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How to Cut Expenses for a Faster Route to Financial Freedom

The BiggerPockets Money Podcast
47 min read
How to Cut Expenses for a Faster Route to Financial Freedom

We’ve interviewed more than 30 people for the BiggerPockets Money Podcast over the course of this year — and we’ve got a LOT more people to interview!

We’ve heard from so many  listeners: “I’d like to get started on the path toward financial freedom, but I don’t know where to begin.”

Today, Scott and Mindy share EXACTLY how you get started with tracking your spending, and how to make SIGNIFICANT cuts in your budget to move you down the path faster.

Looking to become financially free? THIS is the episode you need.

Click here to listen on iTunes.

Listen to the Podcast Here

Read the Transcript Here

 Welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast show number 30.

My net loss was like probably $500 on this $10,000 investment where it could have been an $1,800 gain.


But that $1,800 gain wasn’t even meaningful to my position at all in the first place. I should have been focusing instead on saving money and trying to earn more money.

It’s time for a new American dream. One that doesn’t involve working in a cubicle for 40 years, barely scraping by. Whether you’re looking to get your financial house in order, invest the money you already have or discover new paths for wealth creation. You’re in the right place. This show is for anyone who has money or wants more. This is the BiggerPockets Money Podcast.

Scott: How’s it going everybody I’m Scott Trench. I’m here with my cohost Ms. Mindy Jensen. How are you doing today Mindy?

Mindy: Scott, it’s just another great day as always. How are you doing today?

Scott: I’m doing great. I’m very excited for today’s episode. Today, it’s just going to be me and you talking about money and in this case saving. How to cut back on your expenses. It is a philosophy of cutting back on your expenses, why you should cut back on your expenses and how that can help you move towards financial freedom. Then next week we’re going to follow up with an episode about increasing your income and investing for financial independence.

Mindy: Yes, that’s going to be a really great show too. You know this show came about because I get a lot of emails from people, [email protected] People are asking me how do I get started? I love this concept of financial independence.

I want to be financially free, but I don’t know how to go about it. What is the first step? What do I need to do first right off the bat? I started thinking you know we’ve got a ton of really great shows where our guests share these very things. We never really put them into a specific order. Start here. Go here. Do this first. Do this second. Today we’re going to take some time to do just that. This is your first step. This is your next step.

Scott: Yes and we’re going to go into why that is. You know this we’re focusing on spending today in the first part of it because this is what is probably within the most control of people. You know if you’re an average listener of the show you’re probably earning immediate income, maybe a little higher. You’re probably not having too many financial mistakes.

Not a ton of debt or anything like that and you’re probably starting with few investable assets. Right and that’s what were assuming in today’s episode is by reducing your lifestyle expenses. By reducing your spending you’re going to increase the amount of cash flow that you’re able to accumulate on a monthly or weekly basis, which is going to allow you to invest and you’re going to develop the habits that will help you form a lower cost lifestyle down the road, which means that you need less total net worth and less total cash flow from your investments to sustain financial independence. It’s a double sided benefit here with the cutting your expenses and that’s why we focus on it so heavily and why we’re focusing on it first before we get to income and investing next week.

Mindy: Yes, if you don’t have your expenses, your expenditures under control you’re just not going to have a successful easy path to financial independence.

Scott: Yes, and think about it if you have no housing expense. Very little transportation expense and you have a reasonable food budget you could spend a lot of money each month on entertainment and fun things and just rewarding experiences and live a lavish lifestyle for $20-$30,000 a year and cash flow from your investments. If you can really focus on cutting back those expenses in a way that still brings you happiness, you’re going to have a much easier time at funding financial freedom. You know it’s much easier to generate $3,000 a month than it is to generate $10,000 a month in income from your passive investments.

Mindy: Yes, totally totally agree.

Scott: Awesome, well shall we, should we get to the episode?

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Mindy: Huge thanks to our sponsor today. Scott what would you say is the first step someone should take on their road to financial freedom?

Scott: Well you know there’s like there’s this kind of like outline that I kind of have in my head about how financial because I always have to organize things into an outline. That’s just how I.

Mindy: Same.

Scott: How I think in general. I kind of approach financial freedom from this like top level view of hey first you work on your spending. Again, I just always assume that you are, you the listener or people in general are folks that have optimized in the income front throughout the course of their career, education, all of that kind of stuff so that they have a pretty good job or the best that’s available to them given their set of circumstances. Assume that’s the case.

Then the first place to start I think is with cutting back on spending and then as we kind of made progress there, maybe moving into the income front or the investing front. Even before we get to going into like spending basics and how you actually can make a dent in your spending I think the first step that we hear from the listeners over and over and over again is that they’re not necessarily managing their finances optimally or really paying a lot of attention to it until they read something or until they have a discussion or stumble upon information that changes their mindset. I wonder if the first step is actually self-education.

Mindy: Oh you know what becoming aware of this concept of early financial independence, early-retirement even. When I was pre FI, pre going down this path even, early retirement meant age 62. If you were lucky you could save up enough that you could retire three years early. Just it didn’t even occur to me that you could retire when you were in your 50s or 40s or 30s unless you win the lottery.

My husband was working one day. He had a horrible day at work. He was like how do I quit my job early? This site popped up Mr. Money Mustache.

Mr. Money Mustache, what’s that? He goes in and he checks this out. He’s like this guy is full of crap. There is no way that this is real. He is lying. He is selling something, whatever, but he starts reading and before he found that site he had no idea that this was possible. It’s not that hard and the math doesn’t lie. You can’t make four plus four equal 17. It always equals eight. This guy went through, this Mr. Money Mustache cat went through and did all of this math for you. He is like, “These numbers don’t lie. This is real. This is achievable.”

Scott: Yes, like that’s exactly the same story that happened for me as an individual. Like I started my job and I was lucky to find this concept within three months of starting my first full-time job out of college so I could basically go off to the races as a young single guy with nothing to hold me back on it, but like that same concept applied for me. I wasn’t really I mean I was saving money and just putting it away and trying to invest because I heard that was good practice. I wasn’t motivated to actually consistently drive aggressive change to improve my financial position because what’s the point in having an extra million dollars in 40 years.

