Why I voluntarily slashed my salary

In January 2007, I wrote an article about being recently divorced, helping to support a disabled adult child and working toward a university degree in my late 40s. “Surviving (and thriving) on $12,000 a year” went viral as readers (including J.D. Roth) demanded to know how, exactly, I could do that.

A new career - slashing your salary

This post generated more reaction than any other article published that year. The editor kept asking for more, and within eight months I was writing for MSN Money full-time.

Oh, the irony: Having barely enough to get by turned into a decently paid job. (Which was just as well, since I had legal debt from the protracted divorce.)

On September 11, 2013, Microsoft laid off all its writers. A couple of hours later I'd lined up more work — but not much of it. Having spent 10 years on a dead run, I decided to give myself the gift of slowing down. Translation: At age 55, I voluntarily cut my salary by nearly 58 percent.

Between the MSN gig and a couple of others, I'd been looking at earning at least $85,000 (probably more) in 2013. Not bad for a job I could do from home in my jammies.

Now my limited liability corporation salary is $36,000 per year. After taxes and essentials — including self-funded health insurance, a Roth IRA, my share of household expenses and a couple of carefully chosen indulgences — I'm left with $164 per month.

Defining a rich life

Normally, I'm not the kind of person who reveals her salary. But just as I did back in 2007, I'm opening the ledger to let people know that living on less is possible. My hope is to reach those who:

Are feeling the economic pinch: Maybe you've been laid off, need to help your elderly parents, have had your own kids move back in or just generally feel stressed about the ever-rising cost of living.

Are afraid to retire: As those costs edge up, you wonder whether your Social Security and other retirement monies will be enough.

Are questioning their quality of life: Maybe you're longing to work less or change careers but worry you can't live well on fewer dollars.

Whether you decide to change your life or whether you have change thrust upon you, know that it is possible to craft a meaningful and even joyous existence on less money. A rich life is not necessarily determined by the number of dollar signs it contains.

That said, let me be clear: Willful underemployment is not for everyone. I couldn't do it myself if I had consumer debt, kids (or parents) who needed help, a mortgage or student loans. However, some of my cost-cutting tactics could help you trim your own budget. The money you save can be used to build an emergency fund, attack any consumer debt, do home or car repairs, or set aside money for retirement.

Partners in frugality

My partner, DF, is the only person I know who's just as frugal as I am. Neither of us are “cheap,” i.e., we don't make choices that affect our health or the health/enjoyment of others. But we see no reason to overspend.

He owns the home we share and I chip in $500 a month. In some regions — but obviously not all — that would be my half of the rent or mortgage. (When I first moved back to Anchorage, I paid $600 a month to share a friend's home.)

We don't have a TV, so no bill for cable, Netflix or Hulu Plus. I cover the costs of Internet and a basic landline because I need them for work. Last year, I ditched my $80-plus monthly cell plan in favor of a burn phone from the discount store. It costs $2 a day if I use it; otherwise, it costs nothing.

I'm budgeting $100 for my share of monthly groceries. We don't dine on breast of free-range quail marinated in organic acai berries with Sevruga caviar foam, but we eat pretty darned well thanks to frugal hacks like:

  • Sales and coupons (only amateurs pay retail)
  • “Scratch and dent” foods and the bakery outlet (multigrain breads and sandwich rolls for as little as 50 cents)
  • Cooking from scratch (we rarely dine out) and eating seasonally (no $7.99-a-pound cherries in January)
  • Using every part of the food, including making soup stock from vegetable scraps and pan juices
  • Gardening and, to some extent, preserving food
  • Wild foods people sometimes share with us: moose, salmon, duck, ptarmigan, even bowhead whale
  • Buying in bulk from Costco: 20 pounds of dried beans, 50 pounds of flour, giant vats of laundry soap

More life costs

The heat stays between 62 and 64 degrees during the day and a little lower at night. Since my workaday attire tends to be sweatpants and a bathrobe, I get along just fine. We often use the fireplace insert for auxiliary heat (and ambiance!), burning wood we get from cutdowns in the yards of family and friends. DF sweeps the chimney himself.

