Friday, April 20, 2007

Simplifying with the big picture in mind

Over the past couple of days I've been mulling over my sister Rachel Anne’s posts on simplicity.

I thought about some things we have done as a family over the years to simplify our lives. Two significant things came to mind:

Going to school. This may not sound like a simplifying matter, but in our almost-twenty-two years of marriage, I can’t think of one thing that has impacted us more. It forced us to define our goals, and to focus on what really mattered to us.

Dennis and I were very young when we got married. He worked in a small grocery store, and I worked as a clerk for a phone company. We knew that we wanted to have a family, and that we wanted for me to stay home some day, but that would be impossible in our current situation.

So while our friends started buying houses and having babies, for the next several years, we lived in a tiny apartment, drove old cars, worked full-time and took part time classes at the local college. After we’d been married seven years, I graduated from nursing school. A year later, Dennis got his degree, two days after our first daughter was born. He was 30; I was 27.

For the next seven years, I was a mostly-at-home mom. I worked part time as an RN while Dennis found his way in the corporate world. Each time he got a raise, I cut back my hours, so that by the time I finally quit, the loss of my income was minimal. We were by no means rich, but after fourteen years of marriage, we had finally achieved our goal of letting me stay home.

Four years after that, I suppose now sensing the financial pressure of providing for a family of five, Dennis felt he needed to go back to school part time. And by part-time, I mean REALLY part-time. During those five years, our fourth child was born, and Dennis finally graduated with his MBA two weeks before our fifth child was born. He was 40; I was 37.

Downsizing. A few months after I graduated from nursing school, we bought our first house. Dennis was within months of graduating, and he was still working full-time. I suppose after spending all those years scrimping, we felt we “deserved” it somehow. In addition, I naively assumed I’d “always” want to work some , even after having kids (hey, I had worked hard for my career!), so we counted my income when we qualified for our home loan. Big mistake.

As I mentioned above, a year later, we had our first child, and fifteen months after that, we had our second. We had underestimated (a) the lifestyle change having children would bring (I hated leaving my kids with the babysitter), and (b) how expensive they were! We managed to pay our bills with my part-time income for two more years, but were becoming increasingly stressed financially. We went back to review our goal: Yes, we wanted me to be home, at least most of the time.

We were faced with a decision. Either I was going to have to work more, or we were going to have to sell the house.

I remember the verdict becoming very clear to me one day when I was standing in Walmart, debating whether or not I could afford a $3 package of socks for my baby. Needless to say, we sold the house.

It was one of the hardest, but also one of the most freeing, experiences of our lives. We rented a small house for over a year, paid some things off, and got our priorities back in line. The next time we bought a house, we qualified for it on one income only – my husband’s. A much wiser decision.

Why do I tell you this?

Many of those years were far from simple. They were very hard, physically and in every other way. And yet, on another level, since our lives were focused in the direction of our heart's goal, we were at rest. It's a paradox.

Those two decisions - investing in education, and making hard financial choices - have opened doors for our family (and not just financial ones) like nothing else has. My husband has more options career-wise and (most importantly) he gets to do what he enjoys - remember, a man who is happy at work is a happy man, indeed! We don’t live in a fancy house, but I get to stay home, and that’s what I enjoy.

We still have to watch our spending carefully (we will never be rich), but because of these experiences, we made it a lifestyle to live within our means. This alone simplifies our life, and makes us free to enjoy the other benefits of those sacrifices made years ago.

We realized it's never too late. We thought we were "old" graduating from college so "late" in life. Pshaw. Dennis was still in school when he had four kids and a very pregnant wife. It was hard, but when I wasn't wanting to kill him I supported him, because I knew it would ultimately be a good thing for all of us.

The fact is, life is LONG. Your sacrifices might be different from ours. Perhaps yours might include scraping by for a few years to start a family business. Regardless, making sacrifices that help you work toward a goal with long-term benefits for your family will never be wasted.

16 comments:

Chris said...

I ABSOLUTELY loved your sister's posts, and I think it is from walking down the path myself. You have also posted something that is so close to home. There is a huge cost to being home full-time but one I would never exchange because the time here is priceless and could never be bought with dollars.
You have shared such wisdom and I hope those just starting out with their families will hear your heart and heed your wisdom.

