Annual Income = $0
Written by: Lisa Toews-Daugherty
About eight years ago, the start-up my husband, Jay, was working for ran out of funding and shut down. I wasn’t working at the time, so our family income plummeted to zero. After more than 15 years of traveling at least 50% of his time, Jay desperately needed to recharge. We decided that if we tightened our belts, then we could use our savings to allow him to take some time off. The sabbatical that started out as three months in reality extended to closer to eighteen.
That time could have come with a lot of anxiety, but it didn’t. We approached each day as the gift of time it was. Gratefulness became our mantra. Jay took our daughters to the bus stop, chaperoned field trips, and supervised homework. He volunteered in a meaningful way at our church. He exercised regularly and taught himself how to play the piano. Jay and I had lunch dates on the patio to save money on eating out and babysitters. I started growing vegetables to feed our family and discovered a love of gardening. I shopped at second-hand stores and sold our unused stuff that was languishing in the basement. It felt great to lighten-up and de-clutter.
Of course, the time off necessitated a revolution in our spending patterns. Not big spenders by nature, we found out just how far we could stretch our savings by looking at each expense in terms of whether it was a need or a want. Did we need cable TV? Actually yes, Jay decided we did, but not the premium movie channels. Did we need to eat out as much? Sadly, no. When I went to the cashier at the department store, I put each item on the counter and asked myself whether it was a need or want. If I was unsure, I put it back. I put back many, many items. Honestly, I sometimes I went back a few days later and purchased something after deciding it was indeed a need. In general though, I found that I never really missed all that I did not purchase.
Of course it couldn’t last forever. Jay did go back to work and a few years later so did I, but I would say that being income-free for a period of time helped us to focus on our priorities and change some bad habits. By doing so, we were grounded by what we valued most and have now started a new and better chapter of our lives.