It was only a few weeks ago when the figurative mountain seemed impossibly high to climb.
‘I can’t do this any more!’ was all I could say to Mike as we had one of our rare but vocal arguments.
The house was a tip with rooms being ripped out and redecorated, with boxes of belongings piled in every other room, with children climbing in and out and over the contents of our kitchen and two bathrooms, with a tumultuous array of disorder and disorganisation reigning supreme throughout the house.
The everyday juggling act of work, teaching, home and general life was further challenged by the addition of house renovations and redecorations. 24 hours in a day never seems enough at the best of times – now, they seemed even less.
‘You’re like me. You like to bite off more than you can chew,’ my friend Amanda told me.
It’s true. I do.
I always have.
For fifteen years Mike and I have worked to achieve our goals. After a terrible experience early on in our relationship, we never once again wanted anybody else’s hold over us – not when it came to our income, our finances, or home or to what we were capable of achieving. We never wanted anybody else to determine our worth, but we realised that in order to do this we had to change our way of thinking and to do things differently to the norm.
Societal expectations are really quite precise: you go to school, you go into further education or get a job. Then you work, rent or buy a house, maybe get married and perhaps have two or three kids, then you carry on working until you retire at around 65 if you’re lucky. In short, you live your life waiting to retire in order to finally realise your dreams. But if you haven’t worked hard enough or long enough in order to have earned enough, you’ll be too skint and knackered to do much at all, and those dreams stay that way.
We didn’t want that kind of life but the life we did want wasn’t going to come easy. It was time to bite off more than we could chew in order to one day be in a position to stop biting off and chewing and start savouring the flavour of every tiny morsel instead.
During this journey we have come across some criticism regarding doing things differently – home-educating our children, the size of our family, even scrutiny and scorn on how we’ve both managed to leave the rat-race and can now work from home.
Of course, those scrutinising and scorning were not there to see us when we juggled four jobs between us – literally 24 hours around the clock. They didn’t see our first home we bought and sold; a one-bedroomed Victorian conversion flat, with no kitchen, no working boiler to provide hot water and a broken toilet in Surrey that needed complete refurbishing. Five of us shared that single bedroom and though we worked, Mike during the day and me three evenings a week plus all weekends, we were still too skint to do the work the place needed. Thankfully, because of the rising property market at the time, we made a considerable profit on the place. Devastatingly, we were gazumped by the owners of the home we were buying, which then forced us into the position to see how far away we could move in order to benefit for a bigger house for less money, yet still be able to travel the 50 mile journey each way to and from our jobs.
Making the move to Kent didn’t mean the end of our journey. It was just the beginning. Two months after moving to Kent I had our fourth child. I lost my job as my employers refused to change my hours on my return from maternity leave. At the same time they changed the hours of three of my male colleagues. I took them to a tribunal and won. In the meantime, I had no job. When Harry was four-weeks-old I saw a job in the local paper for the same role (recruitment consulting for a nursing agency). I got the job and started a week later.
Mike would leave the house at 5.30am to travel to Surrey to work. He would return at about 6.30pm and I would leave immediately to go to the office where I would work until 11.30pm. Before leaving the office I would divert the phones to the company mobile, where I would be on-call throughout the night until 8 o’clock the following morning. Soon after starting this job I began working a further two jobs from home during the day – one as a cloth nappy advisor and the second as an audio transcriber.
Every day Mike and I juggled four jobs while running the home and looking after the kids too in true tag-team fashion. We saw each other for just two evenings a week. This went on for years until I was made redundant while on maternity leave with my sixth child. If I hadn’t have been put in the position I would never have had the courage to have left that job. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened to us.
By then I knew I did not want to work for an employer again. Ever. But I needed to work. I continued with my other two jobs from home, and in the meantime we set about putting more plans in place. We needed more money coming in than we had going out. I needed to create an income from home that had potential to grow and would one day give us the flexibility to move to our life in the country – hopefully mortgage free.
We sold and bought again, again making a little more on the property market. We paid down debts, I worked from home, Mike worked for his boss, we started creating passive income streams, and all the while kept our eye on the goal we hoped to reach some time in the future.
We were aware that there were some who maybe mocked, maybe pitied us for wearing clothes with holes in, for not updating our wardrobes or for keeping tabs on our spending. We knew we didn’t have the right ‘image’. Our home remained undecorated as we didn’t have the spare money to do it and refused to use credit cards. Our vehicles, though paid for in cash, were not shiny and new and though worked well, had patches of rust and perhaps a window or two which didn’t quite close properly. Clothes were bought in sales, holidays were bypassed and days out were limited to cheap or free fun. We were well aware that some people, with their big homes, new cars, seasonal wardrobes and regular trips and holidays felt sorry for us. They really didn’t need to. We lived differently – we still do – but we missed out on nothing. We were (are) happy with how we lived (live) yet, by doing the things that brought pity from others upon us, we are left financially stronger while their debt has increased.
They wasted their time feeling sorry for us, but while they lived the image-conscious lifestyle and accumulated debt, we accumulated freedom.
Our quest has not been about wealth and it never has been. Money does not bring happiness, but it does bring freedom. By living how we lived and doing what we do, we have been able to do the normal things that once seemed impossible. Something as simple as owning our own home once seemed so out of our reach that the consequences were devastating to us.
But we did it.
By rising to the challenge and making choices which went against the grain, we were able to leave the rat-race well behind. The advantage of working for ourselves, the lack of commute and the flexibility – while needing complete commitment and certainly resulting in more hours of input than full-time employment had – still doesn’t compare to the memory of Mike being able to tell the boss where to stick his job, because we didn’t need to rely on an employer any more.
Biting off more than we can chew is something we’ve continued to do. Our goal is right within reach and the last lap always seems the longest to run. And so, when I’m having a melt-down, I need to remember how far we’ve come and how close we are.
During the last year we’ve been working harder on reaching our goals. We’ve also had a new baby to provide us with sleepless nights and pukey shoulders while we do so.
We’ve been working on diversifying our income. We’ve been building our new business, we’ve been writing for income, we’ve been running this site, we’ve created new sites and sold them, we have rolled out several other sites that we run (and no, we’re not telling you what they all are), and we manage sites for other people.
And that’s without the ‘normal’ family stuff we do like looking after our 11 children still at home and worrying about our two grown children who are now out in the big, wide world.
We made the decision that the time has finally come to sell up and go, and we committed to getting this house in good decorative order so that we can get the best price for it.
Within a year, we aim to be completely debt and mortgage-free, and to turn our sights to a harder level of saving and investing, so that we can finally live our simple, self-sufficient dream.
Mastercard might tell you that material things are priceless, but the only thing that truly is, is freedom. So while we’ve lived our life with the wrong image, looking like we don’t have much and working like ants before the harvest, we actually seem to have an awful lot.
Freedom to leave the rat-race.
Freedom to travel with our family.
Freedom to work anywhere we want to (as long as we have a computer and internet!)
Freedom to live our lives enjoying what we do and being with who we want.
And that, Mastercard, is the true definition of priceless.