Season 1, Episode 22

Pay off your debt

before you turn 30 –

How she did it


Melissa Neacato


If you are inspired to start your own podcast, check out the links on The Arena page.

Today’s Guest

In today’s episode I am speaking with Melissa Neacato.

Melissa is a Speaker, writer, and coach.
She has a vision that with more information college students don’t need to graduate drowning in debt.
A vision that parents who wish to, can take a year off to spend time with their newborn children.
As a 33 year-old wife and mother of two. She was the mastermind in planning her families debt pay off plan. Together her family paid off over 100k in debt in just 3.5 yrs and saved their first 100k by the age of 28. She writes about her goals to reach financial independence by 40.
She thinks financial education is vital to creating the life you want.
She earned a Mechanical Engineer degree and worked in the aerospace industry as a continuous improvement leader, which focuses on improving processes.
As a minimalist and Zero waster, she keeps things simple and straightforward, no unnecessary steps here.
Traveling Wallet is about helping families say no to the waste and say yes to the value. Figuring out money so that you feel secure enough to live your adventurous unique life.
She believes in the power of slow immersive travel and that everyone should create a financial position to take mini- retirements.
She enjoys rock climbing even thought she’s afraid of heights.
She shares her ideas and thoughts on her blog and cohosts a podcast with fellow entrepreneurs at Her enterpRISE. She also shares as a Speaker on Personal Finance and Minimalism.


If you love the show please leave a rating or a review.

If you have a comment or question please reach out to me at or on Instagram @gladiatrixpodcast

Malini Sarma 0:02

Hi Melissa, thank you so much for joiningthe podcast. I know, every single person who'd be listening to this particular show would really enjoy it, because it's a topic that resonates with all of us.

Melissa 0:17

Um, my I am so happy to be on here, Malini, I'm so excited to have this conversation with you.

Malini Sarma 0:25

No, thank you. So let's jump right in.

You, you were born in California of immigrant parents, and you're now you now live in Michigan. But there were some, it must have been pretty interesting. You know, growing up with parents who were not from the US. So what was some of the experiences that shaped your upbringing?

Melissa 0:53

Yes, so that's correct. I'm from California. And my dad is was born in Ecuador. And my mom was born in El Salvador. And they were both they both came here when they were in their teens. So they were here for a bit too. But yes, some of one of the biggest experiences that shaped my upbringing was because they were from other countries, we actually moved to Ecuador when I was around five years old. And we live there for two years. Oh, and we're just immersed, you know, in that culture. We're surrounded by that family. And I really feel like I took that experience with me. Because even after we came back to California, like ever since I can remember, I'm just like, oh, my goodness, I want to go back there. I want to go to El Salvador. I want to travel, I want to see new places. And so I feel like that was the I don't know that the formative experience that really got me super excited about cultures. And, and travel.

Malini Sarma 2:01


did you go back after you were there for a couple years? You said,

Melissa 2:06

Yes, we we live there for two years. I did kindergarten there and like half of my first grade year. And then we move back to California. And then No, we didn't, we didn't have a chance to go there again. But again, like as far as I can remember one of my high school goals. When I told myself when I was younger, I was like when I graduate high school, I'm going to go back to Ecuador and back to El Salvador, or go to El Salvador, because I never actually made it there. When I was young, young, it was just like one of my goals.

Malini Sarma 2:38

That's awesome. I mean, it has to do. You know, it's kind of like a dream that just kind of sticks in your brain. And it's like something you never ever forget. It's It's so vivid in your head at that age, right? And then it just kind of grows as you grow.

Melissa 2:54

Yes, I mean, even even though we had pictures, I feel like a lot of the things that I remember are my actual memories, even though I was young, I feel like they are my memories. They're not just stories that, you know, because when family tells the story, so often, sometimes you feel like, Oh, is that my actual memory? Or is it because I've heard the story so much? Like, no, I remember things that nobody has ever told me a story about. So

it was just that impressionable. That's an experience.

Malini Sarma 3:24

That's really cool. So, um, to growing up in an immigrant household, you know, and I and I can say that from from my own experience,

learning to be learning to know about money and how to handle it is not something you get, it's not something that is discussed, at least it wasn't in my house. So I'm presuming is that, you know, similar, right is similar kind of a circumstance where people you don't discuss bills, and you don't discuss money in front of the kids and stuff. But you're but you're really savvy about it. When you were in college. So how did that how did that all pan out?

Unknown Speaker 4:05

Yeah, so, um, yeah.