That’s not really relevant or motivating to me. What was motivating was man this Mr. Money Mustache guy, the Mr. you know mad scientist these guys are legit and I can produce a result that will be life changing now, next year, and in three years. Because you know I’ll have more wealth now. I’ll have more freedom now and I’ll have the potential to retire really early and live a completely self-directed life during my prime. That was kind of like the moment where I was like okay now I’m going to optimize. Now I’m going to figure out how can I make as efficient progress as possible in all of these categories.

Mindy: What was your first step? Absolutely cut every spending, all of your spending and live in a box and eat rice and beans and peanut butter and jelly and that’s it.

Scott: Well my first step I guess paradoxically was I was like hmmm you know I am making $48,000 a year and spending about $35 or so and I have no other assets outside that so I’m going to invest. That’s how I’m going to get really wealthy. That didn’t make any sense so I started picking—so I started doing personally was I started picking stocks and that was inefficient for me because I didn’t have a large amount of capital to invest. We’ve talked about it on a show before, but it’s very difficult for a full-time worker with a small portfolio to beat the market and I failed.

I lost money. I bet on a bunch of Chinese stocks because hey they’re undervalued. People don’t have all of the information. Well I didn’t have all of the information. I lost on that so.

Mindy: Yes so I smile when you say this and it looks like I’m laughing if you’re watching the video. It sometimes it’s very funny to have some extra information that Scott hasn’t maybe shared with everybody. Scott is terrible at picking stocks, but he’s really really great at other things like picking real estate investments. Scott has a pretty sweet real estate portfolio, but his stocks, I mean he just picked the worst of the worst.

Scott: Yes.

Mindy: Do you have any money left over from your stock picking?

Scott: I didn’t lose all of my money from these investments. I invested in a couple of different companies so but I just.

Mindy: Oh.

Scott: I lost money in a year that the stock market gained money so and again the whole silliness of this entire exercise for me was that I was investing less than $10,000. My net loss was like probably $500 on this $10,000 investment where it could have been an $1,800 gain. That $1,800 gain wasn’t even meaningful to my position at all in the first place. I should have been focusing instead on saving money and trying to earn more money.

Mindy: Well yes, but I will stop you right here to say that if you only have $10,000 yes you should still invest provided that.

Scott: Yes.

Mindy: You know you’re out of debt and all of that and we’ll talk more about that later, but Scott is not saying if you only have $10,000 you can’t invest. He’s saying that there’s other things to focus on first.

Scott: Well what I should have done is stick that in an index fund and get to work on spending, cutting back my spending and increasing my income, which I was doing at the same time, but I would have shifted my focus there a little earlier and made that a bigger priority.

Mindy: Yes, so I want to talk about cutting spending and more specifically I want to talk about tracking your spending.

Scott: Yes.

Mindy: My number one tip for anybody who says what’s the first step? Where is your money going? I buy groceries, I buy gas, I pay my mortgage. Okay how much is all of that?

Well I don’t know I probably spend $150 on groceries. I can almost guarantee that if you don’t know how much you’re spending you’re not probably spending whatever you’re thinking. You’re spending a whole lot more because groceries have this really sneaky way of adding up so does gasoline purchases and oh it’s only a dollar. I’m going to grab this and that and all of the sudden every dollar that was in your pocket is in somebody else’s pocket.

My first step even before making a budget is tracking your spending. We interviewed some people Waffles on Wednesday, a couple from the West Coast who have created a spending tracker and they give you instructions on how to do this. It is you can use it on the go. It’s basically a Google questionnaire that you fill out as you spend.

You can do it on your phone. Every time you make a purchase you put it in there and for the first couple of weeks I would say look at the results, but don’t really beat yourself up over it. After a month of tracking your spending go in and really look at what exactly you’re spending. You will be surprised at how much money you’re spending on things that you really didn’t need.

You didn’t want, you didn’t care about. You could get cheaper some place else with a little tweak and once you’ve tracked your spending then you can go in and make a budget. Then you can say, “Okay I want to direct $500 of my income of my expenses. I want $500 to go to groceries or I could probably get by on $300 in groceries.” Or gas or whatever it is your spending. Look and see where you can cut your spending and maybe food is really important to you. Look at other things that you can cut that aren’t so important to you. One of my favorite things to say is save where you can so you can spend on what’s important.

Scott: Yes, I love it and another option also is I use Mint.com and I also use PersonalCapital.com. I actually plug in my bank accounts to both and I track different things with both of those sites. Well Mint actually has my total net worth including my retirement accounts and all of that kind of stuff and real estate equity and all of that. Personal capital does not include some of the real estate stuff because it’s just I don’t want to rely on those estimates to track my net worth and I don’t want to rely on retirement accounts.

Anyways, if you put these—this stuff into Mint for example, it will actually show all of the transactions and if you spend, if you’re like me and you spend most of your money through credit cards and debit cards this site will actually show all of those transactions and you don’t have to go through the process of recording all of your spending over the next month. You can actually look back at last month or the months before and make that and do that exercise right now. It will take you maybe 30 minutes to go ahead and actually see where your money is going.

I completely agree that this is the first step. Knowing where your money is going is a first step in terms of figuring out what actually are the levers that you can pull, that you can make a big change in your personal finances. Glaring weaknesses will be exposed for almost every one of these areas. You’ll be like, “Wow, I had no idea I was spending so many dollars on Buffalo wings or beer at the local brewery or whatever.” These are things that I regularly struggle with.

Mindy: Yes. As you have shared with us.

Scott: Then you have to be like, “Hey what can I actually make a change on?” You know one good one for me was I signed up for a second gym membership so I have I get the Costco membership at a 24 hour fitness, but I wasn’t going and I wanted to work out with my girlfriend so I got a second gym membership for a month or two while we went through this workout kick. I forgot to cancel it. Tracking your spending reveals that on that third month so I don’t waste money for six more months. It’s just a very simple exercise without even actually cutting back anything you may find things that will just save you hundreds or thousands of dollars a year.

Mindy: Yes, and okay so you just laid out like 50 things that I want to talk about. Okay so you said that you track your money on Mint and Personal Capital. I do too. They’re amazing programs. How much do you pay for Mint and Personal Capital?

Scott: I don’t pay anything for them.

Mindy: I don’t pay anything either and that’s what I wanted to hear you say because this is a free way to track your spending. It’s a free way to see what’s going on in your personal financial situation. Why would you not take advantage of free? You said something about you use credit cards and debit cards and that’s how you’re able to track your spending. This is something that some people really struggle with. I only want to pay cash the, what is it the Dave Ramsey envelop system where you.

