This week we are excited to share another story from our Young Debt-Free Families interview series. Gov Worker is a father of three, and if it isn’t obvious from his pen name, primarily shares personal finance advice that relates to government workers. Learn about his family’s story about becaming debt free on a government salary.
I’ve gotten the chance to know Gov Worker pretty well through a fitness group we are part of on Twitter. He is one of the most supportive people you’ll come across, no matter if it’s related to money, fitness, or nutrition.
There’s a lot I can relate to with Gov Worker’s story. Their family has made paying off their mortgage a top priority on their journey to financial independence and are only a few years away. They’ve also done a great job keeping lifestyle inflation in check despite increases to their income. Finally, while I don’t work for a government agency, I do work for an organization that still offers a pension so I always enjoy his insight.
The approach of Gov Worker and his family shows that the recipe for financial independence is relatively simple. Increase income, limit lifestyle inflation, eliminate debt, and invest. As we all know, the actual doing of this is much harder. Especially finding ways to increase income. However, between him and Mrs. Gov, they show that it is possible the old fashion way: by getting college degrees and stable government jobs.
Please join me in rooting on the Gov Worker family as they approach their big financial goals to pay off their mortgage and then achieve financial independence. I hope you enjoy their story below!
Debt Free Living Interview with Gov Worker: Becoming Debt Free on a Government Salary
1. Start by telling us about yourself. Please include any details you feel comfortable sharing about your family, job situation, income level, and amount of debt paid.
I blog under the pen name Gov Worker. I’m in my late 30s and have been married since I was in my early 20s. Mrs. Gov and I have three kids, ages 4,8, and 12. As you might expect by my pen name, I work for the government; Mrs. Gov does too. In fact, I started working for the government when I was 18 years old. I wanted to start a blog to help my colleagues understand their benefits and explore early retirement for federal employees.
With the exclusion of our mortgage, Mrs. Gov and I have been debt free for a very long time. When we were married, Mrs. Gov had student loans from one of her years of graduate school. I was lucky in that I had won a major national scholarship to cover most of my undergraduate education, and Mrs. Gov won a fellowship for her final year of graduate school.
We’re now on our way to paying off our mortgage. I think at our current rate we will have it paid off in 2-3 years and will be completely debt free at that point.
2. What inspired you to payoff your debt? Did you have a specific moment where you decided to make it a goal to payoff your debt?
I think we were lucky in that we didn’t have a lot of debt to begin with. Mrs. Gov and I were both raised in very stable households and had really great financial role models in our parents. Neither of us have ever carried credit card debt. I do remember our early years of our marriage being very lean. I was still trying to finish my undergrad degree and Mrs. Gov could only find a part time job out of graduate school. But we made it and now are doing great.
3. How did you stay disciplined throughout the process to pay down your debt?
Early on in our marriage, Mrs. Gov was the driving force in our savings journey. I remember very clearly her being very stressed out about being able to cover all of our bills one month around our first Christmas when I was sure we’d be okay. She also has done amazing things, feeding our family of 5 for $1.25 per person, per meal, which is well below the USDA’s thrifty plan for food budgeting. At one point even our local newspaper interviewed her about clipping coupons and they took pictures of the stash of food and toiletries she had “bought” for free by stacking coupons and deals.
Starting from a tight financial spot, we’ve now transitioned from fighting for our financial lives to building wealth and exploring early retirement. In many ways, we’re still incorporating many of those frugal habits we needed to scrape by 15 years ago but our income has increased by a factor of 5 or more.
4. Were there any apps, tools, or websites that were especially helpful in paying down debt?
For many years, we were essentially practicing zero-based budgeting but had never heard that term and didn’t follow the tenants carefully. We tried to only have enough money go into our checking account to pay our bills. Mrs. Gov would balance our checking account very often and keep her finger on our financial pulse. She has an uncanny ability to tell when we’ve been spending too much.
We now use CountAbout (affiliate link) to track all of our spending and our investments. Full disclosure, my neighbors started CountAbout 5 years ago because they couldn’t find a personal finance tool they were happy with and now I help them with their social media and affiliate marketing. CountAbout has been a great addition to my side hustle since I can send invoices through the program. I can also add attachments to transactions which has been a real lifesaver in keeping all of my business receipts organized.
5. What advice would you provide to other young families who are overcome by the stresses of debt?
I think it’s super important for people to know that they are so much more than their net worth. Debt happens. We were lucky enough to start off our adult lives with little debt and earn enough money to help our debt go away quickly. Love yourself and celebrate small victories.
6. What was the most challenging part in your journey to become debt-free?
When we first got married, money was extremely tight. I was a graduate student for the first 5 years of our marriage. We worked lots of extra jobs to pay off debt and become financially secure. Mrs. Gov babysat almost every night and I graded papers for professors to earn extra money. Those extra dollars kept us afloat.
7. How has becoming debt-free changed your family’s life? How do you expect it will impact your family’s life going forward?
While we’ve been debt free (with a mortgage) for years, we are aggressively paying down our mortgage as part of our financial independence strategy. We hope to be debt free in 2023 (because it rhymes). But I also wouldn’t mind becoming debt free in 2022.
Knowing that our house is paid off will provide a huge amount of peace of mind. It also means that if either of us lost our jobs, we wouldn’t need to work aggressively to find another job as we could just live off of one of our salaries. Finally, it will put us very close to financial independence.
8. What are future plans for your family after becoming debt free?
After we pay off the house we plan on putting the extra money towards early retirement. We also want to increase contributions to our children’s 529 plans. We are currently contributing a little bit to their 529 plans. While we have no idea what college will look like in 6-14 years (thanks COVID), we’d like to give our kids a financial head start if we are able to. After clearing the house from the bank, this is one of our next biggest goals.
9. Are you pursuing (or have you reached) financial independence?
Yes, we are pursuing financial independence on public servant salaries. At this point I estimate we’ll reach our FI number in less than 4 years. However, at this point we don’t have plans to retire immediately after reaching financial independence. We are looking forward to FI as peace of mind knowing that work has become optional. Once we get a little bit closer to FI, we can start to visualize our new life and work towards those next steps.
10. Is there anything that you haven’t yet covered that you’d like to share?
Most of the guest post has been about our journey to debt freedom. However, we live a joyfully frugal life. We try to bike wherever we can and only use our car to visit our parents. We preserve a lot of food during the summer months and eat it during the winter. It’s a family affair- my oldest daughter won a trophy at the county fair for her sauerkraut.