Melissa 4:09

I feel I feel like with Latin culture, like there's, you know, the machismo thing where it's like, the man has to go to work and pay all the bills and the wife stays home and does the child rearing. Mm hmm. And, yeah, so that was very much my experience. But I did get a little bit of an introduction to money through like my parents opening US bank accounts. And then I feel like maybe like you said, as an immigrant child, like we were involved in things like going grocery shopping, and looking at prices and things like that, which sometimes when I talk to other, you know, to other people my age who grew up in different areas, they're like, you know, they weren't involved in the cooking. They weren't involved in the shopping That was not something they were they they did. And so I feel like yeah, you know, there was a little bit of an introduction to that. And when I was in high school, I actually used to be in band. And we used to do fundraising. And I had this experience where we used to sell, you know, candy from either pamphlet or actual physical product. And I always found that selling like physical product was always easier. And so one time, I was in class, and I saw a girl selling candy. And I was like, What clubs that for? And she said, Oh, this isn't for a club, I'm selling it for myself. Oh, like, that is a great idea. And I, and because I was part of the whole grocery shopping process. Honestly, I don't remember where I came in with my first investment. Maybe my parents gave it to me the first money to buy my first batch of candy. But I was like, because I was part of the process of going grocery shopping with my mom, I was able to kind of buy this bulk candy and start doing the same thing as this girl. And I learned, you know, rather quickly that okay, well, I can't eat all my candy, because I'm going to have no money to buy the next batch. And so I knew that I needed to sell you know, a certain amount and keep a certain amount and reinvest a certain amount to be able to like actually earn some money to keep in my pocket. That was an interesting experience.

Unknown Speaker 6:27

That's, that's really, that's really cool. So now, are you an only child?

Melissa 6:31

No, actually, I have an older sister and I had a younger brother. So we were a family of three. Okay,

Malini Sarma 6:39

so are you are your siblings also just as, you know, money savvy? Or is it? Are you the the the one that kind of tells them how to do things when it comes to think?

Melissa 6:54

I mean, I think, um, I think we all have different levels and priorities. I think that's, that's what the difference is my brother used to be a little bit more money conscious when he was younger, like, if there was change anywhere in the house, he would find it, he would like to have money because he knew where to go look for all the loose to add a little bit of that, you know, growing up. Yeah, so we all just, we just had different priorities, I think when it came around money, but you said in college, I got a little bit more savvy about it. And that's because I actually attended this university, which is called Kettering. And part of the university curriculum, which is here in Michigan is that you actually have to work half of the time to earn your degree. So you actually go to work for three months, and then you go to school for three months, and then you go to work for three months, and then school. And that's part of the degree requirements. And

Malini Sarma 7:52

Co Op, right? Yeah, exactly.

That's awesome.

Yes, I know, we

are in Michigan. Oh, yeah. I know why Kettering? Well, that's, that's great. That's great. Did you get paid while you were working?

Melissa 8:05

Yes, I did. And so that was a, you know, like a big learning experience there too, because I was able to, you know, get a co op and get paid. And it was in a different city than where my family was, it wasn't in Michigan, and it wasn't in Southern California was actually in San Francisco. And so I had to pay bills, you know, I have to start right away at 18. You know, going to work and paying bills, and again, balancing that money, figuring out like, how much am I bringing in? How much can I spend? And then saving money? Because part of part of the How would you say, part of the reason it was part of the requirement for the curriculum for the degree was because they offered it as part of our financial aid package. Oh, so they're like you, you know, you're going to be earning real money here. So you can afford to pay for your college, right? Like I couldn't spend all of it. You had to save some of it, because the expectation was that some of that money was going to go into the next school years. cladding,

Malini Sarma 9:13

you Yeah, that is so that that really taught you very quickly, how to balance your budget and what to spend the money on, you know, your fees, and then your living expenses, and then you had tuition or whatever else that you needed to pay for. So very quickly, you had to learn how to how to balance.

Melissa 9:31

Yes. And I think kind of going back to what you were saying about growing up with immigrant immigrant parents. I just had also just like a different, like starting point for my expectations of what life should look like or what your apartment should look like. You know, we if we didn't have the most lavish things growing up, we didn't go on vacations every year. Like that was something I learned when I was in college like people talking about vacations. And traveling and I was like, What is this? You know, like,

every year seriously, you went on vacation. I was crazy.

So yeah, I just had different expectations. So it wasn't super challenging for me to save the money because I just like this is already amazing, because I'm already you know, I have my freedom. I'm an 18 living in my own place. That's awesome.

Malini Sarma 10:27

So, you went, you went to school for engineering I am presuming since you said Kettering? Yes. Okay, so what was your plan after you graduated college?

Melissa 10:36

So I got a mechanical engineering degree. And I was copying in California, later in Southern California for an aerospace company. And they offered me a job when I graduated, and so yeah, my plan was like, Okay, I get to go back to California, and go home essentially go back to live in the state that I came from. But I had two big goals. When I graduated, I graduated with debt. So even though I had this income, and I thought I was doing pretty good with money, I still graduated with that. And it was $46,000. And I was just like, I am going to pay this off in five years. So I knew that they told us like, yo, you have 10 years to pay it off. And I was just like, there's no way that I'm going to take 10 years because I understood a little bit about how interest worked. And I was like, I don't want to pay a single, or I don't want to have to pay any more than I have to for the degree. So I made a goal to pay it off in five years. And then I was like, but just in case, just in case things don't work out. I'll make another scenario for six years.