Since we live half a mile from a bus line, I decided against buying a car. This is a huge money-saver; according to AAA, the cost of auto ownership ranges from $6,967 to $11,599 per year.

I rarely shop because I just don't care about clothes. Outside the house, I mostly wear thrift-store jeans and shirts. The last time I bought dress slacks was for a 2004 divorce court hearing (Nordstrom Rack, less than $30).

Foot issues means I do buy decent walking shoes, which I wear just about everyplace (including the opera). Sale price + online coupon + cash-back shopping means I pay $70 to $80 per pair — still expensive, but so is a podiatrist.

I use discounted gift cards bought on the secondary market to pay for haircuts, groceries, toiletries, movie tickets and home-improvement items. Sometimes I can buy the cut-rate cards through the cash-back site — frugal double-dipping!

Entertainment, travel and gifts (the frugal way)

Almost all Christmas and birthday presents are paid for with gift cards I got from rewards credit cards and a couple of online rewards programs (My Points, Swagbucks). This has saved me many hundreds of dollars.

Entertainment is another series of frugal hacks. It costs nothing to read, walk, listen to music, or play cribbage or Scrabble. In addition:

  • I write theater reviews for the local newspaper, which means two free tickets and a $60 honorarium.
  • For movies, I go on cheap Tuesday or hit the second-run house. I usually pay with discounted gift cards. If I write about movies for my website (e.g., “5 financial lessons from ‘Parsifal'”), the ticket becomes a business expense.
  • DF is a member of the Anchorage Museum; reciprocal programs let me visit museums in other states for free.

Like many people, I redeem frequent-flier miles and use travel websites to find the best deals. I try to house-sit or stay in hostels. Rather than rent a car, I use public transit and the Megabus. If I meet with an editor on the road, I'll deduct a portion of travel costs.

My other regular treats are seven or eight haircuts a year and a monthly two-hour massage (no machine runs for 56 years without some maintenance issues). I also watch for massage specials.

But what about retirement?

Some pundits say you need more than a million bucks to retire; others say “nuh-uh!” Right now I've got a little more than one-third of that mythic million in several funds: a 401(k) from my newspapering days, a Roth IRA, some CDs and a brand-new 401(k) funded by my LLC.

I could be four-fifths of the way there by age 70 if I keep paying at my current rate and my funds keep growing at the current rate. Or maybe all of the way there, if each account performs like a bull-market boss. Or I could wind up on the wrong side of a market plunge, like those folks who retired shortly before the big bang of 2008.

There's also Social Security plus a $550 monthly pension from my newspapering days. Other assets include:

  • Liquid savings of about $40,000
  • The annual Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend check (estimated at $1,800 this year)
  • The possibility of increasing contributions to my new 401(k)

Will all this be enough? No one knows. Just ask those 2008 retirees.

Quality of life: It matters

Here's what I do know: I'm 56 and my partner is 63, and every day we read obits for people our age (or far younger) who succumbed to heart attacks, cancer or auto accidents — or, this being Alaska, to plane crashes, hypothermia, climbing accidents, drownings and bear maulings. Thus we have vowed to use a mix of frugal hacks and positive thinking to live the best life we can on what we have.

This plan could work really well. It could also be felled by illness, incapacity, recession or a complete drought in the freelance market. But we're not going to let the what-ifs keep us from living while it is yet possible to live.

Neither DF nor I mind spending on what's important to us: our families, music, theater, decent shoes, a piano-tuning (him), a blog domain name (me). But both of us are practical and inventive people who can find our way through most problems without opening our wallets. Right now we have everything we need and much of what we want, which is a blessed place to be.

The quality of our days matters as much as the quantity. It's wonderful to meet him at the door with a smile and a kiss instead of the neck-knotting worry that I haven't done enough work yet. I no longer spend four or five evenings a week online, ignoring the lovely man sitting patiently (but forlornly) in the same room.

