Category Archives: Spencer Mail

SPENCER MAIL: Mattyc in Baton Rouge, LA

spencer mail mattycspencer mail mattyc

I just found your blog and it’s totally awesome. I love Spencer most, but it’s so great that you guys decided to go debt free. I’ve been debt free for about 5 or 6 years now, and it feels great. I have plenty of monies in the bank and always have available resources to travel or purchase anything I need/want. I only had about 14k of student debt after college and decided to get rid of it as soon as possible. It only took me about a year and a half. Making the last payment is amazing. Just seeing the $0.00 next to the amount owed is so cool. I wanted to do something to support what you guys are doing. Take this money and do something you guy’s typically don’t get to do. Go out to eat… or splurge on burritos several times in one week. This money is not in your budget, so you can splurge on stuff. Keep up the good work guys.

-Mattyc

p.s. Everyone else that sent you stuff did cool drawings. I can’t draw, BUT, I did find this random card when I was digging through some old stuff…so I figured it would be perfect to send.

This card is from our good friend that I have participated with in various online facial hair competitions. We are happy to hear your story and that you have been doing it long before us. One of the things I admire about Matt is he is able to give freely to various charities and causes. We look forward to being able to do more and more of that. Thanks for the card and money Matt! Lots of burritos were consumed by me, oh and I did take Rachel to a movie with it.

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READERS: If you have a story to share, or a challenge question for us, we’d love to hear from you! We’re accepting good old fashion letters and postcards about our project, and will do our best to answer your question, rise to your challenge, or share your story. You can reach us here:

Ali & Rachel H
PO Box 11506
Portland, OR 97211

Spencer Mail

SPENCER MAIL: Janna in Portland, OR

Spencer Mail, Janna
Spencer Mail Portland OR

This month’s Spencer Mail comes from Janna in Portland, Oregon. We are deducing that Janna lives in Portland, because her postcard was from Portland cult classic landmark Voodoo Donuts, and the postmark identifies as local. Janna could also be a recent visitor to Portland. We may never know! (Janna…?!)

Found your blog through a friend + I’ve enjoyed reading it. Congratulations on your huge success so far! My question is: Can we see more pics of your tiny cottage? I love small houses!

Love, Janna

PS: The rhino is too cute! :)

Thank you for the mail! We are so glad your friend passed along the link. We hope to encourage more people through our honesty about our finances and the debt we have hanging over our heads.

Janna wants to see photos of our tiny house. We’ve been reluctant to post too many images online so we don’t place ourselves too precisely, geographically speaking. So, chemically imbalanced readers, please don’t try to stalk us.

The truth is, our tiny cottage is too wonderful not to share.

simple living tiny home portland orsimple living tiny home portland or
simple living tiny home portland orsimple living tiny home portland orsimple living tiny home portland or

We live in 364 feet of divided space, lovingly handcrafted by our landlords using upcycled materials, clever cubby holes, and a miniature version of almost everything. The floor plan is compact and every inch goes to good use. The open storage in the kitchen can start to look a little bit cluttered for my tastes, but the decor and warmth of the lighting and wood makes this place incredibly liveable. See our tiny countertop fridge in the bottom middle picture? We also only have two burners for cooking – and it’s FINE. Our bathroom sink is also very tiny. The swing on our front porch (bottom left) is a recycled Dairy Queen booth!

If you’d like a virtual tour, this Canadian feature was made in our house – skip to 10:35 for more on Sassafras Garden Cottage.

Thank you for your postcard and the encouragement, Janna from Portland! We are happy to be able to share more images with you and hope you enjoyed a peek into our domestic space.

And PS: we don’t think Spencer is cute at all. He’s super annoying. We hope you don’t become too attached to him because we want to get rid of him as soon as possible!

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READERS: If you have a story to share, or a challenge question for us, we’d love to hear from you! We’re accepting good old fashion letters and postcards about our project, and will do our best to answer your question, rise to your challenge, or share your story. You can reach us here:

Ali & Rachel H
PO Box 11506
Portland, OR 97211

Spencer Mail

SPENCER MAIL: Jillian Kay in San Jose, CA

Our Spencer Mail for March is a charming little letter from Jillian Kay in San Jose, California.
spencer mail 2011
spencer mail 2011

Jillian brings up a good question, “does Spencer have an alter ego that would represent a savings plan?”

RACHEL’s ANSWER:
Well Jillian, I have to admit that this is a question we haven’t completely thought through. Honestly, it’s difficult to see past this big rhino right now. I feel like all of my extra energy is being used to fight off sociological pressures to spend money every day.  We’re hoping to do some international travel in February 2012, which will no doubt wipe out our disposable income for the first few months of the year since we’ll be purchasing with cash. One of my first big purchases in 2012 will be to upgrade my little VW Golf to a pre-owned Mini Cooper. Vain, I know, to be thinking about a car, but it’s a goal that’s helping me put down items I don’t need when in the store shopping for food or supplies. It’s amazing how motivating it is to have both a problem to solve (our $70k debt) and a goal beyond that. When I was envisioning this project, the first shape I thought to fill was a mini, but then realized that would be too superficial to be inspiring. We like our anthropomorphic rhino!

