Why Saving a $100,000 is HARD!

You’ve heard it. I’ve said it. Maybe you have lived it. Saving that first $100,000 is so freaking hard! And it’s not just hard because of lack of compound interest. Of course, once you have your savings snowball rolling downhill, things get fun quickly. But it’s more than that. So this is part two of Saving our first $100,000.

First things first: Frugal plus Gratitude

1. You have to learn to spend more frugally than you earn.

2. You need to learn to find joy, gratitude and happiness without spending a lot of money.

I posted about 25 easy, affordable things to pack for lunch. You gotta learn all that stuff. I know so many people in their 20’s who don’t cook. They simply don’t know how to. Let alone cook things that are simple, nutritious, and affordable.

We have to learn how to have fun affordably. How can we enjoy our weekends with friends and NOT spend money? That takes some time to figure out. Some people never figure it out. After 16 years of dedicating ourselves to the learning curve of recreating and sharing company with those we care about for little or no cost, it’s really easy for us. Super easy.

Sometimes people compliment me on how low our expenses are but part of me is like, “How the heck could we even spend any more money?!? Even with NO jobs, our life is filled to the brim. We don’t have time to spend any more money recreating. We don’t even have time to do all the awesome low cost, free stuff that is already going on every weekend.” But that is after years of learning how to be frugal and still really love life. At first, all we had was dinner out and the movies. AKA dropping a LOT of money for a little bit of fun. You know how many movies I’ve seen in the theater this last year. Zero. Year before? Zero. Year before that? Zero. Here’s a fun game I play with people, “Has Jillian seen this movie?” They will ask if I’ve seen it, and laugh hilariously as I say, “Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope and never even heard of that one.”

Because I really don’t like watching movies. And I HATE watching them in a theater. Sitting in a crowded public place with strangers doing something I don’t really enjoy and could be happening AT MY HOUSE instead!? Why? Why would I ever do that? But in my 20’s it was a thing. Like the only way people knew how to recreate together.

I love spending time with my people. Talking, creating, exploring, adventuring, DOING stuff. Sitting next to them and watching a movie is lame. It took me a few years to be like, “NO. I love you. I actually want to do fun stuff with you. This is stupid. But I have a better idea. Let’s do THIS instead.”

You have to learn to be frugal. But people who end up building a lot of wealth (without huge incomes), they mastered the art of loving the simple joys of life without spending a ton of money. 

Next up: Don’t take feedback from The Critics.

It’s SO hard not to care what the critic says. I cared. A whole bunch. You want to know one of the hardest parts of growing up poor and then trying to build financial independence? Learning not to care about the critic.

Why do we all waste money? Because we care what people think of us. We don’t want to take crap. We want to fit in. There is no exception for poverty. You still care. Actually, I would argue that poor people care even more. Because they feel the judgment. They know they look poor, and it sucks. So as soon as we have a tiny bit of cash that would allow us to NOT look poor……oh, it’s tempting to spend it!

Brene Brown talks about how we are hardwired to care. It’s how we create community, survive as a species and find belonging. BUT and it’s a big exception – We don’t HAVE to take feedback from critics. The circle of people in my life who I will accept feedback from is small and well earned.

To reference the Roosevelt speech “The man in the arena,” if you aren’t in the ring: creating, building and fighting….if you are just a critic, in the stands trying to talk crap about where I’m trying to go in life….“I see you, I hear you, and I don’t give a damn about your feedback.”

That first 100k was so darn hard because, for the first time, I had the chance to NOT look poor…but I had to CHOOSE to still look poor.

To act poor. To act broke. Packing my cheap lunch like a loser who couldn’t afford delicious Chipotle every day. And it was so crazy hard because I WAS still poor. I didn’t have 3/4 million in the bank to laugh off the haters and feel confident. Nope. I had 10k in the bank and was driving a beater and packing my lunch and wearing all second-hand clothes.

Now you might think, “Well, that’s responsible and prudent and it’s silly that someone would make fun of you!” Except they did. And it wasn’t fun.

Actually just a few years ago a coworker was making fun of my beater car. But not in a fun, “we’re friends and I’m teasing you” kind of way. This coworker legitimately tried to ban me from parking in front of our place of work because my car was “so ugly it would give a bad impression to the customers.”  Let’s just say, we weren’t friends and I was not impressed. But you know what? We had half a million dollars in net worth and she just took out a $30,000 loan on her shiny car.

