It's that time of year where I reflect on the last few years, as we come up on the anniversary since my spouse last worked.
As of the end of September it will have been SIX years.
So that means six years of one-income living for us.
Honestly, from our perspective it is not that HUGE of a milestone, especially considering my pay raises through the years and such.
But in this society it is a huge milestone. Usually when I mention my spouse does not work, he is offered a job. That's how it goes. Our society does not seem to understand that for some of us, there is more to life than "work." That a paying job is not the be-all-end-all. (There is plenty of other important work in this world).
Anyway, we have zoomed ahead so far from where we started I thought it was important to share where we started. & for newer readers and such.
We always saved most of dh's wages. Early on it was the down payment on our home. Once we moved to cheaper lands and bought or dream home for pennies, then we looked at our pile of cash. Since we were teens it had been "save every penny for a house," because we lived in such a frighteningly expensive area. Then, when we were about 25 we simply gave up. The whole thing seemed rather ridiculous - working into our 90s just to pay a mortgage. So we moved somewhere considerably cheaper. We had been saving our pennies to upgrade from our $250k condo to a $600k (piece of crap) house. Saving for the 20% down.
After the move, we were both working and that cash was piling up. We kind of looked at that cash like, "what next?" Suddenly the one thing we thought we would save forever for, was off the table.
Talk about freeing!
Of course, many people around here might have thought to pay off our $200k+ mortgage. But, eh. From our perspective we had slashed our housing expenses considerably, for the rest of our life. The mortgage was nothing to us. I think we were exhausted from putting so much cash into our home, and ready to move on to bigger and better things. Our mortgage payment was a fraction of rents, where we were from. Our mortgage, at the time, just was barely a blip on our financial radar.
For us, we moved to the next item on our list - children.
We had only lived here a few months before we decided we were ready. There really wasn't much discussion about it. Everything we did in our young lives was in preparation for children some day, and when we were on stable financial ground we both just knew - we were ready. IT was literally like, "I think we are ready." "Ok." Kind of funny how we both agreed in an instant, but you see we were planning all along for this.
Anyway, I wouldn't say the reason we always lived off of one income was because we wanted children. The reason we always lived on one income was because it seemed fiscally dangerous to rely on 2 incomes to pay the bills. But the future thoughts of children, made us a little more committed to keeping our expenses down; knowing we wanted one of us to be home with the kids.
I wish I could say, today, that we we were coming up on 5 years of one-income living, but no sooner did we conceive our first child, dh was laid off from his job. This is why, at this point, it has been six years, though our eldest child just turned 5.
When we first made the leap and threw our birth control out of the window I was making $50k/year and taking home $3400 monthly. This easily covered all of our bills. Dh was taking home on average $2500/month and we were saving it. Our original plan was to save that for another 9 months. Plans are nice, but times like these is where I learned to hope for the best while preparing for the worst. I guess he did receive unemployment for a while. So it wasn't a total loss...
I was lucky. The day I told my boss that I was pregnant, he gave me a 10% raise. (He decided it was a good time to tell me the news). I also figured that our income taxes would be about $0 with the decrease of income and the birth of our child. So I was able to lower my tax withholdings by about $400/month. Between that and my raise, we were taking home $4k monthly, when BM was born. I was pretty much taking home what I had been grossing when we decided to take the leap.
This was an awesome start to our one-income leap. I had not expected any raises really.
When we first went down to one-income we had $30k cash in the bank. We had actually preferred to get this to $50k by dh working at least 9 more months. We were relying on our savings to cover some of the bills, and pregnancy seemed like a risky proposition, particularly with the pregnant one being the sole bread-winner. So, we actually weren't really pleased where our savings ended up. Dh looked for work most of the 9 months in order to bulk that up more; it was just a terrible time for the economy (2002). He never did find another job.
As such, we always looked at the one-income thing as rather temporary. If we were lucky, we could swing it until the kids entered school. We'd be happy with the first 2-3 years if it was all we could swing.
