses of action by angrily telling them how they feel, we persuade through conversation. Hey, I disagree with her about a lot of things, but our blog is built around honest and open conversations, and I’m glad Penny has the guts to talk about this openly. Plenty of people are in her situation and won’t speak honestly out of shame.

          1. Robin

            “Out of shame” is exactly right. Enabler. And you know it, deep down.

            Best of luck to all of you.

          2. H Allen

            Rich, how many of us would love to give at Penny’s levels? We can’t, and we wouldn’t take from taxpayers to be able to.

    2. Willa


  30. Save Splurge Deny Debt – Cameron


    Thanks for sharing this story. I really debated about even posting on this, as I am sure it will upset others on here. As someone who is wildly liberal in so many situations and trying everyday to have empathy for others, I am really struggling to get on board with your idea of finance, life, and how you are managing everything. I do think you are also not responding to dissenting opinions, instead confirming your bias of how you are operating.

    First off, I am sure you are an amazing mother to 4 kids. I know that being a SAHM is a demanding job that is harder than most give it credit for. I also understand that you working would create more income, but daycare would eat that up instantly.

    I also commend your husband for wanting to start his own business. I always admire people that will go back to school to pursue their desired careers.

    All that being said, I just can not get rid of this crazy feeling I have for your family being able to afford three vacations, own a home, donate over 10% to charity, and have a personal CPA do your taxes. I can even get on bored with being human, and being able to shop at Target, Home Depot, and Spend on Christmas for your kids. I never want to put truly poor people down and tell them they can’t do these things that quite frankly make them feel human.

    In your current situation I also agree with others that you are playing with fire every single day. You have no insurance to cover any accident for you, your husband, or children. I wish you both luck in that no accident forces you to a hospital or graveyard, as that would wreck yours and your children’s futures.

    There are so many expenses in here that so many people can’t possibly make, even on foodstamps. You have an Imac, repaired a camera for $249! I can find you 100 cameras that cost wildly less! There seems to really be no effort to live frugally now to enjoy a better life later. The attitude seems to be keep living now, hope that things work out perfect with life, and if not the government will backstop you.

    You also don’t mention health insurance costs, but it seems similar in that you probably have subsidized health care, yet still afford orthodontics.

    I think the laissez-faire attitude towards your actual risk, debt load, and carefree attitude towards taking foodstamps while enjoying a non-poor lifestyle is what really upsets me. I feel your church/other organizations would understand your inability to tithe for a few years, allowing you to take care of you family and better your future. I feel you are a great woman of faith that would return to paying your time and money in the future when you earned more.

    I also think you could cut back in other places to create a better future and have investments/retirement savings. Hopefully your husband’s job makes millions, and you can live great in the future, but if not I think the outlook is not good at best.

    You don’t mention the amount you take in from food assistance, but I feel like if you looked at this honestly, you would find you could feed your family, not take assistance, and still afford your debt payments. It would require sacrifice sure, but I think the important things that you value like family and staying home would still be there.

    I guess I kind of wrote a post here, but hopefully my message comes across without being an angry internet user. I just feel upset when I see people that don’t mind living off assistance when really it isn’t ‘needed’. I wish you the best of luck in shoring up your finances, but I do hope you look at this honestly, and realize that maybe you are using more assistance than you truly need.


    1. Rich @

      Hey Cameron — I’m Rich, Penny’s cousin and co-author of our blog. Thanks for your thoughtful comment — it’s a great example of disagreeing without being nasty.

      I’ve replied to a few other comments and I’ll try not to repeat myself. I agree with your assessment of risk here, and I think reasonable people could debate the line items in anyone’s budget. All fair.

      Speaking of fairness … I think a lot of the uneasiness with welfare and taxes and assistance all comes back to the idea of fairness. It doesn’t seem fair. People who pay high taxes (like me) don’t like it, and don’t like how the money is used. People who can’t get ahead can’t stand hearing about rich people complaining about taxes! Student loans are unfair, schools are unfair, etc etc.

      I actually agree — the system can’t be fair for everyone. It’s a big, imperfect system.

      But when I look at the big picture, and I know what I know about Penny (her honesty, her desire to do the right thing, her generosity toward others), I can see many positives even if maybe I’d do things differently. Would she be wise to just turn down assistance that she qualifies for? Probably not. Would it be better if she worked night shifts and became an irritable wife and tired mom? Probably not. Would it be better for her to just ignore her loans and take on investments, and wait for the entire loan to be “forgiven”? Nah.