Scott: Yes.

Mindy: You take all of your money and you put it into envelopes that are labeled you know groceries. I have $300 in my grocery envelope. If I spend it all I have no more money for groceries for the rest of the month. That’s a really great way to get your spending back on track, but then you lose out on credit card rewards and things like that so if you need really need help spending you know tracking your money in that way and that solid cash in hand way that’s a great way to do that, but you’re not able to use Mint.com so easily. Again you go back to you know the spending tracker that the Waffles on Wednesday people shared with us. Or even just something so simple as writing everything down in a notebook.

Scott: Yes.

Mindy: You just want to know where your money is going.

Scott: I agree there’s a million different ways to work to do this and pencil and paper can work just as well as Mint or Excel or you know on the extreme we had Nick and Alyssa Paris talking about their multi dimensional banking system where they have like eight different bank accounts and they project out every major expense and save up for it throughout the year. Like all of these things work and it’s just what works for you, but the basic premise is understand where your dollars are going and be able to categorize it across the major types of things that you’re purchasing and then look for opportunities to cut that will have a very limited impact or no impact on your happiness. Things that are just waste and that’s the very first step I think in cutting back on spending.

Mindy: Yes, I totally agree. Now your little note about getting a second gym membership and then forgetting to cancel it, your computer, your email account, your cell phone is a great way to keep track of things like this. You know put a note in your calendar. Cancel gym membership on this day. Pay bills on this day. If you’re having a hard time keeping your bills paid.

If you’re you know whatever you want to remind yourself it pops up in your email. It pops up in your computer screen. It pops up in your phone. That’s a really great way to keep track of things at least until you get in the habit of doing it.

Start tracking your spending. Put a thing at the end of the day. Did you track your spending? If not go back and do it now.

Save every receipt. When I go to the gas station I hit no receipt because I don’t want to waste paper. In the beginning save every receipt. Take your receipts and make sure that you’re writing them down. Put a checkmark on it. Whatever you need to do it. If you’re serious about getting your financial house in order it’s going to take a little work. Not a ton of work, but it is going to take a little work. You’re just breaking a habit or starting a habit that you’ve never been in before.

Scott: Now once you’ve started tracking your spending you’re going to see the categories of expense right. One of my favorite things, I’m a numbers geek to so I have these numbers memorized because I use them a lot, but the National Bureau of Labor statistics tracks averages across America for major spending categories and if you look at this and you break it down to a pie chart which of course I did you’ll see that the major expenses for Americans to over two thirds of expense come in three categories. Housing, which is 33% of American households spending.

Transportation, which is 17% 33 plus 17 is 50% so that’s half of your spending right there for an average American. Then 13% is food so we’re almost at two thirds, 63% between these three categories alone, housing, transportation, and food. Let’s go ahead and dive into these three categories because you know the remaining stuff, the budgeting that we just talked about is really going to only impact you on your food in the short term and then this entertainment fun section, which is really only about 20% of American household spending. There’s a limited amount of opportunity you can do there, but the good news is that’s immediate and you may realize those impacts right after you begin tracking your spending. Housing, transportation, and food, these things might take a little longer to kind of make significant cuts on. Let’s walk through these one by one. For housing, both Mindy and I have actually kind of figured out some ways to really use our housing, the way we live to contribute to our networth and financial freedom. Mindy, you want to reference what you’re doing with the live in flips?

Mindy: Yes so I buy ugly houses. I buy houses that are a horrible color, they have shag carpeting, gross old appliances, but are habitable. I can move into them. There is not a mold issue or meth issue or you know any sort of structural issue that would make it unsafe for me to live in with my family. We move in and we start tearing it apart.

We take out all of the ugly. We replace it with beautiful and we live there for two years. This is a really important distinction because the government has given me and $500,000 freebie. Up to $500,000 because I’m married. Scott yours is only $250 because you are not yet married.

What this is is a capital gains exclusion. I pay no capital gains on the sale of my home if I’ve lived there for two years as my primary residence up to $500,000 as a married person. Scott would be up to $250,000 as a single person. What this means is I buy a house.

My current house I paid $176,000 for this, two bedroom, one bath, really ugly house. I added a second story. It’s now four bedrooms and three bathrooms. I have completely redone almost everything, Daphne’s room is last, but once I get her room done every room has been touched in this house. It is now worth I could probably put it on the market for $550,000 and sell it almost instantly. It really looks beautiful. My husband and I have done most of the work ourselves and he’s really really talented.

Scott: How much equity have you created in the last few years?

Mindy: I have I have probably put a hundred thousand dollars into the house so I started off now my base cost is $276,000 and it’s worth $550,000 so what is that? $275,000-ish?

Scott: That’s incredible and all of that is tax-free. That’s like earning a $300,000 in income, $350,000 or $400,000 in salary over those years.

Mindy: Right.

Scott: That’s equivalent of that.

Mindy: I was a stay-at-home mom for two-three of these years. My husband was working a little bit. It’s not that hard to do. You do project by project. We did the bathroom in a weekend.

We did the kitchen in a really long weekend. I painted the walls on the weekends. We did the deck over the course of a couple weekends. It’s work. Nobody is just going to say, “Oh did you want to $275,000 here?” Except for the government.

The government is like, “Oh you know how you just made that worth more money? I’ll just give you a pass.” That’s how I hack my housing. I buy an ugly house that nobody else wants to live in. I make it look really pretty. Now everybody wants to live in it so I sell it to them and then I go find another ugly house and move in and start all over. I’ve done this eight times and I’ve made about a hundred thousand dollars on each flip.

Scott: Unbelievable.

Mindy: Yes so.

Scott: Awesome.

Mindy: That’s no small chunk of change.

Scott: Yes so on my end I have I do a different type of house hacking, which is I guess a term that Brandon Turner coined a few years ago. I buy so far duplexes, move into half of them. Take a roommate and then rent out the other portion of the duplex so both of them have been two bed, one bath units, and duplexes.

Mindy: Let’s talk about your first property that you did this with. How much did you pay for the house?

Scott: I paid $240,000. I put down $12,000. I probably put in another $8,000 into it over the three-four months since buying it. Got the nicer unit ready. Rented that out to somebody else while I slept in the other one.

