The Year We Saved $10K: It Was 2008 and California Was on Fire

After a summer of sharing our “the year we saved $10K” stories, we are reaching the end. Here are two more stories to share: one from Emma, who has a finance blog of her own called Let’s Talk About Money, and one from Irene, who saved money by fighting fires.

Emma: I save $12,000 every year, and have since I got my first job out of college. I do this by:

– living with roommates in a not-so-great neighborhood
– rarely eating out or buying new clothes
– rarely traveling (I go on yearly vacations but never anything over $1000 for two people)
– driving a used car that I paid cash for

Right now, in my current job, after I put my $1000 into savings, that leaves me $800 to pay rent, food, bills, insurance, etc. I have a liberal arts degree and work in marketing/content creation.

Some jobs, it’s been less money left over, and some jobs I’ve been able to save a lot more, but I always save a minimum of $1000 a month.

Irene: I was a wildland firefighter for the forest service. My base pay was probably only around $12/hr but when you fight fire you get lots and lots of overtime. First there’s standard overtime, which I think was time and a half. Then there’s hazard pay (sweet sweet H pay) that gets you time and a half if you’re actually fighting a fire. Add to that Sunday differential, a little extra pay if you have to work Sunday, and holiday differential, same deal for national holidays. So, if you’re working overtime fighting a fire on a Sunday you could be basically doubling your hourly rate.

This was 2008 and California was on fire. We were on a detail down in Northern CA, 14 days on, two off, generally ~16 hr days. I was on an engine so I mostly did structure protection and spot clean up. We set up cool janky sprinkler systems around the few houses out there and cleared brush from around their houses during the day. Then when the back burn ops happening at night, we waited in our engine for a small fire to spot across the line (burn where it’s not supposed to be burning) and we’d hop out and barrel down the hillside to go spray it out.

Best job ever.

So, we made a fair amount of money, but what really kept me from spending money was the fact that when I wasn’t on a detail, I was living in a town with 592 people and it was an hour to the nearest grocery store. There was nowhere I could spend my money if I tried. Housing came out of our paychecks and I was 19!

I couldn’t go try to buy beer in town, they all knew my boss and I was too chicken to try anyways. My college tuition was paid for, I was still on my parent’s health insurance (oh yeah, we didn’t get health insurance…) and I didn’t own a car.

My biggest splurge was buying a carbon fiber Leatherman skeletool with my first California paycheck. It was $70 whole dollars and it’s still my everyday knife.

Moral of my story, if you wanna save $10k in a few months, be 19 and take a job in the middle of nowhere that makes you grapple with your own mortality on a daily basis.

It was great! It was fun! It was heartbreaking! I saved $10k but I also went to the funeral of a peer who died on the job. I saved 10k but to this day I am dazed for a week whenever there’s a fire tragedy. 2008 was a rough fire year, especially for those of us who worked in the Pacific Northwest.

The $10k I saved that summer floated me through my last two years of college and through several of my cross country dream chasing moves. It was a huge boon for me, but I know I speak for every red-carded firefighter out there, even the one-season firefighters like me, that every one of us would give up our whole season’s pay if it would bring even one of us back.

Irene asked me to share a link to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, a charity for fallen firefighters’ families.

Photo: USFWS Mountain-Prairie

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