How Do You Define Success?

successRecently, I discovered that someone whom I thought of as a close friend has secretly been judging me for quite some time. Now, we all have opinions about our friends from time to time that we keep to ourselves such as: “I’m not lovin the new haircut,” and “I don’t think that ‘blackened’ chicken means burnt to a crisp.” Our friends are not us and we will therefore probably not agree with every decision they ever make. This is normal.

This “friend” of mine, however, told my husband that he should divorce me because I am a “user.” After the shock, sadness and feelings of utter betrayal calmed down, I started to think about what he was talking about. He clearly viewed our relationship as inequitable. Having maybe spent a total of 10 hours with him over the past year, I quickly realized that his opinion had nothing to do with fact or even observation but was purely based on what he knew about us.

My husband works a typical 9-5 job. In a cubical. In computers. Downtown. He makes a decent amount of money and is the primary breadwinner for our family.

I run a part time photography business from my home which brings in a reasonable part time income. This allows me the time to take care of the things around the house. More importantly, I am the one who volunteers at my daughter’s school, attends the meetings, picks her up when she is sick and after school, takes her on outings after school and plans learning opportunities for her.

I tried to put myself in this “friend’s” shoes. What does he see? He sees my husband going to work every day and me staying home. To him, success is having a 9-5 job. In a cubical. Downtown. While failure is working from home spending time with your family.

That is so messed up and backwards.

But the really scary thing is: he is not alone. We are trained to believe as a society that success is working 40+ hours a week while getting paid well. This is what we all work towards achieving through years of school. It is typically the first thing asked at a party (“what do you do?”) and your response can instantly change someone’s opinion of you (“I am a doctor” vs “I am a mom”). The respect you receive correlates with the amount of money your said profession makes.

When I had Tiny Eivy and became a mom, I chose to stop my career in teaching. It didn’t make financial sense. In other words – the cost of raising a family, caring for a home and all the messy details that go along with that surpassed my teaching salary almost ten fold. Seriously. I – in my infinite love of spreadsheets – actually took the time to calculate it all out. Part of that included learning to do things myself which I have talked about in previous posts, and the hidden benefits of learning new skills while saving money – but part of it was just everyday stuff like watching our kid and transporting her to activities.

But – blah blah blah – I am not the first person to talk about the financial sense of having a parent work from home part time or simply stay at home. There are so many studies out there about the actual cost of running a family. None of it matters though because we, as a society, do not value work that is not paid directly. My friend’s silent judgement of me is proof enough of this. I’m sure that once we are retired these same people will no longer consider even my husband successful.

Even though we will never have to work for anyone else.

Even though we will travel the world.

Even though we will get to spend all the time we want together as a family.

Even though we will have all the time in the world to pursue our personal passions and follow our personal inspirations.

SHHHHH – don’t tell anyone but I’ve got a plan to combat this consumerist backwards view of success. From henceforth when asked, I will no longer tell people that I am a part time photographer and mom, instead I will cycle through the following titles as I see fit:

  • Chief Financial Officer for Eivy Household and Shadowpuppet LLC
  • Accountant and tax advisor
  • General Contractor specializing in kitchen remodels
  • Teacher
  • Landscape Architect
  • Personal Chef specializing in dietary restrictions
  • Personal shopper
  • International Photographer
  • UX Designer
  • Therapist
  • Project Manager

This is fun. I could go on, but the point is this: the more titles I accumulate the less I have to pay other people to do these things. The more I am independent – financially, personally, environmentally… Independent is the key word there. I don’t relay on anybody or anything to live a life full of passion and joy and that is my definition of success. What’s yours?

Getting Inspired

muscleWhen I first heard about this whole minimalist lifestyle, I laughed it off as something that might work just fine for others thank you very much but was not for me. Who wants to spend their life counting their pennies and stressing over every purchase?

Then again, who wants to live their life working a 9-5 job in an office cubical?