Got a roommate for my unit and then I had $1,700 in rent between the roommate and the other unit. Then $1,550 in mortgage expense. Now that property is worth probably $400-$450,000 and rent is for about $2,800 a month on a $1,400 mortgage. I refinanced the mortgage, which lowered my interest rate and now I’m doing another, I live in another duplex doing the same thing. I probably should have moved out a year ago, but I like living there now. I’m a little less aggressive about the house hacking right now in terms of moving on to the next property and this property I actually now live in the upper unit with my girlfriend and the lower unit rents for about probably $1,200-$1,300 on a $2,000 mortgage so.

Mindy: In the first house you took before you moveD there, you are paying rent somewhere. What was your rent-ish?

Scott: My rent prior to that was probably $550. I was also living with a roommate and I probably had utilities about $60-$75 bucks a month.

Mindy: Okay so let’s call that $600 a month. You were paying out $600 a month. By purchasing a two unit house and renting out one and one bedroom, you’re now positive $250 every single month.

Scott: Yes, I was probably breaking about even because I was still responsible. I was responsible for more utilities as the landlord.

Mindy: Oh okay.

Scott: With all that cash flow coming out I was probably breaking about even, but I was managing it myself. I got my tools all of that kind of stuff. Didn’t have the vacancies so I was every month, my cash was not being depleted by the $550 it was prior to the move in.

Mindy: Yes.

Scott: Which is a huge benefit.

Mindy: Did you feel the deprived living in this bedroom, in this house that you now own?

Scott: The first duplex was definitely a downgrade from my apartment living previously. I was not hosting parties or friends over at this place. My new house, which is not as I just shared the numbers is not as good as that first property, but is still a significant bonus to renting anywhere in the city. I do love living there and do have, will have people over from time to time and have a great situation that’s really convenient to work.

Mindy: One little patch of inconvenience. I don’t I wouldn’t say it’s a terrible house. The first one I thought that was cute.

Scott: Yes.

Mindy: You could have had parties there.

Scott: I’m very happy I did that and I will take the nearly $200,000 in equity created and large amounts of cash flow that have been generated over the last four years for the small inconvenience of spending 15 months in a place that was not my ideal location. Absolutely that was a really good financial investment for me and over all huge benefit to my life for sure.

Mindy: Yes, definitely a good idea and I know there’s some people that are listening that are saying, “Oh well I am married. I have kids. I can’t move.” Well could you fix up your house? How bad do you want it? I don’t want to be you know mean and rude. If you’re not willing to do anything then you can’t ever have financial independence. Maybe housing is something that really means a lot to you. Look at your and other expenses. This is just one place to cut, but like Scott said this is what did you say 37%?

Scott: Yes and all of this is a matter of degree as well. Right housing is a major expense on your budget. It’s going to be almost certainly if you’re anything like a normal American right. If you want to move towards financial freedom you have to say to what degree am I willing to change this to make this a better investment right.

Like that to me wasn’t a huge sacrifice. I was just living with a roommate in not my ideal part of town. Right, but Craig who we’re going to interview shortly, a guy that works at our office, he slept on the couch right. Like right near where I bought my first duplex. He actually went a step further, bought a duplex and instead of making a room, he slept on the couch so he could Air BNB out his room, which is another level of extreme right. That’s even farther over degree then where I took it. There’s everything in between. There is how you do it. You live in a nice home that’s under construction a lot of the time for the first year or so.

Mindy: Yes, yes it is. It’s a big dusty mess, but I am willing to trade a year of comfort for a nice big fat paycheck. Now Scott alluded to Craig’s interview. It’s actually coming out next week so spoiler alert. Craig has some house hacking tips.

Craig has a lot of life hacking tips and I’m really really really excited to share that episode because Craig as a kid. I call him a kid because he’s what is he? Twenty-four or something? I’m not so I can call him a kid.

Craig is a kid who has really figured it out and I’m kind of jealous of how together his life is at such a young age. He’s just going to kill it and he’s another one of those guys that loves what he does so it doesn’t seem like work. He’s going to continue to work, but he’s not really like I’ve had some jobs where every day was like ugh I can’t believe I have to go to this place again. I hate everything I do. Now I’ve got this really awesome job that I love so Craig’s just like that.

Scott: The slowest way to move toward financial independence or financial freedom with your housing decision is to buy a house that stretches your you know that requires 40% of your cash flow to cover the mortgage right or the other expenses related to the housing or to rent and have 40% of that right. If you’re stretching yourself to your financial limits to qualify for rent or mortgage that’s the slowest way, the slowest decision you can possibly make toward financial freedom. On the other extreme, what Craig is doing, renting out your bedroom to sleep on the couch so you could have extra cash is probably the fastest way. Right that without short of living under a bridge. Somewhere in between that spectrum is a point that should be a right I think for most listeners and you have to decide where that is. Is it more towards qualifying, the biggest piece, nicest piece of property you can possibly qualify for and renting out your bedroom or taking on a roommate or whatever this that seems extreme to you on the cost saving side. Somewhere in between is the right choice I think.

Mindy: Yes, I agree and Craig is actually got even more fantastic tips.

Scott: The next so that’s housing right and so there’s got to be there’s something you know hopefully that gets you thinking about how do I make some changes to my housing over the next few years. This is not going to be an overnight change like cutting out your subscriptions you don’t use anymore. Hopefully that gives you some ideas about what you can do over the next few years to maybe make a dent on that housing situation. The second kind of major category of expense is transportation. For this kind of discussion we’ll break transportation into two buckets.

We have car transportation to and from work relating to your commute and the vehicle of choice that you have and then travel for vacations or leisure or to visit family or whatever. We actually have two episodes I think that cover the options surrounding these. First let’s talk about Mr. Money Mustache and what he does to eliminate his transportation expense.

Mindy: Yes, Mr. Money Mustache joined us for our inaugural episode number one and he just dropped knowledge bomb after knowledge bomb. He rides his bike everywhere. I actually live in the same town that he lives in and I see him on his bike all the time. He doesn’t take his car hardly ever and when he does, he has an electric vehicle, which has saved him an enormous amount of money just on fuel costs. Right now, he doesn’t drive a Tesla, which is you know one of the most well known electric vehicles. He drives a Nissan Leaf so it’s significantly less expensive than the Tesla. Still same price for gas. Nothing because it plugs up with the electric.

Scott: Well what I love about Mr. Money Mustache is that he is you know it’s a two-part decision. You know while he was building his net worth. While he was working towards financial independence he chose to live in a place that was within biking distance of work. Right and he used that as his major means of transportation. He still does today.