No matter your income, no matter your spending, if you are building wealth there will always be some critic who is shocked/mocking/confused towards your spending.

Third up: Counter Cultural Living

AKA Being “real” adults but living like college kids

Maybe this kind of falls into the not taking feedback from critics category. But saving that first 100k meant that while we were off at our first “real jobs” and trying to prove how adult and grown up we were, fiscally, we had to live like college kids.

We had a roommate. Now folks. We had two full time “real” jobs AND two kids. We had been married 5 years. Like….real adults. AND we had a roommate.

We ordered water if we ate out. Or worst, sometimes we would split a soda at a gas station. Because, you know, it saved 99 cents. We only bought our clothes used. We ate rice and beans every Monday.

And if I’m being a little ranty: Life was awesome. Actually, college was awesome! I loved our college years. Why the heck are we knocking living like a college kid? Those were some darn great years if you ask me.

Now maybe your first 100k will be easy. You make huge money. Your 401k match is insane.

But for everyone else, it’s hard. I don’t care if your in your 20’s, 30’s, 40’s or 50’s. That first 100k is hard. You have to learn how to be frugal and love life. You have to learn to not let critics shape your choices. And maybe, just maybe, you need to live a little bit more like a college kid. Buy a $500 piece of crap car, get a roommate, eat rice and beans, Air BnB your guest room, move into a camper, buy all used clothes, go camping in a tent for vacation, or deliver pizzas at night. And save 100k.

The point is: Do the things no one else wants to do that will move you closer to your ideal life.

Maybe your thinking, “Sure but I AM a real adult! I’m 50 and work at a law firm.” Therefore…..”What would my coworkers say? What would my Facebook friends say? What would my “rich” friends say? What would my mom think (but not say)? How could I ever own up to the fact that we aren’t as rich as we look?”

(Insert sarcasm) “Everyone will totally understand and be 100% on board and it will be high fives and pats on the back ALL the time.” But you and I both know that isn’t true. Friend, hear me out on this: There will ALWAYS be critics. Of basically EVERYTHING.

Two choices:

1. Give up your entire life in pursuit of trying to make as many critics happy as often as possible.


2.  Live your own damn life. True to your passion, purpose, and values. And to those who believe in you, cheer you on and earn the right to give feedback: give them more space. And to the critics say, “I see you. I hear you. (And maybe, I love you) But this part of my life isn’t open for negotiation.”

Because I swear it gets easier. All of it.

I’m naturally frugal now and know how to live WELL on less. I give a LOT less crap when critics think I’m poor or should be spending more money on things I honestly don’t care about.

And I love the college life! If we had an extra room, I’d still get a roommate. Why the heck not? I have 5 kids, it’s not like I’m losing any privacy around here. I can barely go pee by myself. A roommate would be much more respectful of my personal boundaries. I love traveling in our pop up camper. I would actually love to move into a camper again once the kid count at home goes down. Rice and beans are delish.

And last year our net worth went up 100k and I didn’t even lift a finger to make that happen.

So, yeah, that first 100k sucks.

It was hard because I had to learn how to become rich. And becoming rich is learning to enjoy life while spending like you are MUCH poorer than you really are. It was a hard lesson to learn.

For Conversation: How do you deal with The Critics?

Part 3 will be how it’s not marketing or The Joneses that cause lifestyle inflation. And how to overcome it!

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42 thoughts on “Why Saving a $100,000 is HARD!

  1. “We had half a million dollars in net worth and she just took out a $30,000 loan on her shiny car.”

    Yep, that sums it up. I see that all the time, I’ve learned to just keep my mouth shut and let it go. I just checked my famous spreadsheet and it took almost 3 full years of aggressive saving to get to my first 100k. If I would have curtailed my beer habit I could have knocked some time off that, but the past is the past 🙂

    The only real critics I experienced were due to the beater cars I drove – go figure. America is so car-obsessed. I would just laugh it off honestly. I did a ton of word travel though, so I think that people put 2 and 2 together and just figured I was buying cheap cars so I could afford to travel. That was only partially true of course. Little did they know about my double-secret plans to live a happier, more meaningful life!

    • “Little did they know about my double-secret plans to live a happier, more meaningful life!” I love this! I think we all need a few double-secret plans to keep us chasing after the best life possible!