Unknown Speaker 11:55

Look at it,

Melissa 11:56

I had a backup plan. And then my second goal was that I was going to have, I was going to be in a financial position where I could take a year off for my next child.

Malini Sarma 12:10

Oh, okay. I

Melissa 12:12

actually had a child while I was in college. You know, I because I was in the middle of schooling, I, I wasn't able to take even the six weeks off to recuperate. And so I said, You know what, I'm not going to be in this position again. And so the next time for my next kid, I'm going to be financially in a position where I can at least take one year off. Mm hmm. That first year that first year off,

Malini Sarma 12:33

my child is born. So right.

Melissa 12:35

So I went to the aerospace industry, and I was working. But my biggest goals I think at the time were just about, like finances like paying off debt and spending time with my kid.

Malini Sarma 12:46

To you were a you made the five year mark, and five year goal of paying Yes. I

Melissa 12:53

yeah, so actually, what ended up happening was, um, let's see, about two years after I was I was paying off my debt aggressively already. Once I got the real job, the real engineering job a real, you know, paycheck, right. I was paying off my debt aggressively still. But I stumbled upon this person called mister money mustache. And he was talking about something called fire, or actually, it wasn't even called fire back then it was just called early retirement. And it and then later became called fire, which is financial independence, retire early. And he painted this vision that your money can do more for you than just, you know, buy you the next vacation or buy you the next luxury car, buy you the next gadget, you can use your money in a way that you can buy your freedom. Mm hmm. And so because I ran into him, I actually did a few shifts to to my plan of how I was paying off my debt. I was able to pay it off in three and a half years instead. So that was awesome.

Malini Sarma 14:05

That is awesome. Okay, so So what, what did I mean was was What did he tell you? That you were able to do it so quickly? Or was it just aggressive saving and paying it off?

Melissa 14:21

So one of the things was that when I graduated college, I didn't like lifestyle inflation, that's a term. Yeah, I didn't jump into the lifestyle inflation. You know, habit that that happens after you get a grown up job. Mm hmm. I still, I when I found a place I found the most affordable place that I could find and for for my family's needs. And that was that was pretty much all I was doing. I was working and then I was going home and spending time with my kid and I would go to all the free activities. I was already, like I said, aggressively paying off my debt setting aside money for that. I would say about a quarter of my paycheck I was using for debt repayment. And that wasn't the required payment. It was it was necessary. It was necessary was probably a third of that. Right. I, I was already setting aside any tax refunds I got, I would put it into that. And what he taught me though, was that, on top of that, I was also saving money, just you know, for safety.

Malini Sarma 15:36

Right, right. Like, okay, well, ocean.

Melissa 15:39

Yeah. And, and, and so I was saving money. And one of the things that that he taught me was like how most of us have money in savings. And it's earning like, zero, it's earning nothing. And so just shifting some of those funds over to over to the debt repayment was actually going to have a bigger payoff. So because if your money is in this one account, and it's earning point 000 1%, which is like a quarter a year for over $1,000 and your loans, whatever your loans are our you know, 5% 9% 25% moving that $1,000 over is going to get you, you know, hundreds of percentage is better. Right, right. Right. Right. And so yeah, that one move, you know, like dropped my in principle by a lot.

Malini Sarma 16:43

Wow. I mean, that takes, you're young. I mean, you're like in your early 20s. And you were already debt free. Before you were 25.

Melissa 16:53

Yeah, I would say that's turned 12. So it's like 27 is when I became debt free. Okay.

Malini Sarma 16:59

That's awesome. That's, that's, that's really, that's no, that's very commendable. Because I know, I mean, we look at the price of education now. And the kind of debt that people, you know, that some of the kids have to come out with is, is just staggering.

And we hope that, you know, then

election will take care of it. But I want to think

that that is a huge issue right now among students is this is a student debt, you know, and the loans Of course, pay off. So that is, that's quite commendable. Congratulations.

Unknown Speaker 17:33

So you, you say you also have a passion for travel, because that was something that you had decided when you were very young. And you started a blog called traveling wallet. How did that start?

Unknown Speaker 17:47

Yes, so.

Melissa 17:49

So, um, goodness, I have so many awesome financial bloggers that I follow. And I don't want to give one person all the credit, but one of the things financial bloggers do is that they make money by recommending you to start a blog.

Malini Sarma 18:08

Oh, okay. I did not know that.

