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Meet RaLea

WHO IS BALANCED FI

Hi! I’m RaLea, the force behind this blog and this mission. I’m here to document our journey toward debt freedom and building financial security, and provide resources for other families with special needs.

My name is pronounced Ray-Leah (my mom totally made it up). When I was born, I had 5 grandmas/great-grandmas alive. Each letter of my name is the first letter of one of their names.

I live in Montana, a beautiful state with few medical or financial resources for families like mine, with my husband and two daughters. I’m using pseudonyms for the girls out of respect for their privacy. They’re too young to grant permission for sharing. Adelaide, our 5-year-old, has multiple diagnoses and has appointments or school every day of the week. Marlowe, our 1-year-old, is typically developing, and her big sister is her favorite person in the world.

After Adelaide was born in 2015, I realized our lives were going to be SO different than planned (and I’m a planner, so this was hard). I helped start a small local non-profit, the Orchid Club, to create a community for families of young children with special needs. Talking about our challenges with others who have knowledge and understanding has made this journey infinitely easier, but I still felt drawn to help other families.

I finally realized that I could use my education and entrepreneurial experience to help others get their finances under control. I want to help others move toward security in a life that is so uncertain.

Of course, we are not perfect financially. I didn’t get serious about improving our finances until coronavirus began circling and I really realized how precarious our situation was. Since March 2020, we have been paying down the $82,000 of non-mortgage debt we accumulated.

WHAT IS FI

FI is an abbreviation for Financial Independence. Usually, FI is achieved when you have enough saved/invested that you don’t HAVE to work to live (although many choose to). When a child with special needs is involved, that definition shifts. We don’t know what the future holds for our daughter: whether she’ll be able to support herself or even live independently, if Social Security will still be able to help her financially, if Medicaid will cover her health insurance costs, what her future medical expenses will be. There are too many variables for us to feel comfortable letting off the pedal of financial motivation.

Right now, we are counting on my husband’s 401(k) to support him, me, and A during our later years. That means we will likely never reach that traditional definition of FI. We can’t accumulate enough to stop working and live off investments for years and years and years.

To me, special needs FI means:

  • debt freedom (including the mortgage)
  • a 1-year emergency fund
  • retirement investments sufficient for a typical retirement
  • health insurance

AND WHAT ABOUT BALANCE

My approach to our finances is all about balancing medical needs, debt payoff goals, and actually living. Our greatest budget successes came after we became intentional, really focusing on what we were spending money on and WHY. I’m a natural problem-solver, which means I look for the spending triggers and try to find a way to alleviate or eliminate them. I save a little from each paycheck toward larger annual expenses, but also set aside funds for monthly bills to give a clearer picture of the amount left. I try to minimize our lives and routines where I can because there are so many complex parts that I can’t control.

RANDOM FACTS ABOUT ME

  • I grew up on a ranch. My family raised cattle, sheep, and dairy goats.
  • My high school mascot is a Sugarbeeter. Google it. It’s weird.
  • My graduating class had 32 students… and 5 co-valedictorians.
  • I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when I was 21. I also have arthritis associated with it.
  • Pre-kids, I read All. The. Time. Now I sneak in e-books when I can.
  • My dad was one of 10 kids, so I have nearly 60 first cousins just on his side.
  • My husband and I met on Facebook back in 2006 when it was only for college students.
  • I have a Master’s of Professional Accountancy degree. I had planned to become a CPA, but never completed the work requirements.
  • I’m mostly a stay at home mom, but I also have a virtual bookkeeping business
Frugal Year Challenge - Balanced FI