I’m Sorry Our Life Sucks

A few years ago, I wrote a post called Coming Out Minimalist. In it, I talked about how hard it is sometimes to explain minimalism to friends, family, and co-workers, especially when you’re talking about the intersection of minimalism and money. Back then, I struggled in helping the people in my life to understand how living with less meant having more (money) and more specifically, how it was okay to be a one-income household.

Folks, let me tell you something – if you thought explaining minimalism was hard, try explaining downshifting, early retirement, or just plain quitting that job that was the one source of income for your one-income household. Let’s just say, you might want to brush up on your advanced calculus skills, because you’ll have an easier time getting people to grasp those concepts.

If you’re new to this blog, I quit my job last September, after 8 years of telecommuting as a grant writer for a non-profit in Denver. It was something I wanted to do a long time before I did – not because I was unhappy with the work I was doing, but because I saw greater opportunity in other areas and being tied to an employer was keeping me from pursuing them. Not all of those opportunities produce an income and I think that’s where my friends and family really struggle; but instead of asking me how we’re making things work, they say things like: “I’m praying for you to find a job you enjoy.” or “Maybe you were meant to do x, y, or z. Have you considered any of those jobs?” or my personal favorite: “I’m sorry your life sucks right now but I’m sure it will get better when you go back to work.”

I do understand that their sentiments come from a place of concern. I also understand that in our family/community/world, you are often defined by what you do for a living. I imagine it’s hard for them to define someone who might write a grant one day, count houses the next, and take the rest of the week “off” to paint their mom’s kitchen or babysit their great-niece and nephew – all without worrying about how the rent is going to get paid.

And on that topic, I want to dispel another myth. We are not rich. We didn’t get here through FIRE. We have investments but they are not paying our bills – at least not yet, and we don’t want them to until we are truly retirement age. We didn’t have a stash of cash when I made the almost rash decision to quit my job. We literally make ends meet by having fewer ends.

Our friends over at Decluttering the Stuff, mentioned the phrase “practice living for retirement” in a comment earlier this week and it struck me – that’s about the best explanation I can offer for how we can make do without a steady job. In 2016, we spent the entire year “practice living”. We diligently tracked our saving and spending and made every effort to live on 50% of our income. We never made it all the way to 50% but we came pretty close, and what we learned from this “practice living” was that we could live a really good life on a lot less than what we made from my job. The next year, I cut back to part-time.

For the next three years, we continued living on less, while also reducing the number of financial obligations we had. We paid off two student loans and our car; got rid of miscellaneous things like cable, contact cell phones, and subscription services that we weren’t using; and took a long hard look at how simple things like shopping less, eating better, and being more mindful could help us to better our personal and financial health. It wasn’t an easy path. It’s still not an easy path.

Sometimes the bread we spent all day on doesn’t rise. Sometimes that 30-minute job takes us an hour to complete. Sometimes the phone rings and whatever plans we made for the day are thwarted. But then there are days when the recipe we made comes out lip-smacking delicious, the 30-minute job only takes 10 to complete, and the person on the other end of the phone is calling to invite us to dinner. This is life. Make no mistake, it’s going to happen this way regardless of what you do (or don’t do) for a living.

Yesterday, we spent 15 minutes on a side-hustles that earned us $25, Afterwards,we ran into the thrift store next door, where Angie happened to find the exact pair of garden boots she has been looking for for over a year! Then, we picked up a few groceries (with the $30 gift card we got from our insurance company for doing all of our wellness activities last year) and stopped to check on my mom (who had made us some fudge!). We even enjoyed a delicious dinner of spaghetti, made with tomatoes from our garden last year, and were right in the middle of working hard on the never-ending jigsaw puzzle we started two weeks ago when we heard the news that our life sucks. Needless to say, we were shocked. It’s never easy to hear such devastating news.  But…

After much prayerful consideration, we’ve decided we’re okay with it. In fact, we’re pretty happy to have a life that sucks this much.

Alaska or Bust??

I read The Box-car Children when I was in 3rd grade and decided then and there that I wanted to live in a boxcar. To my 9-year-old self, stealing milk off doorsteps and sleeping on a straw mat seemed an adventurous and independent thing to do. Then I read Where the Red Fern Grows and instead of boxcars, I wanted two little puppies to hunt with. Mind you, I never wanted to actually kill anything; just go out at night with my pups and a lantern…maybe steal some milk off a doorstep and sleep on a straw mat. Even now, I still read every day and I still want to go, see, and do the things that I read about.

A few months ago, Angie and I were on an Alaska kick. My mom had gotten us hooked on Alaskan Bush People and we had each picked up a few books about folks living in remote Alaskan villages (like If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name by Heather Lende and Forty Years in the Wilderness by Dolly Faulkner). As always happens, we started daydreaming about going there and even looked into Alaskan cruises. We both told our parents that “our next big trip would probably be to Alaska”. And it probably will be. But when we say the words “our next big trip”, we don’t exactly mean the next time we pack up the car and pull out of the driveway. It could be a few years before we make it to The Last Frontier. In the meantime, we have other plans, though none of those plans included hurting the feelings of someone we love. Yet, it seems that we did.

Angie’s mom said she wanted to go with us if we went on a cruise to Alaska. We said that sounded great, and we moved on without much of a second thought. Why? Because my mom always says that she wants to go with us to Hawaii the next time we go. My nephew tells us every time that he sees us that he wants to tag along if we ever go to Ireland. Angie’s aunt and uncle said once that we should all plan a road trip together and my niece mentioned at Christmas that we should go with them to Florida this summer. It’s something people say and sometimes it turns into a real plan, but more often than not, it’s just a way to daydream about a vacation together. But Angie’s mom was serious, and it seems she was expecting us to go this spring.

Of course, now we feel terrible. So terrible in fact that we considered hastily putting together a trip just so we wouldn’t let anyone down or make anyone mad or cause anyone to miss out on such an opportunity. Thank goodness we came to our senses, because we are in no way ready for such an undertaking!

And honestly, most folks aren’t either. Did you know:

  • 75% of Americans have gone into debt to pay for a vacation at some point in their lifetime,
  • 23% did so in the past 12 months,
  • 55% don’t budget for vacations (or factor them into their annual expenses), and
  • Over the past year, Americans borrowed $12.64 billion for vacations, racking up $778.77 million in interest and other charges?

Have you ever heard the term “debt-lag”? It’s what happens when you return from a vacation with debt. We’ve only ever had it once – when we hit a few snags on our 2014 trip to California and Hawaii – and we decided then and there, we would not have it again. Not for any reason. If we couldn’t completely pay for a certain vacation destination, we would simply not go there. There are way too many other, cheaper places to go when the “exotic” or “once in a lifetime” locales are not [yet] within reach.

Our plan for Alaska (or any other big destination) is to save up before we set off. Looking at cruises, lodging and activities gives us an idea of how much we need to add to our vacation fund and how long we need to save. You might say, a lot of dreaming and scheming goes into our travel planning process. I get that it’s not the same for everyone, and that’s okay. If you are ready for and able to take a big vacation, like an Alaskan cruise, and that’s what you have your heart set on doing, then that’s what you should do. We just aren’t there yet.

We gently and lovingly tried to explain our position to Angie’s mom. She was disappointed, but I’d like to believe she respects our decision to avoid debt. More importantly, I hope she understands that though we might not be going to Alaska this year, she is always welcome to go with us wherever we may roam…even if it’s just to the park. (We have plenty of hammocks, by the way 😊)