We’re excited to introduce you to Bonnie today! She has a lot to share about how she and her husband are debt-free, retired, and slow-traveling the world at age 45. She’s worked hard and has some great lessons to share about how you can win with money and reach financial independence even if you started out behind!
Feel free to ask her any questions in the comments or just to say hello. If you’d like to be considered for an interview or to share your story, send us a note.
Inspiring Money Story: Bonnie
1) Introduce Yourself to The WwM Readers!
Hi, I’m Bonnie Truax, and I am 45 years old. My husband of 11 years is also 45. We are debt-free and retired. In 2016, we sold our home in North Carolina along with just about everything we owned and started to travel the world, slowly.
In the last two years, we have been exploring Central and South America. We are currently in Brazil.
2) Did your family’s money situation influence you as an adult?
My parents’ annual income was about half of the poverty level when I was growing up. We never went out to eat. We grew a garden, picked berries in the woods, and hunted for meat. Our family always had food on the table and lived a debt-free life.
My parents saved enough that they are retiring this year. They taught me the value of saving and a good work ethic. The frugality they taught me has stuck with me to this day.
3) Describe your post-secondary education. Are you an entrepreneur or do you have side jobs?
I started working odd jobs at the age of 14 to save for college knowing my parents would not be able to contribute any college funds. I mowed lawns and did small engine repair.
Additionally, I purchased a few Wilton cake decorating books and taught myself to decorate cakes. Decorating and selling wedding cakes was a side hustle up through my college years along with jobs in a local restaurant and the college cafeteria.
These jobs allowed me to get out of college debt-free. Then, I made a huge money mistake. I guess you will have to wait until question #6 to hear about that mistake.
Once I began my career in IT Finance, I stopped the side hustles to focus on my career. In the last few years of my career, my husband and I started another side hustle.
We purchased foreclosed homes and spent our weekends renovating them ourselves. The homes are now rented and managed by a property manager. They fund our travels through Latin America.
4) How is your partner involved in your financial matters?
I manage our finances primarily because I love numbers and spreadsheets, and my husband is happy to leave me to it. I update him on how we are doing. We discuss all new investments together. He is in charge of the travel planning and shopping. He does excellent research, and I know he always gets the best deals.
This arrangement works because we have the same financial goals and the same frugal view on spending. We both do the tasks we love, and thankfully we don’t love the same tasks.
5) What do you think is one of the most challenging career and money challenges for women?
For many women, the biggest career and money challenge is our own limiting beliefs. Our culture has made great strides towards equality, but it is not just men who need to change if there is to be true equality. We also have to act and challenge our own beliefs about women and about ourselves.
The book Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg, defines interesting statistics about women applying for jobs. Women apply if they have 100% of the qualifications, while men apply if they at least have 60%
Apply for that job, don’t listen to any of the cultural norms telling you what skill you can or can’t learn.
Don’t tell yourself you can’t do it. And don't listen to others who try to limit your value. When you hear yourself saying negative things that destroy your confidence force yourself to stop and say five positive things (you can do it in your head, so no one looks at you strangely).
6) What’s one money mistake you made that others can learn from?
I didn’t do a credit check on my first husband before getting married, and I had no idea the crazy amount of debt he was in. A credit check is a must if you are considering getting serious with somebody.
To be clear, the amount of money someone has or makes should not be a determining factor in who we choose. How each of you handles money should be disclosed and discussed. If you have vastly different ideas about money and can’t come to a common ground then consider moving on.
It took me nine years to get us almost out of debt while he continually maxed out the credit cards. I left him when I was 30 years old with only what I could fit in my old car. I had to start again from the bottom.
7) What tools, apps, or programs do you use to keep track of your finances? Any money tips to share?
I use Excel for all my financial tracking complete with formulas, graphs, and macros. I just have so much fun with it. If you don’t like spreadsheets purchasing a tool is a good idea. The most important part is finding a way to automate your own personal finances.
When we were both still working, my husband and I had our paychecks automatically distributed to three different accounts.
The first account was a joint account. We contributed equal amounts to this account covering all our joint expenses including the mortgage. We contributed enough to cover all monthly expenses and still have a little left over that built up over time in case anything on the home needed to be fixed.
All of our bills were set up to be automatically paid with one credit card, or directly out of our joint account if the vendor didn't take credit cards. We also used this one credit card for all food shopping, gas, and any other spend. We always paid the credit card in full each month. In December there were enough points on the card to pay almost our entire expenses for that month.
