The wake-up call came for me when I was 53 years old. I was operations manager in a construction company. Working in construction I was used to being laid off every few years, so I was accustomed to saving for those times. I had started out my career as a book-keeper, so I understood the cost of borrowing money, and had never been a big fan of debt. I had always lived within my means, but as my means went up, so did my expenses.
The visit to my banker
At 53 I found myself laid off again, and no one I knew was starting a new project. I didn’t want to do it, I did not want to have to go out and sell myself to a bunch of contractors I didn’t know. I didn’t want to sit there and prove to them that I can bring jobs in under budget and on time. So I went to see my banker instead.
I told him I knew I didn’t have enough to retire now, but I wanted a figure, I wanted to know when I had saved this much I could retire. He looked over my accounts and told me that I was spending about $3500 a month (Which I already knew). He then said, at your current expenses you can’t afford to retire now, but if you cut $1500 a month from your expenses you could afford to retire today. I was in shock, I had been putting up with all the crap at work and I didn’t even need to be working.
What I did about it
I knew immediately the house could go, my kids were grown. I was living alone. I was air conditioning and heating rooms I never went into. I was paying someone to clean the house and mow a lawn I never used. That’s when I sat down with my budget and asked myself what was and wasn’t important to me. After eliminating those thing that really didn’t matter, I looked at the things that did. I had developed a habit of drinking $40 bottles of wine. I asked my wine buyer to recommend something less expensive and he found me a $12 bottle that I enjoy. Occasionally I might spurge for a $40 bottle, but it is no longer a regular expense, just because I can afford it. I took as many of my expenses off contract. My Fios internet is month to month, my cell phone is prepaid.
I sold the suburban house and moved to the city, where I now live in a two bedroom 940 sq. ft. house with a tiny yard that I paid cash for. I have 98 restaurants within walking distance of my house. With no house payment, no car, and no contracts. Aside from a few annual expenses, insurance, taxes, etc., my monthly obligations are just utilities and food. I am able to keep my obligated spending to under $500 a month, that leaves me with a couple thousand dollars a month of disposable income, most of which just goes into savings. But If I decide I want to buy something, or take a trip, I can without much thought.
Back to work – on MY terms
I did eventually return to work. A former boss called with a job that was over budget and behind schedule. But when they are calling you, you can negotiate terms to your liking, including working from home unless I am absolutely needed in the office. Work was also a lot less stressful when I could say “If you want it done under budget, on time, you will do it my way, if your not going to do it my way, fire me and I will go home and watch a soap opera.” — Because there is a lot less drama on a soap opera, than there is in a construction office when a woman tells a contractor that he has to use this supplier and that crew, and the concrete truck will be there at this time and he better be ready.
I work a lot less these days, but I enjoy it when I do. The stuff I was throwing my money away on every month, I don’t miss. I am much happier now than I was in my suburban life full of things. I also know when I earn money, either actively or passively, I can do what I want with it, I am not obligated to give it to someone else. I like that kind flexibility in my life.
Guest post by an Anonymous reader, who shares that she really enjoys blogs like these because, like converts to a religion, we need a place we can go to share our experiences without annoying the unconverted. She knows good and well that her unconverted friends don’t want to listen to her debt-free lifestyle and her heretical belief that just because she CAN get credit, doesn’t mean she should use it. I AGREE!! And thanks so much for allowing us to read your story :)
(Photo by Eustaquio Santimano)