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How we got here: Avoid the creep!

I’m realizing its hard to start a blog – to try and throw out all that relevant background information that helps piece together the full story.  I’m hoping this will be the final missing puzzle piece… the underlying question, “How did we get to where we are today?”

Looking back, I realize the answer is simple: we avoided massive lifestyle creep.  Purely by situational luck.  Way, back in the not too distance past (2008), we were a love-struck pair of newlyweds. We had bought our first house, which took up most of my savings, and paid off Mr. SSC’s credit cards with the rest of my savings.  We had just started new jobs, just shy of the 6-figure mark, so we were about to start rolling in the dough.  There were many start-up costs – getting rid of old, decrepid, fourth generation grad-school furniture, and buying all the necessary accoutrements to a new house, such as a lawn mower and drapes.  Alas, being a young couple we felt we ‘needed’ much more than was likely necessary. New wardrobes for work, home decor, fancier cookware… we could afford it, right?  At least part of my financial sense was still in check, and we did have a plan to rapidly pay off Mr. SSC’s remaining student loans, as well as build back up an emergency fund, and max out our 401ks. So things weren’t all that bad financially.. but there was quite a bit of consumeristic waste.

After a few years, and some deaths and illnesses in families, we were nearing our mid 30s and pondering the meaning of life.  Talk turned to children. Did we want any? When? Were we sure?  When we first got married, we both liked the idea of one child, maybe, at some point in the distant future.  Our friends started procreating, and we decided – yeah its our time.  We gave ourselves three more months to continue to think it over, and our minds were set – we were ready to become parents.  The decision had hardly been reached, and we were already expecting!  This rapidly escalating timetable put our savings into overdrive.

Fortunately, we had just finished paying off the hefty student loans, so we immediately channeled that money into an account to save for the baby. We had furniture and thousands of diapers to buy, we needed to be able to pay for daycare, and wanted to put several hundred a month away for college.  I was planning on taking an extended maternity leave, so we had to save extra for that. Plus the costs of the birth, since my health insurance wasn’t exceptional.  In the end, we ended up diverting over $1500/month to a savings account, earmarked for baby crap.  Yeah, babies can be expensive! All went well, costs were lower than expected, and we loved being parents to our sweet baby, James.

With our current employer, we knew that a relocation  to Houston was impending, which meant a new house purchase.  After some early online shopping to understand the markets, we realized two things. 1) to buy the house we wanted, where we wanted, we needed more money, and 2) we were going to need to sell our current house at a loss.  Since we had just been in savings mode for baby James, we just diverted some of that freshly freed up money back into saving for a bigger down payment.

Still in New Orleans, we realized we were having so much fun with baby #1 – wouldn’t it be great to have baby #2?  Yes!  Before we knew it, it late 2012, we were expecting our 2nd baby, with an impending move to Texas in 2013. Budgets were examined, disagreements were had, and eventually a more stringent budget was deployed, allowing us to save even more.

Fast forward 6 months, the family and I were settling in our new home, with newly arrived Marie, and suddenly the budget became unraveled.  We had reached our goals: upgraded our housing situation, safely welcomed baby #2, and even survived another few months of unpaid maternity leave.  Suddenly, we were flush in cash!  We had a house to decorate!  New baby accessories to purchase! We were a two-income family working long hours – we needed a maid! We needed a guy to mow our lawn!  We needed a new car! Need! Need! Need!  In the matter of months – years of financial prudence disintegrated!  We started buying items for convenience, buying items to make life easier, buying weekly gifts for the kids to appease our guilt of working long hours!  We felt we deserved everything, and we had the money to buy it.

Luckily, it only took us a few months of flushing money away to realize what had happened… LIFESTYLE CREEP. A big, bad, sneaky monster. We had hopped onto a treadmill that would have us working until the end of time always trying to stay one step ahead of the bills.  I am ashamed to admit that we honestly had the conversation after moving into our new house, that our car wasn’t nice enough and all the neighbors had Mercedes and BMWs, and we didn’t fit in.  Seriously.  The fact that we both believed that and had that conversation makes me sick to my stomach now.

As 2014 approached, I began thinking more and more how to battle lifestyle creep and the consumer buried deep in my psyche. I read dozens of personal finance articles and blogs.  And in the end, I realized that we were good at saving – if we were saving for something.  A house, a baby, hospital bills, student loans. We needed a goal.   I decided that I was going to start saving for my freedom. For my time. I was going to buy back my life, and save money so that I could attend every recital, every soccer game, and be there for my children – every time!  I was going to save money so that I could spend my days hiking or riding my bike through pine trees, watching the sun reflect off a lake.  And I didn’t want to do this on the occasional weekend, but I was going to do this every day – and I would do this before my knees gave out, or I was too frail to hike more than a few miles.

So this is the long story of how we got where we are today. My epiphany. I would love to hear the story of your ‘moment’!

2 thoughts on “How we got here: Avoid the creep!

  1. Justin @ Root of Good

    My “moment” was sitting down with literally the back of a napkin and penciling out how little it would take to actually become financially independent. I was 16 and working at a sub shop for minimum wage. I figured with a few roommates splitting a $600/month apartment and some utilities and $100/month for food and a couple thousand bucks for a very used car, I would be set forever.

    It wasn’t hard to back calculate how much I would need in my savings account at 5% interest to know that reaching FI was easy! I almost decided to skip college because what I calculated was so low.

    Plans changed and I went to college, made a decent chunk of change, saved most of it and invested it in mutual funds and ETFs and beat the pants off that 5% savings account.

    But that short bit of math on that napkin was the first time I’d penciled out what it would take to be FI, even though my current lifestyle and early retirement ended up being very different than those numbers would have permitted!

    1. Mr SSC

      As often as Mrs. SSC showed me our spreadsheet, it still took a while to accept how little we lived off of, and how little it would take to maintain our current lifestyle. It was kind of shocking how much creep we’d avoided and been able to stay living comfortably well below our means. When it sunk in that this really was possible, it made it even easier to keep the goal in mind and start counting down to financial independence. It’s exciting when you get that realization that FI is possible.

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