From 4 Jobs and 3 kids in DC to Mini-Retired in Puerto Rico: A Money Story

C258E823-BE0D-433F-8E54-B8E539B21354This is a culmination of my journey from living paycheck to paycheck to following my dreams.  It’s a long post but if it inspires someone, it’s worth it to put my sh$& out there!


Paycheck to Paycheck



Approximately 50% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck and if we studied the percentage of ADHDers in that category, I’d wager it’s closer to 80%.  I started reading Budgets are Sexy and seriously studying personal finance in 2014. 


At that time our financial situation was dismal.  My husband and I had just purchased a used car to make room for our third baby but owed $30k on it.  I had $30k in student loans from my undergrad plus masters degree.  We had a $2500/month mortgage on a small rancher in the sought-after West End neighborhood of Rockville in the DC suburbs.  

Our income was around $130-$140k/year, but our expenses included preschool, part-time baby sitters, educational testing for our eldest son, too much convenience food, diapers, baby gear, and 2 cars.  In total, we spent about $120k per year (including credit card payments on a debt of $16k).  We were barely saving 10% for retirement and always charged vacations because neither one of us work much in the summer. (I’m a teacher, my husband hosts special events).  We had NO SAVINGS.  Every time we saved, a housing expense would come up and we would blow it within the year. You can read more about my house woes here.


Adjusting to life with 3

In the fall of 2015, I stressed about going back to work.  My eldest son has ADHD and school is a letdown for him.  We had two other children under three as I gave birth to my third that May. We couldn’t afford full-time daycare for two littles.  However, my income was significant enough to our lifestyle that I couldn’t afford to stay home and care for them myself, either. 


Luckily, the entrepreneur in our family (my husband) switched one of his jobs to “work from home.”  He said to his boss of 10 years, “I now have a baby daughter and I can do marketing from home so take it or leave it.” That’s honestly his direct quote.


Making Headway


I truly wanted to improve our financial situation.  Yet, I also craved time with our three children, especially my eldest who needed me as an advocate at his public school.  Inspired by J Money’s sell your stuff series, I began to use Tradesy to sell the brand name handbags and clothing I didn’t wear or use much.  I made about $450 that summer.  I also switched my phone carrier, cut cable and switched car insurance companies.  I saved a total of $200 monthly and started out the school year with hope, but it dissipated fast.


Did I Make the Right Career Choice?


Back at work full time, I was spread too thin.  Teaching in public school requires meetings, excessive accountability and time.  In addition, one of my gifts is building relationships.  As a teacher, I give lots of my energy and attention to the students in my classroom and beyond.  I was teaching 150 13 year-olds a day, then coming home to relieve my husband and care for our new baby and toddler.  His days consisted of diapers, telecommuting for his day job and also preparing for his weekend gigs (his bread and butter).


We Chose Money over Life


I decided we needed to cut back on spending further, so I could work part-time (FYI, there is no such thing as a part-time teacher—I learned the hard way).  I read Your Money or Your Life and realized we were drowning.  Our combined incomes from all 3 jobs were not enough to build a savings cushion as well as put money into our retirement accounts.


We installed a $10k sump pump in our leaky basement, plus spent $6k on a new HVAC system. Both were paid with interest-free loans but the payments were killing us. My husband was behind on retirement because we didn’t even learn about IRA’s until my 2nd child was born.  My husband is self-employed, but, besides a small inheritance we invested from his father, we didn’t start his retirement IRA’s until 2013 and made inconsistent deposits.


Meeting my Mentor


In 2016, I read a guest blog post on J Money’s site.  It was from Jillian Johnsrud at Montana Money Adventures and she talked about “mini-retirements.”  I hadn’t heard of them, but it made sense based on the Financial Independence blogs I read and attempted to apply to our finances.  

Her post resonated with me because it introduced intentional living.  I immediately followed her blog and within 2 months I set up a Skype call.  I wanted to start a side hustle beyond tutoring and I was interested in mini-retirements.  


Starting the Blog


It was a great call.  Jillian is a planner and a pro at mentoring people through transitions.  I told her I was burnt out from teaching in the classroom with three littles of my own.  She had five children under 10 and completely understood the struggle!  I saw things differently after talking to Jillian. I started this blog about raising a child with ADHD and she mentored me through the process.  


The following summer, I was genuinely happy working on something I cared about.  I love writing and helping others, especially students with ADHD.  With the inattentive type, undergrad was a long journey for me, even though I’m a smart chica.  I looked for other ways to make money and build savings by selling my work on sites like Teachers Pay Teachers. My husband ramped up sales for commissions, as well.


Working Towards (Mini) Retirement


I taught part-time for the second year and felt better returning to the classroom because I had a few irons in the fire. At the end of the school year (2017) I took Jillian’s mini-retirement course.  With her guidance and online course lessons, I made a plan to take a year off from teaching.  It seemed crazy, at first, but I was determined and Jillian was unfettered. I sold our second car that summer to save on insurance and maintenance costs.


Becoming Landlords


This past school year we rented our basement so my husband could quit his telework marketing job.  (We paid half of our mortgage with the rental income). Our 3-year-old was at preschool 3 half days/week leaving hubbywith 2 days a week to prep for events. We handled the pay cut with our added rental income, but the tiny space and 1 bathroom for the 5 of us and our dog made for a long winter. We only made $90k last year and were still able to save $5000 plus fund my retirement (I increased my totals from 10 to 15% in 2016).  Dropping the preschool bill for my middle son who entered kindergarten also lightened the load.




The plan has changed over time, but, here it is, the summer of 2019 and I’m not going back to the classroom next fall.  We sold our 1955, expense-ridden house in June.  We made enough to put two years of my husband’s retirement into a few IRA’s.  We also paid off most of our credit card debt and have a year of emergency cushion for the cost of living in Puerto Rico.  My husband will be traveling back 10 times for events in DC from Puerto Rico and I retained a few Spanish tutoring clients through Skype.  We shouldn’t have to touch our emergency fund.  We dropped our cost of living from $75k/year to $30k per year by moving to Puerto Rico (where my husband has family and I went to college).


I’m not sure if I will go back to teaching in a public school setting.  Depending on what happens with my tutoring business and online Spanish courses, I may not have to.  But, I do feel like anything is possible.  As I’ve learned through self-taught finance and J Money’s blog:  freedom > money > stuff.  I cannot wait to get back to Puerto Rico to help with the rebuild efforts there.  It’s a big transition for all of us, but I’m glad my children see us following our dreams.  Isn’t that what money is for?

Published by Family ADDventures

Nicole Santiago is a learning specialist, student advocate, and founder of Family ADDventures. As a specialist, she assesses and teaches clients (adults and adolescents) to manage and grow their executive functioning skills which include emotional regulation, task initiation, and time management. As an advocate (IEP coach), she is a member of COPAA and ensures inclusive (special) education students receive the most appropriate educational services possible. She often collaborates with OT's, SLP's and neuropsychologists all in the name of student improvement and success. Her practice is located in San Antonio, TX, and everywhere (virtually). The author grew up an army brat and spends time with her three ND children and husband in Puerto Rico whenever possible. She writes about mental health, parenting, education, and entrepreneurship on her blog:

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