Defining 'Success' Differently

Have you paid off your debt? Managed to save for your dream home? Had an awesome investment pan out? Share your personal finance success stories here.

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Defining 'Success' Differently

Postby bdh23 » Wed Oct 17, 2007 6:52 am

This probably isn't the typical "success story." Few success stories on financial sites involve slashing your net worth by $100,000 in two years, but I wouldn't change what we did. About 2.5 years ago my younger son was diagnosed with autism. Without going into exhaustive detail, what he needed was one-on-one ABA therapy, which is extremely expensive and not covered by insurance or public school programs. And knowing this would probably require at least a couple years of therapy, we didn't have more than a small fraction of the savings to cover it.

Most financial advice will recommend having at least a few months of expenses in savings. That's obviously good advice for dealing with the occasional major expense or to provide a cushion in the case of job loss, but for extreme situations like this, it would still only be a relative drop in the bucket. We were going to need to be more creative if we were going to get the help we knew our son needed. What we eventually decided to do was try to move from the high-cost Northern Virginia area where we owned a house to a smaller area and to try to work out telecommuting arrangements so I could keep my job. My employer was supportive, and we were able to sell our house, buy another in the lower-cost area for far less money. We set aside the difference to cover about two years of therapy and slashed our expenses to enable us to continue adding to that pool of money to extend how long it will last.

In addition, eliminating 3 hours of commuting time a day gave me far more time to spend with my family, which has certainly helped as we deal with the challenges of having a son with autism, not the least of which is making sure that my older, typically developing son gets the time and attention he needs and deserves.

We've certainly made sacrifices to minimize our expenses as much as we can. But it frankly hasn't been as hard as I might have thought to live without some things I'd previously taken for granted. In fact, it's probably easier for me to do this, when I can see that the money saved is going toward something so important and so immediate, than it might be for saving for something so seemingly distant like retirement.

I don't know if I have a lesson here that's applicable to others. Maybe it's that you need to be flexible and creative in dealing with problems, financial or otherwise. We could have stayed where we were, gotten what limited services we could from the public school system, and supplemented as much as we could afford. And that may have worked out fine. But by changing our life more completely, we were able to fulfill our most important goal at that time, while at the same time actually improving our life in other ways by creating more time and more appreciation of what we do have.

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