The last six weeks have been busy here at the CSS household. As most of you know, we’ve had some pretty big changes with my husband’s layoff and my work hours being cut. While this was initially a really scary thing, it hasn’t been all bad. Some things have been changing for me and the changes in our careers have started to crystallize them. It all began a few years ago. It was gradual. There was no Clarion call to change or Eureka moment borne from a breakdown. Things just slowly stopped having the same meaning they once did.
My career was the way I measured my position in the world. I wanted to climb the corporate ladder and thought advanced degrees and the right resume was the way to do it. I had thousands in student loans and gave dozens of unpaid hours to my jobs to make the difference. And while it worked to a certain degree, it started feeling like I was missing something.
Upsizing the Wrong Way:
Because I have a lot of debt, I didn’t feel like I had many choices when it came to exploring options for my life. People with my kind of bills don’t pack up their belongings and backpack across Europe – so I had to find other ways to feel good. So when I wasn’t working, I spent a lot of time buying things to ‘fill the void’, so to speak. It started a vicious cycle of working too much, feeling denied, and then buying things to feel better. Eventually, all the purchases would lead to more debt which would just reinforce an already unfortunate ‘work-unhappy-buy-debt-work’ dynamic.
Then I started this blog and met a whole community of people with a different understanding of how we can be in our lives. Paula from Afford Anything has travelled the world and currently lives in Guatemala, making money both on and offline. My favourite Frugal Weirdos (their words, not mine – I promise) from Frugalwoods.com are saving 60% of their income so they can homestead in Vermont. And Matt from Mom and Dad Money switched careers and started his own Financial Advisor business. There are so many more out there and they’ve offered me tips and tricks, new perspectives, and even emotional support through my own journey. It opened the world up in a new way.
Downsizing our Careers: (Not our choice)
Then the Albertan economy tanked. After a decade of working for the same firm, my husband was laid off with six weeks’ severance and a ‘see ya later’. Shortly after that, I was told my own hours would be reduced by 30 percent. Our household income had been reduced by 70% within the space of a few weeks.
There have been some positives.
We’ve managed to float our house successfully without my husband’s income for close to two months. All those steps we’ve taken as a couple to diversify our income over the past two years were integral to being able to manage our household through all of it. Our rental income, tutoring, freelance writing, and blog revenue has literally recession-proofed budget and saved our home.
Downsizing our Budget: (Our choice)
Since our recent down-sized careers, we have done a lot of work on how to manage our money. We have taken a close look at our budget and made sure all our numbers were accurate – it was surprising how out-of-date our numbers were from even a few months ago. Then we started brainstorming ways we could cut our budget. We made a few decisions and I made several phone calls. Consequently, I negotiated lower rates with our phone, cable, and insurance companies and cancelled any extra services (save $82 a month).
I ‘found’ lost money by submitting mileage forms to work ($600) and old health receipts to insurance ($120). I’ve also initiated a small claims process from a car accident last year ($4500) and plan to submit paperwork to finalize my dad’s estate ($1500). These last two options will probably take a few months or longer to settle but at least we’re taking the steps towards settling all these outstanding issues. And it will bring in a little money too.
We are developing better habits like meeting weekly to talk money and ensure that we’re on the same page with finances. There are still kinks to work out but we’ve made good progress.
Downsizing our Possessions: (Goodbye shit)
This fits into my monthly goal for May to get financially organized but I want to extend it into a general spring cleaning of the house. I want to go through everything and honestly assess whether I need to own it. I’m not talking about contemplating the usefulness of a salad spinner for hours on end but approach everything with a ‘Hey, does this really need to be here?’ approach. Then I want to sell it, donate it, or toss it. This will be an ongoing project, of course.
Downsizing our Lives:
Really, the big change has been the way I’m thinking about our lives. Do I want to continue investing in a lifestyle of working forty hours, buying bigger and better stuff, and taking two week vacations? Or do I want something different? It will take a while to figure out what our next steps will be – whether my husband finds a job or not – and I’m not sure I do. I’ll keep you posted.