Happy New Year friends! I hope it’s off to a good start. We have some exciting financial plans for 2022, but first we have to finish up sharing our numbers for 2021.

If you’re new here, we’ve been sharing our family’s budget and finances transparently here at Six Figures Under since 2013. We started out with six figures of student loan debt that we worked really hard to pay off in three years on a much smaller income. Since then our income, spending, goals, and priorities have changed and evolved.

I often think that maybe it’s time to stop the budget updates, but the feedback I get from you is that seeing another family’s real life budget is helpful and encouraging even though everyone’s numbers are completely different. So here we are again for another month!

I will have some posts coming up that aren’t budget updates really soon, including a cost breakdown of our family’s 10-day trip to Washington DC, which I think will really surprise you!

In 2021 I didn’t post much new on Six Figures Under besides budget updates because I spent all of my blogging time working on getting Grocery Budget Hero 2.0 ready for you. If you remember, last year in January I held a live 4-week Grocery Budget Hero course.  I’m excited to share with you that Grocery Budget Hero 2.0 is now available as an online video course that you can work through on your own schedule.  If you want to get your grocery spending under control and put more money back in your pocket, then this course for you! Learn more about the course here.  You can use the code STARTNOW to get $20 off.

Okay, onto the December numbers!

Income Earned in DECEMBER – $10,282

We live on last month’s income. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, check out the video explaining how living on last month’s income changed our lives or the post explaining how we got to that point.

This income section shows the money we earned in December, which has all been set aside to use in our January budget. The spending section below shows the money we earned in November and spent in December.

Attorney Income – $7,782 Mike works as an attorney for the state of California. This is his take-home pay after taxes, social security, pension contribution, and health insurance premiums.

Blog Income- $0 I haven’t been giving myself a paycheck every month for two reasons.  First, I haven’t done much work on the blog in the past year. Homeschooling my kids has been my priority and I haven’t figured out the best way to balance my blogging work with my family, which is my most important work.  Second, while my blog does produce residual income even when I’m not working on it, it declines every month and no matter what I earn, I have about $500 in blogging overhead expenses each month. I’m mostly holding off until I earn significantly more than overhead.

Rental Income – $1,000 We rent a one-bedroom apartment on our property. We had it listed on Airbnb for a few years, but have a long-term renter now instead. Though we don’t earn as much as we did with Airbnb, there are some big perks. We don’t have to clean and do a full Covid-disinfect and airing of the apartment between stays, for one. Also, our renter helps take care of our animals and property when we go out of town. We expect that we’ll go back to Airbnb after our current renter moves out. If you’re thinking about renting out your space on Airbnb, check out Mike’s post about dealing with insurance for your Airbnb rental or our explanation of how we handle our Airbnb finances.

Child Tax credit – $1,500 In December we received another child tax credit payout. It’s actually supposed to be $1,600, but that will get all straightened out at tax time. We are putting it into the budget like normal income, but most of it gets earmarked for travel and funneled right into our family fun fund.

Spending in December

Each month we budget the previous month’s income down to zero. This is how we spent the money we earned in November.


Tithing – $1,121 We always pay a 10% tithe on our income. This tithing, like all of our December spending, comes from the money we earned in November. You can read our thoughts on paying a 10% tithe here.

Fast Offering – $100 Each month we take one day to fast (go without food and drink) for two meals and contribute to a program that provides assistance for local folks who need it.

Monthly Bills

Mortgage – $2,369 We re-financed our 15-year mortgage to a 2.375% rate in December 2020 and this is our current monthly payment.  If you’re interested, you can check out all of the numbers and re-fi details.

Electricity – $185 This is the lowest electric bill of the year!  We were out of town for a good portion of the billing period as was our renter.  The bill covers both our home and our rental which are both are completely electric, with no gas or propane.

Car Insurance – $77 Our auto insurance was lower than usual. We received a $40 dividend toward the premium since we didn’t have any claims in the year.  Our insurance is through USAA and we love them! If you, your parent, or your spouse were/are in the military, you’re probably eligible for USAA too!

Internet – $85 Having good internet access is super important with everyone at home for work and school. We’re so glad we invested in bringing internet access to our property when we first bought our house. That $5,000 investment was worth every penny!

Water – $80 Our bill comes every other month, so we put aside about half of what we expect it to be.

Garbage- $42 The bill for our curbside trash pickup also comes every other month so we set aside half of the bill each month.

Cell Phones – $50 We have two phones with Visible, a Verizon subsidiary that offers wifi calling and unlimited cell calls and data on the Verizon network. Each phone is $25 a month! We’ve been using them for over two years now and have no complaints at all.  If you’re interested, right now you can get the first month for just $5 to give it a try!

We used to use Republic Wireless, which costs a little less, and some readers rave about Mint Mobile’s great service and even lower costs, but neither of those use a network that provides cell signal at our home.

If you’re paying more than you want for cell service, check out one of these three great and affordable companies: Visible, Republic Wireless, Mint Mobile.

Disability Insurance- $185 This will replace about 2/3 of Mike’s current income if injury or illness leaves him unable to work as an attorney. Our income potential is our greatest financial asset right now and disability insurance helps us protect it.

Music Lessons – $165 Our oldest takes piano lessons and French horn lessons.

Everyday Expenses

Food – $637   Our food budget includes both groceries and any eating out, though we normally don’t eat out much. We aim to spend around $500 for our family of 8. In December we ate out a few times, which adds up fast with eight eaters!

