As I began creating Live More Simple, I started to think about how I got to where I am today. What made me want to live a simpler lifestyle, and what events in my life impacted that decision?
In the past I lived beyond my means, I was stuck at a job I hated, and I was a hyper-consumer. I regularly bought expensive gizmos and gadgets that I didn’t need, I ate out on a daily basis, and didn’t pay much attention to my lifestyle choices. At the time I didn’t see that I could have easily changed my own situation. I worked as a project manager for a residential home builder. I made really good money but I absolutely hated the job. I had no passion for what I was doing, and I would stress about work even when I was at home. I would wake up in the morning feeling sick to my stomach, not wanting to face the day. To cope with the stress of the job, I took comfort in things like food and beer. These things made me feel good, but the good feeling was short lived. When I started the job I weighed 180 pounds. Two years later I weighed 225 pounds. I had gained 45 pounds in two years! I wanted to quit my job, but I had an expensive car payment, a mortgage, and some pretty terrible spending habits. I felt that I couldn’t afford to quit, so I just kept going, feeling miserable on a daily basis.
In 2007 something wonderful and terrible happened—I was laid off. The housing bubble burst due to sub-prime lending practices and my company got rid of a lot of personnel. I remember being told that I was let go and I had mixed feelings. On the one hand I felt relieved because I no longer had to work at a job I hated. On the other hand I was scared. How could I possibly pay my bills. They gave me one month’s severance, which helped me pay some bills, but it wouldn’t help for very long. I was forced with a harsh reality—start living a more simple lifestyle or go broke. I made it my goal to live a simpler life.
I wasn’t really sure where to begin, but since I knew I would not be getting a paycheck the following month, I decided that I should look at my expenses. Amazingly this is something I had not done during the entire time I worked at my job. I had always spent freely because the money kept coming in, but I had no idea how much I was wasting on stupid purchases.
I was amazed at the amount of money I was throwing away. To give you an idea, here are some examples:
My job required that I drive a pickup truck. My employer gave me a monthly truck allowance of $500 to cover the auto payment. I could have purchased a reasonably priced used truck with cash, which would have given me an extra $500 in my pocket every month. Instead I went out and bought a brand new truck. My payment was $530/month, so I was actually paying an additional $30 out of pocket on top of my allowance. That was a bonehead move! My truck was also a gas guzzler, which didn’t help. I would fill up at least twice a week at a cost of $75 per tank!
I would usually buy lunch at a fast food restaurant during the workday. I spent an average of $8 per lunch. In addition to lunches, I would regularly stop at convenience stores to get a soda—there’s another $2. That translates to about $50 per week or approximately $200 per month. I could have brought a lunch from home for a fraction of that.
During this time I also made a lot of bad spending decisions. I bought a $2500 television, video game systems, DVDs, etc. This was all stuff that I wanted, but none of it was anything I actually needed.
Needless to say, I was kicking myself when I realized the bad decisions I had made. I could have had a lot more money saved if I had paid more attention to my spending habits. The upside was that I had an amazing opportunity to start fresh.
First I got my finances in order. I sold my truck and paid off the loan so that I didn’t have that burden any longer. I bought my grandparent’s old Toyota Corolla and paid cash. Not having a car payment was great! I spend a lot less on gas and the car was worth considerably less than my truck, so I also saved a lot on insurance. I also stopped spending money on things I didn’t need. No more eating out, no more gizmos and gadgets, no more stupid purchases. My money went toward my mortgage, utilities, and food. There really wasn’t anything left over after that.
I need to earn some income while I looked for another job. I knew that I did not want to work construction anymore, so I decided to look for a job as a graphic designer. My college degree was in design, and I felt that the design field would be more rewarding, although I knew it would pay considerably less. Finding a job was difficult since I didn’t have any relevant experience in my chosen field. In order to pay the bills and gain experience I started freelancing. I advertised on craigslist and put the word out that I was doing graphic design. I was able to pick up several jobs that helped me get by. This was a good move in retrospect. I gained experience in my field and earned some money to pay my bills. The experience helped me land my next job.
I had a lot of down time while I was unemployed, and since I had vowed to stop spending money I needed to find an inexpensive hobby to keep me occupied. I started to exercise. I would get up each morning and run 1.5 miles at a local park. Then I would come home and lift weights. I no longer ate out at fast food restaurants and I started cooking healthier meals for myself. In several months I was able to lose most of the 45 pounds I had gained since I started working. I was down to 190 pounds.
Since I started living a simpler lifestyle, I have discovered several truths:
• I don’t make as much money but I am happy. I love what I do and you can’t put a price on that.
• I don’t have a lot of fancy things, but I don’t miss having them. I would much rather collect experiences than stuff.
• I am healthier, both mentally and physically. Since I started eating better and exercising, I feel more focused and have more energy.
I was transforming my life for the better, but the changes I made weren’t all that extreme. I started living simple out of necessity, but it helped me realize that living simple is a choice. Anyone can live a simpler lifestyle regardless of their economic situation or personal obligations. Losing my job was the catalyst for me to make a change, but in retrospect, I could have implemented these changes at any time. I think everyone should do a “life audit” once a year. Look at where you feel successful and happy in life. Look at where you’d like to improve. Instead of making excuses about why you can’t change your situation, make some changes and see how your life improves. Most of the time we don’t change because we’re afraid to. The thought of change can be much scarier than the reality of it. I wanted to quit my job so many times, but I didn’t because I thought I couldn’t afford to. After I lost my job I realized that I could have quit a long time ago, but I was just making excuses because I was afraid. What changes would you like to make? Why haven’t you?