Melissa 18:12

Um, and so yeah, I think I read one of mister money mustache is post where he said, like, Oh, you know, everyone should start a blog, because you can make passive income like this. And it's so easy and la dee, da, da, da. And so I was like, Yeah, I can totally do that. And at that moment, there was a very, like a budding, a budding community of financial independence writers. Mm hmm. And so I was like, Oh, I'm gonna, like, I'm just, I'm almost done paying off my debt. And so I actually started it in 2014. And I was just about to, like, become debt free. And so I was like, Oh, this is a good story. I can share this, I can talk about my journey. And so it was focused on financial independence. And for me, it included the ability to hopefully at some point, take a full year off and travel around the world.

Unknown Speaker 19:12


Melissa 19:12

and yeah, so I started sharing my story. And right now, it's it's personal finance and minimalism to help you live your like new American

Malini Sarma 19:26

American Dream Dream. Okay, so is this the same? traveling the world? Is this the same thing that you did before you move to Michigan with your family, though?

Unknown Speaker 19:35

Or is that

Melissa 19:36

different? No. So that's so that's the same thing that's I feel like I feel like a, you know, I wasn't able to tick off all the marks at once. So just slowly, little by little I started accumulating these wins. And one of those was, you know, like I said at the beginning of the interview ever since I went to Ecuador, I was like, I'm gonna make it back there. And I'm gonna, you know, go to El Salvador, El Salvador too. But then I went to college. And I guess I kind of forgot about it. And then I graduated college, and I had a kid. And I was like, you know, like, I still want to do this. And so, in 2016, a, we were already kind of,

that's two years after I had

become debt free. We were already kind of on our way to becoming, you know, on our path to becoming financially independent. And I was like, you know, I still really want to go to Ecuador. I still really want to go to El Salvador, I still want to have my kids have these experiences, because they were so important to me.

Malini Sarma 20:47

And I have family there. Right. So at this time, you're married? You have two kids under the age of 10.

Unknown Speaker 20:56

Yes. So I'm

Malini Sarma 20:58

good in 2016. When you went? Yes, we're

Melissa 21:02

well, in 2016, we started planning ok.

Malini Sarma 21:05


Melissa 21:06

all right. Yeah, it's, I mean, it was it was a, we were talking about it. And it's kind of a hard sell, like my, my husband already was sold to the idea of like, aggressively saving our income so that we could one day be financially independent and not have to work traditional jobs. By the age, we're 40.

Unknown Speaker 21:27


Melissa 21:28

I'm taking time off in between that was a different kind of

Malini Sarma 21:33

No, ask, it's like, well, what if

Melissa 21:35

we get out of the industry, and then it's too hard to get in. But another thing we had been talking about is he's originally from Michigan. And during this time, we were living in California. And, you know, he wanted to buy a house. And he wanted to spend more time with his family. And we wanted that, too. I wanted that too. And, but I didn't want to buy in California where, you know, essentially all our net worth would be wiped out because houses are expensive. They're right. You know, I didn't want to leverage myself to such a point where I felt strangled. Right. And so we were like, Well, okay, maybe we can move to Michigan this year. And then when we started talking about moving to Michigan, I was like, Well, if we're going to move to Michigan, you're going to have to quit your job anyways. So Can't we squeeze in a mini retirement in here? Can't we squeeze in a trip. And so then I started just talking it up a lot and planning it and figuring out the numbers. And even though I said like I didn't want to buy in California, we were still kind of in that thought process that we were going to buy a house. So we were already saving for a down payment. And when we realized we weren't going to buy in California. We were we already had I guess a little bucket of money that we could use to to take that many retirement. Yeah. But I did do some research on like travel hacking. So I could pay the the lowest cost I could on airfare. I like really dived into it. Mm hmm.

Malini Sarma 23:09

So you basically took four months, right? So you guys basically, were out of the country for four months, and you lived in El Salvador? And were you working there? Or in the kids in school? Haha. So what was what happened to tell me more?

Melissa 23:28

Yeah, so. So what ended up happening was we actually took a 21 day road trip first. So because we decided that we were going to move to Michigan, we got rid of the majority of our stuff. And we said, we're only taking the things that fit into our two compact cars, a Corolla and whatever. The other one. Wow. And so so we got rid of things because we're like, we want to take our time driving across country. And so we actually planned the 21 day road trip, we stopped at Zion, we stopped at Bryce, we stopped that Las Vegas, we just we were like, let's make this a really fun experience for the kids too, because we get to visit all these states, like we don't need to rush. So one of the months or 21 days, we spent actually driving to Michigan. And then from Michigan, we actually went back to Chicago and then flew out

Malini Sarma 24:22


Melissa 24:24

El Salvador first. And we spent one month in El Salvador, and one month in Ecuador. And then we spent some time in the city where my husband's family's at. And then we thought we were going to get our jobs like right away or like, we're going to get hired real fast like Michigan's in demand state because a lot of people leave, but it did take some time. So we were actually ended up living with my husband's parents for, I think two months. And so we were actually out of work during this many rounds. for about six months, Mm hmm. But part of that was the road trip. Part of that was one month in Ecuador, and one month in Salvador. And so what I did for schooling, because I heard you asked me about that, right, was that I just, I just took it on. I was like, we're gonna do my daughter wasn't in kindergarten yet. So I didn't worry about her too much. I was just like, you know, we're going to keep reading and we're going to practice letters. But with my son, I was like, we're going to do reading, we're going to do math. And we're going to be writing in a journal.

