Posted on June 14, 2016
Are you a failure?
The beauty of living in an old neighbourhood
Since I was 18 I have been obsessed with personal finance. I was young, poor, living on my own and happened to come across the Tightwad Gazette II. From there I ended up reading Your Money or Your Life, The Simple Living Guide, and a plethora of other books on frugality and personal finance. So you could say early retirement and being a stay-at-home parent were always on my radar.
When I first met Mr. Tucker I regaled him with tales of early retirement, country living, and self-sufficiency. Although we both lived in the small condo downtown that I had bought in university, we had dreams of moving out to the country to a small homestead where we could garden and raise animals. This was a dream we had for years before we actually got pregnant with the Bean and realized it made more financial sense to trade homes with a relative who was retiring and wanted a smaller space where they could close the door and travel, and we needed a larger space for a growing family. So in the end we ended up staying in the city and moving to a post-war suburb into a bungalow my family bought from plan in the 50s. When it was first built our house was at the end of the city in a new development, now it’s a central neighbourhood surrounded by amenities. Oh how times change.
Do I ever regret this choice? Nope, not for one minute.
When we first moved out here we had no car. Mr. Tucker headed off to work every day by bus and the Bean and I entertained ourselves by walking to the library, the mall, the YMCA, and to various parks and playgroups. Everything I needed was within walking distance from our house. Over time I made friends and built a solid community here in this neighbourhood. We eventually got a second-hand car and our small family grew by another wee person and life went on.
Being at home with a little person whose needs must be met 24-7 will tell you a lot about yourself. Although I always knew that I was an extrovert, I was completely unprepared for the grinding loneliness that comes from being a stay-at-home parent. I didn’t know anyone in the neighbourhood and so I used to walk up to the mall everyday just to be around other people. When I finally found some playgroups and made some friends, it was a game changer for me and it greatly increased my happiness. I am envious of people who have kids around the same time their friends are also having children: almost all my pre-baby friends are child-free or have grown kids. I had to create an entirely new group of friends who had kids in order to have people to discuss the challenges of parenting with. To be able to connect at the park or at playgroups with other parents was a lifesaver for my mental health and a gift to my children: they have now grown up in a neighbourhood with other kids the same age as them that they have known since birth.
Making friends and influencing people on the $20 wine tour with my neighbourhood girlfriends
I often think of what would have happened had we moved to the country. Mr. Tucker would have commuted a minimum of 1-hour each way, leaving me on my own for 10 hours a day. We couldn’t have afforded a second car at the time so I would have been stuck at home, alone. Although I may have made friends in whatever town we had chosen, I wouldn’t have been able to see them as much as I would have liked and social events would have required driving. I couldn’t walk to the YMCA, playgroups, or the library. For some people that wouldn’t have been a deterrent but knowing what I know now about how I deal with isolation, it would have severely negatively affected me.
Eventually Mr. Tucker started working from home and it was a lot less lonely for me overall but then I discovered another thing about myself: I hated relying on one salary. Things were hit-and-miss at Mr. Tucker’s company and although I ran my own business part-time, the insecurity of not having much on a resume for the past couple of years was slowly eating away at me. These two factors combined with the Bean starting school pushed me slowly back into the workforce. Even though we have life insurance, if something ever happened to Mr. Tucker, not having a recent resume would hurt my chances of becoming employed & supporting the girls. So I leveraged my contacts and managed to get a short admin contract that paid enough to make leaving the house worthwhile. Had we moved to the country, the commute alone would have been a deterrent to me rejoining the workforce unless it was a large sum that would pay for the high cost of transportation.
Fast-forward to four years later and I have jumped from contract-to-contract, taking summers off and now finally – as I head into my 5th year back into work – I have secured a one year-contract in a field I love, at a workplace I adore, with people who are great to work with. I am contributing to a pension, I have wonderful health benefits, ample vacation, and management who is supportive of their staff and that accommodates them if they need to make adjustments to their work life. I have, indeed, discovered a unicorn, and now that I am there, I plan to stay there long-term.
My future’s so bright…I probably should put down the shades in my office
Of course, this completely messes with any ideas I have about retiring early or working part-time but that doesn’t mean our strategy to save a lot of our money has changed. And here’s why:
1 – Mr. Tucker may want to retire early. Given the volatility of a lot of silicon valley companies, his company may decide one day to eliminate all remote workers, or it could go under, be bought, or change directions. By living off one salary, saving the rest, and investing it, if he does lose his job we are already covered.
2 – Maybe I will get sick of working. You never know when things can go sideways, and even though I work for the federal government, it has not been immune to layoffs, either.
3 – We may take a travel year. At my job I am allowed to take one year without pay and still have my job be available when I get back. We may want to take a year off and travel the world with the girls when they are older.
4 – I may want to take summers off. With your supervisor’s permission you can either work compressed hours, or take time off without pay. If I work compressed hours I would work a little more each day and take the time later on. Some people take a day every two weeks but I could save it up and take a longer time off to travel.
But get to the point
Especially when the outcome is happiness
Our dream to move the county changed because our goals changed. Partly it was introspection, and partly reality in its various forms, but we are much better suited to city life. We have a wonderful community of friends, our kids are growing up knowing their neighbours, and my commute to work is only 20-30 minutes by bus. We are surrounded by amenities and even though we could afford a second car now, we are grateful to not need one. There are hiking spots and beaches a 5km bike in either direction, we have street parties and holiday events with our neighbours, and we can walk to the store or the library in less than 10 minutes.
Did we fail at achieving our dreams? No. We changed directions once we realized that our dreams were ill-suited to our reality.
Of course, I would never tell anyone how to live their lives and if your dream was to move to the country and have a sustainable farm and you made it happen and have no regrets: awesome! I truly mean that. Know thyself, as the old adage goes.
Similarly, I wasn’t great at being a stay-at-home-parent, even though I will forever be grateful that I didn’t go back to work until my youngest was almost 2-years-old (and always taking summers off!). I discovered that I actually liked working and enjoyed the challenges I had with my various contracts. To end up in a job where I am happy and reap a paycheque has been a huge boon for the family and it has allowed us to travel and save for the future moreso than we would have if we were still living off once salary. The peace of mind knowing that I now have a solid resume and could pick up work if everything fell apart tomorrow also helps. Other people may not need that level of security but discovering that I do has made it easier for me to make the decision to stay in the workforce.
Never give up
Wrong. If something isn’t working. CHANGE IT. Perseverance down a road that isn’t serving you is sapping your energy. Do I think we failed at our dream to live in the country? Absolutely not. We succeed in realizing that we were exactly where we needed to be. I get to live in my grandparent’s home in the city with its large lot and wood burning fireplace surrounded by a greenbelt and wonderful neighbours. That is not what failure looks like. It’s about seizing a good opportunity for our family and then realizing that it paid dividends.
We didn’t originally want to live here and we balked for quite a bit before accepting the switch. We still had country dreams and it wasn’t until reality set in that we were truly grateful: we lived in a house we couldn’t live in if our family didn’t already own it, we were surrounded by everything we needed – including family and friends, and financially it allowed us to save a huge chunk of our income. By giving up our country dreams we inherited a future that was more in line with our lifestyle and our goals – and I am so glad we didn’t have to learn that lesson the hard way.
So don’t be thrown off or feel badly if you need to switch your dreams because you have changed and the old path isn’t working for you. You aren’t a failure, you are learning more about yourself and making choices with new information instead of just being stuck in inertia or being stagnant. So pat yourself on the back, make a new plan for the present, and be willing to change in the future.
– Thomas A. Edison