In today's interview, you will read how one couple learned how to thrive after two job losses in one year. That's right. A double whammy in a twelve-month period.
The job loss was the husband. What makes the story more remarkable is a decision that the wife made. But wait.
I don't want to spoil it. I want you to hear it from Laurie, who tells their story for us.
Laurie is the author of the blog Three Year Experiment, a blog about how“an average family who became location independent with a three-year plan.” Laurie is celebrating two years of blogging this month, October 2018.
Laurie and I are part of a vibrant and growing blogging community. It's unlike anything I've known in any other business in which I've been involved. She and I met in person at FinCon2018, which I've referenced in previous interviews.
What I love about these interviews is they all are stories of hope and encouragement when things seem hopeless. Laurie and her family's story is not different.
It's remarkable how resilient the human spirit is. The story you're about to hear is more common than it should be. I mean the job loss part, not what they did about it.
OK. Enough rambling. Meet Laurie and her family.
Tell us a little about yourself
I’m Laurie, a 39-year-old teacher, mom, and personal finance blogger. I write about location independence for families on my blog, The Three Year Experiment. I have one husband (I don’t think I could handle more) and two boys aged 11 and 8, who go by Junior and Little ThreeYear on the blog.
My family currently lives in North Carolina, which is a story in and of itself. We just moved to a delightful little town called Davidson in July, and we are location independent, as Mr. ThreeYear and I both work from home.
Currently, I’m a freelance writer and blogger, although I will probably return to my day job, teaching English as a Second Language, next year. I took a year off to help the boys get settled in their new schools. We also just got a puppy named Lucy, which is a bit like having another kid, so I’m busy with her as well.
We love to travel, especially to South America, where my husband is from, and to Charleston, SC, where we enjoy time at our family beach house.
I wish I had fascinating things to tell you about how I spend my time. But the truth is that I do very mundane things. Some things I’ve done this week: walk the dog, buy groceries, read The Rational Optimist, visit my son’s school counselor, make an appointment with the pediatrician, make bread, write a couple of freelance articles, drink gallons of coffee, pick up some scones at the coffee shop and eat them with my sister, talk to Mr. ThreeYear on the phone (he’s on a work trip), rescue a kid out of a tree, clean up dog throw-up (she ate a sock), and fold four loads of laundry. Fun times.
Tell us a little bit about your career path
My career path, like the career path of many married women who decide to become stay-at-home moms, is irrevocably intertwined with that of my husband.
When I started in the workplace, I was living in Santiago, Chile. My first “real” job was working with exchange students at the Catholic University of Chile’s Business School. I negotiated exchange contracts with international universities, oversaw the application process, built a website, and counseled both international and Chilean students on the exchange process. It was a job I completed mostly in Spanish, my second language, so to say it was challenging would be an understatement.
When Mr. ThreeYear and I moved back to the US two years later, to start our “real” careers (that was how I thought of things at the time), he quickly got a job with a Fortune 500 corporation, but I couldn’t find a job anywhere. I eventually took a job as an intern at an advertising agency, at 25 years old (unpaid!), working my way up to Account Executive in two years.
To work or stay at home
Then, I got pregnant with Junior ThreeYear. Suddenly, all my career aspirations took a back seat to motherhood. As soon as I held my son, I knew I couldn’t let him grow up in daycare. There was no job that I wanted to do badly enough to let someone else raise him.
I am ALL FOR working moms. My sister has always worked, my mom worked while we were growing up, and I love and admire moms who do it. In fact, most of my friends and family were absolutely shocked that I chose to be a stay-at-home mom to my boys. But it turns out that the thing I’ve come back to, again and again, is raising my kids, wanting to give them as much of my time and presence as I can.
This meant, starting in 2008, that Mr. ThreeYear was the sole income provider. It was pretty stressful, considering we lost 45% of our salary and his company had had six cycles of layoffs in the previous five years.
In addition to being a stay-at-home-mom, I also became emotional support and cheerleader for my husband, giving him pep talks, helping him write and rewrite important emails, encouraging him when he felt overwhelmed or stressed. His success was my success, and I did what I could to keep things running smoothly at home so he could focus at work.
From a previous conversation, you mentioned you had a pretty tough year early on in your marriage. Tell us what happened?
Six months after I became a stay-at-home mom, Mr. ThreeYear, our sole income earner, was laid off. This was in 2008 when the US was in a terrible recession. He got another job, pretty quickly, which was amazing, but then, eight months after that, he was laid off again. That meant he was laid off twice in a single year.
That had to be devastating. How did you deal with it?
We had a year of non-stop stress. Mr. ThreeYear was so anxious after the first layoff that he went on anxiety medication (the wrong one) and it sapped him of all of his energy and motivation. It affected his performance at his second job, and even though it wasn’t the reason for the second layoff, it caused massive stress as Mr. ThreeYear basically expected to be fired every day.