So, when we first went down to one income, we weren't really saving a ton. Don't get me wrong, I was saving for my maternity leaves and all that, and we rarely tapped our cash savings. BUT retirement had left the table. Dh's money had always funded retirement and we felt okay to let that go for a few years. We had a good start. (I always respected people who didn't want to take that kind of financial leap to be home with their kids. Sometimes I am surprised we did - as fiscally conservative as we tend to be).
We were also very lucky that the kids were so close together. If we had our wish, we wanted them 2 years apart. Of course, didn't expect to be so lucky in the least. As much as we REALLY planned our children, we were always very aware that our plans were subject to a higher blessing. So when our second child arrived exactly 2 years later, I felt like we were doing something right. Both the kids were born in summer when it was slow at work and I could take months off. It all just seemed to go as planned.
I also continued to get 10% raises every year. So things started to get easier.
Of course, during this time, our brains went out the window. I remember at times as this anniversary passed, thinking, "Phew. Maybe we will make it one more year." But instead of saving my raises once we had our second child, we started to spend it. I think honestly we were just tired of living on a shoestring. We had done it many many many many years, and we let loose a little bit. Which was fine. But I think also we figured we saved so much of dh's money before kids, and would save so much after the kids, what was the harm in taking a break?
I don't know if there was much harm inflicted, but in 2006 we started to look at things differently. We had our 2 kids, and it was time to look at our next goals. My pay was increasing astronomically. For the first time, as we looked to our future plans and considered our next steps, now that we had the 2 children we wanted, it occurred to us that we may find the same financial security we used to, before kids, on ONE income. Imagine that. It had never really been a realistic goal in the beginning so the thought hadn't crossed our minds. But looking at my pay raises, it was something to consider.
So we decided to pretend/assume like dh would NEVER work again, and get our financial house in order.
It was around then that I joined pfadvice and this is where I am today. (Coming up on 2 years here).
Looking back on the last 6 years...
*My gross pay has increased 50% since BM was first conceived. My take-home has increased 60%.
*Our net worth has continually climbed all this time. From the $100k range to the $200k range. So we are chugging along. We'll be ages 31/32 by year-end.
*I never imagined we would afford things like preschool, on my income alone.
*The Bush tax cuts extraordinarily reward young couples with large mortgages and kids. There are many years we paid no income taxes, some years the government paid us to have kids (refundable child tax credits) and today only about 8% of my gross goes to income taxes (both federal and state). I am not a fan of the Bush cuts and know we will pay this back tenfold down the road, but the timing was VERY helpful for our one-income years.
*Our health insurance went from $100 monthly to cover just myself to $750 monthly, this year, to cover the fam. One year our health premiums went up 40%. (When we turned 30 - ugh).
Sometimes it feels futile. All the planning and preparing to get where we are just to be slammed by insane health costs. This is honestly the first (one-income) year it hasn't given me great stress. We had a small premium increase for 2008. It was nice to get a break from this monster. Many of my large raises have been eaten up by healthcare expenses. But then you just have to be grateful for the large raises to cover them...
*I had a lot of unpaid time off during the 2 years I had my children. So those were some large income hits as well.
*We can't cover dh for disability. I think this is the greatest injustice I have come across for one-income families. Just because my spouse takes a few years off of work does not mean it would not be of great financial consequence to us if he were to become permanently disabled.
I have the feeling coverage is hard to come by because it is such a likely scenario (disability is far more common than death for people our age).
This year is interesting though because we have passed a few milestones that have increased our current standing greatly.
*As of 12/31/07 I completely vested in my employer's retirement plan. It is completely funded by my employer and 10% of my pay is deposited every year. Suddenly the years we ignored retirement don't really matter. I have always had 10% set aside! (I just didn't rely on that at all before vesting. But now that we can rely on it, it is a huge leap for our financial standing).
