Terrified, excited, nervous, relieved– these past few weeks have been a roller coaster of emotion. My new job will force us to move and it has forced George and I to have long car-ride and late-night talks about our future.
Through those talks we’ve often discussed that world is not as it once was. I was told, we both were, that when we got out out of college the world would be waiting for us. As college graduates, no matter our major, someone would want us. They would pay us well. We would have healthy 401(k)s and retirement plans and we would soon be ready to buy a house. It’s the dream that our blue-collar parents did not easily achieve.
And as we are learning, it is not a dream we will easily achieve either. The world is not as it once was. An undergraduate education does not equate job safety– nor does a graduate education. The job prospects in 2008 when I got out of school were abysmal– especially so for an English major and an Art major.
We hid out for a while in underemployment and in our parents’ houses. Then I hid out in graduate school where I was lucky enough to get a couple of assistantships, internships and a few very small scholarships. After a very long job search, George got an elementary school teaching position. We were thankful. And we were happy.
But our happiness was short-lived. We were again fearful when I graduated from my graduate program in 2011. The constant thought of how difficult my job search was in 2008 loomed in the background. I worried daily and we lived off canned soup and saltines. (Ultimately, our diet combined with the stress of looming unemployment made me very sick, but that is a story for another time.)
I applied to over 100 jobs and out of those 100 applications, I got one interview for a job at a small, rural community college. One job interview. But by some miracle, I got it. Again, I was thankful and relieved, but the job was in a rural area, hours away from any of our family and friends.
We were sad to leave the place that we had made our home for the past two years. We lived in a tiny, old apartment– only 400 square feet, but the rent was affordable, the area was walkable, and it was clean.
Moving to a rural area was hard for me. I still struggle to find fresh fruits and vegetables at the grocery store and it is a 30 minute drive to the nearest Wal-Mart. Our rental choices in the area were slim and out of the two apartments available, we chose the more expensive choice because it was safe and didn’t have mold. Throughout it all, we made the best choices out of limited options.
During the time we’ve lived here, we’ve had some of the best and hardest times of our lives. Most importantly, we got married! But throughout the entire planning process, we struggled with the finances of a wedding. Ultimately, we made it out unscathed by being incredibly realistic with ourselves and I am so proud that we made that choice. But we ended up depleting our meager savings in the process.
We are also incredibly grateful to have very little debt. George and I worked throughout the time we were in school. (At one point, I had 3 jobs; it was kind of insane.) We got some scholarship help and our very middle class families helped us too. We know that we are incredibly lucky. And we know that we are better off than the majority of graduates.
Despite all of our luck and hard work, we still can’t get ahead. We still live paycheck to paycheck. If our rent and other bills stay the same, we won’t be able to buy a house in the foreseeable future. George will never be able to pursue his art full-time. We won’t be able to afford a vacation or adopt a dog. We won’t get out of the cycle.
But we think we may have found a way to get ahead. To lead the life we want to lead, debt-free. And the answer is to live small.
For the next year, George and I will live smaller than we’ve ever lived before. Our budget will be smaller and our house will be much smaller (more details on this later!). But our bravery, our bravery will be big.
Have you ever had to take drastic measures to get out of the debt or break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle? I genuinely want to start an honest conversation about this in the comments.
living small but loving large,