Discovering the “Freedom” in Debt-Freedom

  • DH = dear husband
  • DD1, DD2, DD3 = dear daughters – first, second, and third

“Even so quickly may one catch the plague?” That’s one of Olivia’s lines from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. A very eligible young lady, Olivia discourages the advances of an equally eligible bachelor. Steadfast in her determination to remain single, she is taken aback by her sudden attraction to Cesario, her suitor’s servant. The “plague” to which she refers is romantic love – a love that turns her world upside down. But all ends well (except for a poor fellow named Malvolio).

“The plague” DH and I have caught in this last week has likewise been unexpected, sudden, powerful, and one that has turned our world upside down. And while it doesn’t involve Olivia’s particular affliction, it is a matter of the heart. Here’s the back story:

Urban dream vs. suburban reality

Ever since my late teens, I’ve wished to live in the urban centre of my city. I grew up in a west-end suburb, and every time I went downtown, I just felt more alive. I remember cycling along the canal into the urban core, looking at all of the houses that lined it, hoping that “some day” one of them would be my home.

By my late twenties, I had a teaching position in a suburb even farther west than the one of my childhood – way farther. And when I met DH, he worked in the same area, so it made sense for us to settle in the burbs. And we did.

In the years to come, career upheaval (the prologue to our debt story) would send us all over the city map in terms of where we worked, but we continued to raise our family in the suburban “dream home” we’d maxed out on. Eventually, DH started a business, and our big house became an unintended blessing. There was no need for him to rent office space; he worked from home.

DH = team suburban

DH has always known about my dream to live in an urban setting, but he has never shared it. “Streets are always under construction downtown,” he’s pointed out many times. “And why would you want an old, cramped house that’s falling apart when you can have a spacious new one?”

There’s no arguing people into wanting to live in one type of area instead of another. Rural dwellers love the open spaces of the country. Urban dwellers thrive on the pulse of the city. And suburban dwellers value the tidy order of their communities – that is, if all of the above are living where they want to live. Many of us compromise because of finances, work, family – and that’s part of life. I have certainly accepted our suburb, but DH hasn’t talked me out of my love for the urban centre – and I haven’t tried to talk him into it.

We’ve now lived in our home for 20 years, and we’re just a few months away from paying it off. We’re also within a year or two ofΒ  retirement and an empty nest. Looking ahead, DH and I haven’t had a shared vision. Against my suggestions of “some day” downsizing to a downtown condo, DH has argued that it would cost more than our house and that he doesn’t want to be “stuck in a small box in a high-rise in a concrete jungle.” When he has suggested downsizing to a townhouse or a condo in our area, I have been equally resistant.

So in the absence of another plan, we’ve envisioned staying put. We’ve realized that the house will seem awfully big and empty once DH dismantles his office (which takes up half of our first floor) and DD3 moves out. Perhaps in the future, visiting grandchildren would fill it. But DD1 has been studying and working on the west coast for years, and who knows where our younger two will choose to live in the days to come – let alone if any will go the route of marriage and children. In fact, for the near future, DD2 is living and working downtown – where DD3 plans to move …

DH’s surprising turn-around

Last month I told DH about a new condo development near a vegan restaurant where DD2 had treated me for Mother’s Day – not downtown, but pretty close to it. DH was receptive to a suggestion for change just at that point. He was feeling burned out from work, and the idea of moving to a place where he couldn’t possibly keep his business going appealed to him.

A week ago, we went to the sales office to check it out, and what we saw blew DH away. This was no “box in a high-rise in a concrete jungle.” The development has many of the positives of the suburbs that have always been a draw for him – new, tidy, open, within view of green spaces.

We have talked of almost nothing else since stopping by (twice) last weekend.

  • Which model would we get?
  • Would we need two bedrooms or three?
  • When should we plan to move?
  • How much is our house worth now?
  • What do we have to do to make our house sale-ready?
  • How long will it take DH to wind down his business?
  • Should I work an extra year?

DH is actually having a hard time sleeping with this sudden fixation. He told me today that he sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night thinking about something like where the sofa should go in one of the models we’re considering. “The main reason I want to make this happen is that I’m excited to see one of your life-long dreams come true,” he said. Some men are generally sweet, but DH is not one of them. So when he says something sweet, it’s really sweet.

Friday night we drove over to the construction site, parked the car, and walked around for hours. And we felt alive.

Even so quickly may one catch the plague?

Just as Shakespeare knew there was always a risk in love (“the plague” was one of several diseases he used to describe it) we know there are risks in a move based on the heart. I especially do not want to mess up financially, but I also want to live the freedom we’ve been working towards. We’re going to take this vision and go with it, and we’re going to be grounded in all that we’ve learned over the last 6 years of debt payoff.

  • We will not put money down on a condo model that is more expensive than the current worth of our home. Our plans do not involve a mortgage.
  • Though we’ve considered it, we will not buy an additional smaller unit to rent out. Again, no mortgage!
  • Our planned move is later rather than sooner. DD3 will move out of her childhood home when she’s ready (and she is ready). We’ll have time to wrap up our careers and get the house de-cluttered and sale-ready.
  • We’ve discussed worst case scenarios, and only if we’re ready to absorb them will we move forward. We’d have to commit well in advance of moving, and there are inherent risks in that kind of arrangement. House won’t sell? We sell the condo. House won’t sell for the price of the condo? I work longer.

“What is decreed must be, and be this so.”