  2. I joined my employer’s 401K, and watched it grow as they matched 10% of my deposits, plus a good HSA account for the medical. Also a divorce really saved money as spouse was notorious for buying lots if stuff that was either addictive to his wants (certainly not his needs) or out of lack of being able to manage money; whatever the reason, he bought plural in dune buggies, guns, moneymaking schemes ( you know the kind where you spend X amount of dollars to a place, thing, or idea and they make money cause you did that), he did numerous pyramid schemes, plus an enormous amount spent on his insatiable hunger. That’s my story on how I saved money and enjoyed life financially along the way.

  3. I think you are so right that one of the key ways you can win with money is by limiting who you allow to speak into your life. Why are we letting people we don’t even know or barely know humiliate us? We have to stop caring what people think and instead make goals and decisions for ourselves.

    I remember when my husband and I first got married and were ready to buy our first home. We had a 20% downpayment ready but my FIL talked us out of using all of it on the down payment and instead only use some of it just in case we needed the extra money someplace else. In the end we had a PMI payment we didn’t even need! I’m sure he meant well, but every time I paid my mortgage and saw that stupid PMI, it made me so mad! It ended up being a huge lesson to me about guarding our family against listening to everyone’s advice and instead be more discerning about who we allowed to speak into our lives. This has made all the difference for us!!

    • I’ve had at least one person disagree or not understand every significant life choice I’ve made. I wouldn’t say I was especially a people pleaser, but it’s been an area of significant growth for me. I’m finally at a place where I’m OK if people don’t understand, don’t agree or don’t support. It took a long time for me to feel ok with it not being my job to win them over, prove my idea, defend my choice. 15 year ago, 10 year ago, even to some degree 5 years ago, it was VERY important that people I loved understood and supported my choices. Now it’s not my job. If they want to understand, that’s awesome. If they want to try to be supportive, fantastic! If not, I’m still ok.

  4. I find that I tend to keep things to myself as no-one else really that surrounds me has an understanding so I don’t tell people my aims, but each time I reach a mile stone for me, I celebrate in my own way. I am lucky that the things I enjoy are naturally frugal but people laugh when I haven’t seen things on Sky TV or the latest film as I don’t have TV packages. I thought there were only me thought about life differently and certainly wanted a different life so I could “buy back” some life choices instead of being in a stressful job until traditional retirement age. I then discovered a lovely,supportive blogging community which I have read so much of and recently plucked up the courage to comment and join in with. I must admit I have found it frustrating at times waiting for the “snow ball” effect! Another fab post Jillian & lovely picture.

    • I think it’s really smart to keep some things to ourselves. Do make announcements just invited the critics to chime in. Whenever I step out into something that I know I don’t want to take a lot of heat on, I just keep it to myself for a while until I feel more comfortable with hearing ALL the thoughts. =)

  5. Haha, when my spouse drives our truck to work, instead of our car, it gets parked further away from the front door of the office. It has some, uhh, character marks, but we have zero intention of replacing it. The first bit is definitely the hardest. It’s so awesome once money starts to gain momentum though!

    • Yeah, our Honda Civic is 19 years old now. =) The clear coat is peeling. The bummer is unpainted and broken. I rather sure when we get the snow tires put on the guy feels bad for me. Like “Oh, look at the poor woman driving this ugly car.” Now I just laugh and think to myself, “Dude, don’t worry about it. I’m rich. It’s fine.”

  6. One of the best ways of dealing with the critics I’ve found is living on the other side of the world haha (in Australia). Obviously not possible for most people, but putting physical distance between myself and friends/family has given me the ability to grow and develop without the constant voices in my ear. However, I still have local friends who think it’s weird that we decline dinner invitations because of the cost of the restaurant. That has just taken our friends getting used to it and that have stopped saying anything. Like most things, it gets easier over time.

    • I think it’s extra hard in your 20’s because people have a tendency to “look out for you” with piles of unsolicited advice. It wasn’t until my 30’s that people had seen enough of my “crazy” plans work out just fine that they started feeling more comfortable with the choices I was making. And having lots success in different areas is a bit of “the proof is in the pudding.” =) It just took a while to cook that pudding. =)

  7. Love it! Either I don’t get the critics anymore (they gave up?!) or I don’t even notice (because I don’t care). We still wear 2nd hand clothes, eat rice and beans regularly (and scrambled eggs for dinner), pack our lunches and all kinds of other frugal things. I think over the years I’ve surrounded myself with more like-minded people and that naturally limits the critics. I’ve also become very open with people I don’t even know that well (it’s come with age!) – at my last Meetup, someone complimented me on my shirt. I said, “thanks! I got it at the thrift store for $2! What a deal, right!?”. Judge me, or go to the thrift store and see for yourself how much you can save. 🙂

    • Proof that it does get easier! =) And I think it’s all of the above. People trust we got our stuff together and don’t need constant input. Plus we learn to make more space for supportive, nonjudgemental people. And I find that a lot of people chill the hell out after 30 or 40. Because life is hard and we got our own stuff to figure out and less energy to micromanage other people. =)

  8. Genius. Pure effing genius. Let me just add two things.

    1. Some of the best times in my life were in college playing Risk to the wee hours of the morning, making potato-wedge fries in the FryDaddy and drinking cheap, piss-warm beer.