*My spouse has never had a problem making money on the side, but with sleepless kids and the stress and strain of infants and babies and all that comes with that, we have largely given up relying on even a small side income. BUT this year is different. I notice a change in myself now that I consistently get a good nights' sleep, and the kids need less constant care. & I certainly notice a change in dh (the primary caregiver to the children). HE is making money this year. & it makes all the difference. He has not made this kind of money since 2002. Though he was unemployed the 9 months before BM was born, he made in the realm of $3k doing video work and such, since he had nothing else to do really. I look forward to getting back to that. $3k is a lot of money and we can use it. I can foresee him pulling that kind of cash in for 2009.
*Childcare is WAY less of a consideration for us going forward. LM just turned 3 AND BM just started public school. Any care the kids need I can pretty much fund from my income, at this point, which makes dh working another job is for the first time, rather feasible. Without doing insane things like working opposite schedules. (Something we have preferred to avoid all these years).
At one point it would have cost $2k/month for care for the kids. Today LM full-time where he is at would run $600 and BM's care would be very minimal, after school. (& I could probably work from home and watch him anyway. He needs less constant supervision). But even minimal care for holidays and such, I could certainly swing from my income.
So this year is an interesting turning point, for ALL of these reasons.
I feel like we are largely on track financially, actually. Last year we replenished our emergency fund and this year we started saving up $5k, annually, cash for future purchases. Something else we largely stopped since having kids.
All else being equal, we are in a good spot. Moving forward I feel like we have our bases covered and our savings is on a good pace. We are contributing $100/month to our retirement, in addition to my 10%. (Last year was only $50/month and I hope to double it to $200/month, in 2009).
This year we will put aside $5k for future expenses.
The kids are nearing $10k in their college funds. (ENTIRELY funded by relatives, BUT it's one less thing for us to worry about).
& life is good.
BUT we still have a lot of catching up to do. We should have much more than $3k in the bank, and a lot of unexpected items have popped up this year, making it harder to make our $5k goal by year-end.
(Sure we have the emergency fund but to us that is a catastrophe fund. So we need a lot more other cash savings to keep it a catastrophe fund, as planned).
Reminds me, I would prefer to grow the emergency fund a bit as well, from $12k to $15k.
So, for now, I think our long-term financial success depends on building up our cash fund. I feel like we have about 5 years of missed savings to catch up. Because that is really what it comes down to. We haven't saved much the last few years and we feel the pinch in that regard.
So that is the long and the short of it all.
Looking ahead is good. We have little plan but to save all of my future raises. We are happy with our lifestyle where it is at. For now we know it is "slow and steady" for us. Which is an adjustment because we are used to saving "fast and furiously." We've never really saved any other way. So this is very weird and new to both dh and I.
So we are adjusting to the slow and steady concept, and hoping our health insurance allows us a little left over after future raises.
I know I have a $300/month "raise" coming in 2010 when LM graduates preschool and goes to public school. So we are counting on that to bulk up our cash and/or retirement.
I will probably have my own raises from work as well (3 more raises by then).
When we run the numbers, sometimes I think it is possible to max out our IRAs and stay on track with all of our other financial goals, by the time LM starts 1st grade.
It's kind of ironic, to wait all those years for dh to return to work, and then as we approach it to kind of think, nevermind. There's no need.
If we can max out our IRAs? (On top of my 10% retirement contributions from work?) & meet our other financial goals? (Saving enough to avoid any debt?). There really would be little point in dh working. If he wanted to work, all I can envision is paying down the mortgage very rapidly and/or starting an early retirement savings fund (taxable investments). Maybe cut our health insurance expenses, with benefits.
& it is exciting to think, if he does work, that we could go back to our fast and furious savings. It would all be gravy.
But I think it's even better to think that we could possibly set aside 25% of my gross to retirement and continue to avoid debt, on my income alone. That would be quite a milestone, and yet it is starting to feel within reach.
Six years and going...
It's that time of year where I reflect on the last few years, as we come up on the anniversary since my spouse last worked.