I have several friends I’ve made during the two-and-a-half years we’ve living in North Carolina. We’ve been fortunate to meet some very nice, interesting, generous people.
Some of our friends happen to have much larger incomes than we do. While we may not know exactly how much larger, we’ve had enough hints to know that some of our friends easily make double or triple what we make.
Good for them. I think that’s awesome that they’ve developed businesses and careers to generate large incomes. I am happy to hear that they are doing well financially.
Sometimes, though, it’s hard to listen to a litany of purchases and decisions that feel so counter to my own values. I certainly don’t want to not make friends with someone just because they spend more than I do, and in fact, I think it’s important to have at least a few friends with different financial situations than your own, just to ensure that you don’t live in a bubble.
But I also regularly feel like the poor friends, which is funny given our above-average net worth. However, we do live in the smallest house in the neighborhood, drive older cars, and eat out way less often than some friends.
We also have several friends and neighbors who have similar values to our own, and usually after talking with one of them, I am reminded that there are plenty of people like us in the world, making similar decisions about time, spending, and energy.
One thing I’ve had to learn, over and over again, is that I must make choices that make me happy. I have spent large amounts of time worried over the choices we’ve made in our lives, especially when others’ values are different from mine. I’ve said yes to things I didn’t really want to say yes to, in the name of friendship or what I thought was the right thing to do. Gone on trips, met people for drinks, put my kids into more activities than I thought we could manage.
But the truth is, the way we’ve chosen to live makes me happy, it makes Mr. ThreeYear happy, and it makes our kids happy. It’s a way of living that is sustainable, for our money, time, and mental health.
I have to remember to say “no” when I want to say no. I have to remember that the only decisions that really matter are the ones that I make for my family, because we are the ones affected.
This is easy in theory but difficult in practice. Still, when I experience that “ting” of solidarity, when I watch someone living purposefully who has similar values, I’m glad we have chosen the ways of living listed below.
Many years ago, I began to simplify our home. I pared down our possessions, simplified my wardrobe, and got rid of some 30 boxes of books I’d been lugging around since college. I drastically reduced the number of toys in the playroom.
Our family has benefitted drastically from this reduction in possessions. We are messy and disorganized enough that we need zero extraneous belongings to add to the clutter.
When we moved to North Carolina, we also reduced the size of our house. While I am the first to admit that it has been a hard transition to shave 1000 square feet off of your living space, all while transitioning your husband to a work-from-home situation, it has also been a good change. The boys love our smaller space. We spend most of our time in our kitchen and family room area, and the boys like the coziness of our reduced shared living space.
After a few years of feeling the benefit of having less possessions, we also began to simplify the amount of activities we engaged in.
I resigned from several committees, told the boys they could choose one activity per season, and resisted the pull of the should-dos.
One of the hardest decisions I made was discontinuing piano lessons. Growing up, music had been an extremely important part of my life, and I had taken piano lessons from second grade until I graduated from high school. I was also in the marching band for five years.
However, Junior ThreeYear chose not to join the band, and as much as I valued piano lessons and the musical literacy they’d given me, I ultimately decided they did not add enough value to our lives to warrant the disruption to our schedule and the added cost.
Currently, Junior ThreeYear is in a swimming program where he swims up to three days per week (a lot!) but it provides him with a physical and mental outlet that he really enjoys. Little ThreeYear decided to stop tennis lessons and we are currently looking into the possibility of him taking TaeKwanDo. I made him wait almost a year before I let him consider dropping tennis and starting TaeKwanDo, because he chose tennis as his activity, and I told him he needed to give it a fair chance before switching to another sport.
Sometimes, it feels odd to come home and not have to race off to the next activity (although we do that occasionally). There is space in the boys’ schedules that gives them time to rest, to read, to listen to podcasts, to play with the neighbors next door.
Using What We Have
While many friends show off the latest Lululemon or Tory Birch fashions, I wear my same old clothing, over and over. I have a nice functional leather bag I purchased several years ago that works very well. I use a Nike backpack as my tennis bag. We are not a family who values wearing the latest brands, and while I have been tempted by the siren song of fancy name brands, my frugalness jumps at the price so hard that I have never taken the plunge (although my sister recently got turned on to PoshMark, a site for used designer fashion, so I may have to check out their boot selection, as I’m in need of some black boots).
