The Plunge: One Year Later

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The Plunge: One Year Later via The Survival Mom, no incomeRemember that one time my husband decided to quit his job and go back to school to finally get that Bachelor’s degree in engineering and we had to live off of savings? Well, guess what? That was a whole year ago! A lot of things can happen in a year. And for us, lots of things did happen.

My husband is still in school and is doing well in his classes, so not much has changed there, but we had another kid (yikes!) which means we had to upgrade to a larger vehicle that could fit everyone in our family. Despite the unexpected things that we didn’t include in our original budget, we’ve always been able to pay our bills and put food on the table. And we’re still going strong.

How are we still sustaining this? Lots of reasons. It would be arrogant and untrue to suggest that we are succeeding because we are doing things differently or better than other people. Our combined skill sets have been great assets, but we’ve had a lot of help, too.

Skill sets help when there’s no income

We’ve had ten years of married life to hone the skills requisite to living on nothing, which means we have something of an advantage over other married college students in the same situation.

My husband qualifies as a “non-traditional student” because of his non-linear career path. I worried a year ago that being ten years older than the average undergraduate would be a hindrance. Instead, it has proven one of his greatest assets. Being in the workforce for so long helped him develop skills that his fellow students don’t yet have. He has ten years of programming experience that his youthful peers do not have, as well as the intangibles like work ethic and problem solving. Having that kind of maturity has helped him earn better grades and gain respect from his professors.

As for me, I’ve got ten years of experience in the field of wise management of our resources. In her novel Cranford, Elizabeth Gaskell writes much about the virtues of “elegant economies,” which is a fancy term for making extreme thrift look cool. Like making meals from the cheapest ingredients around, canning, gardening, repurposing old clothing.

I don’t even bother to read those articles about “five ways to reduce your spending,” because I’ve already been doing all of them for years. I have become an expert in decorating my house in what Erma Bombeck calls, “Early Poverty.” If I were the kind of person who puts vinyl decals of pithy sayings on my walls, I most certainly would get one that says, “elegant economy.”

Multiple streams of income

Many people asked me, “why don’t you just get a job?” It’s a pretty fair question. The main answer is: child care. It’s the same story that I’m sure many women are experiencing. Degree in an obscure field that’s not hiring, plus, I’ve been out of the work force for ages. Babysitters are not cheap and all that together equals we actually save money by me not working. Much, much ink has been spilled on this issue. And it is our reality.

That said, it wouldn’t be quite true to say that we were living on “no income.” We have had some income; just not the kind that puts is in the same tax bracket as before. Instead of one full-time job, both my husband and I have taken multiple odd jobs here and there: a bit of chauffeuring here, a bit of freelance editing there. My husband is working as a research assistant this summer, and I got a (very!) part-time job teaching which will start in the fall. Multiple income streams is key.

Accepting help from others

About three weeks after my husband’s last day of work, we discovered that we’d be adding to our family. It was a little bit of a shock, but not as big of a shock as it was to discover that this little one would be born with a severe cleft palate and would require multiple surgical procedures over the course of her life.

We made arrangements to pay for the birth out-of-pocket, but given the scope our daughter’s birth defect, decided to bite the bullet and accept public health insurance. It was kind of a wrench to do it because of how we felt – and still feel – about relying on state programs. We wanted to be independent, and this felt a little like cheating. We didn’t want to drain an already overwhelmed system. But on the other hand, this is a very temporary measure. We paid into Medicaid the whole of our adult lives prior to this point, and fully intend to do so again in the future. And given the huge costs of healthcare, we might as well have forgotten about the whole thing if we had to pay for a string of palate repair surgeries with private insurance.

As of the time of writing, we have successfully been able to avoid accepting other state programs like WIC or SNAP. Neither has it been necessary to take out student loans. My husband qualified for some FAFSA grants, and that expanded our budget quite a bit.

We had support from family, as well. My parents moved from Texas to the Intermountain West so they could be closer to us. Along with some very caring aunts, my parents took care of the older kids when the baby was born, provided meals, and helped with childcare for the baby’s many appointments at the children’s hospital when my husband couldn’t miss class. When it came time to upgrade to a minivan so we could fit all members of our family in one vehicle, my father did most of the work to find something in good condition. My mother made it her mission in life to ensure that shoes in my kids’ sizes magically appeared on our doorstep.

How you, too, can live your dreams

Someone told me about six months ago, “I wish I could do what you are doing.” Guess what? You can! Lots of people do. My husband isn’t even the only one in his department completing his degree as a seasoned dad. One of his fellow-students is in his mid-thirties with five children. If you are considering a similar non-linear career path, here’s what I would advise based on our experiences this past year:

  1. First, consider your chosen field. Going back to school is not always the right decision. Going for a Ph.D. in Underwater Basketweaving with an emphasis in Skullduggery most likely won’t advance your prospects in life. However, something that will help you gain skills so you can be more competitive in the job market is a fair bet.
  2. Learn to distinguish between needs and wants, and prioritize accordingly. Do you really need a new mobile device, or ultra-fast high-speed internet, or would it just be nice to have? To be really candid, our family has adopted a fairly stringent view on what is considered a “need.” I haven’t purchased new shoes for myself since 2011. Our holiday and birthday celebrations are beyond spare, and yet still extremely enjoyable and fulfilling. We eat a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and almost never eat out. Since 2009, we’ve seen five movies in an actual movie theater. But like I said before, we’ve never had trouble paying bills or putting food on the table.
  3. Don’t feel bad about taking advantage of government programs. If anything, those programs were created for families with temporary needs: getting through law school, that time in-between jobs, etc. Even those who struggle to find work will not be out of a job forever.
  4. There is abundant scholarship money to be had. One professor at our local university remarked that everyone always worried how to pay for grad school. The big secret, he told us, was that nobody could afford grad school. When it comes to technical fields, however, there are all sorts of ways to secure funding. While the statement that staggering amounts of scholarship money go unawarded is actually a myth, there are many scholarships available.
  5. Don’t think that you’re not smart/ disciplined/ good enough/ worthy enough. Don’t pay any attention to those self-fulfilling prophesies. The world is full of people who will try to tear you down and tell you that you are stupid and that your dreams are trash. You will miss every opportunity that you don’t take. Yes, failure is within the realm of possibility. That’s always a risk. But if you succeed, the payoff is pretty amazing.

