Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Financial Decision Made Six Months Ago

My husband and I had just finished the last of the prep work on Christmas Eve, putting the stockings and presents out for the kids, and we'd just gone to bed when my husband chose to share a decision with me. He felt if he didn't have a job in this area paying a certain amount necessary to continue funding this lifestyle, that by February first, we'd put the house on the market in order to downsize. We wanted to get out from under our mortgage debt and also to save money in property taxes, which have gone up 60% in the last ten years; the taxes have risen in a higher proportion than our income and faster and higher than the cost of living index.

I found having this discussion on Christmas Eve to be quite upsetting to say the least. I felt sick to my stomach then and it started a new stressful chapter in my life that I'll call "Feeling Unworthy".

It was a rough winter here weather-wise and we ended up not being able to put the house on the market on the original date we'd planned on. On that date the houses were still buried under a couple of feet of snow and had thick ice on the roof. That was not ideal real estate selling time to say the least.

I found it a hard adjustment to feel we would have to leave this home that I love so much. I knew I would miss this land, these woods and everything that I love about this place: the wild birds, the creatures, my garden, and the trees. In the time I've lived here I've taught myself more about nature and botany, whereas my former knowledge was about cultivated gardening. I was sad about leaving the sunsets and the quiet peace and the nice space that living on three acres allowed.

It was a crappy feeling to feel that we "had" to leave due to finances. It gives a sense of rejection to look around at the neighbors and feel "we're no longer worthy of being here but they are". To live here in this town comes with a financial cost, and if you can't afford it, you're out. Maybe this town is different because we're a small town and there really is not much diversity; it's not like other places where you can live in a town and there's a range of living options and a range of people living there that go from lower income brackets to wealthy levels. This is not just a "white bread" as in Wonder bread town, it's a fancy artisian bakery made bread type of town.

I was reminded of an article I used last semester in my current events homeschool co-op class that was about a study about the amount of money a family earns versus their happiness level. It was said that a person measures their state of affairs based against their own neighbors. If they were doing fine like the neighbors they felt happy, regardless of the actual income level earned. If they were doing better than their neighbor they felt great. If they felt they were doing worse than their neighbors they felt terrible even if their income was higher than someone living elsewhere who made less than they did.

The article seemed to want to peg a number onto a happiness level and they said that generally once a family is over $70K a year it goes with the neighbor comparison thing, that the actual income earned has no correlation with happiness. Those living with less than $70K felt more of a daily financial struggle that contributed to them feeling unhappy and worrying about more basic survival.

Thinking about us versus our neighbors, I didn't let myself get envious per se or angry with my neighbors, I didn't get into an "us vs. them" situation. You never really know what goes on behind your neighbor's doors. The truth is I know for a fact that some of my neighbors are not doing so well either, or may be even worse off than us. Two are in a terrible situation with their jobs, having been forced to take a pay cut while being made to work more hours. One family has been hours away from having a foreclosure house auction, not once but twice. One family has had mujust ltiple failed businesses. Some here are doing great or keeping at the status quo, and there are others I don't know anything about.

Rather than feeling jealous of others, I began to feel the allure of having zero debt. The idea was so enticing! I also started realizing how we do not utilize all this square footage so it's really not necessary to have a house this size. I now dream of the day we live in our own home mortgage-free, that's my new idea of bliss. I'm over the idea of having a house as a status symbol.

We thought if we could sell the house we would enjoy living debt-free. We'd rent a place, a small place. Perhaps we'd temporarily live with a relative (a scary thought for me as I suddenly realized how important independence is). My deceased grandmother's former four bedroom home was vacant, so that was a possibility also. My father offered to rent it to me (he's not the giving away for free type, even with his own children).

It was been hard though, thinking we would have to leave our home combined with not having a job and not knowing where we would wind up, or when. That's why I shifted my mindset to being open to moving anywhere in the country or even in the world in order to have steady income. I started to think that I'd rather move away to wherever a job is in order to have a weekly paycheck and be all together as a family than stay in this state without income.

At one point my husband was in the running for a job in Dubai! We seriously considered that as a real option due to necessity. After researching life in Dubai more I thought I really would prefer to remain in America to enjoy the freedoms I am accustomed to as an American woman. I was ready and willing to go to any state in the nation just to remain state-side.