Being a firm believer that it never hurts to gather more information (after all – you don’t have to actually DO anything with that information if you don’t want to), I sat down and started to make some spreadsheets with projections.

“What if we stopped eating out?”

“What if we stopped buying new things?”

“What if we tried walking everywhere rather than driving?”

With each question, I watched our DATE OF FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE get closer and closer. Then the really hard questions started:

“Would it hurt to give it a try?”

“Would our lives suck if we cut down on expenses?”

“Would this lifestyle put a strain on our lives? On our marriage? On our family?”

I’m not gonna lie. At first it was HARD. I wanted to eat out constantly. I kept thinking about things that I wanted to buy, and I really missed my Starbucks coffee!

I didn’t think this whole minimalist thing was for us. It just wasn’t going to work, but I promised myself I’d give it a month. That was January. January was “buy nothing” month and let me tell you, I was counting down the hours until February 1st.

But then the craziest thing happened. February rolled around and I realized that I was so happy that I hadn’t bought that stuff that I didn’t actually need or really want. I was thrilled that I had all the money that I would have spent eating out safely invested making me more money. The biggest realization though, was that instead of driving my family apart, we ended up spending more quality time together – doing fun things as a family.

I hate the word “frugal” since it brings up images of being cheap and tight, but for lack of a better word I realized that being frugal was like building a muscle. At first, it feels like your arm is going to fall off and you can’t wait until you can get out of the gym and eat some ice cream, but slowly it gets easier and easier. Then, one day you realize that it is too easy so you start to give yourself more challenges and you actually enjoy those challenges.

Just like a muscle though, if you neglect the frugal lifestyle, your frugal muscle starts to atrophy and you start to forget all the reasons why you wanted to build that muscle in the first place.

Six months into this frugal lifestyle and I realized that I had stopped menu planning which had started to lead to, “lets just get take out tonight.” Driving to the supermarket seamed so much easier than walking. Plus it was raining (yep – not a great excuse when you live in Seattle). In other words, my frugal muscle was started to decay. Our accounts hadn’t really taken the hit yet but it was only a matter of time.

This is the point where you groan and realize that you had better get your ass back to the gym. My gym is other people who are living this way. People who are retired and traveling the world. Enjoying the simple pleasures of spending time together on a long after dinner walk. I think about the poor people who get trapped in the debt trap and I feel so grateful that my life never took that turn.

Here is a great article about living minimally. I disagree that it is a millennial thing, but everything else he talks about it right on. There are so many other people who inspire me and I know once we pay off our home I’ll feel so much better.

Six months ago, if you had told me that I was going to pay off my home by September, I would have laughed in your face, but with the housing market the way it is, things are looking good. So, there is a silver lining.

May Wrap-Up

downloadIts my favorite time of the month! The time when I get to sit down and calculate how much progress we made towards our goal of financial independence!

May was the first month this year where we have not had some major appliance fail on us which meant that our savings rate was finally where we wanted it to be. That along with some particularly low utility payments (we are in that perfect zone of not needing heat or cool in the house) has left us with a savings rate of….wait for it….80%!!!

You read that right, folks. 80%! This includes having to shell out $200 for a new vacuum after the one that I got for free from my neighborhood buy nothing group didn’t work….surprisingly…

I’m doing my little happy dance.

The truly surprising thing about an 80% savings rate is not that we were able to save so much of our income but rather how easy it is to do this. I never feel like I’m depriving myself. I’m not stuck at home every night afraid to go out. I’m living my life exactly as I want to, doing exactly what I want to do. Living a simple, frugal life is not something that only a few special people can accomplish. It is something that everyone can do. Its like a muscle. At first it is hard to live your life this way but after awhile you don’t even think about it.

I find I have more fun and connect more with my child when I am wandering through the woods than when I am shopping. Getting free plants for our garden has led us to make connections with our community. Doing things myself has improved my skill set and given me a sense of accomplishment that I wouldn’t get hiring the job out.

How was your month?