    2. One of the best times I had in 2017 was taking Mrs. Groovy and this weird family of seven to a supermarket for 25-cent ice cream cones and 3-dollar monster donuts. For less than $10, nine people had a rollicking good time and an unbelievable sugar rush.

    Yes, Jillian, you’re absolutely right. If you can’t master the art of frugal fun, that first $100K is damn hard.

    • Ah, me too! =) And you are right about mastering the art of frugal fun. Because the alternative is just suffering for your whole working career until you can retire. Each year is to precious to suffer through and bid time.

  9. The hardest part for me is just because I can “afford” something doesn’t mean I want to purchase it. I really don’t enjoy eating out, but all my friends thinks it is great and is the only way to get together. Not only is it expensive, but the restaurant can be loud, food lousy and I’m hearing the conversation of strangers, rather than pouring into the life of my friends.

    Bucking the trend is hard, but oh so worth it.

    • “Afford” is dangerous. That’s what part thing is about. =) I also don’t eat out much, but we are in the season of life (lots of little kids) where that really isn’t fun for us or friends. Backyard BBQ’s are way more fun and easier for everyone now. =)

  10. Thank you for this! Totally agree. I get mocked constantly at work for still driving a 1993 Lumina, but I also know that I’m the only one of the group debt free because of it, and now working on our first 100K! We were able to pay off $120K in student loans in 2 years out of college because we kept up the college lifestyle! I can’t remember the last time we went to a movie theater, but $1.50 redbox is our perfect date night!

    • I don’t watch many movies, but redbox is genius. We rent ALL the kid movies. =) And congrats on paying off that debt and hustling towards your first 100k! I’d drive a 93 to make that happen. =)

  11. As always, a “spot-on” post that resonates with so many of us. At my work at lunch when a group is heading out, it’s more like, “You want to go? No…that’s right, you bring your lunch…” sometimes it’s snarky, sometimes not. But I’d rather eat what I’ve prepared and know what’s in it for “free” than spend $8-12 and have no real idea what ingredients were used to boot. A meatless meal doesn’t mean I’m forgoing something I really want because I can’t afford meat, it means I make a kickin’ red beans and rice or frittata that we thoroughly enjoy!

    While there are a few of us at my work who are committed solidly to a more frugal lifestyle, on the whole among the others, it’s borrow for home improvement, borrow to buy a car, borrow to buy a bigger house for every child you have, pay for all of the kids’ entertainment/sports leagues. So there is a good bit of guessing/judging as to how much my husband and I save from each paycheck and some ribbing when we tackle a big home improvement project that lasts much longer than we anticipate because we’re doing it ourselves. But the pride in the completed job has a lot of worth as well.

    Thank you for the time and energy you commit to your blog – I look forward to every post.

    • Oh man, I feel you on those stretched out home improvement projects! But I do find that my cash flow and desire/time to make a project happen are often in synch. By the time the cash is running low, I’m burned out anyways and need a few months off. =)

  12. The movie thing is so hilarious, because this is us. Our roommate is constantly going out to see movies and asking us about them, even though you’d think by now that he would know the answer is a) no we haven’t seen it and b) we haven’t even heard of it. It’s so odd to think back to when we used to have some semblance of an idea of what was showing in theaters. We did go see Star Wars in theater (though not this most recent one – meant to, it just didn’t happen). Before that? I couldn’t honestly tell you.

  13. I love this post and I need more of these kind of posts to keep us going. I think the part that is missing for me is capturing the savings. How do you capture the savings? Was it just in a bank account or an investment account? What should we be doing to start to save the first $100,000? Or basically, where do we start to save that first $100,000 if we’re new to all of this? I’m so not interested in critics anymore :0)

    • I think tucking some of that into a 401k, traditional or Roth IRA is a great idea. The first two are great for “real” retirement. I actually really like Roth IRA’s as a flexible retirement/saving account because you have so many options to use that money early. Some in cash for an emergency fund is a great idea. Then after that it depends on your next step goals. =)

  14. Jillian, saved up, given up the job for two years (return is optional) and now travel and live within our financial borders . Q: how easy was it to set up the blog? How did you choose which platform to use? Tentatively scared but want to take that big step!

