“Living off 50% of our income saved me in an unexpected way”

Guys, check out this note I just received from a long-time reader of the blog…

So powerful!!! So sad!! So inspiring!!

Life Update: I was one of the original people referenced in the “live off 50% of your income” article. Fast forward 6 years. Just as we were about to retire in our early/mid 50s my husband passed away very suddenly.

We had been ready to retire anyway so once I got through the funeral/legal/financial administrative stuff I quit my job. For the 18 months that followed I’ve worked more or less full time on clearing out our house (30yrs of accumulated stuff…) and arranging to have something beautiful but smaller and better suited to our new lives built. My oldest had been on the verge of moving out and my youngest will only be with me for another 3-4 years so the big family house became ridiculous overnight as we went from 4 in the house to 2.

It’s been an unexpected change in life but I’m trying to see this as the start of a new chapter and an opportunity to design a different sort of life for myself. While this isn’t the early retirement we had planned together while living that 50% lifestyle, what it did mean was that when all of this happened I was mortgage free, both of our retirement accounts were complete and ready for us to pull the plug, and now unexpectedly there was life insurance, and his survivor pensions added to the mix.

I can’t tell you how much more difficult it would have been if we had been drowning in debt and living to the full extent of our incomes when this happened. Loss of a spouse is difficult enough but having our finances completely in order made this so much easier. Instead of worrying about the money, I was free to be home with our children and manage the downsizing.

I’m now getting started on a revised version of my early(ish) retirement. I still intend to travel regularly as we’d planned but the bucket list now only includes the places I want to see. I’m also signing up for art classes, I plan to garden more, and I have a massive list of books I was too busy to read while I was working. I intend to start going to the gym regularly (during the day when it’s not busy) and I’m toying with going back to take another degree for the sheer joy of learning and with no pressure on marks or any plan to even use it when I’m done.

You never know what curve balls life will throw at you. Getting your financial act in order is just good sense under the best of circumstances, but if the rug gets pulled out from under you it can be a life saver during a difficult time.

Mannnnnn…. Can you imagine??? Working and saving so hard for decades, only for your partner to die right before you get to enjoy the spoils together?? And then having to move forward with it all by yourself?!

I don’t know how I’d cope with that, but I agree it would be very nice to not have to worry about $$$ throughout it all. Which is usually a BIG one for households, particularly if the spouse that departs was the breadwinner!

But good for our reader here, for not only locking in all this $$$ stuff early on in her life (saving 50%+ is no joke!!), but for also staying so optimistic through it all and seeing it as an unexpected new chapter of her life. As she said in her note, it would have been a totally different story had they been up to their eyeballs in debt when this happened!!

Here was the original comment she left on the blog, btw, which inspired all those series of articles around living off 50% of your income from back in 2012:

We’ve cut our expenses to the basics so that we can live on ~55% of our take home pay. This doesn’t include savings or things spend on rarely and can’t predict the timing (restaurants, clothing, household and car repairs, etc). Most weeks none of these things happen so all the excess after paying off the VISA gets swept out to our retirement accounts or an extra mortgage payment.

If we had to buy new sneakers for the kids, repair the washing machine, or bought a new lamp, we simply transfer slightly less that week. When we want to take a holiday we just let the excess pile up for several weeks and then go. It’s a little unconventional but it’s a system that works for us.

Because we live on way less than we earn, we have a weekly opportunity to fund unexpected expenses or little splurges, but most of the time it all gets moved somewhere sensible. I find that by not budgeting for entertainment, clothing etc we don’t feel entitled – as if we’ve pre-approved ourselves to spent that amount without pausing to question whether we really need it. Instead there is no planned budget for these items and anything we spend is coming out of what would otherwise be available for the Friday transfer to savings or the mortgage.

Who knew how important this would come to be later in life, eh? So freaky….

That original 50% post turned out to be one of our most popular on the site, and later went on to inspire a follow up post which turned out to be even more popular: Proof You Can Live off 50% of Your Income.