The formerly constant stress is gone, replaced by something I couldn't recognize. Finally I realized it was … happiness. It's not that I've never been happy before. But I've never experienced it as such a consistent sweetness to my days. That's worth a lot.

I once wrote that stability is a story we repeat to make ourselves feel better about staying exactly where we are. Suppose I had taken the first 9-to-5 I could get after fleeing an abusive marriage back in 2004? That would have been stable. (Maybe. Lots of jobs were lost after 2008.)

But if I'd done that, I wouldn't be where I am now. Back then I was uneducated and emotionally broken. Now I'm a confident online journalist with a distinct voice and the chance to help others. E-mails like “I'm out of debt because of you” or “I'm back in school because of you” make me dance around the house in those sweatpants, yelping “This is why I do what I do.”

Do I miss the bigger bucks? Sure. Sometimes I wish I could send my daughter and son-in-law a $50 gift card just because, or buy treats for my great-nephews, or fly to the East Coast to visit family whenever I want.

But I'll live. I mean that in the literal sense. While I'm fully aware of what I'm giving up, I'm much more aware of what I'm gaining. Love. Time. A job that makes a difference. In other words, happiness — so welcome and so wanted, even if it did take 10 years to get here. Now let's see where the next 10 years take me.

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Debbie
Debbie
5 years ago

Like! Like! Like!

Wonderful, Donna, just wonderful!!

Taylor Lee
Taylor Lee
5 years ago

Donna, good on you! I’m so impressed by your power and resilience. If only the rest of us could be so brave to really prioritize what we want, or need!, out of life, and make the sacrifices required to get there.

One question I have for you is what you plan on doing regarding health care in the future? Of course, you have a nice nest egg now, but what kind of strategy do you have in place / do you feel prepared as you grow older regarding medical expenses? (Especially working freelancing.)

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  Taylor Lee

Right now I’m self-funding insurance. When I get old enough, it’ll be Medicare (plus any additional coverage if I determine it’s warranted).

AZ Joe
AZ Joe
5 years ago

What a great post, I love that you have found not only happiness but also the wisdom to recognize it and why you have it. I expect with that attitude and self understanding it will continue, regardless of outside complications – – and we all have them.

Anne
Anne
5 years ago
Reply to  AZ Joe

What I like about Donna is that she *never* comes across as arrogant. There are a couple of PF bloggers that do.

lmoot
lmoot
5 years ago

This is creepy. I just wrote a huge post in my financial diary on the GRS forum, literally a few hours ago, regarding this same thing. I love all of Donna’s articles, and even remember reading the $12,000 per year article because it just speaks to how I want to live my life (and how I secretly wish more people would at least considering trying to live their lives). I will come back and respond properly to the article specifically when there’s time because this is a topic near and dear to my heart, but for now, b/c I am… Read more »

M
M
5 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

Imoot, you inspire me 🙂

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
5 years ago
Reply to  M

Lmoot is Da Woman!

lmoot
lmoot
5 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Thank you M and El Nerdo 🙂

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

Allow me to add my voice to the chorus: Clearly, you rock.
As the family thing: My relatives don’t speak approval clearly or often, or ever. When I posted the link to this article on my website’s Facebook page, a sibling posted a one-word response: “Outstanding.” High praise indeed.
Your grandmother is probably very proud of your determination and vision. She might not be able to tell you so directly, but at least you know it’s there.

lmoot
lmoot
5 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Thanks so much Donna 🙂 Means a lot coming from you! I’m glad you got approval, even if it was just one word, at least the word was “outstanding” lol!

I think my family’s reluctance to show approval is based more on fear of the unknown and not disapproval, thankfully; so at least there’s that!

imelda
imelda
5 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

lmoot, it’s good to get an update from you! As M said, you continue to inspire.

