From Broke to Financially Woke Interview Series – Handful of Thoughts

Today, I am excited to share with you the latest interview in the From Broke to Financially Woke series!  The purpose of this series it to give hope to those struggling to escape from the not so secret group Broke Phi Broke.  A group whose chant is, “We ain’t got it. Broke, Broke, Phi Broke! We ain’t got it. Broke, Broke, Phi Broke!”

To help me accomplish this goal, I have invited the best and brightest of the financial independence community here to share their stories. As you read their interviews, pay close attention to the mistakes they made.  Take mental note of the success principles they used to turn things around.

When trying to apply these principles to your own life, realize that success in life is rarely linear. You will encounter some struggles. A pandemic may derail your financial plans. But stay persistent.Keep moving forward.

Our special guest today is Maria from Handful of Thoughts. Although she graduated from college without any debt, when she and her husband purchased their first home for $342,000, the debt increased her anxiety.

To resolve this issue, she devised a plan to pay off a whopping $342,000 of debt in five years! How’d she do it? I’d let her tell you the story…

Introduce yourself.  Where do you blog?  What are some of your interests outside of financial independence?


My name is Maria and I am the founder of Handful of Thoughts, a resource dedicated to helping moms take control of their time and money.  I am a full-time high school teacher and mom to a toddler.

Outside of being interested in achieving financial independence, I love to read and create things (digital products, knitting projects, sewing projects).

Tell us about a time where you were a member of Broke Phi Broke.  How did living paycheck to paycheck make you feel as a person?  At your lowest point, how much debt did you have?


Thanks to some parental support, a part-time job, and many scholarships, I was lucky enough to come out of university debt-free. (I’m also Canadian and attended a Canadian university that is much cheaper than American ones).

From there I continued to live like a student while working at my first “real job.”  Avoiding lifestyle inflation gave me lots of options and freedom even though my base salary was “technically” under the poverty line.

When I met my then-boyfriend/now-husband and we continued to live frugally and moved in together.  I was extremely debt-averse and the thought of owning a home and the mortgage debt that came along with that made me anxious.

But we eventually bought our first home and with it came a $342,000 mortgage. The regular mortgage payment took away the options and freedom I previously enjoyed. Now a portion of our paycheques every month went to servicing our mortgage debt.

I felt trapped.

We were now both working and had a common goal to eliminate the mortgage as soon as we could.

I hated having a mortgage payment and how restricted it made me feel. Yet, on the other end of the spectrum, I loved having my own place and knowing that I would not have to continue to move.

When we paid off that mortgage in less than 5 years there was an immense sense of pride. That we had accomplished our goal without the outside help of others.

Yes, winning the lottery or obtaining a large inheritance would have accelerated the achievement of our goal.  But it would have robbed us of the feelings of pride and self-accomplishment we had in knowing that we had done it through our hard work.

The sacrifices we made along the way were worth it when we achieved debt-free status.


What are some of your biggest financial mistakes?


One of my biggest financial mistakes was not understanding how the tax system worked. I could have been smarter with my savings by taking advantage of tax-advantaged accounts when I first started working.

When I started investing in real estate I didn’t realize the tax implications of these investments until tax time.  That mistake resulted in a $13,000 tax bill that I was not expecting.  

Since then I continue to own rental properties but make sure to invest in tax-advantaged accounts too.  This helps to not only lower my taxable income and therefore how much tax I will owe, but it also helps to increase my net worth at the same time.


Describe your upbringing.  Where did you grow up?  What did your parents or teachers teach you about money?


I grew up in a small Canadian town outside of a large city.  At the time the town was small and everyone on the block knew everyone else.  The population has since exploded in this small town to the point where it is hardly recognizable now when I go back to visit my parents.

My debt aversion and desire to be financially independent came from my parents.

I remember the moment in which my parents celebrated being mortgage-free. This made it attainable for me.

My parents also always worked full time. And they didn’t retire until the traditional retirement age. In seeing this, I wanted something different.

Indirectly, I learned the connection between money and freedom.

I have an older sister, and I saw how my parents would take things away from her as punishment. From an early age, I thought that if I bought my own things then my parents couldn’t take them away.  They couldn’t repossess something that wasn’t theirs.

So I made it a point to always want to buy my own things and to be able to afford to do so. I was (and am) very stubborn in this way.

I wish my parents had directly taught us more about money but it wasn’t something that was often talked about in our household. Money was also not something they ever talked about when they were growing up.

I am lucky to have a great relationship with my parents and now as I continue to learn more about personal finance I am the one sharing my lessons with them.


How important is becoming financially woke to you?  What steps have you taken to increase your financial knowledge?


