Finance is all about trade-offs and decisions. In both finance and life, we make choices now because we hope to receive some type of future benefit. In other words, finance is life! There are certain choices my family and I have made which have drastically altered the course of our finances, and in turn, our lives.
1. The Mission (not starring Liam Neeson)
After my freshman year of college, I lived in Chihuahua Mexico for 2 years as a missionary. 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, I was out interacting with the amazing people of Mexico. That time allowed me to pack in all kinds of experiences that changed my life in countless ways.
What I missed out on:
- Education, savings, and career progression were all put on hold for 2 years. I fell behind other people my age in terms of those things. I was at least 2 years older than each of the 10 brand spankin’ new auditors with whom I started my accounting career just out of college.
- Quality family time. When we reminisce as a family, someone brings up an experience that I don’t remember. Then they say “Oh, don’t worry about it, you were in Mexico.”
- Awareness of current events and pop culture. This is not necessarily a bad thing, I was just a little awkward for a while after I came back to the states.
What I gained:
- The Spanish language. There are almost 500 million native Spanish speakers globally, and I love being able to communicate with them. I especially love creating awkward situations by calling people out when I hear them talking about me in Spanish.
- Some CRAZY experiences. I’ll just leave it at that. There were a lot of them.
- Feeling like a famous skateboarder. Since we walked all day, we came across lots of kids. After the first time I borrowed a skateboard from a kid to show off some tricks, my reputation spread quickly throughout the area. Seriously, we would go places I’d never been before, and kids would be like “Hey Gringo, use my board to do a trick!”
- Perseverance. After having many a door slammed in my face and learning more Spanish swear words than I’d care to know, it takes a lot to get me down. I learned to persevere toward my goals without being bothered by those who are disrespectful or hostile toward me.
- Perspective. I lived in some pretty gnarly circumstances, sometimes with very little food. I visited with thousands of people in their homes, some of which were very humble. It was very eye opening to see how much of the world lives and helped me feel an immense gratitude for things in my own life.
- Exposure to THE best food in the world. Real Mexican food is the best. There’s not much else I can say. Our 2:00pm lunch was a definite highlight of every day. I. Love. Mexican food.
- Spiritual Strength. With no dating, no media, no parties, no school, and no income, I was able to focus and become more attuned with the spiritual side of things.
- Tons of new Mexican friends. Sure I had some beer bottles thrown at my head, but overall, I’ve never been treated kinder than I was in Mexico. There were many people who did not want to hear what we were there to say, but they would still bend over backwards to make sure we weren’t lost, that our stomachs were full, and that we felt welcome. I came home 10 years ago just when social media was starting to take off, so I’ve been able to keep in touch with many of the people I got to know, and I love it.
I got married at the ripe old age of 23 with one semester of college left. My wife was a couple years older and was finishing her graduate work. We were married (thanks to my accounting skills) on a beautiful snowy day in December of 2006. Our son was born exactly one year later. And we followed that up with 2 daughters.
The average marriage ages for men and women these days are respectively 30 and 27. The average age of a married woman’s first birth is about 30 (putting the husband at 33). Looking back, I realize we were just babies!
What I missed out on:
- A prolonged life as a bachelor playing crazy amounts of Nintendo, eating incredible amounts of pizza, and saving a ton of money [Edit by Amanda: we still saved like crazy!!!].
- Money! Money! Money! I might have had more flexibility to work harder, longer, and progress more in a career. I would have lived in a box and saved like a mad man. Even after getting married, putting off kids would have allowed us both to easily focus on our careers until we were established (and rich!).
- Travel & Thrills. I probably would have traveled around Mexico and South America as well as done a lot of skateboarding, skydiving, etc.
What I gained:
- Young husband-hood with an intelligent, smoking hot wife.
- Young dad-hood with 3 beautiful little ones. My kids are beautiful. If they weren’t, I’d admit it. More importantly, they are healthy, and we are incredibly thankful for that.
- Patience. Strapping 3 kids in car seats every time you want to go somewhere takes an incredible amount of patience, and that’s just the beginning.
- Empathy. You know that parent at the grocery store who you can’t believe yells at their kid that way? Suddenly they don’t seem like such jerks to me. I can relate while at the same time striving not to be that parent.
- The chance to still be active with my kids as they age. Being that “24 year old married guy with a kid” in the office was not easy. While all my peers went out for drinks, I went home to help an exhausted wife with a colicky baby. It was not easy. We put in a lot of tough experiences on the front end. When my son becomes a teenager, however, I’ll still be just as quick as he is on the basketball court. I’ll still be able to play soccer just as competently with my daughters. I had friends in middle school whose dads looked like grandpas. There’s nothing wrong with that, I’m just glad that won’t be me.
- Married people game nights. Yes, they are as corny as they look on TV. But hey, you gotta take any adult time that you can get.
