Thursday, March 10, 2011

Downsizing in a Supersize Society

I’ve undergone quite a philosophical change over the past few years that has culminated in my family’s decision to downsize to one income. It started several years ago when my husband and I found ourselves very much in debt and living paycheck to paycheck even though we both had college degrees and decent jobs. I knew that the path we were on just wasn’t right. I knew we needed to pay off the debt but I wasn’t sure how. I read “Your Money or Your Life” as one of my first forays into my search for this new way to live. I learned some great principles and had some limited success. We stopped using the credit cards immediately and started trying to pay down the debt. The road was bumpy. Layoffs and other unexpected things happened but the real problem was that we weren’t focused on how we spent our money. We tried to budget but never tied our spending into the paper budget. Then, when we decided to try for another child, things got serious. I ended up on bedrest early in my pregnancy and suddenly my income was greatly reduced. We didn’t have savings and needed to borrow money from my parents to tide us over. It was just a thousand dollars but it was enough for me to realize how close to the edge that we were treading. I got real about the budgeting. We started sticking to it and saving money. When it came time for me to deliver we had saved over nine thousand dollars in the span of about six months. Since then we’ve lost a little steam. It’s easier to save when you have an immediate goal of something like covering maternity leave. But we’ve stuck to our frugal lifestyle principles. We did end up moving to a bigger house and buying a car. These were conscious decisions that we made after long periods of consideration about the real tradeoffs.

Now we’re taking a few giant leaps with our approach. We’re going to cut half off our income in one fell swoop. To me it now seems like a natural decision to do this. I see a million pluses and only a few big negatives. To me the ultimate goal isn’t what is left in the piggy bank at the end, it will be what beautiful experiences have I had in my life.

Not everyone sees things this way. For a lot of people it is about the piggy bank and the material trappings that represent that piggy bank: the big house, the cars, the clothes, the vacations, and the knick knackery. It goes against the tide to choose to have less (money and material possessions) so that we can have more (time spent with one another). I think it is hard for people to comprehend because we’ve been indoctrinated from an early age by the media to believe that more is always better. You always want to earn more money, have a more high profile job, buy a bigger house, and drive a fancier car. We’re always supposed to be advancing forward to more not choosing less.

I think it’s the easy way to measure your success in the world. I can easily see that my neighbor’s Mercedes is much better than my Mazda. But how easily can I tell that my marriage is healthier than my neighbors? I can tell that your little girl is wearing expensive shoes and mine is wearing shoes from Target. But how well can I see that your daughter feels safe and secure and gets all the attention and time that she needs? This is not to say that because I choose to stay home with my kids that suddenly all our problems will go away. That my marriage will be perfect and my kids will always be happy. I couldn’t disagree more. My daughter is just as well-adjusted and happy if not more than many of the children I know with a stay at home parent. This is just my rationale for why we’ve elevated monetary worth far above things like time, personal health, and relationships. From now on I have to acknowledge that I am using a metric to judge my success that is far different than many of my peers. When I cook a meal in my small kitchen or have to drive an old car for ten more years, I know why I’m doing it. I know that I traded those things in for a few more moments, a few more smiles and laughs, just a few more minutes spent with the people I love most in the world.

No comments:

Post a Comment