That year, we were trying to get through each day at a time, up until July 4th, which is when I stumbled upon The Total Money Makeover in Barnes and Noble. I read it all, there in the store, then brought it home to Mr. ThreeYear, bursting with excitement over this way to remove the financial uncertainty from our lives that I’d just found.
What financial consequences did this have?
After the first layoff, Mr. ThreeYear was given a small severance package. That allowed us to make it until he got his next job about a month later. But it highlighted the fact that we were living paycheck to paycheck, and that we could lose our cars or our house if we didn’t get our finances in order. When he was laid off the first time, we had a total of $38,000 in debt, plus our mortgage.
There was no severance after the second layoff, and that familiar feeling of financial panic set in. But at that point, we’d begun to straighten out our financial house, had cut our expenses dramatically, and had begun paying off our debt. We used the money we’d budgeted for that month (October) to get us through, and then miraculously, Mr. ThreeYear got another job at the first company that had laid him off within a month.
During that year, we started making decisions that would have been unimaginable the year before as follows:
- Traded in our foreign cars for practical, cheaper ones
- Cut our housekeeper and lawn care services
- Started shopping at Aldi
- Put any travel plans on hold.
What were the keys to your overcoming?
Even when Mr. ThreeYear got his old job back at his first company, our lives and outlooks had irrevocably changed. We would never again trust the company that had treated its most valuable asset, its employees, like expendable cogs. We would never again assume that we could float our debt and spend more than we made, that we could rely on ever-increasing incomes to cover the gap.
Even as we slowly paid off our debt, Mr. ThreeYear continued looking for jobs with more security. In April of 2010, one year and five months after he’d gotten re-hired by his first company, he took a job with a small company in New England that had a no-layoff policy (they’d never lay off employees due to an economic downturn; instead, they’d implement hiring freezes and other cost-cutting measures). Taking the job meant that we moved far away from friends and family to a state neither of us had ever been to. But we moved to New England debt-free to a job with a company that put its employees first.
In the eight years since he’s started working at his current company (and that he now works for remotely), we’ve built up to save almost 50% of our incomes. We’re debt-free except for our fifteen-year mortgage, and we’ve set aside money for the boys’ college, retirement, and travel. We now cash-flow anything we buy, including trips, cars, and home repairs.
What encouragement would you offer to anyone who has or is experiencing job loss?
I do not doubt that the thing that helped my husband the most in finding a new job was his humility. After he was laid off, he immediately sat down and drafted an email to everyone he knew, letting them know he’d been let go and needed to find a new job to support his family. There was no hiding or pretending he was still working. He wasn’t “too good” to apply to any position that came his way. And he utilized the heck out of his network of friends and colleagues, which has always been one of his strengths.
From our awful year, I learned that your life could look irrevocably different ten years after a catastrophe like ours. In fact, this year marks the tenth anniversary of our job loss year, and we spent a little time this summer reflecting on it.
We went from:
- $38,000 in debt to a net worth that puts us in the top 10% for our age range
- a combined weight loss of 55 pounds since 2008
- almost double our family income from 10 years ago
- much better health and wellness (including mental health)
- location independence and remote work which has virtually eliminated our commutes, drastically reduced stress, and allowed us to bring up our boys closer to their family
Often, the very worst thing that you can imagine happening to you (that doesn’t involve death or destruction, that is) can be such a turning point in your life, if you let it. For our family, the layoffs spotlighted our financial insecurity. They motivated us to get out of debt and save and invest more. Ironically, without those layoffs, we wouldn’t be in the strong financial position we are today. And we wouldn’t have made choices that put our happiness and well-being above temporary financial gain.
Thanks, Laurie for sharing your story. I know a lot of people would not and have not responded to job loss the way you and Mr. ThreeYear have. It's a credit to both of you for making the hard decisions and changing the way you were doing things.
It's easy when life happens, things we can't control, to let it get us down. Job loss after deciding to stay home to raise your kids adds another layer of stress on top of the layoffs. I don't know anyone who would not have a period of shock, fear, anxiety, and the like. The choice is ours whether to stay there or not.
You and your husband worked hard at changing your spending, living within your means, and finding jobs that were more secure. You didn't panic (at least you didn't stay that way) and persevered to come out better on the other side of it.
The story of Laurie and her family overcoming the curveballs thrown to them encourages me. I hope it encourages you the next time you're dealing with a significant adversity in your life.
It's the age-old axiom that we may tire of hearing. Yet it's appropriate to repeat and keep it in the front of our minds. We can't control our circumstances. We can control how we react to them. Laurie's story, along with every other person I've interviewed, are examples of living that out in their lives.
I hope you'll make it your story too.
Now it's your turn. What adversity have you overcome? How did you get through it? What did you learn from it? Your comments are valued and important. Thanks for your support.