      In the big picture, her family will stay together, get an education, and be healthy. We probably aren’t looking at generations of poverty here, and that’s the overall goal of the system with all its imperfections.

      Again, I agree with many of your points but mostly I appreciate humanizing the discussion. Rich people aren’t always selfish, poor people aren’t always lazy, and the system isn’t evil. There will always be areas for improvement but the only way to get there is through honest conversation. Thanks for that, Cameron.


      1. Kim

        Rich, I have seen you defend Penny all day, as most family members would, but she is not honest she is scamming the government and the citizens. However, I do agree that this is also our government’s problem too. From what I have read she should have been out of ‘food support’ over 5 years ago.
        I am on spousal support and cannot work outside the house and I haven’t been on vacation in over 10 years. Why, no money. No credit card debt either. I am not entitled to it. So many think they are entitled to it all.

        1. Rich @

          True, I’m defending her in part because she’s family. I don’t agree with all of her choices, and I’m up front about that on our blog. But I think it’s important that we have the conversation — to learn and try to understand, to let people speak. Many people in her situation wouldn’t try to share for fear of being shamed, and how would anyone learn from that?

          I’m willing to debate all these choices all day. However, it’s quite another step to assume that she’s doing something illegal, or that she’s a scammer, or that she’s entitled, or to ascribe certain motivations and feelings to her. I get the same thing in reverse when people find out I make a lot of money — I must be selfish and greedy and so on. I guess what I’m saying is we need to learn to have conversations about these topics without going to the darkest places right away.

          So again, I don’t defend all of Penny’s choices, but I’m a staunch defender of her willingness to tell her story. I know it wasn’t easy for her to do. Let’s talk about what it’s like to be rich and poor in America and persuade each other on better ways of going about it. Thanks, as always, for the honesy –R

      2. Katie


        My husband and I gross about the same as you do. We do pay more in taxes, we don’t have any debt other than our mortgage (which is way below what would be “acceptable” for our income), we work hard to pay cash for everything (including replacement vehicles, house repairs, etc), we give away over 10% of our income every year, and since my husband and I both work our two kids are in day care.

        Finally to my point, we’re not in a position right now to take vacations yet our taxes are paying for other families to go on vacation. I don’t think they’re “scamming the system” by taking the food assistance but they are choosing to pay less on the loans (that seem to have been a poor choice as his business will take 10 years to pay off them off so the ROI is terrible) by making the other spending choices they’re making. I also feel strongly that taking the food assistance is definitely not the same as the mom giving her son donuts.

        There are plenty of people who have to forgo luxuries like new computers and family vacations in the short-term to be financially independent. It makes me sad that that does not seem to be her goal. And honestly it frustrates me to know that my taxes are paying for someone else to get to do the things that I currently feel I can’t afford to give my own family.

        1. Lin

          Precisely- I agree wholeheartedly.

          And Rich, your endless defense of Penny (who appears to have understandably gone silent here) might be admirable from your position of love and concern for her, but it’s not actually helping. She might be more *irritable*, you say, if her family gave up government assistance and had to tighten their belts more, thereby endangering her families happy future together? The real post would be how to stay together with grace and love when your choices lead you down a difficult path.

          Maybe instead of the silence (Penny) and defensiveness (Rich), it would be a good time to reflect, pray, and reexamine some choices that have been made? Listen to what your friends and neighbors on here are saying- it’s not an attack, but rather an eye-opening education that you can pass on some day to someone else, all the while setting an example for your children and those around you of honest self- sustainability.

          1. Rich @

            Hey Lin — I appreciate this and believe me, I’m listening. I really have nothing to be defensive about. I’m completely self-sufficient and I’ve told Penny myself that I’d do certain things differently.

            Here’s the difference: When I disagree, I tell her in a civil way and I try to listen to what she’s saying even if I don’t like it. When I disagree with commenters, I do the same. I don’t assume that there’s evil intent involved. There’s a way to do this without making people into enemies, right?

            I understand the feeling of unfairness because I pay tons of taxes myself. Loads of taxes. For the most part, I don’t like the way my tax money is used. National debt. Bank bailouts. Etc.