Malini Sarma 25:32

And how was it? How old was your son? When you my son?

Melissa 25:35

He was in fourth grade.

Malini Sarma 25:38

Okay, so he's about eight years old, or nine years old. Okay.

Melissa 25:42

Yeah. So bad. I'm, like, so good with math, money, numbers, but I'm like, I don't know what age they were at that time.

Malini Sarma 25:50

And I'm just trying to get I'm just trying to picture when you're driving 21 days from California, you had one in a car seat, and one was not. So I'm thinking about squeezing all your stuff in two cars. And you were driving?

Melissa 26:01

Yeah, so we Yeah, we did we squeeze stuff in and then but we also, again, we did, we bought a car rack. So we actually got a little bit more space than then we Okay, we did a little purchasing to increase our space. But yeah, um,

Malini Sarma 26:18

and did you camp at Zion? And Bryce when you were there? Or do we like staying in hotels and stuff?

Melissa 26:23

No, we were staying in hotels, I would have loved to camp, but that would have taken dynamics to have no space for any, like, have their toys or anything.

Malini Sarma 26:34

Okay. Yeah. Okay. All right.

Unknown Speaker 26:37


Melissa 26:38

But I mean, I think they still enjoyed it, we tried to stay as close to the parks as possible. So that way, you know, it was a very close, you know, after to get there to parks.

Malini Sarma 26:50

So you came, you came here, and then you flew down. So when you were in El Salvador, and Ecuador, we you were staying with family, and you were just hanging out on the beach and stuff? Or were you actually, like,

you know, like going around and seeing all the places. And

Melissa 27:10

so in both of the countries, like I said, I have family. So that was a huge benefit, you know, financially, we didn't need to worry about that. We still contributed to them, like helping pay, like the electric bills and the water bills, because we were staying or extra people riding with them. But yes, we didn't have to worry about like paying a hotel room and rent like that. So we did stay a good amount of the time in one space in one place with our family, and then, you know, giving us advice. Because especially with El Salvador, I feel like El Salvador has kind of a bad reputation. And so it was really important to have family around. But we felt safe. There was no, I think maybe there was like one instance where there was a car driving by and we were like, Oh, that feels kind of weird. But every other time. So you know, 99.99% of the time, we felt absolutely fine. And we actually had seen this video by a YouTube channel called the budget tears of them visiting a different place in El Salvador. And we're like, we really want to go there. So we made a plan to go there. And so we actually left our family for a whole week and went to the other side of the country. Wow. Which they were super nervous about. They had a lot of concern about it. But I'm really glad that we trusted ourselves enough to say like, I think we're going to be safe, and we'll be fine. And we went and we had the experience there. And that was a week at the beach. Before that we were more of a inner city. So we weren't really next to the water. But we actually went to this other part and we got to stay at the beach and have that experience that I feel it's like more of a resort more of a resort experience. It's not like a resort like you normally hear. Yeah, yeah, I know. It's like bungalows. Yes. My places. Yeah.

Malini Sarma 29:10

Yeah. But the fact that you're on the beach, you know, that it was? Yeah,

Melissa 29:16

it was awesome. The kids woke up. They went swimming, they had food we they had a slackline there. And so we did some slacklining and it was just super relaxed time, which I'm kind of a type a person. So it was like this whole experience. This whole trip was a very amazing like re resetting for the kind of personality type that I am. It's time to actually not have a plan like I planned super hard to get everything set for this. But when we got there, we didn't have a big schedule. We didn't have like, Oh, you know, on this day, we're going here on this day we're going down this no we had, we're going to stay with family and we just want to go this one week to this one place. And so for the rest of for the month, we were just walking around and exploring the local neighborhood. So it's a really different pace.

Malini Sarma 30:07

That is awesome. So now is your husband also type A, I'm just thinking the two of you have any have to type a personalities how you have to plan travel and budget and stuff like that?

Melissa 30:18

No, he's actually way more laid back like, super. He's just like,

no, yeah. That's why I had to plan the trip. Because

Unknown Speaker 30:30

it sounds good. Make it happen.

Malini Sarma 30:33

There you go. There you go. Now, now you also recently. So you still have your, your your blog, right, your traveling wallet that you're so pretty supposed on that and do stuff on that. And you also started a podcast?

Unknown Speaker 30:49


Malini Sarma 30:51

Yeah. So tell me more about that.