Midwest Jane
Midwest Jane
5 years ago

I just read your linked article “Living in the quieter spots of life” and just want to say thank you! It has been a hard few weeks for me in terms of feeling out of step with the rest of my generation (30s) by having what you so aptly call a “burn phone” that is rarely on. My question is – do you give out that number to anyone but family? I don’t, because I pay 20 cents or more a minute. This often leads to some awkward exchanges. People are so surprised and a bit disconcerted when they learn… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  Midwest Jane

Thanks for your kind comments about the linked article. People are always surprised that they can’t text me, either. They’re even more surprised to find out that I have never SENT a text. I’m fond of this AT&T plan for the burn phone; as noted, it’s $2 a day for unlimited use and nothing if you don’t make any calls. The money you prepay does expire eventually if unused, however. I have mine set up to auto-refill when the balance drops below a couple of bucks. Stick to your guns and use the phone the way YOU choose, not the… Read more »

Marie
Marie
5 years ago
Reply to  Midwest Jane

I am in the same boat with avoiding social media, but I recently broke down and sent my first text because it was the only way to get a quote from a highly recommended roofer we wanted. I was a bit disgruntled about it, but my husband pointed out that it wasn’t like I was gossiping or sending stupid pictures, so I guess I can live with having broken my Luddite record. :p

Midwest Jane
Midwest Jane
5 years ago
Reply to  Midwest Jane

I am a selective Luddite in the sense that I am on social media, at least on Facebook. Twitter confuses me. I have certainly posted my fair share of status updates with cute things my kids have said or shared other banal moments from my life. The difference is that I don’t have to or want to do it at the exact moment that it happens, especially in public. I have this amazing thing called memory that enables me to post it hours or even days later ;). One thing I can’t stand is how frequently these days friends tag… Read more »

Anne
Anne
5 years ago
Reply to  Midwest Jane

I totally agree with Midwest Jane about posts on Facebook. We also have a close knit group of friends. Sometimes one of those friends will post about an even that I was not invited to. I find this very insensitive. Also, I don’t post my whereabouts on Facebook so I really don’t like it when others do it and assume that I’m ok with it.

On the other hand, I have two kids and texting is just a part of life.

Midwest Jane
Midwest Jane
5 years ago
Reply to  Anne

As my kids get older, I assume I will text more often. I have no problem with it, other than that I have a pay as you go plan at the moment and have to pay for each text or phone call. I honestly would prefer a text to a conversation on the cell phone. The point at this stage of my life is that I don’t do either when I am out and about. I just wanted to clarify that I’m not anti-text in any real way but just frustrated that people just assume the phone number you give… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
5 years ago
Reply to  Midwest Jane

i can’t afford to be a luddite as i need it for work. client wants to text, i text back. subcontractor wants to skype, i skype. client’s employee forwards a picture via imessage, we get it. customers want us on facebook we’re on facebook. collaborators need files online, we have dropbox/google drive/ etc. my rural setup has no landline so we have cells. no regular internet so we got satellite. i have no need for twitter but i’ll use it if required. same goes for personal– i’ll email my favorite nephew and he won’t reply, but if i send a… Read more »

Barb
Barb
5 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Yep. My son does landscaping and labor and he has ads on Craigslist. A good eighty percent of his first contacts are texts, and then those are followed up with calls. Much easier for him to text when he’s working than calling.

Me, I get texts from my kids such as “Who was in the original Cape Fear again” at two am when one child is driving back from the outer banks of NC

Marie
Marie
5 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I just ran into a similar problem yesterday…a woman told me to call her cell regarding a job interview, and she hadn’t stated the number during the message she left on my landline. When I finally tracked her down at the business and apologized for the delay in getting back to her, explaining the problem, she said had called me from the cell phone and assumed everyone has caller ID. Argh!

Scooze
Scooze
5 years ago

Well, with the assets you have right now, you should be right on track for retirement. With a $550 pension, social security of (I don’t know how much you will get, let’s say…) $800. If your investments can grow to $600k over the next 9 years, you can get $2,000 a month from that. All told that is about what you make now. Good job!

