Life Overhaul

Everything is about to change for me.  Not because I recently filed bankruptcy. Not because I’m moving 500 miles.  It’s not because my old job vanished and I started working in a different role.

No, everything is about to change because I re-evaluated my life.  I decided to live purposely, focused on what’s most important to me and my family.  I’ll no longer settle for choosing from the limited, multiple-choice options that have enslaved me in the past.  I’m finding that when you open your mind to a wide variety of options, many of life’s questions become open-ended, with countless choices.

For example, rather than asking whether I want to rent a home or buy one, instead I’ll ask, “How am I going to provide safe shelter for my family?”  While that might include renting or buying a house, I might cast a wider net and consider living in a Recreational Vehicle for a time, staying with relatives a few months to save up money, or any number of other options that fall outside the traditional “Rent or buy?” question.

My new-found freedom started with what appeared to be a series of unfortunate events.  Due to a number of poorly made choices, unemployment, and just plain bad luck, I found myself increasingly herded into deciding between more and more limiting and undesirable options.

Liberation from what was becoming a life of quiet desperation was born in the most unlikely of places.  Sitting in a bankruptcy lawyer’s office, I stared at my budget.  The Excel spreadsheet stared back at me.  (I could swear that it sneered back.)

My monthly bottom line showed nearly $2,000 in the red.  I took a chainsaw to my budget.  Cable television would have to go.  Entertainment budget?  Yeah right.  I deleted that line item, too.  Soon $150 in school lunch for the kids got the axe, along with a spendy phone plan, and several other items we had convinced ourselves that we “couldn’t live without.”

If you’re thinking, “These are certainly first world problems,”  then you came to the same conclusion that I did.  For example, my family could live without HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, music on demand, and the rest of the cable television lineup.  I did it as a kid, who grew up poor, so I know it can be done.

I asked myself how I had arrived at the point where so much of my discretionary income silently bled away, month after month.  When I graduated from college and got a job as a newly-minted technician for Hewlett Packard, I felt like I had really arrived.  My income doubled overnight when I went from working as a night janitor to debugging hard drives.  Working the night shift, I earned an additional 15% differential, bringing me to almost $17 per hour.  I decided that I deserved a reward for all my hard work, so I ordered cable television, complete with HBO.

So it began.  Since then, I added premium movie channels and 4 DVRs (you sure wouldn’t want to miss a minute of mind-numbing network TV).  Of course, we “needed” a television in the living room and bedroom, but wouldn’t it be nice to have one in my office?  The kids don’t always want to watch what I do, so they’d need televisions in their rooms too… and so it went.

When my wife asked me which cable television service I wanted, she mentioned every available option except one… “None of the Above.”

Desperately wrangling my budget numbers in a bankruptcy lawyer’s office, and after deleting one line item after another, I finally did it.  I managed to shrink my expenses until they were less than my income… $16 per month less, to be exact.

Depression broke over me like a wave.  If I were a drinking man, I would probably have engaged in an extended group therapy session with Jack Daniels, Jose Quervo, and Captain Morgan.  Since I don’t drink (and now couldn’t afford to take up the habit) I had to face the hard truth, sober – something would have to change.

I decided to try something different.  Rather than starting from my current budget and cutting things, how about starting from the point of basic needs?  What do you need to survive?  Here’s what I came up with:

  • Sustenance – Healthy Food and Clean Drinking Water
  • Taxes – Pay federal, state, and local taxes and licenses (Don’t get on the wrong side of the law.)
  • Shelter – Safe, warm Protection from the Elements
  • Transportation – Reliable, Insured Vehicle
  • Sanitation – Keep clean to stay Healthy

We could add in health care and many other line items, but I decided to at least start with the ones above, which I refer to with the acronym STSTS (Sustenance, Taxes, Shelter, Transportation, Sanitation).

This entry is the first in a series of blog posts I’m going to write as I begin my life transformation.  I’m pretty flexible on most things, especially since I haven’t worked out all the details of my future lifestyle, but the following are the guiding principles I’m working with:

  • Sustainable: Reduce the constant flow of money for goods and services I can provide myself (or do without) and drastically reduce waste and overspending.
  • Healthy: Lose the flab, get in shape, and eat health-promoting foods.
  • Interest-Free: Unless there is absolutely no way to buy “must have” things with cash, do no incur debt.
  • Permanence: Spend most of my money on things that have lasting value – things I can enjoy both now and well into the future.  Money spent each month should provide a lasting lifestyle upgrade of some kind. I’ll delay gratification and spend a minimum amount of on momentary entertainment or recreation.  Those things will come as I achieve financial independence.

Acronyms help me to remember lists of items.  When I refer to the term SHIP, I’m talking about the four line items above: Sustainable, Healthy, Interest-Free, and Permanence, which I use as the foundational principles directing my lifestyle transformation.

I’ll document my journey to self-sufficiency in this blog.  I’m very open to ideas and suggestions, so feel free to contact me with your feedback.  I can’t wait to start making my life SHIP-shape, and I hope that you begin to catch the vision of the Life Overhaul I have set in motion.  If not, feel free to get a chuckle out of my misadventures.  If it turns out that I’m crazy, someone should at least get a good laugh out of it.