What I think is brilliant about what he does is it’s not just a numbers thing. Although course, he’s done the numbers to show that it’s more efficient to live your life while biking and eliminating your reliance on a car transportation, but it’s a happiness thing. What I thought was so great about his interview was how he goes into hey these types of changes they’re not just going to save you money to help you move toward financial independence which is great. They’re going to make you happier.

They’re going to make your life more fulfilling. It’s better to get some exercise and bike to work and not pollute the environment than it is to drive a gas guzzler to car every day costing you money and hurting the environment and making you weak. You know because it’s tough when you’re not biking or using your human power to control your life so.

Mindy: I drive to work when I come into the office. I’m only in the office two days a week generally and I do drive to work because I am 40 miles away and that’s significant.

Scott: Yes.

Mindy: If I were going to be into the office every day of the week I would consider coming closer, moving my house closer to the office because 40 miles is a long way to drive, but as I’m sitting in traffic sometimes Google maps will route me down the expressway and sometimes it will route me down the more local roads. As I’m going down the local roads, sitting in traffic here comes this bicyclist passing me because I’m not going anywhere. You can’t go faster than the car in front of you and when they’re stopped you are too or you should be or you quickly will be, bam. The bicycles just keep going. There is almost no traffic for a bicyclist so not only is your physical well-being getting stronger and more healthy. Your mental well-being is getting stronger and more healthy because you’re not sitting there swearing at the guy in front of you who just cut you off. Nobody is cutting you off. There’s not that many bicyclist on the road.

Scott: One thing that strikes me like a memory I always have when I talk about this is I’m biking to work one day and I pull up at a stoplight next to a shiny bright red F250 pickup truck and you know it’s this big burly guy driving it. He looks tough and he looks like the kind of guy you would expect to see driving. I’m getting ready to zoom past him and he goes, he yells at the window, “Sucks to be poor,” to me on my bicycle. I just remember being caught so unawares by this comment and being like wow like what is going on there? Like how do I respond to this?

I’m like it’s much more efficient because I just you know zoomed past him while he’s waiting in line for this light and I’m going faster. I’m like I’m saving so much money on this bicycle and he’s probably having the complete opposite effect on his commute to work. He’s sitting in this thing and he’s probably got a loan on it. It’s depreciating rapidly as a brand-new truck. I just remember being like wow like what a different philosophy of life that I’ve developed from what this guy has you know.

Mindy: Yes and that story makes me laugh every single time because you’re not poor.

Scott: Yes, well I was just. It was just.

Mindy: He’s just making this assumption.

Scott: Yes, absolutely.

Mindy: Oh he doesn’t have a car therefore he must be poor. Now in your real life does it matter what that guy thinks of you? No you don’t care because you know the truth.

Scott: I’m building wealth because I’m biking. Appearances can be deceiving I think on these things and I think the lesson for transportation is yes biking is great, walking is great, but again if we’re talking about housing the most absurd choice, not the most absurd choice. That’s the wrong word. The most inefficient choice for financial freedom is to buy the house that stretches you to your absolute maximum on your financial limits. The same is true for a car. Buying that F250 pickup truck for $35,000 and financing it and then driving on a long commute every day to work is the slowest or one of the slowest ways to move toward financial independence.

The fastest way is to get rid of the car altogether and bike everywhere or do what Craig does. We’ll reference Craig again and rent out on Turo or whatever. We’re giving away his whole show so we’ll let him talk about all of this in more detail.

Mindy: Yes, we should not, we should not give a ways whole show. Also I made a mistake. Craig is not next week. He’s in three weeks. Episode 33.

Scott: Got you.

Mindy: By then everybody will have forgotten all of the spoilers we’ve given them.

Scott: Okay good.

Mindy: It’s still a really awesome show. Craig, he’s just killing it at life.

Scott: Yes, but you know if that’s the most efficient way to moved toward fi and the F250 is the slowest. Somewhere in the middle is the reasonable one and I think where I would suggest or maybe I’d venture to say Mr. Money Mustache would suggest is live within biking distance of work and if you’re going to have a car get something that’s paid in cash that’s a highly efficient vehicle and use it when you need to resort to it. That’s what I’d sort of lean to. I’m not as good about biking as I like to think I am, but I do have a almost paid off Toyota Corolla and I think that’s a fairly efficient route towards financial freedom.

Mindy: Yes and just because you’re living close enough to work doesn’t mean you have to bike every single day. Aim to bike one day a week. Then after that’s a habit aim to bike twice a week. Aim to bike every other day to work. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing.

I think that some people can kind of get caught up in that oh I’ve got to cut out all of my spending. I can’t ever have fun. Well that’s not true you can go see a movie. Just don’t see a hundred movies a month. You can rent a movie on Red Box. You can rent a movie on Red Box or get Netflix for the cost of one movie at the movie theater. If it’s a really awesome movie that you want to see at the movie theater then go ahead and do that. You don’t have to cut out everything just cut out the things that are stupid and frivolous and that don’t change your life.

Scott: Another thing I’ll add about biking I’m sorry we’re harping on the biking so much, but is that I find on days that I bike to work that I don’t even know where my wallet is. Like it’s somewhere in my bag that I carry to work every day. I don’t even use it because when I bike to work I pack my lunch. I plan for the day because I might need things that I can’t go just go back and fetch. I can’t just like store them in my car. You plan out your day and you don’t spend money.

You know how absurd is it? Are you going to sit in line at Chick-Fil-A in the drive through on your bicycle? You know obviously that would never happen right. You’re never going to run this like unnecessary errand that would occur all of the time at a car on a bicycle. It’s kind of hilarious to think about that that image because it’s so unrealistic.

Mindy: I picture you in the line. That’s funny.

Scott: Yes, maybe I’ll do that one day just for fun.

Mindy: Get a video tape of you doing that. Okay so we talked about transportation, your everyday transportation. Let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about vacation transportation. I will continue to tell the story forever. Sometimes I feel a little maternal toward Scott because he was born after I graduated from high school.

That always makes me feel young. I came into Scott’s office may be a year ago and I said, “Hey Scott. I want to tell you about this concept of travel hacking or credit card hacking.” You know where you open up credit cards and you earn points and then you can travel for free or almost free. He’s like well you know I’ve got my Southwest card and it gives me 1% cash back.