I thought the intro to it was pretty clever at the time ;)

One of my most visited posts on this site is on living off 50% of your income back in 2012. It wasn’t the most well written or Earth shattering article ever done, but it did open up some great discussions on what’s possible out there from plenty of people doing it.

In the 118 comments left so far, people fall into the following categories:

  • Those who wish they could save 50% or more right now
  • Those who ARE saving 50% or more right now!
  • Those who used to be saving 50% but have since scaled back
  • Those who are *about* to start saving 50% or more
  • And then those who say it’s stupid and not possible

Today’s post is for those who think it’s not possible :)

ZING!!! And of course, nowadays “living off 50%” is much more popular than it used to be, at least here in the online world due to the ever growing FIRE movement… It doesn’t make it any easier to pull off unfortunately (I’m still no where close to 50% after half a decade trying!), but at least we know it’s possible and can be inspired by others.

So yeah – if you’re looking for a good challenge to push yourself towards, maybe shooting for a 50% savings rate is it?! And hopefully you’ll still be around to enjoy it by the time the stars align!

Reminds me of another friend of mine who’s already purchased his cemetery lot AND placed his and his wife’s gravestones on it… even though they’re both 100% still alive, haha…

His reasoning? He doesn’t want his kids to have to worry about any of it later down the road. But I think the real reason is to appreciate life in the here and now more, which is a feeling you can’t help but face when you’re literally staring at your own gravestone!

So here’s to more saving and surviving out there!! ;)

For more cemetery thoughts, see: Why I’m Obsessed With Cemeteries
For more death and *planning* thoughts, see: Resource of The Month: The ICE Binder!

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  1. Dave @ Accidental FIRE October 17, 2018 at 5:24 AM

    That’s so great that you can have such a positive effect on someone!

  2. Liz@ChiefMomOfficer October 17, 2018 at 5:43 AM

    Yes! What so many people miss in the YOLO discussion is that living below your means is powerful when something bad happens. We didn’t save 50%, but had a much higher than “normal” savings rate when my husband almost died of septic shock when I was 32, with two young kids. That high rate saved us, and made it so that at least money wasn’t a worry when so much else was.

    1. J. Money October 17, 2018 at 11:28 AM

      I remember reading about that – so freaky!!! And while money can’t exactly buy you *health*, it sure can help with everything else while it’s failing!! I’m glad he went on to be okay for you and the kids!! It’s heartbreaking when they lose their parents early :(

  3. Bernz JP @Moneylogue.com October 17, 2018 at 6:04 AM

    We used to be able to easily do this, saving 50% or more of our income before the purchase of a house and two kids. It was tougher after these two factors. The good thing is we’re slowly trying to make it happen again and we will.

    1. J. Money October 17, 2018 at 11:30 AM

      Yes, I’m pretty sure all of us would agree with you, haha… Making those who figure out how to do it even more inspirational!! It’s never *not* possible!

  4. Penny October 17, 2018 at 7:26 AM

    Money may not buy actual happiness from the happiness store, but it affords us quite a bit, doesn’t it? Especially when times are tough. I’m sorry for her loss, and I’m glad she’s been able to weather the storm a teeny bit better for having saved.

  5. OFG October 17, 2018 at 7:33 AM

    I’m sorry for your readers loss, but I’m glad she’s in the financial position to retire and enjoy the time while one of her children is still at home with her. Losing someone is stressful enough. It’s not the time to have extra worries about debt and bills. This is a great reminder of why we save.

  6. Mr AE October 17, 2018 at 7:47 AM

    Sad and inspiring indeed J – Knowing my family would be set if I were to die unexpectedly gives me peace (as does knowing my kids won’t have to take care of me, financially at least)

    1. J. Money October 17, 2018 at 11:34 AM

      Yup! That’s the worst part about having kids – that fear of one day not being there for them when they need you the most :(

  7. Joe October 17, 2018 at 9:54 AM

    I’m sorry to hear that. We’re planning our early retirement for two and I know I’d have a really hard time if it’s just one. That’s too much to think about too much, though. We just do the best we can today.

