As the New Year is starting, are you thinking about what road you want to be on?
What are your priorities, what do you want your life to look like in in 1, 5, or 10 years from now?
It’s Rebecca here on the blog today, and Connor and I have been thinking about this a lot as we start the New Year. We’re trying to plan when to have kids, when to move, when to start the next stage of our life together. With that has come a lot of talk about priorities.
It is very easy to live in a way that contradicts what we say our priorities are.
Seriously, we can say one thing, and then do the complete opposite! So Connor and I have been working through what our actions need to be for us to reach our goals.
Connor and I have decided that our ultimate dream is to have the freedom to spend tons of time with family and homeschool our kids (when we eventually have some!).
That means that we will need to:
- Find a way for Connor to have something other than the typical 9-5 job
- Grow my career working online from home so we can afford to have Connor work less (his job is less flexible than mine)
- Learn to live on less so that we can afford to spend more time as a family
- Save up a ton of money over the next few years so that Connor can go back to school without us incurring any debt.
Logically, our life plan has changed quite a bit since realizing our goal. In order to reach our goal, we won’t be able to:
- Buy a nice, expensive house in Ottawa. We’ll likely live in a condo instead for many years so we can live on a lower income!
- Have multiple vehicles, or new vehicles. We’ll own one used car at any given time and then use public transit when both of us are out doing different things.
- Pursue my PhD for a long time (if ever!). My dream was originally to go into Clinical Psychology, but my career simply isn’t important enough to me to sacrifice the next 10 years on my PhD and starting a private practice. Instead, I have an online career that pays less but I can do from home.
- Spend a lot of money on our kids or on ourselves. My kids are going to thrift shop like bosses–and you know what? Having a second-hand crib, playpen, and stroller really won’t kill them. I speak from experience! 🙂
I have a lot of people in my life who have told us that we (a) need to have a house before we have kids, (b) need to have two cars so we don’t have to use public transit anymore (since it’s seen as a rite of passage to not have to use the bus), and (c) are a little crazy for aiming for having Connor work part-time eventually. The truth is, our plans don’t fit a lot of people’s idea of what an ideal grown-up life looks like.
But that’s alright with me, because my priority is to be able to have an involved home life more than it is to have a nice house, new clothes, or the convenience of two cars.
It’s taken a lot of very purposeful discussion to figure out what our goals should be based on our priorities, but I don’t think a lot of people have those talks. I think instead, we get stuck into this “Keeping Up with the Joneses” mentality that traps us into lives that actually create a lot of stress, and aren’t in line with our priorities at all.
People say all the time that their marriage is their priority, but then they work opposite shifts so they can keep their jobs that help them afford their house with a $400,000 mortgage because “that’s just being a grown-up.” I speak from experience–you can live quite happily in a small apartment on a very low income if you’re willing to scrimp and save because it means you get to spend so much time together. But if you’re sacrificing time with your husband to be able to afford an expensive house, then you are living like your priority is really your standard of living, not your marriage.
I know, that sounds harsh, but think about it–it’s your actions that make you who you are, not your intentions. A bank robber who intends to be an honest person is still a bank robber if he continues to rob banks. He will only be an honest person when he stops the behavior that is making him dishonest.
Likewise, if you want to put your family first but you’re spending all your time shuttling kids back and forth from sports 5 nights a week (and sometimes weekends when there are tournaments), then your priority isn’t actually your family–it’s giving your kids a fun high school experience. Your family becomes your priority when you stop putting your time, money, and energy into all the extra-curricular activities and start having family dinners, spending time together, going camping, or having family games nights again.
Now, not everyone is in a position to change their circumstances that much.
If you’re taking care of a sick elderly relative who can’t be moved because they need specialized care, for instance, you likely can’t move to a more affordable city very easily (if at all). Sometimes life truly does just get in the way. Sometimes you’ve got 3 kids under 4, your husband has gone back to school, and you have to work. Life gets overwhelming, and there are periods where it does seem a bit hopeless.