Olivia is full of self doubt as she realizes that she has fallen in love. “I do I know not what, and fear to find / Mine eye too great a flatterer for my mind.” But she knows there is something greater than herself at work, and so she lets go of doubt and is released into the abundant overflow of her heart. “Fate, show thy force: ourselves we do not owe / What is decreed must be, and be this so.”

All ends well for Olivia. I have high hopes for the same to be true for us!


Have you ever found yourself surprised by a sudden longing – for a move or a career change … or love – that turned your world upside down? Do you see a connection between debt-freedom and these types of moves of the heart? Your comments are welcome


 

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  • Sounds like an exciting new chapter and despite all the excitement, you’ve formulated a reasonable plan. Just before I met my current wife, I was planning to move down to Florida and downsize. But then love spun me around and I ended up staying in high-cost New Jersey. I think the biggest connection I see between debt freedom and moves of the heart is that when you’re not bogged down in debt, those sudden moves become possible and real.

    • I was hoping someone would share a love story! Thanks for that, Gary. And your assessment is the same as mine. I don’t know if we would have given this condo development much thought if we’d still been “bogged down in debt.” I would have pined for it, but with no hope = perhaps even some resentment and frustration. Now, it IS “possible and real.”

    • >I think the biggest connection I see between debt freedom and moves of the heart is that when you’re not bogged down in debt, those sudden moves become possible and real.

      Bingo. Maintaining a state of debt-freedom allows you to take on debt when the time calls for it. If you’re just sitting in debt all the time, you can’t really “follow your heart” like this. Well, maybe you could, but it wouldn’t be wise!

      • Thanks for reading and commenting, Shaun. This part is a red flag for me: “Maintaining a state of debt-freedom allows you to take on debt when the time calls for it.” I’ve heard that it’s as difficult for people who pay off debt to stay out of debt as it is for people who lose weight to keep it off. I hope and plan never to go into debt again. I’ll listen to time when it calls me to wait and save up, not when it calls for me to take on debt πŸ™‚

  • You’ve done an amazing job to put yourselves in this position. Sounds, like an exciting and scary next step all in one, but one that will be well planned. πŸ™‚ I wish my wife and I were better prepared when our long distance romance (NY-CA) become real and she moved to NY. We got swept away in the early stages of the relationship, and really never cared much about our finances.

    • I thought of finances as the least romantic thing out there when I was young. It’s cringe-worthy to remember how careless I was back then. My eldest has a long distance relationship, and I’m happy to say that they’re managing it way more frugally than I would have at that stage of the game. Like you, we’re talking about finances with our kids. It is so satisfying to see them several steps ahead of my former self! I think you see the same in your kids too, right?

    • I’ll have to take a few lessons for your minimalist approach, Mackenzie. We’re going to have to get rid of so much stuff!

  • Having been to Ottawa three or four times, I can see why you would love to live downtown, it is so beautiful and still retains a small town charm in spite of being the capital of Canada. Hopefully you will keep your head on straight and not let the condo “plague” overtake your hard won debt freedom lol.

    We have been considering where our next move is too – we have been in our house for 30 years and feel the need for a change (rent an apartment or buy a small condo??), although our place is not large and there has been just the two of us in it for those 30 years. We have undertaken updating our home with the idea of selling in the next year or two, but I have to admit the upheaval is wearing at my age of 69 πŸ™

    • A move is an exhausting thing for anyone – especially when you’ve been in the home for 30 years! Some people are all for renting, but I like the idea of owning. All the best in making the big decisions ahead. And you’re right about Ottawa. We won’t be quite downtown, and the area we’re planning for has lots of the charm you refer to. Nancy, next time you visit Ottawa, let me know:)

  • Yes! My idea of where I wanted to live has changed pretty drastically over the years. Although I’m neither for a suburb or downtown living, I am someone who wants to be sort of closer to a downtown in a smaller big city, but in an established neighborhood. And for years I was against home ownership, and now I’ve warmed up to the idea. But it wouldn’t be in LA, as you know. That’s cool DH has warned up to the idea of change!

    • The condo development we’re looking at is “sort of closer to a downtown in a smaller big city, but in an established neighborhood.” Maybe you should consider the Great White North among your possible destinations. I hope you do end up owning, Tonya. And I hope you have a sudden moment of recognition when your future home city makes itself known to you.

  • Now you’ve got me thinking … with our current transition, not sure it makes sense to come back to our larger (than over there) home. I would love to hear where you have found a place and what kind of timeline and financial commitment it is. Don’t worry, I won’t move in next door!

    • I will only tell you if you promise to move in next door, Ingrid. Yes, let’s talk! (And you would be able to walk to the river to kayak.)

  • Angela at Tread Lightly shared a link to some new Platinum LEED housing in the Seattle area and I was actually A LITTLE envious of all the cool amenities included in the new housing. I’ve always been a suburbanite but, with the exception of not being in the kind of shape where I could appreciate everything being in walking distance because lugging home groceries is too difficult, the urban life is at least a little appealing!

    I had intended for this home to be our last home for the next ohhh 50-70 years πŸ˜‰ but I can tell that PiC is willing to be more open minded about the notion of not staying rooted here once JB is off on zir own. I guess I could stand to be as well.

    • I had to check out what a “LEED” home was. It sounds ideal for someone who needs a very particular setting for health to have a chance at thriving. There is a great appeal to the suburbs when you’re raising young ones. There is a safety and security – or at least of sense of both. It saddens me to know that you would find it hard to walk to a grocery store and carry groceries home. I hope that your health improves in the years ahead, and I hope that you;”ll live in your current home for as long as you want to. Thanks, Revanche.

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