Rural life and financial security

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When we were about to get married, we knew just how we want to raise a family: we would live a quiet, simple, unhurried life in some beautiful rural place, and I would stay home and raise the children, as they would come.

Ten years and 3 (soon 4!) children later, our dreams haven’t changed, but our perspectives have, with experience that allows us, in hindsight, to realize many things we have missed in the past.

We had a good headstart, financially, and we were prepared to live modestly, which had enabled us to purchase our first little home outright, without getting into debt or mortgage. This was good, but it finished off all our pre-marriage savings, and there was nothing left to do some necessary repairs, which the house badly needed, and when my husband hit a period of unemployment, we eventually had to sell the house for some immediate relief. A lot of money then got frittered away on rent.

We bought another house eventually, the one where we live today, but we then hit another stretch of unemployment, or rather, underemployment, plus a few pitfalls such as unwise investments in projects, and being ill-used by unscrupulous people. This was unfortunate, but it could happen to anyone. The problem was that we failed to take something into account, namely, that in choosing to live in a relatively distant area, we are reducing our earning capabilities, and basically eliminating the possibility to find an extra job quickly and easily if needed in lean times. Spending less is great, but sometimes you just hit that bottom when you can’t cut back anymore, and must earn extra to pull through.

Since we only have one car, I don’t drive, and public transportation in our area is almost nonexistent, we couldn’t even make a temporary switch of me taking a job and my husband staying with the kids, which was, and is, incredibly frustrating, since there were opportunities of jobs five minutes away, but when you have no means of getting there, it doesn’t matter if it’s five minutes away or on Mars. I was prevented from acquiring a driver’s license by 1) all lessons being held in town, so how is one supposed to get there without any means of transportation?? and 2) the prohibitive cost, which is quite a robbery in Israel. Because, you see, around here it isn’t enough that someone who knows how to drive teaches you. Oh no! Even if you know perfectly well how to drive, you still need to take a minimum of 28 lessons (I think) with a licensed driving teacher, which costs a bundle. Sorry for the rant, but I always get my blood boiling over government-sanctioned extortion that robs people of their hard-earned money.

So, for months on end my husband and I would both be home, with the car sitting in the driveway (which, granted, saved on gas), and us going crazy with the despair of not being able to climb out of the pit.

Eventually, I came to terms with the fact that I have to make do with what I have, and find ways to generate income from home. Today, I give nutritional counseling (in which I have a degree), do editing, proofreading and translation, and write both fiction and nonfiction. It’s wonderful, but I wish I had done it sooner, because establishing yourself as a freelancer requires time and dedication, and it takes a while before you’re actually earning. It was also hard to shake off the dogma of the husband being 100% responsible for the income. I do still believe that it makes sense for the man to be the main breadwinner, and that it’s extremely difficult, unreasonable and unfair for the woman to shoulder this burden as well, in addition to pregnancy, birth, and nursing (my husband can change diapers and bathe babies very well, but he can’t breastfeed or do postpartum recovery instead of me, nor can he swap with me and borrow my heavy, tired, pregnant body). However, when one’s family is struggling financially, one of the most empowering things is to be proactive and seek ways out of the rut, rather than only look up to your other half and hope things will improve.

To sum up this long and rather rambling post: if you’re planning on a lifestyle in which you earn less and spend less, in particular if you take the plunge and move to a rural area with the goal of becoming more self-sufficient and producing at least part of your own food, that’s wonderful, and it’s still our path, though it has been rocky and winding. However, you must be prepared for financial crisis, or you’ll find yourself in deep trouble when it hits and you have no way to counter it. So what would I have done differently, if I could (some things really did not depend on me)?

1. Possibly, I would have waited with the purchase of that first home. It’s great to be a home owner, but if it leaves you with absolutely zero in the bank, it puts you in a very precarious position.

2. Once the house was bought, I would have tried harder, and would have been ready to endure more discomfort, to refrain from selling it. Selling your only home does not solve problems, though it may stave off crisis, and is unavoidable sometimes. You have to live somewhere, and loose money inevitably goes down the drain. In hindsight, we could have held on.

3. I would have fought tooth and nail to leave more in savings during that time when we did have a nice income.

4. I would have prepared earlier, and more seriously, to the possibility of having to generate income, by whatever means. Granted, even working from home isn’t always practical when babies come one after another and you struggle to hold your head above water, but I have become a lot more efficient with my time during the past three years, and my heart literally bleeds for all those hours in the past spent on passive entertainment or just muddling around.

5. I would have trusted my judgment more. Not because I’m cleverer than my husband, but because two heads are always better than one. Magnanimously saying, “I’m sure that whatever you decide will be great” may sound nice, but going into all the nitty-gritty together is far more helpful.

The silver lining: we have never been, and are not, in debt. This makes things so much easier and less stressful. Avoiding debt (and mortgage is debt as well) is the best and soundest choice, in my opinion, that a family can make.

9 thoughts on “Rural life and financial security

  1. It is concerning that your first 3 pieces of advice (or, shoulda, woulda, couldas) are items that would have been solved with a modest mortgage loan instead of spending all your savings on the home you couldn’t afford to keep.

    Yes, you would have paid an additional modest sum in interest, but that interest would have saved you a lot of money and stress over time.

    Some debt is GOOD and I will give you a few examples.