SavvyFinancialLatina
SavvyFinancialLatina
5 years ago

Hi Donna! Awesome story! I think most people I know at work say they can’t afford to retire or quit the job they hate. But cutting off certain expenses and being more money conscious would go a long way in letting them see the possibilities.

Vanessa
Vanessa
5 years ago

If you were laid off and then work dried up, why do you say you voluntarily slashed your salary?

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
5 years ago
Reply to  Vanessa

She quit writing regularly for GRS, for one thing. That was really sad for readers!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  Vanessa

I say that because I decided not to look for enough work to keep earning at that level. No doubt I could have found it. I just wanted not to be on the run-run-run all the time.

Barb
Barb
5 years ago
Reply to  Vanessa

I think because she probably could have replaced her salary with other jobs had she chosen to look.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  Vanessa

A second reply to further clarify: I (and the others) were all laid off as contractors, but work didn’t “dry up.” I have all that I want right now and am considering other offers. That makes me more fortunate than just about every other freelancer I know. On the other hand, I’ve been doing this for 30 years, the last seven of them online — not only do you make connections, you get really, really good at what you do. Hint: One editor with whom I work says he gets vague e-mails from would-be writers just about daily. They generally… Read more »

James Salmons
James Salmons
5 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Right on target with this one Donna (as usual). On my financial site I get regular requests and almost none of them are worth reading because they sound like someone looking for an easy post to get a link or something, rarely as someone interested in my theme with something worthwhile to offer. Honestly, I think I have received only two or three decent requests in the last year. I checked those out and saved ONE in case I ever decide to use guest posts, and sent them a response. The other two were from people who ran Pay Day… Read more »

FindX
FindX
5 years ago

I’m trying to find the courage to change career. I have a great paying job with awesome benefits. My husband also makes good money, but is a contractor. So his engineering gig can last a few months to maybe a year. Right now he is in between contracts and is going to start in a week for a 12 month stint. Awesome pay, crappy benefits. I want to move to a job where I do data analysis. I want to eventually be a data scientist. I know I will have to take a major pay cut on the first job.… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  FindX

Good for you for doing this with open eyes and an actual plan! As for your fear of changing jobs, that’s completely understandable — you have kids at home, whereas I noted that I no longer do.
I wish you success in your new worklife.

Anne
Anne
5 years ago
Reply to  FindX

I’m doing the same thing!! I’m not only changing careers but trying to get back into the workforce after saying home with my kids for…. let’s just say a lot of years.

Kristen
Kristen
5 years ago

One of the best articles I’ve read on GRS in a while. Thank you.

Laura
Laura
5 years ago

Donna Freedman, you are beyond awesome. Love this post and your writings in general, they give me hope! I’m reminded very much of the saying that you can have anything you want, just not everything you want. I think one of the secrets to life is that you have to pick some things that are important to you but let the rest go. It’s all a big tradeoff, so trade well.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  Laura
Redstar
Redstar
5 years ago

Gutsy thoughtful article. Real. This gives us hope that quality of life and how one manages $$ and priorities is your own unique vision, but it still takes work!!

SJdjoy
SJdjoy
5 years ago

Congrats Donna for making it work!

Thank you for sharing the details of how your transition is working.

I too am a 55 year old woman. I am looking at how and when I can downshift from a full-time well-paying corporate gig with great benefits . . I just need figure out how to cover day to day expenses and make it to 65 without touching my retirement savings.

Jenna
Jenna
5 years ago

So glad to see your PF writing again!

mm
mm
5 years ago

This post gives me hope. Thanks for sharing. So happy for you! And thanks for sharing the details on how you make it work. Very helpful

Toni
Toni
5 years ago

Seriously great tips on slashing the spending, but I have to admit that I sorta tuned out as soon as I got to the part where you’re living with your significant other. I’m a single woman who does NOT get to only pay $500 a month for house and utilities, so that kinda blew the “maybe I could do that” line of thinking. Of course, I have kids at home, and you did say that you wouldn’t have chosen this course if you had dependents. I *do* share my home with my parents, who contribute a big chunk every month,… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  Toni

The lower “rent” — both here and when I lived with a friend and paid $600 — has a lot to do with the fact that both those homes are paid-off. If my friend and DF had mortgages, perhaps they’d have asked me for more. (But I doubt it.)
Perhaps part of your own independence would be to continue to share your home with others and let them help make the payments — and, once your home is paid off, you could either lower their rents or opt out of roomies entirely.

