Monday, May 14, 2012

Some Thoughts on Huge Life Changes

You may want to get a cup of coffee before settling down to read this.  I think this is the longest post I've ever written!

On my last post, I received this comment from Lorraine who is getting ready to make a big change and move herself and her family to Florida soon.  "What if we never live this well again? What if we move and hubby gets a job that doesn't pay well or if he loses it? Or if he can't find a job at all? We desperately want a change, but at the same time we are afraid things won't work out the way we hope. Did you go through a mourning period when you gave up your big house, your old life and all your stuff?"

A year and a half ago we did something similar by selling nearly everything we owned, including our house, then hitting the road to travel with no particular destination in mind.  It was a pretty big change now that I look back on it...
First, the impetus to totally change our lifestyle was kind of thrust on us which is a bit different than making a conscious decision to give up everything and move.  At the time, housing prices were sinking like a rock and my biggest work contract was coming to a dramatic end so our choice was to make a drastic change or try to keep up the status quo.  That meant that I could scramble for work and keep paying big house payments on a house that was losing value every month or we could sell quickly and get some equity out of the house then use that to pay off our debts so we could be debt free.  That choice also meant that we would end up basically homeless.  On the other hand, being homeless and debt free would immediately increase our net worth from a big minus figure to at least a small positive figure.  Also, at about the same time, some of our friends were literally dropping dead.  These were people who had everything and lived very well and had plans to travel a lot more "when they retired."  Unfortunately they died.  That was pretty profound in and of itself.  Since the hubby is 20 years older than I am, I realized that we wanted--make that needed--to spend more time together and do the things we had planned on doing "later" NOW.
So with a lot of convincing of the hubby (he is pretty much a home body and doesn't like change) we decided to give it a shot (I have no idea what got into him, even five years before this he would have been adamant about not changing anything but I hit him with the above info--repeatedly--and he relented).
After that, everything moved too quickly to give us much time to worry about anything.  It was like a three-ring circus at our house what with potential buyers coming and going, weekly garage sales, and nearly daily CraigsList sales.  By the closing date we had some stuff in storage, our backpacks packed, and one way tickets to the hubby's sister's house in Atlanta which was going to be our first stop on our trip to where ever (we ended up staying there for nearly five months to help here with her grandkids).  From there we went to Las Vegas for a couple of weeks, went back to Seattle to stay with a cousin for a couple of months, then went to Japan and the Philippines.  When we were in Las Vegas the cousin we were staying with said we really ought to buy a place there since homes were sooooo cheap.  She immediately produced a realtor who showed us around and, especially since hubby is a poker player, we decided that a super inexpensive home base in Las Vegas, even if we kept traveling, would be better than putting up with another cold, rainy winter in Seattle.
So after the Philippines, we packed up a moving truck and drove our van and a few household goods to Las Vegas.  We put our stuff into a storage unit in Vegas, stayed with another cousin for a month, then yet another cousin offered us a great deal on her vacation condo so that we would have a place to stay until we bought a house.  After much looking (and 14 offers on homes) we are now on the verge of moving into our new house.  Yeah!
Getting back to Lorraine's questions...
  • What if we never live this well again?  Unless hubby wins a big poker jackpot or I get a big book deal, we will never live as well as we did before.  However "live as well" is very subjective.  I don't really want to live like we did before because it required debt (and lots of it) to maintain that lifestyle.  It also required a lot of time apart for us since we were both working, and it required a mad consumer scramble just to keep up appearances (a $500 purse just to keep up appearances...what the heck was I thinking???).  Now I am quite happy to buy my clothes at the Goodwill (when I buy a shirt for $1.50 at the Goodwill I always ask myself if I would rather work three hours to be able to afford a similar shirt at Macy's and the answer is always no way), and while I do want a new car, I again ask myself if I want to saddle myself with a 40 hour a week job to be able to afford it (again, the answer is no way).  Overall I am really happy with a much more scaled down lifestyle and I honestly think we are living better--if you discount the material goods--than we were before.
  • What if we move and hubby gets a job that doesn't pay well or if he loses it?  Now this is definitely a question to worry about.  We were fortunate in that even without working, hubby had a military pension and a social security check coming in each month.  Because we no longer had housing costs or debt payments, my salary was no longer needed to make ends meet and we could easily live on just hubby's income.  If this wasn't the case, we would have definitely been a lot more worried about having some sort of income coming in.  I've noticed that many people who have changed their life dramatically often start some sort of online/portable business ahead of time so at least they have some money coming in.  Plus if your bills are super minimal, you will need lots less income than it took to support your previous lifestyle..
  • Or if he can't find a job at all?  This is the case in Las Vegas.  Jobs are very hard to find here and my friends who moved here a few months ago are still scrambling to find odd jobs to support themselves.  Again, I think with some creativity (Lorraine already has a wonderful eBay business going) and being open to a different lifestyle (living way below the typical American lifestyle but enjoying yourself none the less), you may not even need a regular job.
  • We desperately want a change, but at the same time we are afraid things won't work out the way we hope.  This is where I was as far back as a couple of years before we moved.  I felt like something had to change because while I was used to our lifestyle, since it was the only thing I had ever known, I also felt there had to be more to life than working, paying bills, buying more stuff, etc,  It was a horrible, "typical American lifestyle" that literally killed my mother in her mid 50s.  But I was, for some unknown reason, very optimistic that things would work out somehow, and that starting from scratch, as opposed to deep in debt, would put us at a place to restart our life after traveling (with a last resort fall back plan of living in the jungles of the Philippines on $500 a month if things didn't work out!). 
  • Did you go through a mourning period when you gave up your big house, your old life and all your stuff?  Oddly enough, getting rid of everything felt like a big, giant relief to me.  Then again I am not sentimental at all and I don't get attached to material things either.  Literally our house could burn down and as long as the hubby and I were safe I would be thinking "oh well, on to the next adventure."  Weird huh?  Also, now that we are settling back in to a normal lifestyle, we have learned that all of our material items are infinitely replaceable (preferably from a Thrift Store as we learned that our expensive department store decor items were actually worth pennies on the dollar when it came time to sell them).  It also felt good to get off the work roller coaster for a while, and it felt especially good that people weren't depending on me so much (I had a business, a separate non profit, and volunteered for a half dozen community Boards and people were literally calling me at all hours of the day and night for every conceivable problem).  
tl;dr In case you want to skip over the wall of text: you only go around once in life so you should make it as adventurous and entertaining as possible.  I think living like everyone else is highly overrated and you really can't make yourself step up to big challenges, learn how to fail, or be more successful than your wildest dreams if you don't take some (make that many) risks along the way.  Things will work out, somehow, and the way things work out when you start moving towards what you really want in life may surprise and delight you.  Also, you are better than you think you are.  More resourceful, more creative, more determined--but you seldom get to test this in your regular life.  What ever it is that you want, go for it.  Now.  And if you need some inspiration, start here with Nancy's blog.