    • Setting up a blog is fairly easy, even for a rather non-tech person like myself. And I would absolutely encourage you to do so! It helps make you a creator in the community, builds relationships, clarifies your thinking, and can grow into new and unexpected things. Depending on if you are more flush with time or money, it might take you 50-300 hours to really get it set up and nice or cost you about $1000-$3000 to pay someone to do it. I offer a course that deals more with figuring out your focus, the voice to write from, what transformation you offer, how to create a content road map, email and future income options. It’s about $100 and will save about 6 months of wasted time trying to figure that stuff out. https://montanamoneyadventures.teachable.com/p/jetfuel Best of luck! If you check out the podcast “Do you even Blog”, I recorded a 3 hour episode with Pete dealing with fear and impostor syndrome.

  15. Saving $100,000 is hard. It took me almost 10 years to save that much. As you wrote, the compounding is working, but you don’t see it because there is not much money at work. After the first $100,000, the rest is all down hill.

  16. It’s funny that the things you learn in school, like elementary through high school, run counter to the things you need to succeed in the real world? Grade school is all about conforming. You try your hardest to fit in, be liked, etc… then you grow up and realize those things are not what life is about. Conformist thinking leads to conformist results – chasing after the same trappings of perceived wealth and success, reacting to critics by getting back in line, and not living a life YOU want.

    If you want abnormal results, sometimes that means doing “abnormal” things like taking a roommate when you have two kids. Maybe someone looks at you funny, but it takes practice to ignore those things that don’t help you get to where you want to be!

    • You are very right! It is hard to flip that switch of wanting to be so close to the middle and fitting in to then carving out an exceptional life. And there will always be critics who would prefer you do things that make them more comfortable. But that rarely lines up with the life that’s most on target for each of us.

  17. Great post! You’re bang on with the “gratitude” part. As I’ve taken off the last 2 years to retool and figure some things out, I’m re-learning things that I had forgotten about, but were highly responsible for us having some independence now. It’s made me a MUCH more cautious investor and that’s a good thing. I was being a cowboy with some funds, because I always felt that I could just make more money. That’s not necessarily true. Also, while we compare ourselves to others, when you can appreciate how much better off you are than others, a light bulb comes on in your head. Thanks for taking the time out to put this together!

    • Thanks, Jim! Gratitude is such an important practice. It’s something I teach my kids, just noticing the good, reflecting on the good parts of our day, and being thankful. Even for them, like all of us, it’s easy to get wound up in how things could be better and take for granted all the good things we do have!

  18. and i would remind anyone that looking poor doesn’t mean unclean or poor hygiene. when i was an adult (25ish) college student it was at a sorta snobby blue blood liberal arts school. we knew the kids downstairs and their girlfriends a little. well, i had this chemical research job and they gave me this great pair of work boots that were just like doc marten boots. i remember tell julia, one of the girlfriends, about my great fortune. she said “i think they look cheap and fake.” this came from somebody who drove a cadillac on campus. it didn’t bother me, being a confident person but led me to think “i didn’t know this level of shallow a**hole existed in the real world. i thought they were made up as movie characters.

    nice article.

    • There is always an elitist group that will find ways to push people out and make sure they know they aren’t good enough. Some people will find ways based on your clothes, cars, schools we attended, family business or wealth, upbringing, books we have or haven’t read, who they voted for, where they vacation, ect. It cracks me up and I have zero time for that bulls**t. There are groups of people who will go to great lengths to let others know they aren’t good enough. But I count those as horrible human beings who I just don’t have time for. =)

  19. Critics about even the most positive things will always exist. The art of ignoring them starts with cutting them off your life.
    I didn’t have like minded people around me. The ones who were in my life would not understand me, some would think I am over ambitious and some would hate the fact that I can’t agree with them. The moment I embraced my goals, I had to stop doing what I never cared about in the first place.
    Being frugal didn’t come easy, but I have recovered from spending a lot. Your articles are amazing. Keep them coming!

    • I really focus on making more space for people who can be supportive and encouraging, and less space for people who choose not to. Congrats on your progress so far!