Barb
Barb
5 years ago
Reply to  Toni

While every circumstance is different, I’m a single (widow) who lives on social security and a pension. My base income is 2600 a month (I’m not sure where that fits on Donna’s continuum, and I don’t live in Alaska, but Colorado (thank God!). I pay 700 a month for housing and just over a thousand a month for everything (I share a two story 2600 foot house by choice. I also have a college student who lives with me. It can be done. In my case, I also bring in some casual income here and there-mainly to be for expensive… Read more »

Barb
Barb
5 years ago
Reply to  Barb

Just realized that my not have been clear. my portion of the house payment is seven hundred, if we include utlities and such we are at a thousand.

In my case I chose to share a house due to a large yard and three large dogs. Without the dogs I would have been happy to move to a small condo or such.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  Barb

My after-tax income is $2,180.81. The house we share is small to look at but, like the Tardis, it’s bigger on the inside. (Especially since there’s a basement, which is a rarity in this area.) Bonus: There’s a large back yard where we have raspberries, rhubarb and whatever vegetables we care to plant. Thinking about fruit trees but (a) they can be tricky to grow up here and (b) we’d need a really skookum fence to keep out the moose, since fruit trees draw Alces alces the way cookie aromas draw children. We are both interested in becoming less reliant… Read more »

Marie
Marie
5 years ago

As a fan of your work, I am glad for your satisfaction with your circumstances. As a freelance writer, I am a bit discouraged by this article. If Donna Freaking Freedman is getting laid off, what hope is there for the rest of us shlubs? It truly does feel like running a marathon to find enough work, hunched over the laptop while the husband finally dozes off on the couch in the wee hours.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  Marie

The same thought flashed through my head, although it sounded like this: “If Liz Freaking Weston is also getting laid off, what hope is there?” That was a system-wide decision, i.e., Microsoft laid off everybody in every freelance position, from automobiles to entertainment to money. I’ve had no trouble finding other freelance work — yet I also believe that the market is undergoing changes. Specifically: If so many people are willing to write regularly for free or for very little money (i.e., “for the exposure”), then some sites will take advantage. They would do well to remember that you get… Read more »

Midwest Jane
Midwest Jane
5 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

“If so many people are willing to write regularly for free or for very little money (i.e., “for the exposure”), then some sites will take advantage.”

cough**HuffPo**cough

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
5 years ago

Busy day to post a long reply, but it’s great to see Donna around here again.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Aw, thanks.

Vickie
Vickie
5 years ago

My husband and I both retired at a early age..around age 50. I can’t say how much reading your posts have helped us stretch our money further.
I just recently bought a discounted gift card at your suggestion. This will help me buy yarn to help crochet a blanket for my new grandbaby coming soon. Everything helps!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  Vickie

As I just wrote on my personal site, those discounted gift cards saved us a little more than $107 on a home improvement project.
Bonus: A reader suggested I join Home Depot’s “garden club” because coupons are sometimes e-mailed. I did so, immediately, and $20 worth of e-scrip got sent. We plan to split the purchase into two parts so we can use at least $15 and maybe all $20 worth.
For those who aren’t familiar with the secondary market, here’s a piece I did for GRS:
https://www.getrichslowly.org/discounted-gift-cards-the-new-coupon/

Alea
Alea
5 years ago

Ladies and Gentleman, I think we found our answer to Honey’s post the other day “What’s the definition of success?”

Congratulations Donna, you are a true inspiration, this article left a big ‘ole smile on my face. And it’s so true, when you hit rock bottom, you find the gem inside you.