I’m good. I was actually really proud of myself for not pushing it because I tend to be kind of bossy and I’d be like, “No no really let me tell you it’s way better.” I was like okay you know should you ever be interested, there’s this really great episode of the Choose FI podcast episode number nine where they talk about travel hacking. Then I don’t want to just reference that episode anymore. I want to interview somebody on my podcast about travel hacking so on podcast episode number 27 we interviewed Lee Huffman about credit card hacking and travel hacking and he had some pretty amazing tips that I had never even heard of before.

Scott: That episode I think the episode 27 is kind of like your PhD, a BiggerPockets Money Show, BiggerPockets.com/MoneyShows27 is kind of like an advanced degree in travel rewards and all of these different possibilities. I do love our friends over at Choose FI and they did convert me so their episode nine I think is a good intro to the concept of travel hacking. What really kind of got my mind morphing on this and I will say for travel hacking and this is the concept of getting, opening up new credit cards, hitting them minimum spend to hit their sign up bonuses and collecting significant airline miles or credit card points that you can redeem for travel is what their kind of the what most people instinctively think of. Lee Huffman shows that you can also use these rewards for other types of spending as well. There’s an opportunity here to travel for an extremely low cost or buy nice things with credit card points just on your normal spending.

I guess personally this was a huge revelation for me like you said and something that I right and you know and you rightfully could say I told you so because I did not think about this before hand. I will say that after opening up a few credit cards I found it a little overwhelming to have all of these cards. It wasn’t tracking my own spending. You know here I am I talk about personal finance every week on this show and I was losing a little track of my own spending because of the confusion for the cards. I think that for me there is a huge benefit to these travel hacking cards. I got the Southwest companion pass, which we can talk about on episode 27.

Mindy: Jealous.

Scott: I did not. I am actually slowing down my credit card churning nowadays and putting my spending into two cards that I think would be the most prime benefits and could get it simplified. There’s a huge spectrum here. You can go the whole distance and open up 50 cards and collect thousands and thousands of dollars of points if you’re organized and ready to take on that challenge or you can just take the benefits that make sense to you and are really applicable. The Southwest companion pass allows me to get a basically a two for one deal on every flight where I can bring my girlfriend along when I go to visit my parents or go on vacation or go to weddings. That is a huge huge cost saver to me. That I think outweighs many other benefits of just you know 50,000 points here or there.

Mindy: Yes and not every point is worth the same. When I lived in Chicago, Chicago is in American Airlines hub and I got 100,000 British Airways points. British Airways has partnered with American Airlines so in America when you book a British Airways flight you’ll typically fly on American. American is the cheapest way to fly to Hawaii. When I lived in Chicago a hub of American, I could fly to Hawaii for very cheap.

It was very easy to use those points. I got a lot of points. I opened a card, my husband opened a card. We hit 200,000 British Airways points.

We moved to Denver, which is not an American hub. Now those points are significantly more difficult to use and therefore worth significantly less to me so that’s not a card that I choose to pursue anymore. I pursue the Southwest cards because we’re always on Southwest. We’ve got a couple of hotel cards. We’ve got like a regular general card and we did also get caught up in the opening up too many cards and trying to hit that minimum spend on too many things and missing it on a card.

Now you’re like well great I just spent almost $4,000 on a card that’s going to get me almost 4,000 points as opposed to the 50,000 plus almost 4,000 points that I would have gotten if I would have hit that spend because I wasn’t paying attention. In podcast episode 27, Lee gives a couple of tips on how to keep track of them. There’s a wallet that you can use to track where your points are, when they are expiring and he goes a step further when I was doing my credit card churning there is not a card right now that I’m trying to get a spend on, but when I’m so I still do it when it’s a good idea for me. I’m not out there opening 50 cards because I don’t have the mental bandwidth right now and that’s okay.

I get a discount on when I can get a discount on. One of the tips that he gave was when you buy a stacking, stacking rewards points together and a great example of this is my local grocery store will frequently offer four times fuel rewards points on gift card purchases. If I’m trying to hit a minimum spend I can go to the grocery store and use my credit card to buy gift cards. Then when I buy them during the four times fuel rewards every dollar that I spend gives me four dollar or four points off of fuel rewards, which is like 10 cents off my gallon on gas so I can pay in this market where gas is like three dollars a gallon.

I can pay a dollar fifty for a gallon of gas so I’m saving money on gas while making my minimum spend and getting all of these travel rewards points and also getting gift cards that I’m going to use later. Maybe I get Christmas presents for it. Maybe I’m just buying store, like grocery store gift points, whatever, but this isn’t a way to stack it so you’re getting benefits for more than one program. That’s not something that I ever really considered until Lee brought it up.

Scott: Awesome, I think it’s fantastic and I think that that’s yet another way to defray transportation expenses where you can get money back on gas. Right with these kinds of credit card points.

Mindy: Right.

Scott: I think for transportation in general it’s really about making a smart vehicle decision, trying to situate your house and your work as close together as practical and then making an intelligent decision about where you should begin with your travel rewards. I think that a lot of listeners would really benefit from seriously considering at least opening up the two cards that help you get a Southwest companion pass. If you’re in United States that’s a big benefit that assuming that you’re near an airport that has reasonable number of Southwest flights. That’s a two-for-one deal that I think is a good starting point for a lot of people and then exploring all of these things that you just said that makes sense in your personal situation where you can get huge returns on cards that make sense.

Mindy: Yes, and one last tip about credit card rewards is credit card churning and travel hacking is this is really only feasible and really only makes financial sense when you’re able to pay off the balance every month. If you have a huge debt load you know this might not be the option for you right now.

Scott: Yes, yes this episode by the way is really assuming I think for the most part that you’re starting from scratch without any bad habits and bad debts right. Those will we can talk about in a future episode of how to tackle from a negative starting position for sure.

Mindy: Yes, so the third topic that we’re going to talk about, the last of the big three is food and as a mom as the probably 99% preparer of food in my house I enjoy food. Food is my thing. I really love cooking. I wanted to interview Erin Chase from Five Dollar Dinners as close to episode one as I possibly could because I think she’s got a really great plan there. I think she’s got a really great idea and when we interviewed her Scott sat there with his mouth open. Oh my goodness I can’t believe it. The whole time he was like I didn’t know that was a thing. I just learned something. I learned something else and his eyes were just opened and how much money did you save on groceries like the next week?