            This idea that Penny should voluntarily give up assistance that she qualifies for, because some people think it’s unfair, is misleading. How many people out there qualify for tax breaks, refunds, mortgage interest deductions? Is anyone sending that money back to the Treasury because they don’t really need it? Should we all reject our standard deduction, because, well, we can afford a computer, so it would be immoral to accept the tax system the way it is? I don’t think so. The tax benefits that one qualifies for and how one spends their money are 2 quite different matters.

            Penny’s largest spending categories are Student Loans, House Payments, and Donations to Charity. I actually think she should stop giving to charity for a while. At the same time, I can’t accuse her of being selfish without taking this into account.

            Personally, I think this conversation is helpful. We don’t agree on everything, not even close. But this is what we do on our blog: we talk about the way we spend money and pursue happiness, and we’re totally open to hearing about how others do it. I have yet to see a budget I completely agree with. Except for mine, ha.

    2. H Allen

      Rich, how many of us would love to give at Penny’s levels? We can’t, and we wouldn’t take from taxpayers to be able to.

    3. H Allen

      Cameron, excellent reply. I bookmarked the SSDD link.

  31. Rich @

    Katy — nice blog you got there! –Rich

  32. Nita

    The lesson in this is don’t get stuck in the mindset of racking up student loans so your kids can have ‘the college experience’. We now have kids with less than $20K in college bills because the took CLEP, DSST, Community College courses to rack up as many college credits as possible, and had the mindset to not take out a loan for more than your income will be in the first 2 years of graduating. That meant my kids lived at home. Still peers of mine stick up their noses and insist that sending their kids off to live at a college will give them better opportunities. I say get the degree as fast and cheap as possible and save the hassle of the extra debt. But to each as own. It’s just sad when you get a degree and don’t use it, not because you can’t find a job, but because you decide it’s best not to work.

  33. Heather @ bizewife

    And they also forget that those receiving assistance (often) also pay taxes.

    1. Rrr

      I don’t think they do.

    2. H Allen

      Heather, if you read Penny’s explanation, you would see they receive EIC, meaning they receive more tax refunded than they pay in.

      1. E

        @H Allen, you are exactly right! I am in constant shock at the number of people who simply don’t understand this (or refuse to)!

  34. Lauren Kinde

    Hi, Penny! I disagree with your financial choices, but I applaud you for having the guts to share with us all. It’s so heartwarming to see how many people in the comments have been inspired by your story.

    While a program such as food stamps may be available, that does not mean that you should participate. We worked incredibly hard to pay off our mortgage while sacrificing everything to live off of $24k/year. We did not expect anyone else to help us with that goal. There’s an amazing sense of pride when you are able to dig yourself out of a hole with just your two hands.

  35. Laina

    So many things jump out here.

    –$153,000 in student loan debt (not only “NO” but “Good Lord, NO!!!”) for a job that clearly doesn’t warrant that kind of expenditure. Not a necessity, but completely a choice.

    –Discretionary spending in excess of $5500 per year (iMac replacement; not one, but multiple vacations; etc.).

    –What may bother some, including myself, is the idea that Penny and her family are doing something noble simply by fulfilling their obligations “(Plus, we’re the ones who took out the loans, we’re responsible for paying them, and we really do want to be able to pay them back. Blah, blah, blah.)” No, it’s not blah, blah, blah… it’s your RESPONSIBILITY. That responsibility is not an afterthought or a favor you are doing anyone. It’s the promise you made to repay those loans when you took them out. You don’t mention any catastrophic event or series of events that make you unable to pay. That would have been a very different story. So you are paying them back early….

    –by getting others to pay for your food. Also a choice. You CAN afford to purchase food for your family on the income you have. You choose to get money from the rest of taxpayers so that you can pay off your student loans faster. This is not what the program is for. I have a widowed mom friend who makes MUCH less, but works 3 jobs to scrape by and she does not qualify for food assistance. This is the situation for which the SNAP programs and others of its kind exist.

    –You are not working. Fine, we can ALL understand the needs of kids to have mum home with them. But that means you pare back your lifestyle to live within your budget, not take the money of others to supplement your budget so that you can take several vacations in a year.