Also, Alaska is a stunning place.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  Alea

Stunning, and expensive. But we make do quite well and are very happy with what we have.
In fact, RECOGNIZING happiness has been a wonderful new life skill. Instead of thinking, “I’ll be happy when (whatever) finally happens,” I’m finding happiness in the everyday.
Doesn’t mean I’ve given up on the possible of (whatever) finally happening. I’m just happier on the journey to (whatever) destination.

James Salmons
James Salmons
5 years ago

By sharing your experience I am sure you have encouraged many people to see some hope for their future, especially those who find their current situation as more than a little challenging. A lot of people would like to make major changes in their lives (some have shared in these comments) but find it hard for a variety of reasons. I think this is the primary reason for keeping out of debt, making sure you have an emergency fund, and keeping monthly obligations as limited as possible. When we have more options we feel liberated. Not everyone sees the potential… Read more »

Ash
Ash
5 years ago

Fabulous post and so inspiring! I am not yet ready to make such a change with a large mortgage and a son in college but hopefully one of these years. Thank you so much for including all of the details as it made your transition and present financial situation easier to understand. Your story gives me so much hope for the future.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  Ash

Thanks, Ash. Once that young’un flies the coop, who knows what you’ll be able to accomplish? Maybe take in a roommate or two to help pay off that mortgage faster?
I appreciate your comment, and also your comments at my personal site.

Allyson
Allyson
5 years ago

Loved this article, and cracked up at Linda ‘ s “die of exposure” comment in #30

Alllyson
Alllyson
5 years ago
Reply to  Allyson

Sorry, meant to say “Donna’s comment” in #29. I got distracted midway between typing my comment. 🙂

Mysticaltyger
Mysticaltyger
5 years ago

Great post, as usual, Donna. Sounds like you’re in a pretty solid financial position for having so many major ups and downs in life! You won’t ever be living lifestyles of the rich and famous, but chances are low that you’ll have to live out your old age in poverty or semi-poverty. I think blog pieces like yours show that even if you’ve made some major mistakes in life (divorce, etc.), it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be perpeturally broke or live out your old age with nothing but Social Security. The point is you’ve LEARNED from your mistakes… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  Mysticaltyger

Thank you — but just FYI, my divorce was not a mistake. It was the smartest thing I ever did.

Mysticaltyger
Mysticaltyger
5 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Yeah…I suppose choosing to marry the guy was the mistake…but I think you get my drift…You didn’t make perfect decisions in life, but you are still doing ok…better than ok compared to people in your same age cohort.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  Mysticaltyger

Yep. I don’t know anyone who made perfect decisions. The point, for me, is not dwelling on everything I did wrong but rather to focus on what I’m continuing to do about any missteps.

Mysticaltyger
Mysticaltyger
5 years ago
Reply to  Mysticaltyger

Yes, exactly, Donna…and that positive, but also very pragmatic, attitude comes through in your writing.

Kris in JP
Kris in JP
5 years ago
Reply to  Mysticaltyger

What I take from your comment is that even if you make what some would perceive as a mistake, you can rebound, and even – some might say – thrive.

Donna – I have followed your story for years now and you are an inspiration for many reasons, not the least of which is responding intelligently and pragmatically to challenging situations.

jestjack
jestjack
5 years ago

Thank you for the timely article Donna and for the courage to put “numbers” in the blanks so as readers can see where you were and where you are now. I have never looked at Microsoft the same from an investment standpoint since that decision to lay everyone off…made no sense to me. As for “The Great Recession of 2007-8″…I don’t think it has been fully realized what the full force and affect of this downturn had on America. I see it everyday when I meet applicants and interview them….some will never recover from that “storm”. Aaand Big fan of… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  jestjack

Have to say I was a little nervous about the numbers. Salary was not a topic of conversation when I grew up; money was a private matter.
Yesterday an old friend e-mailed to thank me for the article. She thought it was both “brave” and important to include actual dollar figures.
On the other hand, another acquaintance noted that $36,000 a year would be a “princely” sum for her at this point. Perspective: It matters.

