“What’s your goal?” My husband’s question was simple, but I didn’t know if I should bother to share my complete answer, because it seemed unreasonable.
We hadn’t started our family yet, which was a goal of ours. But I wondered if winning Lotto was the only ticket to my other dream: to be able to stay home with our kids for as long (or short a time) as I wanted. Back then, my earnings were almost five times his salary and I doubted we could sustain ourselves on his take home pay alone, especially with the added costs of a baby. Sharing this thought with him might have made him feel badly; instead it motivated him.
“That’s it? That’s the goal?” Tony said, as if he had known it all along. “OK, give me some time, I’ll figure it out.”
I had it drummed into my head from friends and colleagues around me, who were enslaved to the double-income household: “There’s no way you can live on one salary – especially a teacher’s salary.”
Quietly I worried that I had given him a goal that was not within reach. I thought, maybe I could stay home for a year at most. I even started to accept that option, if it came to that. Thankfully, it never did. The more naysayers there were, the more determined he was to make a viable plan.
Stock piling became the first part of the strategy; generating investment income was the other component. We lived as if his salary was the only income we had, and aggressively saved and invested my salary and bonus. That is not to say that we didn’t enjoy ourselves. We made time for some travel; we ate out at restaurants within reason – but the savings/investing came first; what was left over was ours to play with. We put off starting a family until we felt we were on solid ground.
An interesting thing happened along the way. We had the opportunity to buy a small cabin in New England for a great price; it was very tempting and we came close to doing it. It was affordable based on our total income; but ultimately it would have taken us off our goal. When another opportunity presented itself — to move farther from New York City (where I worked) to an area we loved and where we wanted to raise our family– we struggled with the idea. I didn’t want all our savings/investing to dry up because this house was more expensive than the one we were living in. After careful consideration of all the numbers, Tony figured we could swing it, provided I was still willing to commute an extra 2 hours each day until we started our family. With trepidation, I agreed.
Then we faced a series of unexpected events. For starters I became pregnant and soon we found out we were expecting twins. Almost immediately, I ended up on bed rest. Short-term disability gave way to long-term disability, which was less than my salary (although I wasn’t spending any money commuting). When our sons arrived a full two months early, we were stunned. After more than two weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit, they were released to come home – but with all sorts of equipment (like an apnea monitor to detect the cessation of heart beats or breathing and caffeine to keep the heart beat rate up). To add to all this tension, I had used up all my leave and was due back almost as soon as the boys came home from the hospital. I still can’t say how I would have been able to leave my babies under those circumstances – or who we would have asked to take on such a grave responsibility. I am just so thankful that Tony thought to ask the question about my goals – and that I dared to utter it out loud. Otherwise, our backs would have been against the wall.
Many times, there isn’t one right way to reaching a financial goal. Sacrifices, compromises, and non-negotiable items differ by household. The point is the goal kept us focused and shaped all the decisions we made – we passed up opportunities to spend our money in favor of getting us closer to what was our top goal. Most important, had we not planned this out, I would have been headed back to my four-hour roundtrip commute; our preemie babies occupying my every thought. Some call it luck – but I know Tony’s careful planning and our commitment to reaching our (seemingly unreachable) goal had a lot to do with the blessings that came our way.
The financial wisdom I would like to impart is: Don’t be afraid to look at your dreams – even if they seem impossible to reach. Instead of thinking about why you can’t get where you want to go, ask how you might get there. Do this, and down the road, you may find yourself being referred to as the “lucky one”.