I did our taxes this week, which isn't my favorite task but it always feels good to get it done. While I was working on filing however, I noticed something that shocked me. I compared our 2015 and 2016 files and realized that our income this year is half of what it was last year. HALF. And to put things in perspective, in 2015 we made just over what is considered the federal poverty level. Meaning, in 2016, we made half of what we would have to make to be living "in poverty". I'm not sharing this information to make anyone feel bad for us or to complain, on the contrary, I'm thrilled. Why? Because we didn't notice. When I asked Austin to guess how much we made this year compared to last, he guessed we made more.
In 2015, we struggled. My husband was unemployed for most of the year, although he had full-time work all spring and summer and for the Christmas season. We scraped by and scrimped and cut corners and generally felt quite constrained by our finances. Each month felt like a bit of a stretch and we often came up a tiny bit short. To put it plainly, we were slowly sinking.
In January 2016, we realized we had to make a change. Austin started school again and we knew we didn't want to take on anymore loans. This is when we first started thinking about alternative living situations. We decided to make the jump while we still had some savings left, before they were eaten away by our monthly housing payments. It seemed crazy at first, but almost a year later, I can honestly say this has been one of the best decisions we've ever made.
Our monthly expenses dropped by $1,000. And while this doesn't mean we're able to save $1,000 a month (because, let's be honest, we don't have $1,000 a month....), we're certainly not sinking. In fact, it's beginning to look like we might be able to start swimming in 2017.
Austin was recently offered a paid internship position with a local company. He'll be interning at an engineering firm 3-4 days a week, while still attending school full time and working a few shifts at his current job. It'll be a busy time for us, but we feel like it'll be worth it in the end and Austin has been very encouraged by his success in school.
If things work out like we hope, we'll be debt free in the next month or so. After attending private university, both Austin and I had hefty student loans when we got married 5 years ago. Somehow, we've been able to pay them off steadily even while going through some tough financial times.
I can't explain how good it feels to not be constantly burdened by finances. While Austin does work a lot, he doesn't feel stressed about making ends meet each month. I am able to stay home with our kids (while running my photography business) and not feel overwhelming guilt. We were able to enroll Lulu in dance class this year, something we couldn't afford in the past. We both feel happier and more hopeful than ever before.
While our life is not always easy, we wouldn't change it. This winter has been trying. We've gone weeks without running water, been stuck inside for days on end, had trouble keeping it warm enough and endless other small issues. But we feel so grateful. We love our tiny home and the freedom it's given us.
The decision to move our family into this kind of living situation wasn't easy, and I often questioned whether we were making the right choice. 8 months later, we're already reaping the benefits and feel certain that this choice was the right one.