  8. Physician on FIRE October 17, 2018 at 4:36 PM

    A moving story and a great counterpoint to the “work ’til you’re 70″ because you never know what might happen” mantra that’s been bantered about recently.

    It’s sad that they were not able to enjoy retirement together, but she is fortunate to not have money worries on top of the other stresses of becoming a young widow.


  9. Paul October 17, 2018 at 4:40 PM

    Ironic as I was just thinking of this. So many of my friends and coworkers work until they retire and then die shortly after, so FIRE has taken on a special place in my thought process. I read a day or so ago Paul Allen (of Microsoft fame) died at age 65, the very age many people retire at. I guess it just shows that life is fragile and we can’t count on there being a tomorrow.

    1. J. Money October 18, 2018 at 11:26 AM

      Totally :( And *also* important to have things to do and keep your brain active when you do retire too!! As you also always here that people go down hill after they leave their offices because they don’t know what to do with themselves :(

  10. Ngneer October 17, 2018 at 4:49 PM

    My mom was in a similar situation when my dad passed away except she likes to work so she continued on but can retire whenever she decides the time is right.

    My mom somewhat regrets putting things off in order to save, such as delaying taking some trips overseas. That’s why I’m choosing to live with a balance. I’m conscious and intentional with my savings, but I also enjoy some expensive things and experiences here and there.

    1. J. Money October 18, 2018 at 11:24 AM

      Yes yes yes – very smart!

  11. Amy October 17, 2018 at 5:08 PM

    Such a tragic story with a powerful message.

    I’ve read through both previous posts about living off 50% of your income, and cannot relate to any of the commenters. It would be really great for more financial bloggers to cover examples of people who do not have a spouse/partner, and are not living with their parents. There’s a lot of us out there doing things 100% solo and I’d love to hear from peers :)

    1. J. Money October 18, 2018 at 10:13 AM

      TRUTH!! Did you see our last post on the net worths of those 5-6 people we shared though?? Half of them either had 1 income households or were 100% on their own, just like you’re saying –> https://budgetsaresexy.com/look-at-other-peoples-money-iii/

      But you’re right – you don’t see those stories as often as the others, but it doesn’t mean it’s not possible :) I’ll start keeping my eyes out more for them and see if we can insert them into a future roundup.

      Excellent insight.

  12. Frogdancer Jones October 17, 2018 at 6:06 PM

    That’s an amazing story. I’m sorry for her loss, but how fantastic that the loss is all she had to deal with, with adding financial strains and pressure on top.
    It really shows the benefits of getting on top of the family finances early.

  13. Drew October 17, 2018 at 8:18 PM

    Right on. First and foremost financial independence is about security and risk mitigation. Not as sexy as saying FI is about “happiness” or freedom but this is where the reality is. She put herself in a position of strength when almost the worst possible thing happened.

  14. Rita October 18, 2018 at 5:19 AM

    It’s a good idea, but if your income is less than average, you have to make more money before do it.

    1. J. Money October 18, 2018 at 10:08 AM

      Or get your expenses lower than average :)

  15. Laura October 18, 2018 at 5:40 PM

    This is such an inspiring message and lady. It sounds like she is an exceptionally capable person. Since buying a home I haven’t gotten back to saving 50% of my income but I am very motivated to get back on track!

  16. Financial Orchid October 18, 2018 at 7:44 PM

    I like this challenge particularly when I have been seeing recurring blog themes on job loss/threat these last few days/weeks.

    If we’re used to living a very lean lifestyle, a sudden significant cut in income would have a much lower impact than one who is leveraged to the max to capitalize on amplified gains.

    However, down the road I hope to loosen up my budget a bit more and live up a little along with accounting for inflation.

    1. J. Money October 19, 2018 at 7:03 AM

      YUP! Totally… Also allows for one spouse to not have to work if they choose not to as well, if married. Or to take sabbaticals, work on passion projects, change careers, etc etc.

