Back in early 2014, before moving to Florida, moving back 2.5 years later, getting divorced and starting over with not even a fork to furnish an apartment (I took my clothes and a few small items, that was about it), and some major financial whacks over the head since then – 50 foot pine falling on the house, appliances dying, major dental bills, etc. In the before, I was deeply frugal, and within 10 years of paying off my mortgage.
But I was also pretty unhappy.
Fast forward 6 years, and I’m very happy, but for a long time I, and then Eli (who was also decimated by some health issues over the years) have been rebuilding our lives from a possession/asset/financial perspective. Some of this was absolutely self-inflicted, and that’s okay. You make choices, you live with them.
This summer, as we reconfigured the house as a first step to both accommodating all of us home all the time due to Covid-19 as well as ensuring we had places to sleep for more kids as we start our journey to adopt, we hit a point where we had actually basically acquired most of the things. Sure, we still need a generator and Eli some more tools and all that, but basically, we’re done other than some budgeted-for home maintenance, like taking down more scary pine trees around the house so they don’t fall on us and dealing with the basement water issues.
Which leaves us in a place where we are free of all debt except the mortgage, and can turn our efforts to more long-term goals. While sometimes it’s hard for me to look back and see 6 years of financial shakiness and upheaval, I can also look at what we’ve both accomplished, and feel incredibly proud. Not only have we settled in here for good, we’ve also constructed a life that is exactly what we want it to be. Can we hike, camp and canoe, 3 of our favorite, no-added-charge activities? Yes, yes we can. Garden, chickens? Check. Living spaces that are comfortable and make us happy? Check.
This because when we do spend money, we employ foresight, and invest in things that will bring us joy for long periods of time – the garden, the chicken coop, and so on.
When we took out the canoe last weekend for it’s maiden voyage – because a canoe was not just a canoe, we also needed a rack for the car, a rack to keep it on here, paddles, life preservers and so on, so it took a bit of time and investment to get it to a place where we can use it on autopilot, I thought a lot about goals and foresight. Upfront spend and elbow grease were required here – I ordered the canoe with backs on the seats because we’re already in our 40s and I know our backs aren’t likely to improve with age – we have a canoe we can use for 20+ years. Eli built a rack that allows him to simply slide the canoe on the car, no lifting required. The sheer joy we both felt as we (ok, mostly Eli) paddled down the river is now replicable over and over, without costing another penny.
So what’s next?
Well, so that’s the interesting thing. We have some major goals and projects in the time ahead, and we’re already planning for them.
First up, is to cut our expenses down to the bare minimum so that we can save as much as humanly possible. This is going to require us relentlessly reviewing every dime we spend, from my $6.99 weekly bottle of wine – which is actually really great wine – to what we spend on food, entertainment, and even whether we can save on electricity and water. We’ve started talking through each expense. Eli is naturally frugal, I used to be, and we’re going back to our roots to see just how much we can save and conserve. Frugality is the path that will allow us to maximize our dollars, and minimize the time it will take to achieve other goals.
Second, and deeply important, is to structure our lives so that we can ride out Covid-19 for as long as it lasts. This means freeing up Eli from pounding the pavement for one-time illustration jobs as much as possible so that he can work on some more long-term creative projects. The idea is that these pay off, but even if they don’t, we won’t know unless we try. But also we’re freeing up Eli so that he can be more present for the kids, because my job isn’t that flexible during the day, and their Dad has to be physically at his workplace. It also means budgeting in our babysitter at least through fall, as I have my doubts about schools reopening, or if they do, staying open. The idea is that she is teacher some of the time, with our support and guidance, if we have to switch to a fully homeschooled structure. This costs us money in the short term, but we view it as an investment in their future.
Third, we have 2 house-related goals. The first is to pay off the house as fast as we can, and the second is, in 2 1/2 years, to do some really major renovation. This is our forever house, and we’ve spent some real time and money with an architect making a design that is meant for that.
And no, I didn’t type those two goals in reverse. The house payoff goal is independent of the renovation goal. Both are obtained by saving more, spending less – and slowly ratcheting up what we overpay on the mortgage. Ideally, we manage both in cash, but we’ll see where we land. We know what we have to do, it’s still just a little fuzzy to us how we do it. But most things become more clear over time, and we have a time limit: no more house payment by the time Connor goes to college. We’ve got time, but not a ton. Still, like most longer-than-5-year goals, this one will evolve. In the meantime, we continue to amp up our mortgage overpayments and watch what we spend.
Last, we have some other savings and spending goals. Up our emergency fund to a full year of expenses. Give, because we’re blessed and we can. We currently support our local food pantry with a monthly donation and sponsor 3 children through World Vision, which is a great charity. We certainly want to do more. And once we have that full year of expenses we’ll probably start to build out a fund for other projects. We may eventually buy an RV but we’re not sure. We’re going to see how life plays out.
Goals are good for marriages, in my opinion. Sharing goals and finding a path to get there together feels good, and strengthens bonds. When, over 9 days Eli and I reconfigured 3 rooms and turned Connor’s new space into a room fit for a growing boy or two, we felt pride and partnership. Setting goals together, like adoption or renovation, is next-level teamwork. This doesn’t mean it all goes perfectly – did we bicker about whether my weekly wine expense was a grocery item or should come out of my personal spending money budget – sure we did. Did we bicker while painting? Oh yes. But in general, this is teamwork above all, and we know that at the end of the day, both of our perspectives make it better. And working together we accomplish so much more than we ever could alone.
These are BHAGs – Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals – that we set to challenge ourselves to meet over time, without getting distracted by the day to day. Will there always be a cute sweater I want or a tool he wants? Sure. Will we ever cut out ice cream as non-essential spending? That’s probably a no. But slowly, little by little, we’ll position our lives and our finances so that we knock these goals off the list and strengthen our relationship as we go.