But it’s in these times that it’s really important to have a plan–you need to know that this is temporary. What can you do so that in 5 years things are better? What is the ultimate goal, and what’s something small you can do today to get there (even if it means having oatmeal for breakfast again instead of grabbing drive-thru which would taste way better)?
But if the only thing holding you back is that you don’t want to feel like you’re taking a step backwards, understand that it truly is a choice.
Connor and I are currently living on less than half of the average family income in Canada. It is possible to live a good life on a small income if you’re willing to sacrifice. Down-sizing really can be worth it.
So now it’s your turn. Take some time and figure out where you want to be in life, and if what you’re doing now is helping you get there. Ask yourself:
1. What do I want my life to look like?
Do you need a certain standard of living to feel comfortable? Or can you make do with less? What do you need to feel “at home”?
What would your ideal evening look like? Who are you spending time with? What are you doing? What are you not doing?
2. What things am I doing now that are making my goals difficult or impossible?
What has gotten in the way of living out your ideal evening the last few weeks, months, or even years? Do you want to spend more time as a family, but no one is home at the same time? Do you want to stop stressing about finances and just go away for a weekend, but you and your husband are working yourselves to the bone to pay off your mortgage? Is there simply too much work to be done around the house for you to sit in the tub for a soak? Figure out what’s getting in your way.
3. What do I need to do to get there?
This is the difficult part that requires some honesty with yourself. I had to deal with the fact that I needed to give up 2 big dreams of mine if we were going to have the life we wanted–that was hard. And it was humbling. But I am so much happier now.
If work is getting in the way of making your marriage a priority, maybe you need to sell your house and downsize to a condo or smaller home so you can afford to work lower-paying jobs with better hours.
If you want to have a good relationship with your kids when they are teenagers, it’s going to be difficult to do that if they’re spending 6 nights a week at sports in Jr. High. If you want to be able to afford a big house in the country and two vehicles, you need to stop spending all your money on clothes or eating out or on the kids.
Here are 5 things to consider that may help you and your husband achieve your goals:
- Trade in expensive cars for cheaper used models (potentially even go down to one vehicle)
- Move from an expensive city to a cheap town, even if it means a pay cut. Check out these lists of the 10 most expensive and the 10 least expensive cities in the US–where does yours fall? And imagine how much cheaper it could be to move out of cities entirely and into a small town or even a smaller city than the ones in these lists. We grew up in a city of 50,000 and it was a really affordable city to live in.
- Downsize your home from a large house to a smaller place or even a condo/apartment if that’s what you can afford
- Figure out how many extra-curricular activities are realistic for your family’s budget and family time (my sister and I were homeschooled and only ever had 1 music and 1 activity, which happened during school hours! If we had gym at school we likely would have only had time for music in our family, but I never felt like I was missing out).
- Seriously consider your choice of career. Because for many people, it honestly is a choice. Could you work for less money but have more time? Could you go to school for 1 year to get a diploma that would enable you to work better hours for better pay? I have a friend whose dad was a successful businessman who quit his job to become a shop teacher because he was on the road too much and simply didn’t have enough time with his family. For them, the pay cut was more than worth it.
The truth is, it’s often quite simple. Start doing things that are helping you get where you want to be, and stop doing things that are holding you back.
And it really is that simple. Yes, it’s OK to have kids before you have a house. Yes, it’s OK to tell your kids they can’t be in sports anymore, even if they get mad. Yes, it’s OK to limit your friendships to only the ones that are building you up and making you a better person. You don’t have to live according to what other people think is “right” or what’s expected.
Pursuing others’ approval and keeping up appearances simply won’t give you the fulfilling life that family and relationships can. So let’s make sure that all of us are pursuing what truly matters this year.
What are some of your goals as a couple? What are you doing to get there? Share your tips in the comments and let’s chat!