Thursday, May 16, 2019

What's our Why for being debt free?

"Knowing your why" has become a common theme, especially in the work-world. The idea is that sooner or later, doing something just because you have to do it gets really old. If there is a "Why" behind what you do, it's easier to maintain motivation and energy because you see beyond the task; you know the real reason you do what you do. The work becomes personal and means something to you

Rachel and I have a "Why" for becoming debt free. Sure, it will be amazingly cool not having debt, but in order for us to navigate the challenges and stay on course, we needed to know our why. We talked alot. We weren't sure at first that we wanted to do it. We both had different ideas of what the process might look like. 

I think most people would agree that debt starts easily and naturally. It seems life and debt are joined at the hip. We're encouraged to take on debt in our early 20's so that we can "earn" a good credit rating. College, cars, wedding, kids, and a mortgage really pile it on. We can find ourselves in a sea of monthly minimums. Payments can start to seem innocuous and just part of "adulting," like Mondays and traffic. 

We had college debt, card debt, car debt, furniture debt; the usual successful checklist of American life, and with it, the debt. As we started reading more blogs, listening to more podcasts, and assessing our own life, we started talking more and more about the idea of getting out of debt. I guess there might be some truth to the axiom: you become what you take in. 

A short time ago we had the chance to purchase a small "snow-bird" vacation home (aka: Baby House) in an over-55 resort in Mesa, Arizona. Most of the people there don't work; and if they do, it's because they truly enjoy it. They come from all over the northern U.S. and Canada to escape the winter months. They wanted to share their Story and we listened, learned, and watched. These are some happy, dancing, energetic, fun-loving people. And they've made smart, solid financial choices, along with working their asses off, to be able to enjoy the lifestyle. 

The place made an impact on us. A big impact. It's still making an impact. We can't stop talking and thinking about it. Couples there have done something right, together. As we watched, talked, and listened, Rachel and I started to imagine where we could be, what we could do, if we had no debt. 

And then something happened that's hard to explain. It just sort of clicked. We became hungry to be clear from the life-drag of debt. Life was great, but we were not getting where we wanted to be. 

It was January of 2019, and we had our Why.

Being debt free can be defined in many ways. It's not about being retired, or not working, or doing nothing all day - that's just not who we are. For us it means having no debt except our home mortgage (still an investment that should appreciate). It means being smart about what we really want, and then living purposefully to reduce debt every month.


We are making ourselves students. There's alot we still don't know, but we're learning every day. Rachel listens to financial podcasts during her commutes. I read several blogs that are focused on the idea of being money smart and becoming debt free. 

Honestly though, it's a bit of a misnomer. You don't just become debt free. It's proving to be hard work. We're planning, and talking. We're not-ing on some things, as in not buying that and not doing that. We don't always agree on a specific path, but we talk it through until a solution is reached. 

It takes (big one here, requires), two people to be on the same page financially. One saver and one spender will likely result in somebody getting pushed down the stairs. We pay off one debt and then roll that money right onto the next debt, and so on.  

We make lists, have weekly meetings, set monthly goals, have a set debt- free date and a phone debt-free countdown app, and talk about every purchase before we make it. It's not easy. Did I say it's not easy? I'm from Maine; it's wicked not easy and wicked not fun, but worth it.


It took us a bit to get it all going in the right direction, and for us that was the hardest part. Momentum is a formidable enemy but a powerful friend. At first, there were things that we forgot. We figured out our income (Yay!), and our debt (Boo! Hissss! Gnashing of teeth). We forgot a furniture bill until it came in (Grrrr), and had to regroup and start again. But we kept going. We're imaging the feeling of being debt-free (!) and are excited to be there. We think it's going to open a whole new world.  

We created a simple set of goals in Google Keep that we create and check off each month. It's important to keep monthly goals so we can celebrate (martini!) when we check one off as complete, and then celebrate when we complete a successful month (two martinis!). Celebrations and little victory parties along the way are important. Like trophies on the shelf, they show progress and the success of hard work. They remind us of our Why. 

We had to remember that Hard and Right can be the same thing. We sold the camper. We sold the boat. They went to nice families but those were quiet nights. We canceled the car wash and Dish and created weekly meal plans to reduce groceries. Rachel sold some jewelry. We put all the money towards debt. 

My 12 year old push lawn mower is like holding onto one of those vibrating butt gym exercisers, but it still cuts the grass. I changed to a barber. Rachel is looking at coloring her hair at home. I hid the good gin (kidding. Kind of).  Nothing goes on the card. Monthly bills for essentials (food, utilities, clothing, entertainment) are all debit transactions. All future purchases are saved for and paid for with cash, which means a healthy savings program. There are no loans and nothing to be "paid off."  

