Why Financial Flexibility?
How did relatively rich people like us decide to pretend to be poor? Here’s the summary of our story:
Poor college students? When we first got married, we lived like we were still in college–because we were. I (Kalie) began student teaching the day after we returned from our honeymoon, while Neil had three semesters remaining to finish his engineering degree. Those first few months, I quit my job & Neil worked 4-8 hours a week. Although we dipped into savings, we kept our cost of living at “poor college student” level. Our cozy 1-bedroom apartment seemed luxurious compared to college rental homes, and eating a real cooked dinner, however simple, felt fancy next to subsisting on peanut butter.
During this year, we agreed to live like college students for as long as possible, even after graduating. This meant resisting Lifestyle Inflation, or letting our lifestyle increase along with our income. I was blessed to find a job upon graduating, and though first-year teachers don’t make much, we saved enough to spend a month in Europe before Neil started his full-time job. Now there’s a good reason to pretend to be poor! At this point I transitioned to working part-time (but that’s another story). We also both took the course Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, an eye-opening class about the the neediest in this world and how God is working.
The House Hunt. Our rent kept going up and we considered buying a house. Instead of signing a new lease, we moved in with our best friends and wrestled through the true cost of home ownership (while saving a down payment). Sharing a home with our friends was so much fun we decided to buy in their neighborhood. Within the first year of home ownership we finished paying off our student loans. In the next three years we:
- Started paying our 30-year mortgage like a 15-year.
- Refinanced to a 15-year mortgage when interest rates dropped.
- Started paying it like a 7-year, or as close as we could.
- Had two children.
Remember, this is on one income.
And then we figured out why we were doing all this.
We always wanted a simple lifestyle so we could give to our church and people in need, and so I could stay at home with our young children. The Bible convinced us that a lifestyle of debt is slavery and materialism is dangerous for the soul. But what should our financial goals be after paying off the house? We found Christian financial writers helpful but often too materialistic or legalistic. The options seemed to be saving up for a materialistic lifestyle, or giving away everything to the poor. Neither appealed to us because we consider time a more precious resource than money (more on this later).
Early Retirement? No thanks. Then Neil stumbled upon the early retirement blogging scene. The flexibility of avoiding lifestyle inflation and reducing the amount needed to retire appealed to us. But without a significant Christian voice, the goal seemed possibly unwise, as in the parable of the rich fool in Luke 7. He stored up wealth to “eat, drink, and be merry,” only to die the first day of retirement. We wanted to live below our means to free up resources, including time and money, but for a purpose bigger than ourselves. If you don’t need to make much money, your options suddenly expand. What if your church could hire you or send you overseas for next to no financial cost? What if you could pursue a more fulfilling career because you’ve learned how to live on less?
We wanted financial flexibility. For us flexibility is not about an end goal. We aren’t going to wait until we achieve the “perfect” financial position if God leads us into different vocations. Pursuing financial flexibility shouldn’t make us inflexible! Nor is flexibility about becoming “financially independent.” There’s really no such thing; we always need to depend on God to provide. And flexibility is not about skimping and saving now to enjoy a more expensive lifestyle later. Flexibility is really suggesting a different motivation and mindset for familiar steps like getting out of debt, decreasing expenses, and saving for the future.
For example, Neil took a short-term missions trip to India in 2013, and I plan to do the same in 2015. While these trips “delay” our savings plans, these are the opportunities that flexibility helps us take.
I want to emphasize that pretending to be poor is fun, and it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, too. We live in a nice home. We don’t live on rice and beans. We still take vacations. But what we didn’t do with our grown up income was:
- Buy a new car.
- Let student debt linger.
- Rush into a mortgage without a down payment.
- Purchase new furniture, televisions, smart phones, etc.
- Choose to work 40+ years to fund a lifestyle we don’t need, or even want.
Why do you want to avoid lifestyle inflation?