  17. Prudence Debtfree October 18, 2018 at 9:52 PM

    That post is powerful for me. My husband and I are at about the same age and stage of the game as this couple – and 2012 was also an important year for us, as we started our journey out of debt in June of that year. Now we’re debt-free and making plans for retirement. 2020? 2019? Considering that life holds no guarantees – and that both my husband’s father and his grandfather suffered heart attacks when they were only one year older than he is now … The earlier option might just be the best.
    On another note, I remember thinking early on in our financial makeover, “What if I die before I get to enjoy the fruits of our efforts?” My conclusion was that I’d still be doing the same thing. I’d want to leave my family in a good financial situation, and apart from that, I was finding a surprising richness in the frugal life. I believe this woman’s husband would say the same thing. If he had time to reflect before he passed away, I believe he would say he was satisfied with all that he had accomplished with his wife and with what he had set up for the future of the family he was leaving behind.

    1. J. Money October 19, 2018 at 7:04 AM

      I love seeing your notes here so much :)

      Always so thoughtful and UPLIFTING!!

  18. Kris October 19, 2018 at 6:29 PM

    Oh wow, this story is very inspiring because it shows that if you have an unfortunate situation but at the same time you are financial set, it becomes less of a burden to not deal with any debt, loans, and/or mortgage. You can plan out your retirement at bit easier because you don’t have to face any financial setbacks. Having a savings rate of at least 50% really helps the process go faster for retirement.
    Sorry for the reader’s loss and it helps eases the pain just a bit that she doesn’t have to deal with any financial stress all by herself.

  19. Steveark October 21, 2018 at 3:22 PM

    On a vacation a few years ago my wife and I kept running into the same group of ladies, they were all retirement age and obviously having way too much fun! My wife started talking to them and they told her they called themselves “the merry widows club”. Yep, poor old Paul and Joe and Sam and Pete were all dead but had left their widows set up awesomely for retirement and they now traveled the world together having a blast. The most disconcerting thing was the wistful look in my wife’s eyes.

    1. J. Money October 22, 2018 at 7:23 AM

      Haha…. What a great way to enjoy those blessings though! I’m sure Paul and Joe and Sam and Pete are all having their own party watching down on them :)

  20. Kate October 25, 2018 at 3:48 AM

    Wow. This is touching and motivating. I’m almost 45 and my husband turned 41 today. Not really that much younger than this couple was. I made a lot of financial mistakes, had too many divorces and split assets when I was younger, so FIRE is a unlikely dream – however we do have enough life insurance to at least be mortgage free and have a few years of not having to work should something awful happen. I’m glad that having this financial independence has enabled this woman to still be able to create a beautiful and fulfilling life despite her loss.

  21. Alaska49ak October 26, 2018 at 4:59 AM

    I got the FI but missed the RE…..retired at 52 with a nice pension, IRA, 403b, investments, bank accounts and a paid off house…..One year later, almost to the day, I went to the doctor and mentioned a little shortness of breath and a pain I would occasionally get in the middle of my chest. Twelve hours later they sawed my chest open for heart surgery…seems my coranary arteries were 99% blocked. If I had not retired and been at my high stress job, I probably would be dead. Dodged that bullet and also thankful that like the lady in the article, we were prepared. I would have liked a boat, snow machine, plane, 4 wheeler, etc. but peace of mind and knowing that being mindful with our money, spending less than we made and investing the difference allowed me to take care of my family, which is a way better feeling than having another toy.

  22. Danielle Ogilve October 27, 2018 at 8:29 AM

    First off, really impressive how they managed to live off of 50% of their income with 2 kids! It’s also really heartbreaking what happened in the end. I cannot imagine how much courage it took to push past everything after a surprise like that. Especially when you’ve been working for it your entire life.

  23. Annette November 10, 2018 at 5:53 PM

    What a horrible thing to happen to a family!! But look at that sweet lemonade she made?

    This is not a topic people like to take about but it is part of why I strive to live off of 50%. We are at about 30% living off of 1 income. As soon as I go back to work (when my child is in school) the plan is to put away what we do now plus 100% of my take home pay. I can’t wait to calculate that %.