Archive for October 31st, 2010

How We Did It (Part 1)

Perhaps the yenta in you is wondering how we financed our move to Maine.
There are two key points: we are no longer paying tuition for our children’s education, and we have married off all our children, thank G-d happily. Baruch HaShem!!!

Now for some personal background:

With thanks to HaShem, my husband has always made a decent salary – not one that will make anyone rich, but if one lived carefully, enough to allow me to be a stay-at-home mom. We haven’t had money for expensive summer vacations, nor did we budget for camp for the kids. We did invest some of my husband’s salary in the stock market for retirement. And so began our woes.

For a while there, it was pretty exciting. We amassed enough in retirement funds to last about 10 years, which we couldn’t extract without huge penalties, and we still had 20 years of contributions ahead of us, which meant we’d be able to retire comfortably. When the first wedding came, we paid for it 100%. Since we couldn’t take out money from the retirement fund, we refinanced our house to make this happen.

Meanwhile, we got greedy. Despite warnings, we didn’t pull out of the stock market in time. When my second child got married 5 months later, we had lost 90% of our savings. The pitiful amount we contributed to the wedding was an embarrassment, and it was financed with credit cards.

Through “creative refinancing” we managed to pay off those two weddings over several years’ time. We also realized that there was no way we could continue living in our big old (ca. 1927) house, which was a high-maintenance money pit. Each month we were slowly going deeper in the red. We sold just before the real estate market’s boom (the buyer resold the house 8 months later for $200,000 more than he had bought it from us!) and moved to a much smaller and simpler house. It was a step down in gashmius, but there is no joy in living in a house when every time yet another house repair bill comes, you feel physically sick with anxiety since you have no idea how you can pay for it. We had been living beyond our means, and for what? Living more simply in this little 1960 tract house was liberating. I was no longer overwhelmed by constant repairs, higher energy costs, and cleaning vast areas of space.

The next two weddings were paid much as the first two: credit cards and refinancing. We’ll never have equity in our house, but we don’t regret it. We looked at the house not as an investment but as a means to an end, and thank G-d it was used for happy occasions.

With all the children married, we looked forward to being “empty nesters,” but that was not to be. Our elderly mothers moved in with us. Over the next four years, there were many trials and tribulations. There were some triumphs, too, but they were few and far in between. I understood the extent and necessity of my obligations, but after a time I felt trapped and overwhelmed. I came very close to a nervous breakdown.

With our love of camping and the White Mountains, we had always dreamed of buying a little piece of land in the woods and putting a camper there for the summer. We had looked without success over the years for just the right property, even before our mothers came to live with us. But as my world began to suffocate me, I began to fantasize about it more often.

I have always been the “creative” type, with my head somewhat in the clouds. That’s one of the reasons I married my husband – a true geek at heart. Early on I recognized that his somewhat geeky makeup, his kind, even temperament, and steady employment were the stable qualities I needed to balance my passion and recklessness and “head-in-the clouds” existence. (I am happy to report that in our 30+ years of marriage, we have indeed balanced each other’s strengths and weaknesses very nicely)

My husband and I do find a lot of joy in life. We have both been dreamers: “Wow, I have such a good idea!” and “Wouldn’t it be amazing if…” and “This innovation will make a million dollars!” became a sort of mantra. We were always fantasizing and planning, but never actualizing.

One day I happened to mention to one of my kids yet another one of our Brilliant Inventions/Great Ideas in my usual excited and upbeat voice. Completely exasperated, my child turned to me and said. “You know what? I don’t want to hear about it. You are always talking, talking, talking about doing this or that great thing or idea. But you never do anything about it! All’s you do is dream! Enough already!”

I honestly don’t think it was that child’s intention, but if someone had slapped me with an iron fist the pain of those remarks could not have hit me any harder.

It had simply never occurred to me that my children had looked upon us as Big Talkers instead of Do-ers; that this caused them to disrespect us and roll their eyes behind our backs. I had looked upon our fantasies as just that – fantasies. For me the satisfaction was in the creative experience of dreaming up the ideas; their actualization was inconsequential and insignificant. We are not entrepreneurs nor will we ever be, and boy, do I know it!

It did make me think hard, however. For once, we must actualize our dreams.