Friday, January 29, 2016

Charting New Ambition

I spent a good deal of this last year in ill health and unable to work full-time or trust my body in ways healthy individuals can. My year was a blur of doctor's appointments in which we'd examine new manifestations of my immune system dysfunction (the most recent manifestation resulted in a necessary surgery from which I am still recovering). Over the course of the year, I had to change my entire lifestyle to accommodate what has become a decidedly noisy new constant in my life.

One day you will die.

On most days this is one of my sweetest and most comforting thoughts. Those words remind me that I am alive, that this moment is real and true and mine, and that I ought be engaged in one of the endless creative endeavours that make up my life.

One day you will die.

If you live long enough, one day your body will begin its decline into death.

It may happen that your decline starts early, and if you are able to sit with this change and garner a support system that will keep you as healthy and sane as possible, that decline has the ability to be a natural adjustment, a slowing down you were always meant to do one day. It just happens that one day has become today.

And on most days, that's okay.

I now work as much as I am physically able, which (when I'm not recovering from surgery) is about six hours a day, and working that much means I come home and crash. I'm pretty wrecked for doing anything else that day, and if I push myself to do more, I end up sick on top of dealing with my constant illness. I am a miser with my energy, budgeting and spending it only for the most "cost effective" purposes (thankfully I recently made a decision that artistic and creative pursuits are to be prioritized above nearly all else and not left to the drudges of "maybe if I have energy later" land). It's taken me the entire year to get to this point of relative acceptance, and it's a pretty good place to be (though the journey here is long and trying and I still have days where I slip).

Acceptance looks a bit like this:
My illness is not going away. 
My body will continue to develop strange new limitations and symptoms. 
I have an endless slew of doctor's appointments in my future. 
This surgery will not be my last. 
If I am aware of how I spend my energy, of what I eat, and what I do, I am able to live a fulfilling, happy, and healthy life.

Being healthy while being chronically ill sounds like an oxymoron but it's my new reality.

So. This past year we haven't been our exceptionally budget-savvy selves. What that looks like is having little savings and no discernible growth in our net worth. We have certainly not gotten into debt again (woo hoo!), but we haven't made the progress I initially envisioned for us when we began our journey to get debt-free.

It's like our life is that joke:
Step one: Get Debt-free
Step two: ?????
Step three: Profit

Luckily for us, the blank for step two is clear: SAVE MONEY. The challenge we face, then, is how to save in the face of such uncertain health/ work ability, increased costs, and other unexpected obstacles to an increased financial wellbeing.

I have goals. Oh wow do I have goals.

My new insane and utterly unattainable goal? To save $90,000 in five years for a downpayment on a $425,000 house.

Considering the fact that I do not have the ability to earn great amounts of money just now (and would not leave my job for all the greenbacks in the world), and a lot of our money is going into my care, that goal is not only ridiculous, it's practically impossible.

To pay off debt we managed to put down 66K+ in five years (while living in two different countries, taking vacations, and managing our special needs menagerie of pets, who continue to be terribly expensive and exceptionally loved). We both worked full-time at well paying jobs and sacrificed a lot to meet that goal.

I'm still in awe of the fact we managed to get that done! 66K+ in five years!! What an extraordinary accomplishment.

Making that happen now? Well, that becomes more than a just a challenge. It would take serious life, health, and employment changes that we can't make.

But, let's just say for a minute that $90,000USD is put towards a house in Canada. At the current exchange rate (which will obviously fluctuate, and why did we have to be at par the entire time we were paying off our debt?!), a $425,000CAD house is only $303,897.11USD. Suddenly we have a lot more money and are far more likely to meet that goal because our 20% downpayment is only $60,779.422, a number far more familiar to us.

While saving $61,000 in five years is far more likely, it doesn't quite guarantee success. Putting away $12,200 each year looks like a little more than $1000 each month. This once easy goal is made nearly impossible in our current conditions (okay, my current condition), so what do we do? I don't have easy answers, but the question certainly makes me want to dig my teeth into this problem and snap out some solutions.

Save what we can. 
This seems like an obvious first step, but I find it so easy to start defeated when I can't reach my loftiest dreams immediately. I'm a little more aware of this tendency now than I have been in the past, but it still pops up to haunt me.

Okay, but how do we save money we don't really have?
I started by transferring money from my paycheque to our credit union savings account. About half my paycheque goes into the credit union each month. Even if we need to draw out money from it at the end of the month to pay for life, we've been taking only what we absolutely need. This means whatever we haven't needed to use, even if it's only a few dollars, sits in that account and accrues over time. We have money, even if it's only in a scant few dollars and cents.

Sell stuff. Really, sell all the things.
Given my prediliction for books, it seemed an obvious spot to start. I removed the titles from my library I just wasn't likely to read again and took them to a series of used bookstores to sell. I ended up finding a few books I actually really wanted in return, and took the extra cash to the bank. I'm now selling my scuba equipment (because my lovely health problems will no longer let me dive) and old sewing machine.

On the other side, don't buy stuff.
I'm not going to lie: I love buying stuff. I love my action figures, my miniatures, my ball-joint dolls, and could gush about my art supplies all day. But I also end up buying stuff I don't need, and I buy a lot of stuff new that I could find used or second-hand. So that's my new goal. Nothing new but the things I cannot find or buy used (underwear is the one category that really sticks out for me here).

Don't rush!
Impulse buys, needing to get things that day, all those habits are Bad News Bears. I'm hoping to stop doing that and start considering my purchases with my larger goals in mind (do I really need that colouring book? -- do I really want it more than my dream house on the Island?). Holding each purchase accountable is a big part of why we were so successful at paying off our debt.

Visualize what you actually want.
I'm a huge fan of putting photos and images on everything in my wallet (bus pass, bank cards, etc.). Anytime I open my wallet I'm inundated with images of my dreams and hopeful futures. I put those images up around the house, too, whether on the fridge, clipboard, or washroom mirror. Seeing what I want reinforces my good spending habits. I need to employ this more.

Unsubscribe from every bit of social media that wants you to buy all the things.
I don't know how it happened, but over time my Instagram feed became a menagerie of marketing. While I may have started to follow an artist, for example, to see their art, a lot of those posts ended up reinforcing that I wantses feeling (instead of being creatively inspiring as I originally hoped). It's easy to want to follow blogs and sites that post what you adore (hello, everything Halloween), but when the images you see turn what you love into a consumer product, you're better off backing off because the I wantses grab you. The Internet, for me, is a particularly bad place to spend my time if I'm trying to reinforce good spending habits.

On the other side of this journey, Gabe is finding ways for us to save money on items like our phone bills, health insurance, car insurance (did you know discounts exist for good students, non-smokers, and other desirable habits?), and other regular expenditures. It's good to have a partner whose budgeting savvy is such an incredible compliment to my own. If we weren't both on the same page, we'd never accomplish much of anything!

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