I like to think of America as being a place where people are usually moving upward and onward. If you follow the rules of our society, if you are a good citizen, then good things will come to you. I thought that if you work hard at your job and do well at your job performance then the career should always be in a good place, either staying at a good spot, a nice plateau or even better, getting promoted and growing and evolving over time to better and better positions and earning more and more income.

The truth is that it doesn't always work out that way. You can do all the right things and good things don't always come to you. You can be qualified for a position and not get the job. You can work hard to perform and then hear that no one in the company is getting a raise that year. Governments can make policy changes that affect your career field and change the way business is done, for the worse for the workers.

Life is not always fair all the time, that's a fact, it's a sad fact, but it's a true fact nonetheless.

It's also a fact that sometimes life throws challenges at you and you just have to run with it. Sometimes old plans have to be changed to make way for newly revised plans.

I've been thinking about what really makes a person happy and what our family's priorities are. I feel our number one priority is to remain intact as a family and to be together. No matter what kind of place we live in (a small rented apartment, a small home, or whatever) we will be together and we'll make the best of it. This home we're in now may just wind up being the best house we'll ever have lived in, if that's the way it pans out, that is okay. What's more important is our family, that we are healthy and that we are together.

I also thought about our homeschool journey and wondered if it was coming to a close. I looked at what jobs were available for me and considered going back to work full time. The option for schooling then was just one thing: to use public school. Therefore where we wound up living would affect what school my kids enrolled into. I suddenly felt as if perhaps I'd taken my freedom to not work for granted and maybe had not made the best of my years homeschooling my kids. That shifted my perspective and I vowed to make more of each day that I had with my kids. With that in mind I changed our schedule to be home more doing 1:1 lessons with my kids and let go of doing some stressful activities.

In these last six months, I have been trying to keep my husband's spirits up so that he would be in a good frame of mind for the job search. I was trying to have my kids remain in a good stae of mind too, lest they not develop anxiety about finances or worry about a move to who knows where.

I've had a lot on my mind in the last six months. I didn't blog all of this stuff because I felt it was too personal to air. Today I choose to share it because I think that in general people in our society tend to hide certain feelings and ideas from others. People have no problem sharing the good things or bragging about something they just bought but they often won't share their worries or tell when they are having financial challenges, or tell about their choice to downscale their budget.

When I started feeling sorry for myself, I would remind myself of how good my life actually is when looked from the big picture perspective. I reminded myself the good husband and kids that I have. I know some people who are really struggling with bigger issues than just unemployment, a hopefully temporary state of affairs. Sadly, some people deal with more permanent problems such as a health crisis, a ruined marriage or death of a loved one.

I got through the tough days by telling myself perhaps good things would come tomorrow. Maybe a job would be landed and we'd look forward to a new life someplace else rather than just moving out of here while being jobless. When I had a bad day I looked forward to bedtime knowing I may wake up in a great mood after a deep night's sleep. That usually did happen, which I was grateful for.


Crimson Wife said...

I hope everything turns out okay for you. My DH was out of work from October 1st through May 1st so I can definitely relate to much of what you've been going through. We were not sure whether we'd be able to continue homeschooling or whether I'd have to go back to work full-time. With 2 year old who is developmentally delayed, that was a really tough possibility to face.

Fortunately, God was good to us and my DH was able to re-join the company where he worked from 2006- mid-2009 at a higher title & base then when he left that firm. It's not quite as much as he made at his most recent position, but fortunately we went conservative on our mortgage. We had been paying extra principal to pay it off faster and now we will just pay what's due.

DaphneB said...

This post couldn't have come at a better husband and I recently made a very difficult and serious financial decision as well. I lost my job almost a year ago and we have decided that my staying home with the children is more important than the fancy car or the "things" that our lives used to revolve around. It is liberating, scary, and a relief all at once. But we feel that we have made the best decision for our family and our true needs. Best wishes to you and your family, I'm sure you will be surrounded with love no matter where you wind up.

floridakotan said...

I appreciate your transparency. You are in a tough spot and I feel for you. Our family had to make a huge move 18 months ago and to be quite honest I'm still grieving the loss of our "old" life. But there are lessons learned and still so much for which to be thankful.
I think is the first time I've commented, but I have been enjoying your blog for a while now, couple of months, I think. You'll be in my prayers. Keep looking forward to tomorrow. (Gotta love that optimistic attitude!)