The second account was a separate personal checking account for each of us. Anything remaining from our paychecks after the set amount for the first two accounts went into separate personal savings accounts. Both of us had separate checking and savings accounts primarily because we had them before we met and it was just easier to keep them separate (or maybe we were just lazy?).
We paid ourselves last against the advice of most financial advisers. This however worked better for us, especially since all raises automatically just increased savings. We were already at a comfortable standard of living and didn’t need much else. About 75% of our total income was going to savings by the time we retired.
8) What does your work-life balance look like?
Is there such a thing? While there are many courses on how to balance these two, does anyone actually have an answer on what that balance should be? In my view, each season of life is different, some require that we work a whole lot more and in other seasons we have time to relax.
Our current culture teaches us to push, go, do more. We end up becoming humans doing instead of human beings -Dr. Wayne Dyer. I understand why our culture is so concerned about this balance. Few of us have the time or resources to stop for a bit and just be.
I’m in a season that gives me a lot of time to be. We are exploring South America mostly using public transportation. This sometimes means long bus rides. We also have long hikes and days just walking around exploring new cities.
I have a lot of time to think. I have had time to work through many thoughts and be at peace. It has made me realize how busy I was before and how that limited my progress. We have to learn to say no to extra stuff sometimes even if it is good stuff.
I own 43Bluedoors.com and write one article a week. It is a self-imposed deadline. Creating this blog has forced me to constantly learn about all the blogging and social media techniques and technology. Trying to learn all aspects of blogging, SEO, security, and any other technical aspects has kept me busy.
There is a huge list of things I still want to learn and do to improve my stats, so I still have an action item list. I use the Gmail suite of tools to keep track of everything. The Gmail tools that I use include Google Tasks, Keep, and Calendar. They all work together very well and sync between my phone and PC automatically.
Having a balance, I think is all about doing things we love. Writing travel stories that will bring the world to the door of others who can't or don't travel is something I truly love doing. It is part of my purpose in life.
My goal in each story is to tease everyone's ideas of “normal.” By seeing other cultures and places maybe we can all think just a little bit differently and be a little bit freer from the hang-ups holding us back.
Speaking of freedom, all proceeds from the blog are donated to a foundation supporting rehabilitation for young girls rescued from human trafficking.
9) What is your most important piece of advice about money and how would you help a friend struggling with money?
The most important tip about money is to recognize it only as a tool, a tool that can be used to fulfill our purpose. Our mindset toward money is often a higher determining factor in the amount of wealth we accumulate, more than a high paying job.
If talking to a friend who is asking for money advice, I would remind them of the power of delayed gratification.
It's January and let's say you needed a new couch. The one you want is $2,000, but you don't have the cash on hand to purchase it outright.
If you finance that couch at 19% (often the interest rates on furniture are much higher), then you would need to pay $198 a month for the next twelve months. In December when you make your last payment, you will have paid $2,376 for that couch.
If however, you choose to wait and instead saved that $198 in your own savings account you would be able to pay $2,000 cash for that couch at the beginning of November. Since you have already started the habit of saving keep saving that $198 monthly. You will find yourself with $376 in cash for Christmas just because you waited.
I have left out the fact that by waiting you can also take advantage of great sales. By waiting I once found a leather reclining couch for $300 from a store going out of business. It went on sale a few months after we decided to buy a couch. We spent $300 instead of the $2,000 it was originally listed at.
10) Is there anything else you’d like to share with our Women who Money readers?
Don’t let fear hold you back. Recognize it, listen to what it is telling you, and adjust if necessary. Then tell it to shut up and keep moving forward.
The WwM Team’s Key Takeaways from our Interview with Bonnie:
- Even with humble beginnings, learning to save, working hard, and living frugally can still allow you to design a life many people can only dream about.
- Side hustling kept her out of debt in college and later in life, working on foreclosures allowed her to choose the lifestyle she wanted.
- Women’s limiting beliefs are a huge challenge to their career advancement and ability to win with money. Don’t tell yourself you can’t do it.
- If you are getting serious with someone, you should understand their financial situation and attitude toward money. This can save a lot of problems later.
- “Each season of life is different, some require that we work a whole lot more and in other seasons we have time to relax. We have to learn to say no to extra stuff sometimes even if it is good stuff.”
Thanks for sharing your story of debt freedom, travel, and learning to just “be” at times during your life! We also truly appreciate your focus on giving back and how it supports the rehabilitation of young girls rescued from human trafficking.
If you’d like to be considered for an interview or to share your story, send us a note.
Find other Inspiring Money Stories here.