Yesterday was my birthday. My family and I were sitting around the table, eating takeout subs (which is what I requested), when I asked Mr. ThreeYear what we’d been doing ten years ago. We dialed back the years and realized that was the year of the layoffs, when he’d been working in a job that was not right for him just to pay the bills, battling terrible anxiety and, in hindsight, depression, and I was staying home with our one-year-old.
I also realized that it was ten years ago (on July 4th) that I’d found The Total Money Makeover in the bookstore and we’d started our journey to financial independence.
I wonder what I was thinking on my birthday ten years ago. I was 29, facing the last year in my twenties, and was going through one of the most difficult periods of my adult life. But I had hope after reading that book.
I remember that my overarching goal was to pay off our debt, which was $38,000. That was as far as I could see at the time. It felt interminable, endless. Like it would never happen. I had no ideas for life after debt payoff, aside from hazy dreams of being a multimillionaire and living on an island or something. I had no thoughtful plan for life moving forward, for what my thirties would look like.
I certainly never would have imagined that after paying off our debt, we’d move to New Hampshire for eight years, then reach our dream of location independence and move to North Carolina. I never would have dreamed that we’d amass the net worth that we have, or that I’d be an ESL teacher, or have a blog.
Last night, Mr. ThreeYear and I thought about all we’ve accomplished in the last ten years, smiled, and high-fived each other. The boys got in on the action and we all shared high-fives and laughs, as we shouted, “Go Team ThreeYear!” It was a rare moment of recognition for all that we’ve accomplished, for all the good we have in our lives today.
I certainly am under no illusion that it was only the result of our choices and hard work that got us to the point we are today. We’ve been incredibly fortunate, had good health, reliable jobs, good healthcare to help manage anxiety and stress, strong relationships, healthy food, and financial stability to help us these past ten years.
But I also see how the choices we’ve made have helped shape our situation today. Choosing to take a job in New Hampshire meant that Mr. ThreeYear and I parented alone for many years. It meant we had no one close to help us when Little ThreeYear was born, and for that reason, those years are a blur to me. I remember little to nothing of when he was a newborn and toddler.
However, we made the choice for Mr. ThreeYear to take a stable job with no debilitating commute in Atlanta traffic. There was no more layoff stress looming (the company he works for has a no-layoff policy), and as a result, he lost 53 pounds and developed a new confidence in our new home.
We were able to save for a new house and pay down a big chunk of it over six years. Paying off our debt helped me discover the FI community, where I started to track our net worth and save more and spend less.
Gaining financial independence has given us confidence. It’s taken away stress and made us feel like we have more choices. It’s made us happier.
We’ve also had more time and head space to do things to take care of our physical health, like run and play tennis, and work out at the gym. That also helps us have better mental health and worry and fight less.
It’s easy to see how these choices helped us in hindsight. But how do you plan for success or better outcomes going forward?
A Decade of Destiny
Rick Warren, the pastor who wrote The Purpose Driven Life, had a video in 2010 encouraging you to plan for your “Decade of Destiny.” I created a small piece of paper with years 2010-2019 at the top, then Jan-Dec down one side. I filled in as much information as I knew or could imagine about the coming ten years–how old the kids would be, big anniversaries, trips we wanted to take. It was a bird’s eye view snapshot for the decade. We could only include the big things. When we were maxing out Mr. ThreeYear’s 401K I put the amounts I wanted to increase his contributions, then adjusted them to his actual amount when those years came and went. I wrote down trips we went on and ones we’d like to take (“Backpack across Europe” was one of my ideas for this year. Not sure that’s happening…).
That piece of paper, which we stored on the inside pantry cabinet door, served as a high-level reminder of the dreams we were pursuing.
I’d like to plan for the next ten years as well. It’s hard to imagine my 49th birthday. Junior ThreeYear will be 21 and probably going to be a senior in college. Little ThreeYear will be 18 and will be starting college in the fall. Mr. ThreeYear will be (eh-hem) older. We’ll be retired or very close to it. I hope we’ll have taken some epic trips with the boys to Ireland, Hawaii, South America. I hope we’re able to pay for the boys’ college with no loans. I hope our net worth will be somewhere north of triple what it is today. I would like to have written a book by then, have a passive online business that provides revenue. I hope we’ve paid attention to our health and continued to exercise and eat well. I hope we’ve paid attention to our relationships and are closer than ever, and close to our kids and our extended families. I hope I haven’t sacrificed my family for achievement. I hope life is simple but rich.
The Magic of Birthdays
Two years ago on my birthday, I came up with the idea for location independence, and darn if it hasn’t come true two years later. Birthdays make me reflective, I guess, and isn’t that a good thing? They’re mile markers or sign posts in our lives to get us to reflect a bit on the choices we’ve made and the lives we’ve created. They’re spurs to change course if something’s not working.
They’re a time to high five your family when things are looking good, when your hard-won dreams have come to pass, when you’re sitting around a table at a beach house in South Carolina, smiling at your people and glad to be alive.
What will your next ten years look like? Any major goals or plans?