Melissa 30:53

Yeah. So one of the things I've done, thanks to the blog is meet people. And I paid to have a mentor and like, learn more. And one of the amazing things about having this mentor was meeting other, you know, women, entrepreneurs, other women who wants to start their own businesses or have already done so. And we connected and we decided we wanted to launch a podcast and talk to more female entrepreneurs. So we launched a podcast called her enterprise. And our goal is really, you know, to share the stories of how, you know, entrepreneurship is really hard. But when you have kids on top of that, like there's a lot of balancing going on. There's a lot of prioritizing going on. There's a lot of struggle. And so we wanted to share that. But then also we wanted to share kind of one of the benefits that we've found from connecting which is called masterminding. And I met you through Pat Flynn. And so I know you've heard Pat Flynn mentioned that.

Malini Sarma 32:01

Yeah. Yeah.

Melissa 32:02

Yeah. And and masterminding is when you meet with us, you know, specific group of people very regularly, and you talk about what your struggles are, and everyone gets an opportunity to share. And then you get feedback from the whole group. And everyone has a different perspective. Everyone has a different upbringing. They're all coming to the table with different ideas. Mm hmm. So that was like super helpful, super, super beneficial, and we wanted to share that with more women. And so we decided, we're like, we should, we should do this podcast. And so my co hosts, one of them is Kelly Santiago, and the other one. I'm sorry, Kelly. Kelly parman. And then Nicole Santiago. Okay.

Malini Sarma 32:46

Yeah, I did listen to your episode. I didn't. I didn't. I wanted to tell you that. But I didn't get the chance to do a review or anything. But it was really good.

I love this. You guys talking about breakfast?

And, yeah. It's very interesting to see how three different people have read three different ways of serving breakfast. That was awesome. Just to simplify life. Yeah.

Melissa 33:09

Mm hmm. And so yeah, and so that, you know, our hope is we we can help the, you know, female community through that podcast like you're doing, which is why I was so excited to be on here is because, you know, you have that same, I feel like that same drive, right, really trying to help build up and, you know, raise up women. Yep, yep.

Unknown Speaker 33:34

Because me, you know, all of us have like it. My belief is like, everybody has a story to tell. And somebody could benefit from that, you know? So you mean, when it comes to money, I mean, most of us women have such a different relationship with it. where, you know, afraid, you know, it has so much power over. And it's like, if we don't have power over, it'll have power over us. So it's like, you got to kind of, you know,

Malini Sarma 34:00

in our heads, we have to get get it straight so that it doesn't control us.

Unknown Speaker 34:06

So that's true. Yeah. So So um, so tell me more about your, you know, I know, you said that you had a vision and how you wanted to use financial education in young kids, and you want them to learn and but you had a vision of how you could influence people with your knowledge of money. So tell me more about that.

Melissa 34:30

Yes. So I feel like there's two like segments of people that I really would like to help and one of those is like the college student, because I feel like a lot of the things I learned and struggles was during that time, and I was of the things that I learned when I was in college, was that you can get financial aid or scholarships for the most ridiculous listings. So I was actually only 26, about $26,000 in debt by the end of my junior year. And then my senior year it doubled because I lost this one scholarship, which was for people who were from California. So I was going to school in Michigan, and they had a scholarship that were for people who are from California. And it was a big scholarship, it actually was a, I think it was like 12 grand a year. So it was a big scholarship. And so like, I feel, or I've learned from learning about money,

Unknown Speaker 35:36

that a lot of

Melissa 35:38

students like they don't know enough about how to apply for scholarships, or what kind of scholarships are out there. And like you said, like, that's one of the big problems right now. And so I really want to help, so I'm developing my speaking, and I want to speak at universities and, and talk to them about money. And how they can, you know, start managing it at that age, like, you can still have fun, you can still be in the clubs and do all these fun things, but still have some understanding of money. So that, you know, you spend at least a little bit of time applying for scholarships every year, like a lot of people think like scholarship applications, you do them before you start college. So your senior year in high school, and then you're done. It's like no, you can actually keep doing this process every year to help minimize your, your financial load. And and that's going to give you a big boost when you when you graduate. Right. And then the second segment that I really want to help our families who are or, you know, couples who are thinking about starting families,

Malini Sarma 36:49

Hmm, okay,

Melissa 36:51

I'm from California. And so in California, we have this thing called paid family leave, which actually grants you six weeks to spend with a newborn child. And it's for men and women. And on top of that, most women are allotted like six weeks to recuperate from giving birth. But a lot of women don't even take that time. They feel so financially, you know, strangled, that they can't even take the six weeks to let their bodies heal, they have to go back to work before that. And that's what I had to do in college. And so I really want to help, you know, couples or women, if they are having kids on their own, realize like, how can they get them selves in a financial position. So they can take that full time off, to recuperate, but then also, those extra six weeks. And if you have a spouse, that's 18 weeks that you get to spend with your newborn child. And it's super invaluable. It's a super invaluable experience. And so, again, it's not offered in every state, but I do know, some companies offer, you know, paid maternity leave. And I just feel like that's one of those places where there's not enough information, or people don't know how to use it, or they don't know how to set themselves up in a way to make the most of it. So with paid family leave, you only get, like 55% of your normal income. Hmm. But you're still essentially getting paid to spend time with their kids, you just have to be in a place where you still have you have to plan in a way so that, you know, you can take

Malini Sarma 38:31

that hit,

right so that you're you're still eligible, and you can still afford

to do all the things that you need to do.