Scott: I saved a lot of money so.

Mindy: It’s like he cut his grocery bill in half just by listening to these tips.

Scott: Yes.

Mindy: That Aaron shared in episode three so if you have not yet listened to episode three you need to. BiggerPockets.com/MoneyShow3.

Scott: I will say one side effect of her show is that I now look for what meat is going to be on sale at the local grocery stores and I am a big fan of steaks so I go and get like New York strip steaks four for like $25 bucks. I’m actually spending more on meat, but I’m eating much better meat. You know I’m a kind of cursed from Erin’s show of helping me find these discounts.

Mindy: That’s a really great tip though. If you are a meat eater look for what’s on sale. Shop the grocery store specials. Like get your circular and have an idea of what you’re going to make with pork or chicken or steak or what a roast. Or whatever it is you’re going to make and then build your whole week around what’s on sale meat wise.

Scott: Yes or go oh this King Soopers has ribeyes for like 60% off. I’m getting ribeyes for the whole week.

Mindy: You can freeze them. We’re just getting out of the holiday season, July 4th was just a couple of weeks ago and that’s a really great time to stock up on your meat purchases. Put them in the freezer and have meat for several weeks afterwards. The Labor Day is still coming up.

August doesn’t really have much going on. It’s so hot though nobody ever wants to go outside anyway, but Labor Day will have more meat on sale so look at what’s on sale. Start paying attention to what prices are. How do you know what’s on sale? How do you know what a good price is if you don’t know what the regular prices are? Grocery store prices fluctuate considerably so look at what’s on sale. Recognize the low prices and stock up when there is a good sale if you have the room. If you don’t have the room then don’t stock up on stuff that’s just going to rot.

Scott: Absolutely. Great tip and I think that for a long time I regarded food as hey if I just go to reasonable grocery stores and make reasonable purchases I’m going to do the bulk of the work here. That is probably a good step for most people if your food budget is out of control, you’re eating out a lot. Just having a meal that you’ve prepared from a reasonable grocery store prepared. Why not just go ahead and listen to that episode three, BiggerPockets.com/MoneyShow3 and take the advice that Erin gives and go ahead and save even more right off the bat. Just get that really efficient shopping habit started immediately to save tons of money on your grocery bills.

Mindy: Yes.

Scott: Something that I was missing out on for awhile.

Mindy: She is a mother of four extremely active boys and you know they’re getting really really big. Boys eat a lot so do girls. This myth that girls don’t eat as much as boys is complete garbage. My girls even more than I do. They’re just, food consumption.

Scott: I wonder what will happen at the—between the ages of 15 and 18. That’s when boys really begin eating I think a lot more than girls.

Mindy: That is true. Finally my girls will kind of level off and her boys will go crazy. She’s spending almost nothing on groceries.

Scott: We go through two or three gallons of milk a week between me and my brother.

Mindy: Yes.

Scott: At that period so.

Mindy: My girls are going through two gallons of milk right now.

Scott: Yes.

Mindy: They’re 11 and eight so.

Scott: Alright maybe I’m wrong.

Mindy: Well I guess Carl also drinks some. Okay anyway nobody cares about how much milk I drink.

Scott: I think that that alongside that meal prepping is just you know when the food budget for me gets out of control when I forget to bring lunch to work or don’t have snacks around that are healthy. You know if I have some healthy nuts, some healthy fruits, and a prepared lunch I’m not going to go and spend a lot of money at going out to eat or whatever. I just don’t forget because I’m not married to this. I don’t think anybody is, but the more I do it, the more I save, and the healthier I eat. The better off I am.

Mindy: Yes. Okay one thing that your little top three 65% of spending doesn’t take into account is childcare. I don’t know if it doesn’t take into account childcare because that’s not an expense for everybody or if it isn’t as big an expense as it seems. It is a pretty hefty expense and we’re trying to get more people who can speak to this, different ways that they have saved money on childcare and one of those people reached out to us, Alyssa Paros from episode 29. She wanted to share how she has handled childcare in her family.

Scott: Yes so I think what Nick and Alyssa have done is Alyssa went down to four days a week. Has childcare for one day a week, one or two days a week and then has they live near both sets of grandparents and they help out with that as well. She has been able to kind of considerably reduce the cost of childcare through lifestyle, family, and work arrangements, a combination of those three things. I think that’s as good an example of how to defray these costs as maybe out there for a working professional.

Guess what some people aren’t going to have that advantage. Some people aren’t going to live near grandparents or family that can help out in defraying those expenses. Some people aren’t going to live in places where they can have neighbors or friends watch their kids or help out in a pinch and are going to have to shell out a lot more in childcare expense. Everybody, every family it’s going to have to deal with the situation differently and use the advantages that are available to them to help kind of with these things and moving away from family I think has a cost.

Right, I live in Denver. My parents live in Maryland. If I ever want to have kids you know and I’m in Denver that’s going to be a challenge for me and it’s going to be a direct result of my choice to move across the country away from where I grew up and away from that support network. I think you know that decision should hopefully come with may be income opportunities that allow you to defray those costs. I think there’s going to be a lot of examples as we interview more and more families of unique ways that people do it. Chris and Debbie Emick from show number 25 for example, I think Debbie left her job to watch the kids full-time.

Mindy: That’s how I handled childcare when I had kids. I wanted to stay home with my kids first and foremost, but I also wasn’t making very much money at that time. It wasn’t really difficult to say, “Oh well I can go back to work and work 40 hours a week to just barely afford the childcare, which is pretty much a net zero to my family or I could stay home.” We actually planned and saved a little bit before we had kids so that I could stay home.

I wanted to stay home. I stayed home for eight years. My husband had a great job. He was able to work from home even. It was that’s another way to look at it is how much is it going to cost you for childcare versus how much are you bringing in? If you’re bringing enough that makes it worth it. Maybe that’s not even a concern for you. If you’re not making enough two make it worth it, possibly staying at home maybe even taking care of somebody else’s child for a nominal amount of income could be a better choice for you.

Scott: Yes and the reason why by the way this doesn’t show up on the national average for American spending as a major category is probably because this expense is very serious and very you know formidable, but it’s really for the first five or so years of the child’s life that that’s just really going to be as big an expense. Right after that they’re going to go to school full-time and that’s going to be I think that’s going to help offset a lot of that expense. That’s only for most— the average American is only going to have this expense for five to eight years, however long they have children in that range that are going to need full-time childcare.

