Debt Free at 35: What Comes After a 10-Year Money Goal

10 years ago today, I bought a house. And paying off that house has been the focus of our money journey for years. 

There have been more ups and downs than I ever imagined. Several reductions-in-force at work, two unpaid maternity leaves, and so much more. 

A few months ago, we made that goal our debt-free reality. While it seemed like our financial journey was over, we realized pretty quickly that debt freedom is just the start. 

Investing on Autopilot 

We’ve been investing–and maxing out our Roth IRAs whenever we could!–along the way. With the market drop, we aren’t quite there yet, but we were knocking on the door of CoastFIRE…and that’s not considering the pensions that both of us can collect–in theory anyway! 

Though qualifying for a full pension with education in its current state feels like a Herculean task (or a fool’s errand), I’m fairly confident both of us will make it to the 20-year mark. (Somehow that’s only five years away for me!) Even that partial pension would be a fabulous financial cushion in retirement. 

That means our investments are basically on autopilot at this point. We aren’t maxing out my 457 and my husband’s 403b, but we’re pretty close. We think we’ve found the balance between investing for later and living for now (and paying those damn childcare costs). 

But this still isn’t the end of our financial journey.

Instead, we’re focusing on two big areas: 

Looking at a Legacy 

Like so many people, I originally looked at having an estate as something that only happened when you’re really wealthy. But everyone actually has an estate and watching a particularly painful divide in our family after someone passed drove home how important planning this out thoughtfully is. (They had a will and had very little money and it was still an absolutely gutting debacle to watch unfold.)

A lot of people try to DIY this process and be ultra frugal, but I find myself making excuse after excuse whenever I go down this path. So we’ve gotten recommendations for several different estate planners in our area, and we’re going to do everything from putting my husband’s name on our house (I bought it, so it says Penny Saves, a single woman, on the deed!) to naming guardians for our kids in our will and nailing down our plans as best as we can. 

We really dragged our feet here because the people who would probably be the best stewards of our kids’ money can’t raise them for the next 15+ years. But we’ve basically navigated all the hurdles and just need to get some financial skin in the game to follow through and get this done. 

It’s also worth noting that we much prefer to gift our kids money while we are alive. This is a just-in-case plan if we were to pass while they are minors. We hope to live long into their adulthood and find ways to support them financially as we go…before we go. (Dark humor, but true!)

Having an Impact with Our Money

Another part of our financial journey that feels lifelong is trying to have an impact with our money. Of course, we want part of that impact to be creating wealth and opportunities for our kids. 

But we also try to see our impact on a bigger scale. Each month, we add a line in our budget for giving. This is something that we try to grow from year-to-year, and it is also something that we preserve even when slashing away at other areas of our budget. 

We also want to make sure that we try to vote with our dollars as often as we can. While shopping small and local may have lost some of the mainstream coverage that was trendy during the pandemic, it’s something we’ve always valued. 

As much as I love being frugal, we also say no to free, especially when there is a high hidden cost (time or clutter or material waste!). We aren’t perfect here by any stretch, but as we get rid of even more things and prioritize second-hand first when it comes to things we need and want, we can hopefully find better alignment between our money and our values. 

Keeping Our Eyes on the Prize Page

One of my favorite ways to stay motivated and to expand our financial journey is to read. While blogs may not look the same as they did years ago, I do still love to check in on my favorite money bloggers. I’m also still mostly always inspired by money Twitter and other social media accounts. 

But there’s nothing quite like a good money book. I love being able to re-read different parts at different times. I can always come back to it as I move through different chapters of my own life. 

To celebrate being debt free in under a decade and to honor where our money journey is going, I’d love to give away two of my favorite books that connect to our lifelong money goals:

I devoured both of these books when I first bought them, and I keep them in my small bedroom book collection so I can come back to them over and over again as needed. 

To win, drop me a comment with one of your money goals and then tell me which book you’d like! I’ll choose a name at random over the next week and follow up by email. US mailing addresses only please!

So Tell Me…What’s next on your money journey?


  1. Congrats on being in such a strong financial position Penny!! I really admire your estate planning goal. I think that’s something we could work on. While I kind of gave up on FIRE after switching to part time, it’s still eminently doable with a large factor of safety around when kid #3 graduates high school. I think my next goal is to map out what that looks like and put some plans together. PS- I missed your blog!! Welcome back!!

  2. Chris

    Congrats on paying off your mortgage! One of our money goals is to pay off our mortgage and it is always nice to read about people who do. I would like a copy of Wallet Activism.

  3. Rachel C

    I’d love to read Wallet Activism! It’s been on my “to read” list for a while. Love the idea of using wealth for good and Tanja is such an inspiration to me!

  4. Marie

    Congratulations on achieving one of your really passionate goals! One of mine is to support my kids through college – maybe not fully, but hopefully significantly. I am doing this by continuing to pay current daycare costs into my retirement account and their 529s once daycare has ended. That way, when the kids go to school, I will have a budget that is still designed around a large chunk of money each month being set aside, outside of my other retirement savings and spending. I will just switch the location from these account contributions to their colleges directly. We had a long break between kids and I did this then as well, so I know I can do it again when my (current, last) baby goes to kindergarten. I’m also hoping to increase it a percentage or two each time we have an increase in our salaries.

    We have a will that we created a decade ago, and I’m sure it needs to be revisited and improved, since so much has changed in our life since then. I would love to read the estate planning book please, if you draw my name. Thank you!

  5. Amy

    One of my money goals is to be able to manage all the bills on my paycheck, so that we can just bank my husband’s.

    I would like the Estate Planning 101 book please – I’ve been working on drawing up a will, but I want to make sure I cover all of my bases. It was rather difficult dealing with my Mom’s estate, there were just so many loose ends; I’d like to avoid doing the same to my heirs.

  6. Olivia

    Congrats! One tip for estate planning: you do not need the person who raises your kids to be the same person who manages the money! You can name the good child-raiser as guardian and the good-with-money person as trustee of a testamentary trust. For me when my kids were young those were definitely two different people: both beloved but with very different skillsets.

  7. Rachel C

    I thought I commented earlier but I’m not seeing it posted! Congrats on reaching such a giant milestone! I only bought my home a few years ago (one year pre-pandemic) so it’s hard for me to imagine doing something like this right now. I can only imagine how freeing it feels.

    I’d love the opportunity to read Tanja’s new book. I loved her first book and am super interested in how to invest smartly for the future of our planet.

  8. I remain so very inspired by your progress, achievements, and priorities (which include others). Congrats!!!!!

    As you know, we just reached some very big money goals over the past few years – paying off our credit card and my student loan debt, and buying our forever homestead.

    The next smaller money goals for us are investing in a new roof for the forever homestead, getting our old house rented out, and paying for things like chickens, bees, and solar panels. The next big money goal is reaching financial semi-independence, when I won’t have to work full-time as an attorney anymore.

    As I mentioned earlier today (LOL) we never buy any books. I would love to add either one to my library.

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