There were also some things that we did not cancel, because of the value to us. We kept our Friday night We-Didn't-Kill-Anyone-This-Week celebration date. We try to split a meal and go to less expensive places. Adjustments like appetizers, happy hour, and learning (me) not to gag over well drinks is helping. We are still planning some shorter summer trips, all paid in cash beforehand.  

We know that some would disagree with spending any amount of discretionary cash along the way, but this is how we've chosen to reach our goals and keep our relationship healthy. It's amazing how much more we appreciate the little things now, like one of Rachel's lemon-jalapeno gin martinis or fresh grapefruit from our tree. They're an extravagance.

It really is an adventure for us and we talk often about our challenges and progress. Much more awaits. We really want to be out of debt. Looking forward, we want to invest. We want to give more. 

It's amazing how this keeps us future-focused and optimistic. Instead of being down and feeling deprived, there's an energy and excitement in the air. We're using the power of now to create a future we can hardly wait for. 

September 30th, 2020 will be here before we know it. We keep focused on our Why. We're so excited! 

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Do You Know Your Purpose?

I've been thinking alot lately about purpose.

My purpose. 
On the planet. 
Why I'm here. 
What I should be doing. 

I'm approaching my 58th birthday. Is it me, or does everyone think they'll never be as old as they are?

I have a great job, great wife, beautiful home, killer yard with pool and hot tub, nice vehicles, health and strength, we're becoming debt free; all of the indicators of a successful life. But is that it? Have I arrived? What's the standard? Am I just unsettled? And if so, is that ok? 

I've been reading blogs about preparing for retirement. Many of them warn against retiring from something instead of retiring to something. There's a cornucopia of articles that warn of depression, sickness, and early death when people retire without a purpose. We've all seen that guy that shows back up at work the week after his retirement party just to hang out. Horrifying. 

Rachel and I are starting to put some plans in place for our later years. We're preparing for what I think will be the best years of our lives. We're excited for the future. We talk about it alot. We have goals that we check off each month. Cool things are happening and being able to see progress is fun. I have no plans to not work yet; I still like working.

But at some point (and that point is getting closer), full-time work will be placed on the life-scale and weighed for relevance.  

As I consider being closer to 60 than I am 50, the theme of Life Purpose is coming into focus. How do I make sure that my life continues to have purpose? Purpose is an important part of life; even more so as we age. It's important to feel vibrant, useful, engaged, significant, and cared for in these years. I want the world to be a better place because I'm here, and I want to be missed alot when I'm not.  

The official definition of the word purpose is, "the reason that something is done or created."   

Is there a reason I was created to be right here, right now? Is there some thing or some things that would help me fulfill my life purpose in my later years? I think the answer to both is yes.    

Something that gets me out of bed in the morning (besides really good coffee). Something that's not just a chore to be checked off and that I love while I'm doing it. Something that I want to share with Rachel at the end of the day over a fine martini (gin, of course), and brag about what a great day it was because I did it and it was cool. 

Part of my challenge is that I'm kind of a passion junkie. I suck at going through the motions. If I can't do something while hanging from the chandelier with a pickle in my teeth (inside reference; meant only as a visual metaphor to help illustrate my point. Don't try this at home), I don't want to do it at all. This inclination tends to get me in trouble sometimes (no, I'm not elaborating here). It can also tend to negate much of what some folks might recommend as purpose. The idea of retiring to "just relax" is dreadful. 

For many years my purpose was my vocation. Serving in the Coast Guard felt alot like a life purpose. I flew, sailed, chased bad guys, fixed lighthouses. Maybe it was my purpose then. After 20 years that stopped being it, though. The pension reminds me it's a 'used to be.' It's a nice reminder. 

Raising children felt like life purpose; so much of me poured into helping them flesh out who they want to be. After 20 years, that stopped being it, though. 

My 3rd career can feel like purpose; it's in education. Teaching is certainly rewarding. There's something about helping someone grow to be more than they were yesterday. There's reward in helping them face obstacles and watching them craft the experience into who they are. But what about when that ends? Who am I and what gets me out of bed after the 2nd pension kicks in?

Hobbies can look like purpose; making music (I know, drummers aren't real musicians), fitness, the outdoors. I'm not sure I wouldn't feel lazy and selfish just pursuing hobbies (unless an agent wants to pay me a million dollars to go on tour as a drummer). 

Sometimes I get little glimpses of potential future purpose. I like to volunteer to move tables for events at the resort. It jazzes me. Weird, I know. It feels good to combine movement with helping. I like to teach people how to fit as they age. Gyms can be scary and diets are confusing. I like to teach when people want to learn. Learning about how to prepare to retire successfully has been very enjoyable.  

I admit that I am challenged in defining my future purpose, and even a bit nervous, as 60 is just 3 birthday cakes away. I have way too much energy to be 60, but here it comes anyways. 

So I'm doing little things. Trying a few new things. Reading. Listening. Being aware. In drummer lingo, "keeping my chops." Asking questions. Seeking answers. Praying. Watching. 