  1. Thanks April for this post. When I asked "What if we never live this well again?" I really didn't mean material things as much as I meant security. My husband makes a decent living. We are able to pay our bills and still have money to take vacations and enjoy life a little. We don't spend money on extravagant things like jewelry, clothes or designer anything. I can't even remember the last time we went to the mall. Our needs are fairly simple. We've been paying down debt and saving money for the big move and our daughter's education. I guess my thoughts were along the lines of; if we part with most of our material possessions (including our nice house) and our plans go sour after we move, we could end up with nothing. We recently went back to a town where we used to live and our once beautiful home has deteriorated so much that we barely recognized it. The town looks so poor as if no one cares anymore. We moved away just in time. I think those images are haunting me. I think I'm afraid of being poor. Yup, that's it.
    I think that what you have done with your life is amazing and so brave. You seem to have no fear and I'm inspired by that so very much. I admit that it really bothered me when you didn't have a home there for a while. I realize now that having a safe and secure home of my own is very important to me and leaving the one I have now is going to be hard, but PA is not where we want to be anymore. We have to move on and turn the page to the next chapter.
    Thanks again for your post! Hugs, Lorraine

  2. Great post. Very thoughtfull. I am sure you have already read but the book "Your Money or Your Life" talks about time versus money just like your post did (I liked the book but we are doing it our own way just as it seems you did - versus the regimented way in that book - a good read either way for inspiration).

  3. Cheapchick--I read Your Money or Your Life years ago when it first came out and while I thought it was a good read, I wasn't ready to really hear the message. I think age and experience made me more ready to grasp the message when I read it a few years later!
    Lorraine--I remember you worrying me back then! Our circumstances are quite different than many people making a big change because we had a good enough amount in savings that we could always have rented an apartment if needed (plus have a steady monthly income to pay rent) plus hubby's family is both huge (495 people on their FB family group to date!) and mostly well off and generous which means many people offered us a free place to stay (again, not everyone has that luxury) so that eased any worry we had about literally ending up homeless. Also, hubby was in the Navy for decades which meant moving to him was no big deal as he moved every few years and I was kind of over the fact that I needed a house to be stable (as opposed to when I was 19 and bought a house because growing up had been so chaotic that I thought a house would give me roots). Also the whole picking up stakes and heading off thing has much to do with your personality (my sister is firmly a home body and her life revolves around her family and home so I dont think she would ever want to leave our home town) and what point you are in your life (we wouldn't have been nearly this brave if all five kids were still at home!). I am sure what ever you decide will work out well. I am actually looking forward to the great finds you will make at garage and estate sales in Florida!!

  4. I'm adding your tl;dr section to my wall. Very encouraging. For the record, I did read it all but I'm saving this bit!

  5. I think what you did was extremely brave!!!! It takes alot to give up everything you know and just change.....

    I hope everything works out with the house