In 2004, we sold our home and moved to southern Utah. We rented a small home, owned one car and my commute to work took less than 10 minutes.
We had no mortgage or large loans hanging over our heads.
What we did have is freedom. We’d signed a month-to-month lease on the home so we felt as though we could pack up and leave at any time. That’s such a wonderful feeling, yet it’s one I’d forget less than a year later.
When the air conditioner broke down, the owner picked up the tab. There were no major financial surprises like a $3500 water heater replacement.
Because we lived under our means, I didn’t feel compelled to spend my nights and weekends climbing the corporate ladder. There was no pressure to inflate my billable hours. My work remained at work.
We spent our free time at the swimming pool or the park. And Kim’s parents lived around the corner so we spent a lot of time chatting over dinner. I formed a strong relationship with my in-laws that remains today. I can’t overestimate how much my children enjoyed living close to their grandparents. They would move back today.
A year later we left the gorgeous red mountains of St. George and returned to the Seattle area where I haven’t been as successful living a simple life. I continue to reflect on the lessons taught in one of the most influential books I’ve read, The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs.
I picked up the book over ten years ago on a recommendation from my brother-in-law and have thought back to the many people profiled in that book who had few possessions yet lived happy and fulfilled lives. More than one example has stuck with me over the years, but I remembered one specific story as I spent the afternoon working on my twelve year old car.
Luhrs tells a story about how she saved money by driving older cars. One morning around the breakfast table, her teenage son begged her to trade in her older car for a new SUV. Over the next few days, she test drove new SUVs that would accommodate her family. She got a firm price quote that included trading in her older car. She also called around to find the best loan terms.
Then she gathered her family explained in detail the new SUV she’d found. Of course, the children were thrilled and wondered how soon it could be parked in their driveway.
That’s when Luhrs began to explain how taking on a new car loan and higher insurance premiums would change the family. In order to afford that new SUV, she explained how it would require her to work a few extra hours each day so not to expect help with homework. She also wouldn’t be able to attend their soccer and baseball games because she’d need to work Saturdays.
Her children began to understand the sacrifices they would need to make in order to afford the new SUV. Luhrs presented the facts and allowed her children to decide what was more important: new SUV or time with mom. Put in those terms, their older car didn’t look so bad.
In many ways, I’ve tried return to return to how I felt in 2004. Kim and I often discuss why our family was happiest during this time. I know part of it was living so close to family. That’s a major benefit especially with younger children. But I’m convinced that’s only part of it.
St. George is much smaller than Seattle so we had fewer distractions pulling us in many directions. In Seattle, I’m more likely to spend my free time at a tech gathering or sporting event. In St. George, that time was spent pulling my kids around the park in a wagon.
I wish I were better at finding balance because I know it only gets more hectic as children become more involved in school and church activities. Although it can be uncomfortable, I have to say no more than I’d like. Over-committing myself, be it with work, church or friends, takes the same toll on my body and mind that debt does. They zap both time and energy.
I look at my calendar this weekend, and it contains not a single event or commitment. Maybe I’m beginning to make progress.
Time to pull out the wagon.