My husband and I have played our financial cards right. Upon getting engaged in the summer of 2009, we sat down to discuss our finances. In our meeting of the minds we decided to not only pay cash for our wedding and a down payment on our home, but to also get out of the $25,000 in our combined personal debts within a year. We knew the amount of strain money can place on a marriage so we made it a priority to mitigate this strain as much as possible from the beginning as much as possible. While it took a little bit longer than a year to accomplish all of this (14 months), since September 1, 2010 we have been non-mortgage debt free. On top of this we both have been maxing out our Roth IRA accounts for years, contributing to our employer’s retirement funds, and have saved up eight months in an emergency savings account.
We’ve done all of the “right” things with our money by conscientiously choosing to live a frugal lifestyle, paying off our debts, and prioritizing savings. But so what?
I am not trying to downplay the incredible blessings and obvious benefits we have reaped from living a purposeful, frugal lifestyle. Our future is looking bright, and our life has been incredible so far. We could have easily continued down this cushioned path of two people working 9-5 jobs, saving/investing an entire person’s pay each month, and accumulating our wealth for days to come. Trust me when I say that we would have continued to feel very blessed had we decided to do so. But ever since we paid off our debt and consistently saved 29-40% of our annual take home pay, we have been searching for meaning beyond just numbers. You see, money is wonderful to have and to be in control of, but a big stash of it doesn’t come with happiness. It can bring comforts, security, stability, and the absence of it can bring a lot of misery. But living a life of accumulating savings/investing/retirement—rinse and repeat—is not enough for us.
This is when we began to look at lifestyle design. I have dreamt of being a writer since second grade, a dream I thought I would never have the chance to pursue due to the obstacles involved. Still, dreams are hard to repress. I created my blog during a bout of unemployment in the summer of 2008, and have worked 30+ hours each week on it for the last four years while maintaining a full-time job as an environmental investigator. For the last two and a half years, I have made side income each month ranging from money to cover a date night all the way to enough to pay the mortgage. With our finances in order—debt paid off, locked in to a great interest rate on a 15 year mortgage that is 30% of my husband’s take-home pay, healthy retirement accounts—I knew that it was time to give our lives a redesign so that I could give self-employment a try.
It may sound easy to have pulled the plug with my husband’s steady paycheck still coming into the household. But it wasn’t. My husband and I sat down for several heart-to-heart discussions over the past year where we talked about our future, our present, our dreams, and our finances. Paul was completely supportive and onboard; he truly believed in me, which was just incredible. It was me who floundered a bit. I worried about the transition, about writer’s block and burnout, about no longer being able to save 40% of our net income, about whether or not we wanted children and how that would play into this, about the guilt I felt in leaving a decent job in a field that I liked, etc. But then one day in early January as I got out of my car and started walking into work, it just hit me. All of my fears, guilt, and questioning literally melted away and I just knew that the building I was about to walk into was no longer where I was meant to be. It took an incredible amount of courage to tell my boss, but in the end, the most difficult filter I had to get through was me.
The biggest lesson we have learned from this experience is that money for money’s sake is no good. You can earn and save a million dollars, leverage that into a billion dollars, but at what expense? Instead of accumulating more than any person or couple could need, why not learn how to live on less of it instead and cash out on a better life? The new thinking in our household is to make enough money to sustain our modestly comfortable lifestyle as well as to max out our retirement savings. With the time and energy our new goal of financial moderation has freed up, we will invest in our own happiness instead.