bruce
bruce
5 years ago

Really, really great article Donna. As a recent “pre-retiree” (61, whose spouse retired and we are now “under-employed” but both work part time at jobs we enjoy), may I pass along a couple of thoughts. Like many, I without thinking, I assumed “retirement” was an all or nothing concept. We have discovered it involves flexibility and having the time to do other things, while still earning SOME income. (This philosophy may change in 10 years or so as we age and have to slow down). We consider “pre-retirement” as taking our foot off the gas pedal and coasting a little.… Read more »

K
K
5 years ago

If there were more articles like this one on GRS I would be back here again as a regular reader. Felt a lot more like the old GRS!

Lynn
Lynn
5 years ago

I welcome back the woman I once knew. Great article.

Nancy
Nancy
5 years ago

Some employers will count/consider volunteer experience. What else did you do while you were/are raising those kids? Fundraising? Think about all of the steps involved and start writing them down, and then a few days later review your list, and add to it/update it.

EX: determined target amt. and dates, methods of contact for staff, outreach and timeframes, product choices determined how, who were you selling to and how did you make that choice.. Reflection piece: what worked and what didn’t? Why? What would you never do again, and what would you modify?

Elizabeth Vega
Elizabeth Vega
5 years ago

Bravo, Donna! Your Surviving (and Thriving) article was pivotal for me, as well: it was somewhat revolutionary for me to consider that living beneath my means would actually bring more security than chasing dollars… And ironically, the less I chase them, the more readily they seem to flow in… We took fairly drastic pay cuts when we left Los Angeles for Austin, and are getting plenty of chances to flex our frugal muscles here. Articles like this one help me remember WHY we’re doing what we’re doing, and provide lots of good ideas as to HOW to do it! I’d… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth Vega

Thanks, Elizabeth. It’s good to keep hearing from people who read the original and were affected in a positive way. (As opposed to the folks who insisted it was a scam — that no one could live on “that little.” Apparently they didn’t know that people did, and still do.)
Interesting how the less you obsess over money the more easy it becomes to handle (and earn). Living below one’s means, rather than right at (or, heaven forbid, slightly over) is key, I think. Congratulations on your ability to do that — and to have such fun doing it.

James Salmons
James Salmons
5 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Actually, there is a lot to be said for living a more simple lifestyle, especially when it is done in a way that does not restrict intellectual and social well being. The great interest in this thread and the interesting comments here have reminded me of the time, about 30-35 years ago (before many readers will remember) when there was a homestead or back to the basics movement across America. Perhaps we will see that again in light of the economic conditions we see. There is a book that might be of interest to some, Living the Good Life by… Read more »

30 Something Dude
30 Something Dude
5 years ago

I live a pretty simple life, but my biggest expense is rent. I live alone in a one bedroom apartment in London, England. I could halve this cost by moving into shared accommodation but I love the solitude, peace and freedom, that comes from having your own space. I still save a fair bit of money, but I recognise that if it wasn’t for a great relationship with my landlord I would have no choice but to find shared accommodation.

Jackie
Jackie
5 years ago

Very inspirational article. I became a fan of yours after reading the surviving and thriving article. I believe you reach a lot more people than you realize and the staff at msn that let you go will be regretting their decision (even more) after this latest article. This is what you were meant to do and you give hope and comfort to many, many people. Thank you.

dojo
dojo
5 years ago

I do find it important to know where to ‘invest’ and where to just be frugal, since it doesn’t matter. In our case we don’t care about cool clothing, going out etc. We cook at home and, even if we are actually picky with the ingredients, it’s a fraction of the cost of dining out. We do love to travel though, so we channel our efforts towards it. And we also want to invest everythign in our daughter, so no ‘savings’ there. Being frugal in other areas allows us to have money for what really matters to us

Quest
Quest
5 years ago

I love this post Donna. I’m in your corner, trying to live the same kind of life, living the dream lol 🙂 I am not going to worry about money ….. gonna go where life takes me. Glad you’ve found happiness.

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