I have to admit, I was taken aback by her question. It was blunt, to the point, and it caught me off guard. I mean, we were standing in the chip aisle at Target. She said, “Seja, I was reading your blog and I have to ask because we’ve known each other a long time and I just have to know…how do you afford to build a house where you guys are and quit your job at the same time?”
Even though this woman and I are not close friends, we have known each other a long time. She is a nurse in an office I used to call on. But I have always loved her directness, her transparency, and as she says, her desire to keep it real. So I am going to bring all of that realness to you and tell you what I told her.
I worked for Merck for a long time – thirteen years. Most of my adult life. And it was an amazing job. It provided for my family and I am incredibly grateful. I worked for and with some incredible people, too, and I learned a lot. But I never loved it. I always felt like the barefoot hippie masquerading in a business suit – not living authentically.
But all of this inauthentic living came with a paycheck. I mean, we needed that income. We had a family to support after all. But it came with a price, too – a thought process along the lines of this:
“Okay, I don’t love my job, but I make this money and I’ve worked hard for it. So if I want new running shoes every month, then I’m going to buy new running shoes. And I should be able to walk into Sephora and buy what I want, because I need nice makeup for my job. And besides, I’ve earned it. If I have to spend time away from my girls for work, then at least I am going to enjoy the fruits of my labor.”
And there it was. Working a job I didn’t love and spending a lot of the money that came with it. We still had a student loan, which I believed was impossible to pay off because of its sheer size, while spending $500 a month at Target on whatever you can walk in and find at Target. (I mean seriously, a mossy door wreath and brown leather sandals in the same place? I was hooked.)
And Joe noticed. A little software program called YNAB (an acronym for You Need a Budget – so aggressive with its name. You’re not looking at me, YNAB, are you?) tracked each purchase out of our bank account. Joe would sit at the laptop and shout from the office to the family room, “What did you buy for $26.89 at Target? What did you buy for $89.76 at Smith’s Sport and Shoe?” Um, Smith’s Sport and Shoe? I needed shoes to get my sport on, hello? Something was missing and I was filling it with stuff.
During this time, in 2009, I found jewelry making. I loved it. The time I spent designing and creating flew by. I would go down into my little workspace (a small desk in a tiny office) after I put the girls to bed and the next time I would look at the clock, it would read 1am or something similar. I was pulled into it. And even though there were times I took breaks from it, thinking I don’t have time for this between my real job and my family, I always came back to it.
My mind hadn’t put together, or if it did, couldn’t believe, that if I just stopped filling my life with unnecessary things, maybe I could afford to move on to something else. Maybe I could stay home with my girls. Maybe we could save enough to make a change. Maybe I could move in another direction.
Then, while taking a break at a wholesale jewelry show in 2013 (I would go to these shows to buy my materials for jewelry making), I noticed all of the people there buying materials for their jewelry as well. And how many more people were buying than selling. So instead of buying materials that day to use in my designs, I bought materials I thought others might like to use. And that was the beginning of my online wholesale jewelry supply shop. I would work my sales job during the day, be with my family in the evening, and work the shop from 9pm – 1am. It went on for two years and it was grueling. There was no time for anything but family or work. I had never worked harder in my life – and I loved it.
And in that period of time, of there being no spare time, there was no chance to pop into Target to buy cereal and five other things as well. There was no time to go buy new running shoes – and most importantly, I realized the ones I had were fine, until there were enough miles on them to warrant new ones. The feelings of earning a paycheck and the right to spend it on whatever were gone. And Joe’s questions from the office about my purchases became less and less frequent as well, because I no longer felt the need to spend.
I still appreciate items that bring beauty to a space or are useful. It’s just that now I take my time, I picture where it will go, if it will fit in my wardrobe, if it is practical and most importantly, can I afford it. Does it have the lasting presence of my great aunt’s kitchen table? Will my grandchildren be able to use this Dutch oven one day? Will I still wear this in ten years? If the answer is no, I walk away.
So that is how we afford to live here having left my job. I own a small online business. I spend a fraction of what I used to spend. I’ve traded the stuff for less. And I will never go back.