I accept the challenge. I'm really looking forward to being that 60 year old guy; hanging from the chandelier with a pickle in his teeth and rocking his purpose.    


I welcome your thoughts.  

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Welcome to the Coming of (Middle) Age Blog!

It's always nice to welcome someone when you first see them, especially when they come to your place; so, Welcome! Come in! I'm glad you're here! Kick off the shoes, set down the load, rest the dogs.

I'm Mark, and that little hot thing I've got my arm around is my wife Rachel. Our full time home, or "The Big House," is in the high-desert northwest. We're on one-heck-of-a-cool journey, and I thought I'd enjoy writing about it as we go. 

Blogging is new for me, like so many other things these days. I'm at a stage in life where documenting our adventures sounded like fun. The aforementioned adventure-journey is one of self-discovery, self-improvement, the pursuit of financial independence, and just plain figuring out who we want to be and what we want to do for the 3rd act of life.

A bit about me: I served 20+ years in the U.S. Coast Guard, and then had several shorter stints like hospice, insurance, and building cell towers. I now enjoy working in online public school education as a Master Teacher. After 13 years, it's still a fascinating profession and always earns me the "...huh?" look when I tell people what I do. My "classroom" and meetings are virtual, and I get to work from home.

How cool is that? Yeah, I know. 

I divide my time when not working between maintaining The Big House, reading, mountain biking, kayaking, fishing, riding my cool vintage Shadow, staying fit, enjoying a good martini (gin of course, and yes those last two can go together), drumming, and summers in our better-homes-and-garden back yard. I have a small side project in fitness coaching, too.

Rachel is in medical management / consulting and she's really good at what she does. She's a consistent reliable source of good ideas, wisdom, healthy cooking, and killer one-liners. She gets jazzed by numbers (?) and loves spreadsheets (??), which comes in very handy when we're strategizing on finances. 
Rachel started a little side project a year ago, making personalized greeting cards in the renovated basement / art studio. We're getting ready to do a few small trade shows to test the market. 


We spend most every evening talking. Rachel gets home from her commute and I get out of the home office, we make a drink, and depending on the time of year, we either float in the pool or sit in front of the fire, talking about our day, things we read or heard, things we're learning, hopes, dreams, plans, appointments - you get the idea. It's our thing and my favorite part of the day (not just because of the martini, but I can't say it's not an aspect).

In January of 2019 we joined the ranks of the Financial Independence (FI) (FIRE) movement. That term can wear many hats depending on who you talk to, but for us it means being debt free with the exception of the mortgage and being able to leverage that freedom. Debt sucks and it's a drag on life, literally. 

We recently purchased a small vacation home in Mesa, Arizona (read: 640 sq. foot "Baby House" with a nice porch and our very own grapefruit tree). It's in a cool resort where the people are even more cool and there's tons of things to do. We're in the beginning stages of downsizing. We sold the boat, the camper, and the roll-top desk. It was all part of our move towards being debt free, which we are aggressively pursuing.

Once we achieve zero debt, which is scheduled for September 30, 2020, our plan is to invest more heavily and be able to make some really cool decisions about the next phase of our adventure. (And by cool decisions, I mean a week for two on a chartered catamaran sans shoes, shirt, and worries. Or maybe a big fifth wheel, pulled by a big Ford 350 diesel, with a giant air horn, exploring the country. All prepaid in cash of course).

Retire is not a word that Rachel or I like. We both picture a crumb-filled recliner that tilts to one side and daytime TV. We like better the idea of being free to choose cool new ways to live life. We get jazzed about the thought of doing what we want to do, when and where we want to do it (like chartering a catamaran). It might even mean still working, doing something we're passionate about. When it comes down to it, we're happiest feeling useful and engaged.    

Aside from financial achievements and cool dreams, my perspectives on things are changing as I enter mid life. At 57, some might say old age (do we even use that term any more, or did I just illustrate my old-age?), but people are living longer and staying healthier (both of which I plan to do), so I'm choosing to view my 50's, 60' and 70's as middle age. Who's with me?! 57 is the new 33!

Age brings with it experience, and experience hopefully brings reflection and learning. Learning allows for better choices and more cool new adventures without the "oops," or as least with fewer and less painful "oops's." 

Age also helps sift life down to the essential and important things, and it's easier to focus on direction. It allows for a better sense of who I am and who I want to continue to be. 

As Rachel said recently during one of our talks, "I like who I am. It's working pretty well for me right now. I like where it's taking me." I could not agree more. 

So, that's kind of where we are and where we're going. Thanks for reading; your time is valuable. Writing makes me happy, and maybe I can use this venue to help share some cool ideas and discoveries as we wend our way along this journey. I welcome you in. Lose the shoes. Stay as long as you'd like.