Psst, I make money on some of the links in this post at no cost to you. It keeps the lights on around here. Amazon links are affiliate. 

I remember it was lunchtime when I heard my phone ping. I excitedly unlocked my phone with my left hand, sloppy peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my right, eager to check the Picky Pinchers email. I always get excited when I see an email from our reader community. 🙂

But something was different this time. I knew right away that it wouldn’t be a good email, judging by the amount of periods and caps lock in the message.

I scratched my head, surprised at the comment. In three years of blogging, I’ve never gotten a mean email before. I was especially surprised that the comment was about a free resource this person signed up for from Picky Pinchers. “Why complain about something you got for free?” I thought. I shrugged it off as someone having a Negative Nelly moment and deleted the email.

A few days later, another email arrived in my inbox from the same reader, this time commenting about a different free resource. The person said the advice in the resource didn’t apply to them, since they were on a fixed income and had different needs.

“Aha!” I thought, “There it is!”

You see, many people are frustrated by personal finance blogs. They say the blogs talk about info that readers already know, or that the blog won’t help in their unique situation because of X, Y, and oh, don’t forget Z.

I get it.

But you know what? Personal finance is just that. It’s personal. And that’s why, no, you can’t copy other people.

Eyes on your own papers, please

I felt the same way once.

We initially fell into our debt freedom journey after hearing about Dave Ramsey. Mr. Picky Pincher’s parents had used his program to get control of their finances. He had a simple, step by step process that helped people get out of debt. All we had to do was follow the map he gave us!

But it didn’t work out that way. We did the math and realized Dave Ramsey’s system wasn’t the best option for our financial situation. That’s when we realized that personal finance giants can give you a general idea of what to do next, but it’s your hands on the wheel, not theirs.

Why isn’t there a one-size-fits-all to-do list that will get people to FIRE quickly?

It’s because we’re all different people. You can’t take someone else’s financial plan and apply it verbatim to your life, because you aren’t them. Your FIRE journey is affected by where you were born, your upbringing, your health, your age, your choices, and sometimes just dumb luck.

I admit I felt deflated when I realized I couldn’t buy a book and have it tell me how I, personally, could achieve FIRE. But that’s when I realized we all have to customize to fit our own lives. Unless you have the budget to hire a Financial Planner, you’re on your own to make a system that works perfectly for your situation.

How to make it work for you

So what’s a debt-ridden diva to do? Accept her fate and trudge along without a plan?

Of course not. 🙂

Instead, we made a plan that worked for us. It enabled us to pay off our credit card debt, buy a house, finance a renovation in cash, and pay off $65,000 of student loans.

But that’s only because we took the time to make a personalized plan, instead of hopping between different plans made by other people. Here’s how we managed to cobble together a financial plan that works for us.

  1. Step 1: Consume every bit of personal finance information possible. Mr. Picky Pincher scoured Mr. Money Mustache, Bogleheads, and more. I dove headfirst into the blogosphere’s frugality blogs.
  2. Step 2: Write down every bit of actionable advice you learned in a shared Google spreadsheet. I wrote down items like “sign up for Google Fi,” “make our own laundry soap,” “pay off credit cards first,” and so on. At the end of a month of research, we had a bank of actionable tasks to choose from.
  3. Step 3: Analyze your money and set goals. One reason you can’t copy someone else’s FIRE journey is because everyone has different goals. Are you burdened with student debt, or are you barely making ends meet on a fixed income? Each individual is going to have different goals and needs. For us, we wanted to build savings and then pay off our debt. At the time we lived paycheck to paycheck with so little cash that we had to forbear our student loans. Yikes!
  4. Step 4: Make your plan, and then do it! Make an action plan for your goals with the action items in your spreadsheet. We planned to eliminate expenses first to build our savings. We started doing small things, like baking bread or cooking marinara at home instead of buying it. I tried extreme couponing and we found free ways to entertain ourselves. From there, we would apply our surplus money to the credit cards, continuing to slash expenses. Of course, our plan only worked because we had surplus money (after cutting expenses), good health, a sprinkling of youth, and cushy 9-to-5 jobs. Remember to create a plan for YOU and your reality.
  5. Step 5: Lather, rinse, repeat. Over the next few years, we changed up our process and goals as life changed for us. Don’t be afraid to adjust your plan over time. Remember, the plan is for you. It should reflect what you need, not what two-years-ago you needed.

Is the journey going to be easy? No.

It doesn’t matter if you’re debt-free and trying to set up passive income or if you have $100k in debt to pay off. It’s going to be hard, and you’re going to have to change something in your life. We can’t continue to live in the same way and expect different results. That’s just how money works, unfortunately. 🙂

The bottom line

I was uncomfortable several times during our journey. We moved across town to a seedy apartment to slash $400 off our rent. I hated the apartment, and I hated the fact that I had to walk to work when we got rid of our second car. It was uncomfortable and, at times, I felt hopeless.

But you know what?

Those sacrifices worked. The changes we made worked. Over time, we had the financial wiggle room to be more selective about where we lived. But we were always grateful for the moments where we stretched ourselves to see how far we could go.

And now, here I am. Most of our debt is behind us, and it’s empowered me. I’m grateful for every step of the journey, and especially the hard parts. I can’t tell you where to go from here. All I can do is share my map and my destination, hoping it will help you reach yours in some small way.

We want to know: What does your money journey look like?

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