More to your point, I should say that we do plan to buy a house sometime in the next few years, and hope to cashflow that purchase once we have slain the beast! We’ll be renting for awhile for flexibility and lack of responsibility. Once we have freed up what is currently tied up paying our student loans, we’ll be using that big monthly chunk of cash to fund retirement plans, save money for a house, and share with friends in need.

ALI’s ANSWER:

Hrmmm, we will have to have a talk about that Mini Cooper. I already have a rough idea of what we should do after we pay off Spencer from a practical standpoint. First off is to have a emergency fund to help carry us through about 6 months of expenses. We had that last year when I had an on and off contract job. It allowed us a lot of freedom in the choices we made and allowed a path to where we are now. Currently, we have a minimal emergency fund so we can focus all our energy into Spencer and get rid of him as soon as possible. Once we do that, we will want to save up for a down payment on a house. We are not sure about a timetable for buying a house but that will take some time to save up for. Then, after that, start putting money into retirement and give the rest away.

Thank you for your question, Jillian in San Jose! You’ve given us something to think about – it would certainly be interesting to work toward filling some sort of alternative beast that represents our future goals. And we’d LOVE to see you when you come to Portland for a visit.

READERS: If you have a story to share, or a challenge question for us, we’d love to hear from you! We’re accepting good old fashion letters and postcards about our project, and will do our best to answer your question, rise to your challenge, or share your story. You can reach us here:

Ali & Rachel H
PO Box 11506
Portland, OR 97211

Spencer Mail! (Ian in West Philadelphia)

We got some original art Spencer Mail I’ve been wanting to share, all the way from the creative mind of Ian (“Blastro”) in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Spencer Mail rhino safari
Spencer Mail rhino safari

VERY APPROPRIATE inspiration for our storyline — thank you for the big-picture visual of success, Blastro!


If you have a story to share, or a challenge question for us, we’d love to hear from you! We’re accepting good old fashion letters and postcards about our project, and will do our best to answer your question, rise to your challenge, or share your story. You can reach us here:

Ali & Rachel H
PO Box 11506
Portland, OR 97211

Spencer mail

custom illustration by Chris Beetow

Spencer Mail: Rachel in Austin TX

Spencer Mail

We received some reader mail a couple of weeks ago. Rachel in Austin Texas writes:

“Travel is so important to you… what role will travel play in your life in 2011?”

So true, Rachel! The travel question is the most difficult part about dealing with Spencer for me – more difficult than limiting my Target shopping sprees. I love to travel, visit friends around the country, and experience new things. I built my photography business around traveling worldwide for wedding coverage.

We faced an extremely difficult travel-related decision early on in the Spencer 2011 project. Airlines were taking advantage of holiday travelers and adding extra-hefty holiday surcharges for December 2010 travel. We made the decision NOT to travel to family over the Christmas/New Year holidays because of the price tag. As an alternative, I ended up spending five days in Dallas with my grandmother the week after Thanksgiving, which was the only window when flights were back down to normal pricing between PDX and DFW. I ended up paying $350 and missing three days of work, but saved us more than $900 over what we would have had to pay to go for the traditional holiday visit. Money was a huge motivating factor (but it wasn’t the only factor).

One of my goals for 2011 is to find adventure IN FRONT OF MY FACE. It’s going to take some creative scraping to be able to go on trips with such a fixed budget, but we are fortunate that our new home in Oregon is only hours away from a rocky coastline, forests, and mountains. Plenty to do within driving distance for daycations, staycations, and the like. Readers, we welcome your ideas for low cost adventuring!

In the bigger picture, not being able to fly out to visit friends or take advantage of special airfare sales is (hopefully) going to motivate us to put all that money we would spend on travel toward our pet rhino, thus ennabling us to free up cash for debt-free holiday travel in 2011. Even more special, we’re coming up on our first real anniversary (we were married on leap day in 2008 so February 29, 2012 will be the first time our anniversary actually exists) and we’re scheduled to go on a fabulous big trip together someplace exotic (Iceland? Kenya?). Being dedicated to debt-free living means that we won’t be paying off this trip in the future, but can only plan a trip we can bankroll at the moment.

Basically, Spencer is forcing me to rethink how I do leisure in 2011.

I think that’s a good thing.

Thank you for your question, Rachel in Austin Texas. I appreciate the chance to think out loud and answer your question about something that is very near to my heart.

If you have a story to share, or a challenge question for us, we’d love to hear from you! We’re accepting good old fashion letters and postcards about our project, and will do our best to answer your question, rise to your challenge, or share your story. You can reach us here:

Ali & Rachel H
PO Box 11506
Portland, OR 97211

Spencer mail

custom illustration by Chris Beetow