    When we bought out new sofa, we could have bought it outright, but that would have emptied our savings account. That would have meant MONTHS of praying that no emergencies happened while we rebuilt our savings. So, instead, we opened a store credit card with 2 years NO INTEREST to purchase the sofa. This meant that we could pay for the sofa at $115 per month and not pay any interest. I paid twice that amount every month and paid the sofa off in half the time WHILE I built up our savings. Should an emergency have happened, we still had our savings and plenty of time to pay off the sofa without interest. Note, the minimum payment on the card was only $25, so even at worst case senerio, we could have deferred the big payments for more than a few months!

    I have two credit cards that I use in lieu of cash or my bank card. I use these for all my purchases. I also pay them off twice a month. Why do I bother using a credit card if I’m not going to have a balance? A: to build up my credit so that I can get a better mortgage interest rate one day and B: the $10-20 I make every month in cash back. Yep, I make money by spending money 😊. Of course, this only makes sense because I’m not carrying a balance. I need to get a credit card with a low interest rate in case of emergency; one that I don’t mind carrying a modest balance on when there is no other choice. Again, having some debt is better than having no savings.

    I am in grad school now. I still have some student loans from my undergrad years and have now added some loans for my graduate school. My reasoning for this debt is the same as the debt for the couch: I could pay it all off right now, but that would mean having no savings left. So, instead, I have the loans (which have ridiculously low interest rates) and can pay off the debt over time while only adding to my savings. And actually, getting new loans turned the interest off on 3 of my previous loans, so I’m paying them off even faster than I was before.

    My rule of thumb is to always have at least enough savings to cover whatever debt I have (except when it comes to a home mortgage) AND, I always want to be able to cover all my expenses with a single paycheck (including putting $100-200 in the savings account every month). I act like I live paycheck to paycheck because I do “spend” it all every payday. I aim to keep $1000 in my checking account and everything above that goes to either bills or savings.

    As for a mortgage, it is a wise investment IF you can comfortably afford the monthly payment. The problem before 2008 was that people were being given interest only loan payments with no possible way to ever be able to afford the principle.

    A 30 year loan on a home that you can afford is a smart “investment” (though I despise that word for homes. Homes are a necessity, NOT a way to make money! Homes are an investment only so much as life insurance is!). Here, rent tends to run at least twice as much as a mortgage payment. So saying that you’d rather pay rent than take on debt is silly because you’ll probably end up paying more in rent than you would as a homeowner when including maintenance. Mortgage payments do include the interest (except those interest-only loans), so yeah, $700/month mortgage is way less than $1400/month rent.

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    • Unfortunately, mortgage loans in Israel are a real pain, especially when we’re talking about the West Bank region. We definitely didn’t want to be saddled with that.

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  2. Totally agree with #1. We also wish we had waited to buy, even though we took out a mortgage. We used all our savings to repair our very poorly maintained house (roof, foundation, septic) and still didn’t have enough.

    Still thinking about #2…we have considered selling our house and renting an apartment, in hopes that the rent would be less than our mortgage and we could save more month to month.

    #3, Yep.

    #4: My biggest struggle with this is getting over the guilt of leaving my kids during the day. I have a car and a degree that gives me good earning potential, and I have a job that I can do during the hours my kids are in school/preschool. It’s such a shock for me and the kids though, because we homeschooled last year and this year feels so rushed and disconnected in comparison. But we just can’t afford for me not to work this year. Luckily I only work while the kids are in school until 3. We don’t have to do extended care. But still, the guilt!

    #5: I agree with this 100%

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    • We, too, are committed to home education, but in times when my husband is home, he could watch over them for a few hours IF I could get to work. This inability to be flexible, due to lack of reliable transportation for me, is enough to make one want to scream.

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  3. Anna,what an interesting story.After I was “laid off” from my public service job, my remuneration included my pension,insurances and repatriation (money to cover your transportation to relocate to any place of your choice within the country) was paid to me.I am the bread winner and a family of seven sons at that time.. And all school going.The first thing I and wifey did was buy a three bed roomed house.Used all the remaining money on their education and colleges.To cut the story short,four of my sons have completed school and attended Technical colleges..fending for themselves..Married and have given us six grand children..three girls and three boys of them grandchildren.Yaah life goes on.Toda once again,Peter.

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  4. I have found as my children have reached the age of 18 , that being so far from the next town 10 miles away , is a problem for their college and part time jobs. We have had to provide them both a car for graduation.. nothing beats raising them in the country for sure , but we never thought ahead to this time in life. I can think of NO time where debt would be good, except maybe the house . We have far too much and are working to eliminate it , in reality small children wear and tear on furniture and rugs , clothes ,dishes etc. it can be a waste to have nice new things anyway.( as a 34 year old single woman I purchased n expensive WHITE couch) 5 years later I watched in horror as my 2 babies took sick violently all over my couch and the new carpet. Live and learn! Don’t have regrets Anna , most people make these mistakes, and thankfully you are able to pass this wisdom along.

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    • Thanks for the encouragement, Karen. Certainly there’s no point beating ourselves up for past miscalculations. Hindsight wisdom is not so very clever after all!

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  5. Hi Anna,

    Since it sounds like you are an Anglo- perhaps you should look into getting a license when you visit you family abroad- and then transfer it to Israel. That might be easier (and cheaper if a family member could teach you) than taking lessons. Just a thought- let me know if you have any questions on logistics

    Liked by 1 person

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