I occasionally catch someone roll their eyes, comment under their breath or even directly to me, that we are lucky. Now and then, someone will say something like, “Well, you all can do that because Amber’s at home”, or “Well, you don’t have to worry about that because you have Amber” or “She’s got plenty of time now that she’s home”.
I won’t argue that we are lucky in that we had opportunity. I won’t argue that we are lucky to have been in a position to do what we chose to do. But really, luck has very little to do with our lifestyle.
Making It On Our Own
We had three daughters at the time, all under age 9. We were both making what most would consider a good income. Hers a bit more than my own. Between the two of us, we were able to do some things financially that we only grew up dreaming about.
Amber and I both grew up in households of modest incomes. I was raised in a two-bedroom house that was often shared with other family members. It was not uncommon to have six people living there. Amber grew up in a home that, even after additions, had the total square footage of just the first floor of our current house.
She and I each paid for most of our college education, working multiple jobs and some of them quite odd.
We paid for most of our own wedding and all of our own honeymoon.
You can imagine how good we felt with our combined incomes as we approached the midpoint of our careers. We had a beautiful new home, with aspirations of building a new one on some land. We had a large, shiny, new SUV. I had my eyes on new boats. We had multiple retirement investments. Each child had a well-funded college savings. We had all the latest and greatest tech things and gizmos. We enjoyed dining out and entertainment on a regular basis. We took multiple trips each year. We were able to provide for our kids in ways that many parents dream of.
Something Wasn’t Right
Our choice isn’t for every couple. I get that. Every marriage is unique in so many ways and I totally understand when both parents enjoy working and enjoy having a “work life” of their own.
Amber will be the first to tell you that she was one of those women—the independent woman with a passion for being a professional, having a career and being a leader and role model to young girls, while also still being a loving wife and mom. For her and for us, things changed.
We were miserable. There were a variety of reasons, but all seemed to have roots in the fact that we both ran like crazy in the hours before work and after work, leaving us exhausted, stressed and irritable. We just felt we weren’t giving each other or our kids the best of ourselves. We were right. We weren’t.
It was revealed every time they asked us to play and our reply was “I’m too tired” or reluctantly agreeing to play with them out of guilt only to fall asleep or gaze off and mind-walk to other business.
It was revealed those days we felt like we had hardly spent any time with them, and then other days where we focused on them but didn’t have any time for ourselves or each other. To make up for that, we’d then plan long weekends for just the two of us. Get a sitter and take off, only to not fully enjoy it because of the guilt for leaving the kids, who we were already shorting on time.
We decided at some point to drive a stake in certain areas of our lives. Something had to give.
How Much Is Enough?
When I got to thinking about it, most of the people I knew who, either by choice or by necessity, were more frugal in their budgeting, seemed to live freer. We had taken a finance workshop through our church that really made us think and see areas that could change.
I realized that our kids happiness had nothing to do with the stuff, clothes, trips, dining out, or the entertainment we were able to afford them. They just want us…well, at least when they are little. We have one approaching her teenage years who does seem happy to spend more time alone.
Why were we working so hard? Was the income worth the running, the chaos and the stress? What did the extra income provide that we couldn’t live without? Do we really need a bigger home? Do we really need that new boat? Do we really need to dine out that often? Do we really need to take multiple and expensive vacations? Do we really have to buy new clothes that often? Is there that big of a difference between the name brand and off brand of whatever gizmo, food or miscellaneous other item? I mean how much difference is there really, between Fruit Loops and the less expensive Hoops of Fruit?
Do I like these extras more than I like the thought of having some space in our schedule? Are we okay moving forward as is, continuing on this same path?
These are only a few of the questions we asked ourselves. For months we prayed about it and eventually our thoughts were confirmed, as Amber’s work situation became so negative it was clear God was slamming that door shut. He had been nudging and tugging at our hearts on this matter long enough, and now it seemed obvious he was forcing us into the decision we knew we needed to make.
First Plan of Action
We sat down with our budget, our bills and started cutting.
We cut cable.
We cut way back on dining out and entertainment.
We refinanced our home.
We paid off all small loan debts.
We began to monitor the heating and cooling of our home much more closely.
We stopped funding the extra retirement plans (gasp).
We stopped funding the girls’ college accounts (gasp! gasp! gasp! gasp!).
We started charging the girls for paper towel and toilet paper usage. (Just kidding!)
We essentially scaled back and reduced every expenditure we possibly could.
We invested in a direct sales business that could help bridge the difference we needed.
We completely changed our spending habits in terms of clothing, groceries and everything else.
We did a great number of things completely different than we ever had.
Amber came home. We immediately lost 55% of our income. You know what? It felt great. A little scary at first, but oh so freeing. There were moments of “What did we just do?” as we smiled and shook our heads in disbelief.
It is powerfully reassuring to me that we are so much happier today because of that choice three years ago. The time we have magically gained back, particularly in our mornings and evenings throughout the work/school week. The time and energy we have for our kids, the date nights and weekend getaways that Amber and I can go on without guilt since we give so much to our kids all week.
Again, I know this might not be right for other couples, but for us this changed everything for the better.
I’m fortunate that Amber takes being a stay-at-home mom every bit as serious as she did her accounting career. Our home, while not filled with the latest and greatest trinkets, styles and furnishings… is filled with love…. time and love. That’s all kids want really.
Don’t get me wrong, with three daughters involved in various activities, we still run like crazy, but I can’t imagine what it would be like if Amber had not come home. I suppose the girls might not have been able to do some of what they are, simply because we couldn’t have logistically made it happen before.
This was an enormous and very scary leap of faith. There are still days we quarrel over money and thoughts of not having money for the girls’ education or weddings does scare me. Sacrifices still feel like sacrifices, but I feel like now we sacrifice the right things.
I’m always reminded that God has not once ever failed us. Even in times I wondered where He was. Even in moments I felt He abandoned me… eventually He has always delivered.
One budget item we didn’t even consider cutting, was our tithe. We freely let go of that tithe each month to show God that money does not have a hold on us, but that we trust He does. And He does. I never doubt it.
I just simply look at my wife. Then I look at how happy my children are. That’s all that matters.
I gave up worrying about yesterday and tomorrow. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow isn’t promised. Today though, today we are free and we are happy. Not by luck, but by choice.Share this to: