Living on less a bonus for this family

By  Lisa Petsche
  • June 12, 2009
{mosimage}It’s amazing how what initially seems like a major crisis can sometimes end up being just what is needed to get your priorities straight. I wouldn’t have believed it at the time, though.

I’m referring to my husband’s job loss a decade ago due to workplace restructuring. The anniversary is this month.

He’d been with the company longer than I’d known him. His job necessitated a two-hour, round-trip commute and long, demanding workdays. Originally it also involved travel; the last two years he was continually on call via pager.

He was never home for supper on weekdays, arriving just as the kids were going to bed. He’d kiss them goodnight, eat leftovers and then flop on the couch, usually dozing off right away, only to rise early the next morning and head out on the highway again.

Since I had to arrange for a babysitter in order to go anywhere solo, I usually declined invitations to evening events. For all intents and purposes I was a single parent five days a week, and sometimes on weekends.

The situation was an increasing source of concern for me. But my husband was so immersed in his work pattern — and surrounded by others for whom it was also the norm —  he didn’t really see how much it was negatively affecting us, individually, as a couple and as a family. Being away from home a lot, and returning exhausted and often stressed, was just a fact of life for him.

While I wished for a change, I never imagined it would occur the way it did.

At the time my husband lost his job, our children were ages three, four and seven. He was the primary wage earner, while I was employed half-time.

We lost a lot of sleep worrying about our future and what we should do. It was a distressing time and we prayed daily for guidance.

My husband ended up using a chunk of his severance pay to upgrade his skills, something he hadn’t previously had the time or energy for. He attended school on weekday afternoons and did freelance consulting to help pay the bills.

By the time his course was over, he’d decided to pursue home-based self-employment.

Suddenly he was home more than I was, accompanying our children to and from school, chaperoning class trips, helping with homework, preparing dinner, chauffeuring the kids to swimming lessons and soccer practice and even joining the school council. He can’t imagine life any other way now. Friends and former co-workers have been amazed at the transformation.

Meanwhile, I’ve continued with my part-time job and expanded my freelance writing to supplement our income. At least one of us is always there for our kids.

The trade-off? Our income is almost half of what it used to be.

Many who know us wonder how we manage financially and admit they wouldn’t be prepared to make the same material sacrifices, even though they may admire what we’ve done.

Certainly we’re living a lot simpler now (including owning only one vehicle, a rare phenomenon in today’s families) and are careful about spending. There is much less room for non-necessities, and we have to be patient about saving for them.

The funny thing is, my husband and I never considered ourselves big spenders, having shunned status symbols and avoided credit card debt, for instance. On the other hand, there was a financial cost associated with our lifestyle, in terms of transportation and child-care expenses and conveniences like takeout food, dry cleaning and housecleaning service.

Nonetheless, we’ve learned a lot about financial management and planning, and especially about distinguishing wants from needs.

While initially the idea of living on less was anxiety-provoking, the gradual realization that we don’t need nearly as much as we’d thought has been liberating. We’re no longer tied to a lifestyle that exacts a high price in physical, mental and spiritual well-being. We now gauge success by how little we need to live rather than how much we have to spend, and by the amount and quality of time our family spends together.

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