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Meet a Reader | Heather, a CA flight nurse

Today we’re meeting Heather, who has a very cool job. AND she lives in two different places in California. Here’s Heather:

1. Tell us a little about yourself

Hey ya’ll! I am an early-thirties, married flight nurse that currently splits her time between Los Angeles, CA and Mammoth Lakes.

Heather in her house.

I love the dichotomy of living in the busy, fast-paced metropolitan that is known for glamour and then driving up for work in the High Sierras and spending the days in the mountains and farmland.

snowy mountains viewed from a plane window.

As flight nurses, we work 24-hour shifts and can be called at the drop of a hat for a call. Some days we don’t have a call all day and some days I can fly for 18 hours straight.


My base supports both helicopter and fixed-wing med-evac, so it isn’t uncommon to be in three states in less than four hours depending on the type of transport.

Heather in a plane.

Because of my very non-traditional schedule, I end up having a week off in between rotations, so I get a decent amount of free time. As of now, that free time is spent doing house DIY projects, small-scale homesteading and writing.

My husband and I are child-free by choice, as neither of us really has jobs that are conducive to raising a family. However, I am lucky to have numerous niblings for when I get the urge for that “new baby” smell.

I figure that I can’t have kids because where else are my nieces going to have a coming-of-age story over the course of a summer at my eccentric but tastefully decorated house by the coast?

2. How long have you been reading The Frugal Girl?

I found Kristen and The Frugal Girl in college (so over ten years ago). However, I finally came out of the lurker corner about a year ago and here we are!

3. How did you get interested in saving money?

I grew up in a pretty frugal household. Though we were solidly middle class and never went without, I remember my mom coupon clipping, teaching me the virtues of store brands, and my dad mending my clothes.

I started college right as the early ’00s recession hit and that affected me greatly. My college tuition went up 30% in one year and getting full-time hours at either of my jobs was extremely difficult, so I started researching money-saving efforts.

4. What’s the “why” behind your money-saving efforts?

Because I have champagne taste on a mid-level beer budget.

My husband and I are fortunate to make good salaries, but I am the first to admit that I like nice things and enjoy being generous to my friends and family. I like to own nice things that last a long time, surround myself with beauty in my home, and be able to treat my loved ones to similar things.

So in order to make those things happen, I look to frugality.

5. What’s your best frugal win?

TheRealReal and estate sales.

Like I said, I like nice things. TheRealReal and local estate sales let me get brand-name, oftentimes designer, clothing, furniture, and home items. for the same price or less than I would pay for a fast fashion option.

I recently scored a vintage Armani silk blazer for $35. I couldn’t get that for the same at any big box store.

Plus, I kept something out of a landfill, it’s one less ethically-dubious item of clothing I own and it’s completely unique from everyone else.

6. What’s a dumb money mistake you’ve made?

This is going to be controversial but: graduate school.

I know. I KNOW.

I would never say education is a waste and there are valuable things that could be gleaned from every academic endeavor, but for me, it was a waste of money.

I started on my Master’s when I was a shiny new nurse and had no idea what direction I was going in my career. By the time I realized what aspects of nursing I enjoyed, I was too far into it to back out.

So I have a Master’s degree that I will most likely never use and isn’t really relevant to my career path. I just wish I had taken more time for some self-reflection and to gain more experience.

7. What’s one thing you splurge on?

Food and experiences.

view from a plane.

I live in one of the best food cities in the world, so trying new cuisines or ingredients is one of my biggest splurges. I am really lucky and live within walking distance of many multicultural supermarkets and I have a policy of trying one new thing every time I go in. This doesn’t have to be something big or expensive, maybe just a new vegetable I don’t know or a sauce to try.

As the world opens up, my husband and I have made it a point to see as many concerts and attend as many events as we can. I worked through the pandemic in a Covid ICU and one of my biggest takeaways is to just do as much as you can because you never know when that string of life is going to be clipped.

This is my little reminder to myself that while frugality is important, I will not be on my deathbed glad that I saved the money, but missed seeing Pearl Jam live.

8. What’s one thing you aren’t remotely tempted to splurge on?

The “bling” aesthetic.

Living in Los Angeles can really skew your perspective on what is normal and there is so much pressure to keep up with the Jones’s. I am not one to be flashy, so that so many of my fancy car, giant diamonds, and four-star resort lifestyle, doesn’t really resonate with me.

Another reason why I love living part-time in a rural mountain community is that it really helps bring me back down to earth and is very grounding.

9. If $1000 was dropped into your lap today, what would you do with it?

Right now, I am saving and working overtime because I am planning my parent’s surprise 50th wedding anniversary party this year, so it would probably go into the savings account earmarked for that.

My parents got married very young and didn’t have a real wedding, so I am trying to give them a bit of a redo.

However, as that is an outlier; I would say normally it would go towards investment accounts. My husband and I are working on a down payment for a second property for rental income, so every little bit helps.