Read Beth’s “Taking the Plunge” full story

The Plunge: One Year Later via The Survival Mom, no income


13 thoughts on “The Plunge: One Year Later”

  1. Congrats for thriving (not just surviving). I always enjoy your entertaining articles on Survival Mom.

  2. I can’t comprehend why any informed couple would want to raise kids (have a family) when the trashing of America continues down hill. It’s hard enough for couples having to work. I know a number of couples who are working, will not raise kids, too expensive or maybe have one if grandparents can babysit. Home schooling may not be option of women having to work full time. Private schools are expensive too. America’s future is zero-zero. We are child free and have studied globalism for decades, now retired. If things really get dicey, extra mouths to feed is a hurdle.

    1. Laura,

      Not having children was your choice, and I respect that. Please respect my choice to have a family. People who are “informed” can and do make the decision to have children.

      Have a nice day.

    2. The Survival Mom

      Yikes. I’m sorry for you, ma’am, but feel free to pursue your childless lifestyle and we will refrain from judging you.

      1. Thanks both, for response, however, it’s zero-zero for America, the push for socialism/globalism has been advancing for decades. Some just can’t “see it” , or don’t choose to research in depth, incl some of my relatives. Few see the decline (open borders, gay marriage, cultural decline, corrupt judges, politicians. common core, ag. 21, Mexicans, Muslims,etc. coming in with TB and other diseases, etc) incl the over 50 crowd who is too busy playing golf or globe trotting, etc. Most working age women must work . No matter what happens, kids come with no guarantees. No country is guaranteed to last forever. Many younger friends, relatives are divorced, that hurts the kids. I was pointing out America’s decline, and the choices some couples make. If women want to home school, they must make sacrifices like controlling spending.

        1. I’m glad your personal choice was to have no children. Frankly, I doubt you would have enjoyed it nor would the children. People have always believed they were living in the end times & that civilization was crumbling & they’ve been correct. But another era begins & life goes on.

        2. There is always something happening that can be used as a reason not to have kids, if that is your choice. I have one friend who decided if Romney won the last election, she wouldn’t have children. You are making a big assumption that others cannot see problems because they have not reacted the same way you have.

          No matter what our choices, they come with sacrifices. Beth and her husband have made choices that are right for her family. You made the ones that are (presumably) right for yours. Personally, I can’t comprehend why anyone (my friend comes to mind) would let politics determine whether they have children, but that’s no business of mine so I don’t fret about it. Live and let live.

          BTW – if everyone who thinks America is headed in the wrong direction stopped having children and only those who like the direction it’s going kept having lots of children, think of where things would be in a generation or two…..

        3. Laura,
          Your comments came as a surprise. I recall MY folks speaking about the state of the country when I was growing up (late 50′, 60’s and so on) and their observations as you mention, the world going to Hell in a hand basket, etc.
          Now, being divorced twice and with grown children thriving and one with his own kids, I recall thinking much of what you voiced myself back in the day when trying to survive on the small wages of a Cop.
          Then I got to thinking: That’s a pretty self-centered way of thinking. It’s as if having children would put a crimp in your lifestyle more than it would to actually bring children into the world to face the hardships you profess to see these days.
          Well, that is just fine and dandy to have such a myopic view.
          But think about this:
          What if YOUR parents had felt the same way YOU obviously feel?
          Guess who wouldn’t be having this conversation right now?
          So having an “informed” decision to have children and a family in the present national situation is nothing more or less than relative to the times.
          Have a splendid day, Dear. 😉

  3. When my husband and I were preparing to marry, my mother-in-law said, “Don’t have kids, the world is too bad of a place and there is no future.” That was 1967. The years have passed and God has given us so much joy in our two sons and their beautiful families. Sorry you will live out your years without the pleasure of deep, loving family relationships. Our grandchildren are such a tremendous joy and blessing! The youngest is 16 so they are leaving and making their way in the world; facing challenges for sure, just as we did. Your choice. And our choice. I’m really pleased with our choice!

    1. Tres: That’s the year we were married in 3/67 (@ ct. house in Rockville, Md)! My mother (lived in ww2, the depression, rationing, dust bowl) in ’64 said the same thing, bad time to raise kids. I was oldest of four, helped w/younger ones, I knew what a stay at home mom was like. I was a feminist in the 60’s, in that women should be in the work force, since divorce rates were high and some older friends, cousins, were divorced. When some lost sons, spouses, fathers in Viet Nam to incl sister’s fiance, (hubby was there too), I knew she was right. Glad you’re blessed w/ nice family, as many are not, ( brother died in accident 20 yrs ago, had wife and girl, men killed/disabled in mid east wars, teens killed in accidents, kids in rehab, etc) There are many hurdles in marriages (finances, sickness, unruly kids, job changes,etc) and people make choices with no guarantees. If this country collapses for any reason, it’s the kids that will suffer the worst. I wish you, Beth and S. mom the best.

      1. Life’s a crapshoot. There are no guarantees. Yet family is a joy, a comfort and a blessing in the midst of this chaos called “life”. And who knows whether that baby you birth will be the one who discovers the cure for cancer; eradicting pain and loss from the lives of so many others. Where there’s no risk, there’s no gain.

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