Blessings

MIchelle-This One's for the Girls said...

Beautiful.

Lauren S. said...

Great post and so needed! I think the best advice anyone ever gave us when we married was to live on one income from the beginning. It was difficult, and it was also tempting to spend the other income when everyone else was doing fun things, but what a blessing! Not only did we not have to adjust when I quit, but we also started a nice nest egg in the very beginning. I hope I can pass this on to my own children (and I hope they will listen). :)

Rachel Anne said...

This is great. I've never thought of schooling as simplifying but you are SO RIGHT. It is a long process with the "big picture in mind."

Barbie said...

Thanks for the much needed encouragement for me right now! My husband is just finishing his Junior year of Bible college and I am pregnant with our 4th. Our days are LONG and hard, but we feel this is what the Lord has called us to.

It was great to hear from someone on the other side of working towards a goal. I'm looking forward to being on that side:)

Susanne said...

This is a wonderful post to add to the one's your sister wrote, Katherine! In our situation, neither of us had the education, to make it on one income and I have always had to work but I chose to work at home. It has it's own sacrifices but I got to stay home with my children which is where my heart was. We've never driven a brand new car and since having children have never been on a great big fancy vacation. But being home has been as Chris said, priceless.

Alan and Jen said...

Thanks for this. It is a real encouragement to me as my husband is going back to school full-time in July in order to pursue his dream of becoming a teacher. It is only a 1-yr BEd program, but I am due with our third child in Sept. and it will be a tough year on all of us, I have no doubt. This makes me think that in the end it will be worth it!
- Jennifer (www.sightsabove.wordpress.com)

Christina said...

This was a great post, I just had to comment. I think you are already rich in the lessons you learned. Some are very similar to me and my husbands. I still have 5 children at home and 2 are grown, but both are happy with the things they have and are very careful with money. So I am thinking that working hard, not having an abundance of money, and living the simple life pay off in dividends especially when the kids are on their own and you realize they are copying the things you have shown them.

Glass Half Full said...

Simplify. This word has been found in practically everything I've been reading or watching since the new year started. I welcome the reminders!

Emily said...

Thank you for writing this. The husband in higher education really resonates with me - my husband just completed his masters and is contemplating continuing for a doctorate. Finances are tight and it is hard to have him "away" from us so often (we have two children) but I know that ultimately it will be a good decision. Anyway, thank you for the encouraging reminder of that fact!

Antique Mommy said...

Education is never a waste - if not as a path to employment, then as a path to enlightenment. Great advice to young couples starting out - live on one income and put the other away. Very good post Kathryn.

Beckyb said...

BTW - I nominated you for a blogger award - you have to come to my blog to find out!!!

Megan said...

I thought I commented on this already . . . pregnancy brain!
Anyway, thank you for sharing these thoughts. We have struggled with the same issues - particularly on the downsizing front. It is so very hard when literally all of your friends are building beautiful custom homes and you are STILL not ready/able to even buy a house - let alone build one. Anyway, this was very encouraging at just the right time.

Kara said...

Wonderful post :) I really sympathized with the part about your first house. Last year we bought our first house. DH just graduated and had a new better job, and we were tired of renting. We though we could make it on his income alone while I was home with the kids. We felt like we "deserved" a lot of things that we really shouldn't have bought. We ended up in a lot of debt, until I finally had to get a part-time job, and we cut out alot of things we didn't really need, like satellite TV, and sold a lot like our laptop. Thanks to many blessings God has sent us, we are now doing much better financially and I was able to quit my job to stay home and babysit my neighbor's baby. I have been working on simplifying out life and realize that I am much happier when I'm not spending money we don't have on things we don't need.

Jennifer said...

I need to catch up with Rachel Anne, too, but this is so well said and such good advice.

My husband has always kept us within our means. We don't have to sacrifice (in the grand scheme of things), but we also do not keep up with the Joneses.

marian said...

"Life is long." Good point. Sometimes everything seems so urgent. My mom was seriously considering going to law school when she was nearing age forty, but decided against starting such a thing when she was so old. Now 23 years later she still is healthy and sharp, works full time, and realizes that she could have been working in law fo *20 years* at this point!