10. What’s the hardest part of being frugal?

Saying “No.” Or feeling envious of some of the experiences of others.

Even though I grew up pretty middle class, a lot of my family grew up extremely wealthy (like going to elementary school with Hollywood stars wealthy) and it took me a long time to come to terms with the differences in our lifestyles when I was growing up. While I was having my vacation in a rental RV, they went to Europe for a month.


Even now, I sometimes get a twinge of envy, wishing I didn’t have the same financial constraints and could have these amazing experiences with ease.

However, as an adult, I think I am the lucky one. I grew up in a lifestyle that I am able to maintain now, independently from my parents. Knowing that I am the one that pays my bills and I am not beholden to anyone else is actually freeing.

11. What single action or decision has saved you the most money over your life?

Community college.

My dad taught at our local community college for most of my life, so I started taking general classes when I was around 15. By the time I graduated high school, I had the equivalent of an associate’s degree in credits. I also chose to go to community college for two years after high school. This allowed me to work full-time and save money like crazy.

As I mentioned before, my four-year university tuition went up 30% in one year after I transferred; I couldn’t imagine having to pay that amount for all four years.

Additionally, community college allowed me to have the space to explore with minimal repercussions. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, so I could take classes that I was interested in without the worry that I was wasting money on a class that wasn’t necessary.

Community college is the main reason that I was able to graduate college with very minimal debt, which I think gave me a massive head start.


Heather, I loved reading about your life! I am so intrigued about your job; how did you discover you were interested in flight nursing? What all does your job entail? Are you mostly keeping patients stable and comfortable during transport? Also, are you doing mostly emergency types of service?

I’m also curious about the graduate degree; what did you get yours in?

And I love that you started out at a community college; I’m getting my R.N. at our local community college, and my kids have all taken community college classes during high school.

Readers, the floor is yours!

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Monday 10th of October 2022

In California, Community Colleges are a great option for many students. If you meet certain requirements they are even a guaranteed acceptance to certain University of California campuses. However, it's important to be aware that only 20% of the students who attend community colleges with the intent to transfer to a 4 year university actually do so--it takes a highly motivated student to follow the pathway. My kids did not want to attend community colleges with all of their friends because--as one daughter put it--"it would feel like going to 13th grade". Very few of their peers went on to 4 year university programs and followed professional career paths.

(We are fortunate to live very close to a California State University so that my kids could get 4 year degrees and save money by living at home).

That's not to say that everyone MUST go to a 4 year university to get on in life, but it is to say that the students must be realistic about their goals and aspirations to get the most out of a community college education. For someone who is not sure about what they want to do, I love that Heather recognized it's a great and inexpensive way to explore options. And getting pesky GED requirements out of the way at a very low cost is extremely frugal.

California Community Colleges offer an excellent education at an affordable price.


Wednesday 5th of October 2022

We’re also child free by choice, and absolutely LOVE that I’m the quirky minimalist aunt, with the unusual job, and the free time and disposal income to have really fun adventures. My 7yo niece has developed a love of sushi and libraries, and has learned to swim in the ocean with us among other things. It’s great that we get to model happiness in a non-traditional way. I think it helps them grow up evaluating what’s right for them rather than following the pack. Your job sounds awesome and you sound fulfilled ❤️


Wednesday 5th of October 2022

I love your hair! And your approach to life :) I'm also using my child-free life to help create fun experiences for my nieces they likely wouldn't get.


Tuesday 4th of October 2022

Ah, the High Sierras. We used to have a side business down the road in Bishop and I’ve spent a lot of time in the area. I haven’t been back since 2017 and a quick trip to Lake Sabrina. My late MIL had to be medivacked from Mammoth to Pasadena years ago - she had broken her pelvis in a fall and the elevation was causing her all sorts of problems. She hated flying and avoided it as much as possible but there was no way, as you know, to quickly get her down to the LA area without flying. And my dad has been flown twice from his small local hospital to larger hospitals an hour away. Thanks to you and all who do what you do!


Tuesday 4th of October 2022

The discussion on the value of top tier colleges is so interesting! I think it does really depend on what you want to do. I went to Ivy League undergrad and graduate schools and am now tenure-track faculty at an Ivy League university. There is no question that those credentials helped me into my current career (and likely were an unspoken requirement). When I think back also, several of my peers from undergrad are now famous writers, composers, showrunners, etc - there is this component of being surrounded by creative people that can't be dismissed. I hate sounding elitist but there is a reason these schools are so hard to get into and so $$$. A waste of money for sure if one's aspirations lie elsewhere, but like Rose, I'm very grateful for my experiences and as I was supported by generous financial aid, it worked out pretty well.


Wednesday 5th of October 2022

I definitely do think that these types of colleges make sense for some people in some fields! I just think for someone like me, who wants to be a nurse, a less-expensive school is a very good option.

School is not a one-size-fits-all thing, and there are so, so many variables (both personal and economic) that go into deciding what's a good fit for a particular person.

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