What if I live a simple life? Have you seen the various blogs posts or memes talking about wanting to live a minimalist lifestyle? Then you see ads about the next new car, the bigger house, what we should be wearing or doing. Basically how to keep up with Jones. The struggle is literally real between wanting a simple life and keeping up with the Jones.
Growing up I lived a comfortable life. We had a nice house and nice cars. Due to my parents work I was lucky enough to have a summer home and our main home. We traveled around the country frequently, had many adventures around New England and I was able to go to Spain in High School with my Spanish Club. My friends and I grew up boating, snowmobiling, spending time at various friends camps as well as participating in various activities.
I attended a private college in Southern New Hampshire and then on to Boston University to get my Masters Degree. My second year of undergraduate my now husband and I met and started dating .We continued an adventurous lifestyle.
Between my undergraduate and graduate schooling, my husband and I got married. There was no fancy wedding, but a simple one with friends and family in my home town. We did take a nice cruise to Mexico. Less than at year later we bought our first home at the young ages of 21 and 22. It was a small home, what we thought would be our starter home. We bought new cars and did not think much about buying the next new thing. After I graduated with my Masters Degree, the student loans kicked in along with finding out I was pregnant everything hit us at once. We had gotten in over our heads. I was not prepared for the debt to income ratio between our current bills, student loans and what a social worker makes per year. It’s sad. We were drowning in debt from trying to live a lavish life and being new parents. One day my husband and I looked at each other and said what are we doing. We can’t keep living like this. What are we trying to prove?
That is when we decided to turn our life around. We found a financial guru who we could get behind thanks to our good friends and really assessed our priorities. We needed family activities that would not cost us a lot of money. We started making outdoor time more of a priority. When you have a toddler who has lots of energy and live in a small house you find ways to get that energy out. Even more importantly ways that were free or low cost.
We cut back our spending, looked at our bills, made a plan and worked hard moving forward. One thing we really did not want to give up was our weekend adventures. With stressful jobs, we find joy in these trips and believed our daughter should be exposed to various adventures. We worked it into our budget, not a lot, but some extra money to still have our weekend adventures.
Time to get creative. I picked up some outdoor books from my library, I searched apps like Groupon and Entertainment, checked out the library for passes, signed up for local event lists and basic google searches to get ideas. Our adventures were not more than a couple hours from home as we did not want to have to stay over night. We would pack a picnic lunch and would get something different or special so we were not feeling deprived from eating out.
Almost all of our day trips included some form of hike. The majority of the time you can hike for free. Since we already had the gear we were good to go. When my daughter was able to hike on her own we visited a local consignment shop and got her a pair of hiking boots for $20. With yard sales facebook groups and consignment shops it’s fairly easy to find cheap gear.
In addition to hiking we would visit parks with playgrounds and water features, waterfalls, public beaches, museums and various events. In the winter we would continue to hike, go sledding, ice skating and cross country ski on local multi purpose trails. If it was too cold we would visit our local mall and have our daughter play in the play area or attend a free open gym. When we wanted to get away for a couple nights we were fortunate enough to have a small pop-up camper given to us by my husbands parents and we were able to find cheap campsites for a great couple of night get a way.
Each year our finances got easier to manage and we were not swimming in debt. At times I felt guilty for shopping at consignment shops, couponing, not going on big trips, not having a bigger house and not always buying the next big thing. A few times I wanted to give up due to frustration of penny pinching. Luckily I was able to relax in the woods. I also had the support of my best friend when I was struggling and feeling guilty. If you are going on a financial journey you need a supportive friend in addition to your spouse for that extra support.
Fast forward nine years and we have minimal debt, my car is 7 years old, we still live in the small house, we don’t have the best of everything, but I would not change it for the world. Why? Because now we do day trips whenever we want. We are starting to plan bigger trips, paid for with cash and have better quality family time. We continue to spend a lot of time doing outdoor or doing free or cheap activities, but we can afford to splurge on restaurants and activities if we wish.
Everyday I am thankful for where we live to have such great access to the outdoors. This helped while working on our minimal lifestyle. Destressing on the trail is amazing. It has turned into a game of finding new outdoor and free activities. I rarely feel jealous of other peoples lifestyles and am happy for what my husband and I have created for our family. Instead of having to clean a big home or cut back we are free to explore as we wish and I would not change our minimalist lifestyle for anything. I hope when my daughter grows up she values the lifestyle we chose for her.