Melissa 38:38

Exactly, and so that your spending is in a place where that is okay, and you're gonna be fine. And you're getting paid to spend time with your kids.

Unknown Speaker 38:46

That's, that's really cool. I mean, I remember, you know, the FMLA app, you were so excited when they first introduced it. We're like, Wow, this is awesome. But it was only for I think at the time, they were only talking about it for men, or no, no, it was for men and women. But you really had to know the rules before you figured out how to do it. And you know, you're really trying to figure out daycare and while you're still trying to struggle and get back on your feet because you're recovering after childbirth and everything. Yeah, so that's that's pretty commendable. So that's awesome.

Malini Sarma 39:19

Um, yeah, but looking at looking back at your journey you've had so far, you know, and knowing what you know, now, what would you have told your younger self? Or is there anything that you would have changed about yourself?

Melissa 39:35

Well, one of those things just kind of goes back to what I said about the whole college scholarship thing is like, I wish I would have known enough so that I could have just, you know, taken, applied more applied more for you know, those kinds of scholarships and graduated with less debt. I 100% realized though, that that debt experience taught me a lot about managing money. I used to call all my, all the people who were holding loans for me, like every month because I would make extra payments. And they would just put them, they would apply them in the most ridiculous ways that it was actually not helpful for me. And so I had to be very proactive about calling them and saying, No, I want this to go to principal. And so I learned a lot from that experience. So I wouldn't want to take that away. But one of the things I would say, is actually from the mini retirement experience, so when we were planning to take this mini retirement, it was because we were thinking about moving to Michigan. Because, I mean, there was a lot of reasons, like I said, but one of the reasons was like, Okay, well, when you stop working at a company, even if you don't burn bridges, like it's still kind of like the end of that, right? That company thing when you tell someone like oh, I'm gonna go take time off and go travel for, you know, three months, like people are like, Okay, well,

Unknown Speaker 41:00

you go you.

Melissa 41:00

Yeah. But and so one of the mistakes we made there, and so I wish I would go back and say, like, you know, consider all the options and consider all the new information. So when my husband went to his company, and told them that, you know, he wanted to take time off, or he needed to do something, and he was going to need a couple months off. And so that's why he was putting in his two weeks notice. They actually made it sound like, like he could take a sabbatical, and then come back. Right, but because we were so like, myopic like we were so tunnel vision that, no, we have a plan. This is the plan. We completely ignored that. And, and most people don't get that offer. First off, so we weren't expecting it. We weren't expecting that to be an offer. But it's something that we've looked back with a little bit of regret. Because we enjoyed our life in California. We we liked, we enjoyed our life there. And we had built a lot of relationships and everything. And so if we would have had the opportunity to be able to take this trip, and then come back to the exact same company like my husband would love that. But we never even considered, we never pried or pushed for more details in that offer. Because we just worse again, it's one of those things where you don't know, which is so you just like bulldoze over it you just drive right past it.

Unknown Speaker 42:25

Because it's,

Melissa 42:27

you know, you weren't expecting it? Yeah, that's something I would go

Malini Sarma 42:30

back. Yeah, I think some companies do offer that some of the larger companies do offer that, you know, the, the opportunity to take a sabbatical.

Unknown Speaker 42:38

So but it's for a limited time. But then you do if they say that you do have a job may not be the same job, but you do have a job when you come back. And then of course, if you extend it more than you know, there's no guarantee that they'll have a job. But

Malini Sarma 42:52

yeah, of course, but yeah.

Unknown Speaker 42:56

Yeah, but you know, what it is everything you learn something from from everything. Right. So, yeah, yeah. So, um, you know, I know that, like I was saying earlier, there's so many women in almost every age group that I know that struggle with money, you know, their relationship with money, it probably has a lot to do with their upbringing, their experience, I know what they what they've seen around themselves. So

Malini Sarma 43:23

what advice would you want to give them if you had to, if you want to say the top three things that you think every woman should do? That would give them a head start in their financial journey? What would you say those three things would be?

Melissa 43:38

I would say that the first one is to not have the mentality or the expectation that it's your partner's dropped handle like that, in itself, like if you just have the perspective that it's something that you should care about, and that you should learn about, that's the first step because like I said, In Latin culture, like the upbringing is the husband does the money and the wife does the kids. And so kind of breaking that cycle, breaking that mentality, that box, and just saying, you know, women can be good with money just as much as men can. Right. And so just having that shift, I think that's the first step. Okay.