If you are ready to get your family’s grocery spending under control, you’re going to want to sign up for Grocery Budget Hero! You will learn the exact strategies I use to rock our family’s grocery budget (even with rising prices). Enrollment is open now!

Fuel – $429 Gas is around $4.30 at Sam’s Club right now, which is kind of painful, but it is what it is. I can’t even imagine what our gas spending would be like if Mike were still commuting!

Household Misc – $297 We bought lots of stamps, a new piece of furniture to go under the fish tank that we got for Christmas, and other household essentials.

Clothing – $354 – Clothes are always among the gifts we give our kids at Christmas. I decided to put many of them in the clothing category (versus the Christmas category), since there were a lot of clothes. Our three oldest kids (10, 12, and 13) are growing super fast right now! Mike also needed some jeans.

Animals – $67 We bought a bag of dog food, cat food, and chicken food but were otherwise still stocked up from last month.

Allowances – $84 Because our allowance system is age-based, we increase this monthly amount as kids have birthdays. We give our kids “practice money” as a weekly allowance.  You can read all about why we decided to pay our kids allowance that’s not directly tied to chores, as well as all the details of when and how much in this blog post.

Homeschool – $0 We get funding through our homeschool charter that covers most everything for homeschooling our 4 oldest kiddos, but occasionally there is something we want that isn’t covered. This month we didn’t buy anything extra.

Sinking Funds

For most of our budget categories, we zero out what is left at the end of the month and send it to our mortgage payoff goal, but in our sinking funds we set aside money each month for periodic expenses and let it build up until we need it.

The amount in bold is the amount we added to the fund this month. Any spending is noted in the comments along with the current balance of each fund.

We do not have separate bank accounts for these funds. All of the money sits in our checking account. We’re not worried about getting the money mixed up because we spend according to our budget category balances, not our checking account balance. We seriously never even look at our checking account balance unless we’re reconciling the account. We track our budget categories and spending in YNAB.

Medical/Dental – $400 added. In December we spent $91. Current category balance is $385.

Car Maintenance – $0  added.  We spent $1,037 in December. Current category balance is $2,158.

Christmas – $379 added. We spent $507 on Christmas 2021 in December. Current category balance is $0.

Life Insurance – $75 added. In December we started putting money toward next year’s life insurance premiums which will be due in November. Current category balance is $104.

Birthdays & Gifts – $0 added. We spent $64 on gifts in December.  Current category balance is $146. 

Car Registration & Smog – $0 added. We didn’t add to or spend from this category in December. Current category balance is $226.

Family Fun Fund – $1,500 added. We spent $100 on some future adventures. We add to this category regularly because we have a road trip coming up in the spring, plus the cost of swim team for the three older kids will come out of this category in February. Current category balance is $2,409.

Preparedness – $0 added. We spent $0 on adding to our disaster and emergency supplies. Current category balance is $169.

Home Projects- $0 added. We spent $262 on supplies for home projects over the Christmas break.  The category balance is currently $560.

Garden & Orchard- $0 added. We spent $0 in December. The category balance is currently $34.


Kids’ 529s – $150 We know that $25 per kid per month invested for college isn’t much, but college costs are not our highest concern. Scholarships, grants, loans, and jobs during school worked for us. We may accelerate this savings later, but we’re ok with small, consistent payments right now.  The kids like to see their balances growing, and it adds up and teaches them good savings principles, even if it won’t entirely pay for school. You can read about our decision to start saving a little for college in this post.

IRA (Steph) – $500 With $500 monthly, I’ll max out my $6,000 IRA contribution for 2021.  Mike has about $950 each month deducted directly from his paycheck into a pension fund.

Mortgage Payoff Goal Progress

Our big financial goal right now is paying off our mortgage. At the end of 2018 we made a goal to pay it off in 5 years. You can read about our mortgage-payoff goal here and see the numbers for our most recent re-fi here.

This month paid $1,349 of principal in our normal December mortgage payment.  We also put $7,500 extra toward our mortgage principal. 

$1,500 of that came from our December budget.  You’re probably wondering where the other big chunk of money came from.  If you remember in December 2020 we prepaid $16,000 of charitable contributions for 2021 using $10,000 from our emergency fund, $4,900 from our car fund, and $1,100 from our rental emergency fund. We explained our plan in January 2020 (you can read more detail on this strategy in an article Mike wrote in 2016).

Every month in 2021 we calculated our tithing and put it in aside to pay ourselves back for the $16,000 of tithing that we prepaid. At the end of the year we paid back the $10,000 borrowed from our emergency fund and put $6,000 toward the mortgage (we decided we no longer needed a car fund since Mike isn’t commuting anymore).

Current mortgage balance: $213,262.

For reference:

Original balance of 15-year mortgage: $372,700
Balance at start of 5-year goal (Nov 2018): $363,171

Principal paid since setting goal: $149,909
Percent of 5-year goal reached: 41.28%
Percent of 5-year time elapsed (38 mo): 63.33%.

We’re not on target now to pay off the mortgage in our goal of 5 years, but we’re a whole lot closer than if we had not set the goal in the first place. We will be sharing more about our big goal in our January update, so stay tuned!


You can get this hand-drawn brick house printable progress chart here.  I love that it has LOTS of spaces (365 in total) so that we can color it in often and celebrate our progress!  It would work great for paying off your mortgage OR saving for a down payment.

How About You?

  • How did your budget and/or debt repayment go in December?

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