    ” I recognize that our circumstances are unique. There probably aren’t a lot of people making $43,000 and putting $22,000 toward student loans every year. I hope to be at the another place in the puzzle in the future, a place where I can share more of my gifts and take less.” You are at that place NOW. All you have to do is cut back on the discretionary spending, purchase your food with your own money, and take a longer path to repaying your debt. It won’t be as accelerated of a repayment as you’re currently doing, but you can still accelerate the schedule on your current income. You are at that place now; it just appears that you just don’t want to do it with all of your own money. And that intent is apparent, because the reason you are not doing the income-based $0 payment/forgiveness of loans later is due to the tax consequences. Your words just convey shock at the fact of tax consequences for the tremendous GIFT that would come from an absolute boatload of loan debt forgiveness.

    I sincerely wish you well, and I am sure you will succeed at what you are aiming toward. I just cannot get on board with your method.

    1. Laina

      And, just to be clear, I am totally in support of your decision to be home with your children. It is a precious, fleeting time that can never be recovered or done over once it has passed. Children love having mom home with them, and you should get to treasure your time with them; it passes all too quickly!

  36. Breaking everything down like you did is pretty impressive. I wish you luck on repaying all those loans. What you do for your family is to be praised and applauded. For all those people out there that need instant gratification this is family that gets it. Sometime it’s better to wait for trivial things. Good LUCK!!!

  37. Susan C

    I do think we should all take a step back and really look at the fact that they are a family of 5 living on $43K a year and half of that goes to student loan payments. Are we sure we want to call her out for welfare fraud? I sure don’t want to be living her life of “luxury.”

  38. Serena

    This post makes me ill….the entitled mentality was hard to stomach and I had to stop reading. Actually, I’m still in shock that this was someone’s chosen reality 🙁 Must be nice to steal taxpayer money to stay home while other mothers work their tails off to pay for their family’s groceries, student loans, daycare, etc.

  39. Shyla

    Penny, thank you for sharing your story. I think it’s hard for those who don’t accept government or social assistance to understand your motivations.

    I’ve volunteered with low income families like yours and thought very similar thoughts to some of the disagreeing comments here.

    I don’t agree with your life choices but do appreciate you sharing your story.

    In the end, when we give or pay taxes, we can’t choose how the money is used. People will always make the choices they think are best for their situation.

  40. Interesting post, Penny! I like hearing about how people are tackling debt, because I think its such a huge cripple to have it! I actually lived in a car and a tent to pay off my debt in San Francisco while working my full-time job, so luckily, it didn’t take me long, but I did learn how to live with less which has benefited me a lot. SO glad you are taking the time and effort to pay off those student loans.

  41. Mao

    Wow, this is absolutely dedication! If everyone in the US with student debt has this kind of dedication and mentality, I truly believe we wouldn’t have over $1T in student debt which could burst anytime. Congrats on all the progress.

  42. Penny,

    It’s good that that you mentioned being poor as a sign of “blogging humility,” as I could care less if you’re poor. Earning 43,000 a year is better than no money. You to are well on your way to becoming a blogging millionaire if you stay in the consistent mindset of creating quality content and do the transformation business work. Blogging is a great way to get those rambling thoughts out of the back of your mind and into the Internet universe without regard to how it sounds. As long as you keep your site content regularly updated, that’s what matters. I personally believe you will achieve your financial dreams and more if you hang in there and just keep pushing no matter what. I’ve been in your shoes before and still have yet myself. So I know what that part is like. However, I do commend you dearly are going back to school and achieving your higher educational goals. And I also commend your husband for going back to school and becoming a chiropractor six years strong now if he were to grow his chiropractor business online with a blog, he would’ve had more business in six years time then he could handle. People love reading all kinds of blogs from across the globe.

    So what if Rich fails to comprehend how your family gets by on such an income. As I mentioned previously, keep doing what you’re doing. And lastly, don’t be ashamed about being on food stamps. It’s a humbling experience for anyone to get support on SNAP food benefits. It’s better than nothing and at least you and your children have food in the refrigerator. With that said, keep blogging away to your hearts content and give your blogging venture at least a good 2 to 3 years before it gets off the ground. Take a look at the encouraging blog comment I left on your blog about sticking it out in tough times and posting at least once a day in excess of 1000 words or better with “Evergreen content.” Michelle blogs Evergreen content every post she publishes. Just follow Michelle’s lead and you’ll be A + okay. 🙂

  43. Stephanie

    This is such a great post and I can learn a lot from this! Thank you for being so honest and sharing! Will have to check out your personal blog as well! Thanks again Penny!

