Four short weeks from today, I will go to work for the last time. Holy cow! It’s crazy to see those words in writing. I’ll walk out of that building and leave the school district where I’ve worked for the past fourteen years. As we’ve been telling people about my recent decision to stay home with the boys after this school year, a common reaction has been, “How did you get so lucky?”
I know that what they really envy is the not-working aspect of the whole deal, not the staying-home-with-kids aspect. Some are also moms who long to have more time with their own little ones. I know they are genuinely happy for me. However, I feel some level of concern when I hear people thinking luck is such a big part of our situation.
I used to have the same mindset, thinking that whenever a friend was in an enviable situation, she was lucky. Now, my perspective has changed. I don’t think luck has much, if any, bearing on this new development. (If it does, the bad “luck” pretty much balances out the good.) The primary reason we’re able to do this now? Choices. We’ve made many choices over the past nine months that opened up doors we thought were closed forever.
We have made plenty of financial mistakes that have affected us years later. Fortunately, with some intensity of purpose in paying off debts and figuring out our game plan for retirement, we’ve been able to seriously turn the tide in nine short months.
Last July, my husband stumbled across a Mr. Money Mustache blog article while searching for creative ways to invest his upcoming pay raise. We don’t mind saying that we credit MMM largely for the improved state of our finances today! He opened our eyes to new ways of seeing work and careers, spending, saving, investing, and financial independence. If you’re unfamiliar with Mr. Money Mustache, the short summary is he retired in his early 30s through savvy investments and frugal living. His blog tells his story of bucking trends of overspending and debt.
Reading that first post from MMM set off a chain reaction of both of us reading other articles and blogs in the personal finance world. It was exciting! We learned about so many people who are finding different ways to save money and put it to better use. Rather than the doomsday predictions one hears about the state of retirement options in this country (particularly in education, particularly in our state of Illinois), we were now hearing “Yes, you CAN retire at a decent age, with dignity.” A whole new world of possibilities opened up.
What we have done in these nine months is pay off all of my remaining student loans (undergrad and grad), cash out two whole-life insurance policies, greatly increase our 403b contributions and emergency savings, and reduce our spending across the board. We obtained cheap cell phone plans with Ting, we shop at Aldi instead of costlier stores, we don’t go shopping for entertainment, and we find cheap or free options whenever we can.
These changes have all added up in big ways! Now, we know where our money is going. Every dollar has a purpose. We don’t waste our money. And now we know that we CAN afford to live on my husband’s income for two to three years. Actually, we can do that pretty easily, and we expect to be able to save a good chunk of money even without my salary.
I’ve had pangs of regret over the past three years as I’ve taken my kids to daycare. While I don’t judge any mom who utilizes a good daycare for her kids, and I know my kids have always been in capable hands, I still desired to be with my kids more. As we passed my second child’s first birthday this past February, I felt more strongly that sadness over missing so much of his young life. When our first child was born, being a SAHM (stay at home mom) seemed financially foolish. Now, thanks to the default changes we have made, we know that we can do this.
I think there’s a danger in the mindset that our financial circumstances are bound by luck or fate. That takes the burden off of ourselves. It makes us believe we can’t do anything to improve our lives. It makes us feel trapped and victimized. Poor me, I didn’t get ___ so I can’t do ____.
I don’t write this to say that we’ve done everything perfectly, or that if your finances aren’t what you want, it’s all your fault. Certainly, there are some factors out of our control, such as the family we’re born to or the perspectives we’re taught. We all have things that we can’t change. I’m just saying that we have to be careful about complaining. For our own sakes, we have to look for ways WE can better our circumstances.
Luck is not the main factor in reaching financial independence. Whatever your financial goals may be, take an honest look at where you are now and then make a game plan for how you can reach those goals. Piles of student debt? Credit card debt? Too-low income? Lack of education? All of these are things you can fix, with hard work and commitment. Goals of early retirement? Staying home with kids? Starting a business? Figure out your steps to accomplish it, and get started. Don’t let thoughts of bad luck deter you from trying something new.
Please, if you’re used to using bad luck as a crutch, stop. You are truly only hurting yourself with this attitude. I wish I had adopted a more choice-centered viewpoint a long time ago. Change that default now, before you waste your life on what-ifs and missed opportunities.
Where do you want to be this time next year? In five years? Ten years? Fifty years? Make a game plan and go for it! We can’t wait to hear your stories and your victories!