As a parent, being financially woke is now even more important to me. Not only do I have my own future to think about I also have another human being relying on me.

I want to break the cycle of not talking about money. My goal is for my daughter to grow up knowing about money and feeling empowered to take control of her own finances.

I am continuously learning new things and have found personal finance blogs to be one of the best resources for information. People learn through stories which is exactly what blogs are.

Although I have tried some online courses before I found the ones I took to be a bit dry.  The nice thing about blogs is that you can have an interaction with the writer and fellow readers.  

Blogs also allow you to get information on an as-needed basis. When it comes to personal finance this is really important. When the information you receive doesn’t match where you are in life it is more difficult to interpret and apply it. (I think this is where the gap occurs in financial education in schools).


What are some of the key principles you have used to improve your financial life?
Success Principles


  • Pay yourself first and keep your savings out of sight out of mind. I’ve always kept my savings in a high-interest savings account separate from my everyday checking account.  This makes me less likely to spend the savings as I don’t see it with my regular transactions.  There is also a psychological benefit to this – I feel like I have less money to spend and therefore also don’t want to spend as much.
  • Have a plan for your money.  This doesn’t have to be a strict budget, but having a plan or personal investment policy statement helps to give your money a purpose.  Automate as much as you can – this is part of my money plan. The easier you can make handling your money, the more likely you’ll want to manage it.
  • Keep learning. I am constantly learning more for people who are much smarter than I am.  As I learn more I adapt how I deal with my own money.  Some of this new knowledge can also be transferred into more income which is an added bonus.


How often do you consume personal finance information?  Name 3-5 of your favorites sources (books, podcasts, blogs, etc.). 


I am a massive consumer of information, I am often reading multiple books at the same time as well as keeping up with my regular podcasts and blog favourites.  My 5 favourite sources would be:

  • BOOK – Your Money or Your Life by Vicky Robbins & Joe Dominguez
  • BOOK – The Simple Path to Wealth by JL Collins
  • PODCAST – ChooseFI
  • PODCAST – ExploreFI Canada
  • BLOG – Gen Y Money (


Where are you on the path to financial freedom now?  


From a quality perspective, I am in the accumulation phase on my path to financial freedom.  In terms of numbers, my husband and I (we combine finances) are about a third of the way to our magic number.  But that being said we are currently working on creating a plan that would see me leaving my day job and working for myself before we hit our magic number.


Is there any advice/encouraging words you can give those who are struggling to escape Broke Phi Broke?


Take small actions every day. It may not seem like a lot today, or tomorrow but after a year or a decade those small actions really do add up.  Those actions could be money related such as increasing your savings or paying off debt, or they could be knowledge ones related to increasing your financial literacy.


How can the readers contact you?


You can find me on my blog Handful of Thoughts, shoot me an email at or connect with me on Instagram or Twitter @thoughtshandful

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Read more interviews in the From Broke to Financially Woke Series.

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Author: Jerry

Jerry is a Business Insider Contributing Writer who is obsessed with personal finance. He believes you can improve your financial situation by applying principles taught by the financial independence community to your financial life.

If you are having trouble saving, he recommends that you join the SaverLife Savings program where you can get a $60 reward after six months (no income requirement). All you have to do is put a minimum of $20 a month into a savings account. Easy, right?

For a fun read, check out his article 10 Signs You’re a Personal Finance Addict to see if you are a personal finance nerd.

Before you go, check out the new From Broke to Financially Woke Interview Series.

Also, please subscribe below if you found his content valuable and want to continue following him as he documents his own journey from Broke to Financially Woke!

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4 thoughts on “From Broke to Financially Woke – Handful of Thoughts

  1. Awesome to see Maria on here (hi!), congrats on a fun interview.

    “$342,000 of debt in five years” – wow! That’s a lot of debt paid off *very* fast. Great job!

    I think your point about “pay yourself first” is a good one. Keeping some of your income “hidden” from sight makes it easier to not spend it! That’s why those automatic 401k contributions from a regular paycheck can really build without you noticing it since you don’t even see the money in the final paycheck.

    If you can automate that process so that money is pulled out of a checking account right after your routine paycheck come in, squirreled away to savings, even better! I think it could be smart to create a secondary checking account that receives the money you actually use to pay for stuff while the primary depository account pushes those funds off to your automated (pay myself first) savings/investments and the balance goes onto the secondary account for bills and fun.

    Thanks for sharing the interview with Maria! And, Maria, great job to you and yours up in Canada! Keep it up and you’ll blow past that halfway to the way to the magic number quickly!
    Chris@TTL recently posted…Negotiating Pay Effectively: Why I Turned Down a $175K SalaryMy Profile

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