  44. Curious Person

    Hi Penny,

    I would like to see a breakdown of how much you thought your husband would earn as a chiropractor and what lead to you believe that? What were the forecasted financials for the chiropractic business? Also, did his chiropractor program include business classes?

  45. This is such a great post and I can learn a lot from this! Thank you for being so honest and sharing! Will have to check out your personal blog as well! Thanks again Penny!

  46. Penny, we have around $60K of student loans on an approximately $62K income (plus a 4-5K tax return), and we have 4 kids too, so I feel your pain! I was reading through the comments, I felt bad that people were accusing you of stealing. It’s not true – this is a system which you qualify for, and it’s your choice to take it. We decided to put our kids on CHIP during law school and when I got pregnant toward the end, the hospital wouldn’t give us a reduced rate until we applied for Medicaid first, because they would get more money that way than if they just let us pay what we could afford. It was hard doing that because there are a lot of people who think that you’re stealing from the system, but the reality is very little of our “subsidies” go toward supporting low-income children and women for healthcare/WIC. In fact, if you want to talk subsidies, there are many corporations, farmers, and other entities who get subsidies from our government, and many of our low prices on non-organic foods are funded by subsidies to those farmers. In the end, my husband and I felt that it was the right thing to do to take assistance for healthcare.

    We are not on any kind of assistance right now, but I don’t say that with pride (I especially miss free healthcare for our kids when we have to visit the ER!). I will say, though, that I was kind of glad to get off of it because we had to report current income for every single month, and with food stamps, you were limited to having a certain amount in your bank account in order to qualify. It felt like it provided the wrong incentives to those who were poor. Say that you could have saved your tax return instead of spending it on a flat screen television or iPhone (theoretically). If you were on food stamps, and your bank account rose about a certain level, you would lose your benefits, so people had the incentive to spend any extra income they got instead of creating an emergency fund. I don’t know if it’s the same for you, but I didn’t like having those restrictions put on us, so we never had food stamps.

    It will feel like a long, hard road for awhile as you feel like you are hardly making a dent in your debt, but as your husband’s practice grows you will see yourself gaining more traction. We started off at $90,500 when we faced our debt less than 3 years ago. We’re now down to around $60K, and I’m hoping we can gain traction and have the rest paid off in about 2.5 years. Thanks for being vulnerable and telling your story! I plan on checking out your blog too :).

  47. shamna

    This is really great one ! I can’t even believe that how good someone can handle their finance with a good plan where am always a bad planner

  48. Michael Murray

    Hello Penny.
    First off, let Me say that I don’t like People Who abuse the system. However, I don’t agree with the Folks on here that say Your one of them. You are not. It’s called assistance for a reason, and I feel You are using it as it was meant to be used. It’s not like Your laying around, getting stoned and playing video games all day, with no goal of ever getting off of it. I heard a story about that just last night!

    I do kind of take issue on some of the ways you spend some of Your money though. Why not save more of that money for a emergency or even to increase Your student loan payments? We’re never really ready for the bad things that come our way (I know this ALL to well), but having a nest egg would help pad them, if and when they come.

    But other that that, at least you have a plan. Budgeting is not a once a year thing, I do it every week. I currently only make about half of what Your husband makes, With a small student loan and other debts over our heads, so the numbers game is an on going fight with Me. lol

    For the critics I say this. As it was pointed out, not much of Your tax dollars even go to these programs. And Who would You rather have those measly few dollars? Someone like Penny or someone who is third generation Welfare frauds? And lets just say, that somehow, all was right with the world and no one needed assistance at all, do You really think the government would give You that money back?! If You just have to have something to complain about, concerning Your tax money. then how about complaining about those lazy, getting nothing done welfare cases, that give themselves a raise every chance that get bums, better known as Congress! NOW THERES A WASTE OF TAX DOLLARS!! lol

    1. Michael Murray

      That’s, every chance They get Bums.

  49. Sonja

    I read your well written article. But I’m somewhat dismayed that I, a woman of 72 and others exactly like me, are paying for your food so you don’t have to go to work abd can stay home. I have to work as a personal chef two nine hour days. Since I’ve been supporting you, however long you’ve been doing this, would it be fair if you now begin supporting me so I could stay home? You see the money isn’t from the government, it’s from individuals like me who have to work because people like you who are riding on our hard-working coattails on your way to wealth in a few years. I’m not bitter, just very very puzzled. Thanks for reading.

    1. E

      Excellent comment!