When we’re in need of clothing, we usually buy it from Costco. Our supply of hand-me-downs has finally dried up so we now need to buy clothes for Junior ThreeYear, something we didn’t need to do for many years. But we have bought him what amounts to an entire wardrobe from Costco. He mostly wears their sweatpant/sweatshirt combos and his Adidas shoes are even from Costco. We paid $9 for his winter coat from Costco! I love their focus on quality and price. We have become Costco fanatics. We are even buying our replacement furnace/AC from the Costco provider (but that is because they have the best price and equipment–we did research that carefully).
We also drive much older cars than many of our neighbors. While I would love a flashy new car, I don’t want and don’t have the money to buy a new car outright. By keeping our older cars for longer, we’re able to save up (hopefully) the money to buy a new-to-us car that will cost less to operate. Maybe when we need a new car we’ll buy it from Costco.
All of the simplicity in schedules, possessions, and space has given us extra time, extra money, and extra room. We can make smaller, on-the-fly decisions about time and money: My parents planned a last minute birthday celebration and because we weren’t over-scheduled we could fit in a visit this weekend. A friend is battling cancer and has expensive medical bills so we were able to contribute to her GoFundMe because we have extra room in our budget.
We can also make larger decisions about time and money. We decided many years ago that I would always take a job that gave me summers off to be with the boys. We decided this year that we would send the boys to private school. That’s a major budget pivot, but because we were saving so much of my salary, we could use that money for tuition going forward.
Having that flexibility, that choice, is a major value for us.
We have chosen to make health a priority. We spend a lot of our budget to belong to our country club, which provides the twin benefits of access to health and access to social outlets, both important to our well-being. Our commutes are super short (Mr. ThreeYear’s is a 10-second stair climb; mine is a 9-minute drive to school).
We’ve recently changed our diet to a primarily plant-based one. While it is slightly more expensive to eat plant-based, which is counter-intuitive, it’s worth it to us for the antioxidant, heart-health, and cancer-fighting benefits.
We make sure there is time in our schedule for exercise, even if that means saying no to other fun activities.
Focusing on a Why
We also make a lot of decisions because we are interested in financial independence and retiring early. A lot of our friends, especially those with really nice work situations (flexible schedules, own their own businesses), have said they’re not interested in retiring, or that they’ll never retire.
I can see how many people feel that way and I think it’s great to love your work situation that much.
Mr. ThreeYear and I, however, have always wanted more time and location freedom than we have. Mr. ThreeYear has a very demanding job and even though he’s somewhat location independent, he is still very tied down by the demands of his role. He doesn’t feel comfortable, for example, taking a vacation that is longer than about two weeks.
We also have kids who are almost in middle and almost in high school, and when we became location independent back in 2018, we made the decision to become location-dependent again the next year when I took a job teaching at a local school and then they started attending said school, mainly to give them stability during these important years.
All of this is to say that we have not decided to pursue our dream of living between continents while the boys are at this stage of school. We missed the window, so to speak. We also realized that living between continents or traveling for long stretches wouldn’t work for our family, given that three people in our family have high levels of anxiety and benefit from very predictable routines and schedules (another reason for our simplified lives).
So Mr. ThreeYear and I decided we would wait to pursue this dream until we are empty-nesters. That will happen in August of 2028.
When you have a goal or focus, it makes it easier to forgo decisions that don’t support that goal.
We don’t know exactly what we will do at that time. But we are working hard to be financially independent at our current standard of living, and have our house paid off by then.
How We Protect Our Values (As Much as We Can)
I’m sure there will be many times in the next few years that we will make decisions counter to our values for bad reasons, like, the neighbors are doing it, we were talked into it, we wanted to look cool, we wanted people to know we were financially secure.
But, we have at least built in some safeguards into our lives that help us think and reflect upon our decisions so that we can work against some of our socially-driven impulses.
One of those safeguards is the “I need to check with…” safeguard. Before deciding to do anything, I almost always say, “I need to check with Mr. ThreeYear.” And he says the same about me.
That way, we can use our partner to talk us out of a decision that may not make sense for our family.
It also works the other way. Before we decided to put both boys in private school, almost everyone we talked to advised us against it. We ultimately decided to enroll both of them and pay the substantial tuition because it made sense based on their needs.
Living my life based on my true values is a great first step towards overall well-being. Even if I experience occasional dissatisfaction when I see other people who live a different way, I’m grateful that I choose a simple, less consumer-driven life, again and again.