Rachel and I are learning all sorts of new things on our mid-life debt free journey. Sometimes the learning is fun and sometimes not so much. Like with all new adventures, there are things that are expected and things that aren’t (hence the term “adventure”). Even the best planned adventures are going to create surprises.
We knew we’d need to be more aware of our finances. That was good; we wanted to be more aware. Although we are not subscribers to the “every single dollar must be accounted for” school of thought, we compared our income to outflow and set a goal that was seriously challenging: be debt free minus the mortgage by September 2020. We then broke that goal down according to the time we had to work with. We are having fun, working hard, conserving, stretching, and feeling the reward getting closer month by month. It’s happening!
Recently, though, during our Saturday morning front-porch and coffee (FP&C) finance meeting, we had to make some changes. We both felt it coming but our competitive natures made it tough to admit. We didn’t really know if we wanted to make a change or even talk about making a change. The path looked a bit more precarious (and narrow) than was comfortable.
We were doing our best at hashing out our timelines, pay dates, asset arrangement, and monthly goals. I wish I could say we weren’t both getting a bit stressed (but we were). In order to stay on short term track, we were going to be cutting things really close.
Rachel has the opportunity to take a couple of unplanned trips in June. Her Gran in Oregon is turning 94 and she wants to be at the party. Additionally, our daughter works with an amazing company that allows her to bring a +1 to the June corporate retreat (this one is in California) for a very reduced cost, and our son in law can’t make it.
Additionally, although we sold our boat, I still want to do some fishing from the kayak this spring and getting caught without a license is a pretty stiff fine. We’re also missing the Baby House (badly), and want to make a trip down in July to relax and drop off the Baby Car.
During our FP&C talk I went to get the mail that had just been delivered. It was a pretty hefty stack of envelopes.
What are the chances that 3 of our 4 vehicles all needed to be registered in June? I mean, c’mon, seriously right now? (You’d think the red “6” sticker on all the license plates might have tipped me off (you’d be wrong).
Suddenly I felt like I was getting chased around the ring by Butterbean.
We both sighed.
And sipped quietly.
For a long time.
Storm clouds were gathering.
Birds stopped singing.
It was hard to breathe.
I mentioned before that we don’t subscribe to eating only beans and rice until we’re debt free. We had decided when we started our debt free adventure that we were still going to do some things that mattered to us, despite the cost, like date night and keeping the house and yard nice.
We also had some non-negotiables:
We were not going to adjust our giving
Everything is prepaid or we don’t go or do
The minimum checking account balance stays
We don’t touch savings
Perhaps I had not done a completely comprehensive job of factoring in every possible cost. I own that. Maybe we started without fully estimating the year. That’s me too. Maybe we set the goals a little more aggressively than we should have.
After a little more reflection, I just grabbed the goal remote: Pause.
There (big breath. Silence). Ok. So.
Let’s take a break; a one month temporary pause from the full-speed-ahead goal pursuit. Just like watching a Netflix movie: let’s push pause and get a snack. We can use the cash that we would have applied to our debt-free pursuit towards making sure the trips are prepaid, our non-negotiables hold, and we enjoy a short-term respite and the fruits of our hard work (Baby House!). We can create a plan for the late summer months to redirect additional funds to get back on track (shouldn’t be too hard; we don’t have any more cars or grandmothers).
As soon the words were out, the birds returned to singing, the sun came back out, the air freshened, and the coffee magically reheated itself. We talked about it a bit more from different angles and decided it was a good move. We’ve been running pretty hard for 6 months and have made unbelievable progress, but sometimes in life you just need a little re-leveling; a return to homeostasis.
I’ve been pondering the events for about week. There was a time when I would have pushed to stay on track; damn the torpedoes, take the pain, get plumb mad-dog mean (how have you not seen that movie?), feel the burn, and all that. Perhaps a life of military service helps create that; meet the objective at any cost.
But at what risk?
The risk of breaking something that might be irrefixable (Rachelism). The risk of crashing the epic quest. The risk of losing the jazz, the fun, the pursuit, and the Trust. The risk of becoming the guy who wrecks all the intoxicated fun by using his tape measure during the block party cornhole game.
And that risk for what gain? One month? 30 days? We already have a plan to regain the time. The right to brag about the hard times we endured? Like anyone cares. What about 2 years from now when Gran has passed and Rachel could have gone to the party?
That’s the stuff nightmares (and life-long regrets) are made of.
No (sorry Clint). None of that is why we chose to get debt-free. This adventure into the good shouldn’t feel like penance. It should build a sense of expectancy, anticipation, and optimism, which it has. It should make life more enjoyable, not less. Self-denial needs to happen, but even that is more like trading short term pleasures for long term (life-long) benefits.
Bending the rules is adventure. Breaking something is regret.
I have to be honest though. I am a little afraid that if we let up we won’t get back to it. But after examination, that fear is unfounded and irrational, and must be addressed as such. Fear is one of those “yeah but what if” things that can run you ragged, become larger than it should be, and create stagnation in middle age. Sometimes us middle-agers might need to do some things just to stay comfortable with change. It’s ok to move forward and be afraid at the same time.
I’m glad we pushed pause. The drive down through the desert to Mesa is pretty. We’ll ride along and listen to podcasts and argue over Dr. Laura’s advice. We’ll stay at the Hoover Damn Lodge where Rachel plays blackjack with a virtual dealer. I’ve picked out some secluded spots where I bet the big bass are hiding. It’s not every day that you get to eat birthday cake with your 94 year old Gran, or sneak away to a cool Cali hotel with your daughter.
All of it: memories waiting to be made.
I’m glad I didn’t break anything. Those movie snacks are the best.