Another thing, which I think is more,

I think it's more

tactical, I guess it's less mindset is that for women who are stay at home moms, Mm hmm. Like, again, feeling ownership of the money that comes into the family. I would push women to have their spouses deposit money in their IRAs. So I don't I feel like a lot of people don't know this, but if you're not working, your spouse can actually contribute to your IRA. If you're married, and so even I didn't know that. Yeah. And so as soon as I became a stay at home mom, because there was times in my story where I wasn't working a traditional work, one of the first conversations I had was like,

Unknown Speaker 45:15


Melissa 45:17

I still want to have money being set aside for my retirement. And again, this goes back to the first tip, which was like thinking that you have every right to have a say in your money. And so, yeah, that was a discussion we had. And so instead of maxing out, you know, his 401k and his IRA, I was like, Okay, well, we're gonna do your 401k. And then we're gonna do my IRA. And then if we have anything left over, then we can do your IRA. And I was like,

Malini Sarma 45:46

so the IRA Max is like, five, what was it? $5,000?

Melissa 45:50

Yeah, so it changes. But I think right now it's at $5,000. Okay. And it's nothing compared to the 401k. Right, um, Max, but still, it's a, it's a symbol, I feel like it's a symbol of showing the value that you bring to the family, that you deserve to have money set aside, in your own income in an account that has your own name on it. And so, yeah, I would push you know, anyone if you're saving, and not struggling, so if you're not struggling, and you're doing some savings accounts that it should go, you know, the stay at home spouse, the woman usually think you deserve to have money being set aside on your own.

Malini Sarma 46:33

That's awesome. Okay, and was, was there a number three?

Unknown Speaker 46:37

That you could think of?

Unknown Speaker 46:40


Melissa 46:43

Okay, so much to learn when it comes to money. Oh, yeah, I guess that's the next one is like, it's not as complicated as you think. Okay. So I think it's something that we talk about in the personal finance community is that big companies benefit from making money sound complicated for making investing sound complicated, because then you have to pay for, you know, someone to give you counseling, or, you know, but it's actually not that complicated. It's actually not that difficult. And you can find calculators and so I guess, I think that would be the next step is tip is that I know, it can seem overwhelming. But if you just start diving in, and you know, start experimenting with it, it's okay to make mistakes, I made mistakes. I don't think we talked about enough of the mistakes I've made in my journey. But it's okay, like you're learning, and every everything is going to help you grow more. So like don't be afraid to learn about money.

Malini Sarma 47:49

That's also, you know, I didn't know that either. That, you know, big companies make it complicated. And in and I didn't know about the IRA thing, either. So I was like, wait a minute, I need to get some money back for the time. Can nobody for money for me? No, but this is great. I had no absolutely no idea.

Melissa 48:09

Awesome. I'm glad that I shared something that was, you know, like, yeah, I feel like most people don't know that. I didn't know that till I knew it. Obviously, I wasn't even looking for that information, too. It fell into my lap. And it fell into my lap because I looked, you know, I started doing some learning into into money and how to manage my finances. And so yeah, if you google personal finance, you'll find so many people talking about it. That you can even you know, you can find someone who speaks in the voice that you want to learn, right? You know, there's people who are super strict. There's people who are more, you know, feeling based, and so you can find your mentor in personal finance. That is awesome.

Malini Sarma 48:49

That's really cool. So now you have so you have your trawling wallet, and you have a podcast. You're also on Twitter, and what else? What other platforms if people want to get a hold of you?

Melissa 49:01

Yes. So Twitter, I think is the best. Like, if you want to converse with me, Twitter's the easiest to like, have a conversation and a dialogue. But if you come to my website, and you send me an email, that also is a great way to connect. I respond to everyone right now. Okay.

Unknown Speaker 49:20

So yeah, that's,

Melissa 49:22

I have an Instagram too. So I can share that with you. I can send you the link. Okay. Um, it's at traveling wallet Roamer for Instagram. But I'm just learning Instagram. So you know,

Unknown Speaker 49:36

that's fine. Now, but this is great. Thank you so much, Melissa, for taking the time to come and talk to me about your journey and about money. And I'm really excited that I've learned a couple things. And now I have to go Google a couple things now to learn a little bit more. But yeah, but I think the most the thing that resonated the most with me is the fact that don't be afraid because it's not that complicated. And I think it's Yeah, you know, being brought up in a environment where it was all hush hush, you just assume that, oh, you know, if you don't know about it, then it must be really hard and difficult and that kind of thing. So now that this kind of just blew it blew the myth right out of the water. So thank you.

Unknown Speaker 50:19

Thank you.

Malini Sarma 50:22

And I will talk to you soon.

Melissa 50:24

All right. Thank you so much for having me. Bye bye.

Transcribed by

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Malini Sarma

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Hello. I am Malini. I am a dancer, world traveler and storyteller. I am a hard core fan of chai and anything hot. I am always looking for new adventures and would rather be outside than inside.

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