Mindy: Right then you’ve got summers and you’ve got a lot more options once your kid is in school. There’s a lot of summer day camps that are run by your local cities, parks and recreation district and those are a lot of fun. My kids went there the first year that I was working while my husband was still working. Now I am fortunate enough to have reached FI.

My husband quit his job that he did not enjoy and now he, I don’t want to say he watches the kids because he doesn’t. He takes care of them, but they’re his kids. He’s not babysitting. He’s just taking care of them. Now he takes care of the kids in the summer time and we will swap what some families that have a family that we were swapping two days a week they were there and two days a week they were at our house.

When all of the kids are together you also have an opportunity to kind of get things done because the kids are playing with each other and they don’t. Bother you is not the right word. They’re not constantly asking you for things to do or you’re not breaking up fights because they’re playing by themselves and having great time.

Scott: Yes and I think with childcare there’s no one right answer. You’re going to see different families from different places in the country handling these situations differently using their unique circumstances to the best of their ability. Having a child does not change the math of approaching financial freedom. You still have to save more money, earn more money, and invest intelligently in order to build your wealth. You’re going to have to work with the situation that you’ve got to the best of your ability to move forward with that. We plan on interviewing a lot of our families as we go, but I think that will and we’ll continue to see more perspectives on this as well. I’m excited to do that.

Mindy: Yes I am too and another idea is nanny shares. If you have one child and your neighbor has one child. It’s relatively easy for you both to hire one nanny and share the cost. It’s going to be more expensive. The nanny is going to bring in more money, but it’s actually less expensive for you and you have a more focused child care experience because the person caring for your child is only caring for yours and one other.

Scott: Awesome. Well the last kind of topic I want to talk about with the saving front is just this concept of if you want it bad enough you can make these things happen. We’re going to talk to Craig in a few weeks and he’s someone who wants it badly and he’s going to be a great example of this. Someone that we’ve already interviewed is Sarah Wilson from episode six, BiggerPockets.com/MoneyShow6. Sarah never earned more than like a $30,000 salary and was able to pay off $30,000 of student loan debts in like three years.

Mindy: Three years by just hitting it as hard as she can. She decided when she graduated college she did not want this debt hanging over her head forever. She knocked it out of the park. She did everything she could, every extra dollar she had she threw at her debt. She picked up side jobs.

She picked up like extra jobs. She had really low cost entertainment with her friends who were all kind of in the same boat. They didn’t have a lot of money so instead of going out to eat she would invite people over this is my favorite tip from her show. She would invite people over for a baked potato party. I will supply the baked potatoes. How much is a bag of baked potatoes? It’s like a five pound bag is about three dollars. Somebody else will bring the butter and somebody else will bring the bacon. Somebody else will bring the cheese.

Scott: Can’t you make vodka out of potatoes too? Just kidding that’s my analogy. Yes.

Mindy: I think that is how you make vodka. I’ve never made vodka though. That’s interesting. Okay so send us your vodka recipes at.

Scott: It’s a raging potato party. It’s a raging potato party. You can you know it’s a very low cost. How much does it cost for a bag of cheese?

A couple of dollars. It’s even less expensive if you buy it in bulk and then shred it yourself, but that’s kind of a pain in the butt. A stick of butter. How much is that? How much is some steamed broccoli? How much is you know a little bit of bacon? All of these people coming together, making a meal that costs in total what $10-$15 for you know 10 people to eat. That’s nothing and then you still have potatoes coming out of your ears forever because you can never get through it. Five pound bag of potatoes. I can’t.

Scott: This hustle was necessary for Sarah. She had of debt and did not have an income that was going to be able to afford her the luxury of living a you know middle-class, upper-middle-class lifestyle and still pay on that debt. She had to do this. She did it.

Now she’s on a much better position and is able to begin building significant wealth. Right I look forward to having her on the show again maybe in a year or two and seeing what she’s done now that she’s gotten back to zero. Right this if you’re privileged enough to earn a median to upper-middle-class income for your family you don’t have to do that. You should be able to save a significant amount of money without doing that and use these types of stories as inspiration to help you kind of make those changes that you can begin saving if you don’t have money and still living in relative luxury.

To recap what we’ve kind of talked about here. I mean Sarah Wilson embodies this general hustle, but it’s understanding where your expenses are coming from. It’s isolating the big ones. If your average is going to be housing, transportation, food, maybe childcare if you have children under five and finding ways to optimize on all those fronts and if you can do this you’re going to drastically reduce the amount of money that is leaving your pocket each month and if you’re able to do it on a permanent basis you’re going to reduce permanently the amount of money that you need to spend in order to sustain financial freedom. It’s a huge drastic improvement and that can accelerate your path to financial independence.

Mindy: Yes and I cannot wait for next week’s episode where we talk about increasing your income and all of the different ways to do that.

Scott: Yes, I mean we’re going to recap some of the best guests we’ve had on the show so far and some of the big themes both on a career front, side hustles, stock investing, real estate, alternative investments. Very excited to talk about that kind of stuff. I can no doubt about it all day as you can imagine.

Mindy: Okay Scott should we get out of here? This one this episode ran really long again. I just I love talking about this stuff.

Scott: Yes so we’re not going to do a famous for because it’s we’ve already me and Mindy have both already done our famous fours on our episodes, which are episode two and episode five of the BiggerPockets Money. Also no jokes this week so I’ll give you double next week.

Mindy: Okay, Scott for the BiggerPockets Money podcast episode 30, this is Mindy Jensen over and out.

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In This Episode We Cover:

  • The importance of self-education
  • Becoming aware of the concept of early financial independence
  • Motivated by Mr. Money Mustache and Mad Fientist
  • Scott’s stock investing failure
  • Cutting back on spending
  • Tracking money on Mind and Personal Capital
  • Three categories of household expenses: housing, transportation, and food
  • How Mindy flips houses
  • How Scott does his house hacking
  • What Mr. Money Mustache does to eliminate his transportation expense
  • Credit card and travel hacking
  • Cutting the grocery bill in half
  • Handling child care
  • And SO much more!

Links from the Show

Books Mentioned in this Show

Tweetable Topics:

  • “Save where you can so you can spend on what is important.” (Tweet This!)

Connect with the Scott and Mindy

Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.