3. Stay at home mom-hood
Growing up, Amanda always had the desire to have children and to stay home with them. My mom walked away from a career as an attorney to stay home with her kids, and I supported Amanda’s desire to make a similar choice. Being a stay at home parent is a choice, and some argue that it’s a luxury because not everyone can afford to do it. Some people choose to pursue other luxuries instead. I’m not here to say what is best for you, only what is best for my own children and family.
What we’ve missed out on:
- A second source of primary income. It can be tough to see others around you making double what you could make from both spouses work full-time.
- Short term rewards & praise. As much as I feel I have to complain about work, there are things I experience on a daily basis that Amanda misses out on. I receive almost constant positive feedback from other adults who value my contributions. Moms just don’t get that from their young kids.
What we gained [by Amanda]:
- Time. A plethora of parent-time with our children while they are growing- it’s wonderful.
- Less-hectic, less-busy lifestyle. Having only one adult working reduces the outside obligations drawing on our family’s time and stress levels. For the first five years of our marriage I didn’t work outside the home. I participated in many organizations, took classes, etc, but I had no financial obligation to anyone outside my family. It is a huge change to combine the needs of young children with 2 parents working. I work about 10 hours a week, and it’s just the right balance for me. I used to do more, but I cut back because I found I was missing out on the experiences I want to have with my family at this time.
- The opportunity to home school: It is a joy (and a frustration, let’s be honest). But we have a great group of home schoolers where we live, and wonderful opportunities offered in the community for home school students. There will be plenty of time in the future for 7 hour school days. Now, though, there is so much world to be explored.
- More time than just 5pm – 7pm with the kids: One day a week I “work” a full day. I finish just in time to put my kids to bed. I am a more patient mom at bedtime on that day. A 7 hour break can do that. But I also know how much I missed that day- a lot. And I’m glad I can spend the other days with them.
4. The MBA
It’s something I always wanted to do, and that I thought would benefit us in the end.
What we missed out on:
- $250K. That’s about the cost of my foregone income combined with what I spent to attend school.
- 2 more years! I attended a full-time program, and it did propel me forward in terms of education and salary, but in some ways it set me back another 2 years in my career. Combining 2 years in Mexico with 2 years back at school puts me 4 years behind a lot of my peers who are now toward the top of the ladder.
What we gained:
- A great job. I work in finance at a place with great people and a great culture. The work isn’t always glamorous, but I am lucky to be around people I like.
- Almost double my pre-MBA salary. More money = good.
- Life-long friends. Making friends alone is not enough to go back to school, but it was a huge benefit. Being there with other families doing the exact same thing we were doing really helped to produce some strong ties and friendships that are going to last the rest of our lives.
- Expanded network. I now have friends in almost every large well-known company I can think of. It’s nice to know if I ever have a question about or an interest in working somewhere else, a good starting point is just a phone call away. Again it’s not the main reason I went to school, but it’s a nice benefit.
- The Midwest life. I grew up in Las Vegas, which I loved. But when we got here, we were blown away by how different it is.
- When we lived in California with 2 tiny kids, I swear people would look at them and the look on their faces was saying “Ewwwww. Kids. Get away.” When we first came to scout out Indiana, people were much more welcoming of our children. In other words, much more family friendly, and we love it.
- The wave. People wave to you. The first few times it happened to me I always wanted to look behind me to see if they were waving to someone they actually knew. Nope. They are friendly.
- I grew up going to church, but I was never used to other people doing the same. When we showed up here, I was asked over and over if we had found a church yet. So weird! And awesome.
The Cumulative Effect
These life altering decisions have had a major impact on our current financial situation. Some people make choices that enable them to save over 50% or maybe even 80% of their income whether that be through living an incredibly frugal lifestyle or just making a ton of money. Our choices have not facilitated that kind of savings at this point. I’m not saying you can’t have it all. I’m just saying you probably can’t have it all. I do know a few people who have made very similar decisions to the ones I have made and who are way richer than I am, but what we see is only a sliver of the lives of others.
I’d love to retire early and focus on more fulfilling work, but it might happen later now given the choices we’ve made. AND THAT IS OKAY! A wise basketball coach once said that if you go through life judging your success based on if someone has more of something that you do, you will never by happy. So the next time you get discouraged because of the success of others, just realize that there may be trade-offs they are making that you cannot see.
Make sure the trade-offs you are making involve the things that are most important to you. I’m behind where I’d like to be in terms of my emergency fund, retirement investments, kids’ college savings, mortgage…basically everything. But that is a sacrifice we are okay with since we value everything we’ve gained MORE than what we’ve missed out on. Since we are focusing on what is truly important to us, no matter what happens, we know we will be fine.
What choices have you made that have significantly affected your finances, for better or for worse? Was it worth it?