I'm 37 years old and married without kids — and I haven't worked in four years. That feels like a confession. I didn't expect to be living like this in my 30s, but not working has worked out for me.
I started my career in hotel administration about 14 years ago. I met my husband, Joel, 44, on the job in 1998. At the time, we were both in hotel administration at a big hotel chain in San Francisco. It was my first job out of college and I thought it was going to be my career for life, but I quickly learned that hotel management is incredibly demanding. You're putting in long hours on holidays and weekends, and it's an especially tough industry to get ahead in if both partners are trying to progress their hotel careers at the same time. Overtime and work transfers to different cities are par for the course, so with all those variables at play, it makes it tough to sustain a relationship.
Switching gears, changing locations
But Joel and I did make it work. In March 1999, two weeks after our first date, we moved in together. Then, just two months later, he got his first transfer from San Francisco to Carmel, Calif. There weren't any vacancies for my position at the new location, so I found a job at another hotel in Monterey. We stayed in Carmel until 2001, when Joel was transferred to Indianapolis, where it wasn't as easy for me to get work within my field. We needed the extra income, so I ended up being a nanny, and then a waitress.
A couple years after we moved to Indianapolis, Joel was transferred again to Cambridge, Maryland, where we stayed for four years. We got married while we were there as well, in July 2009, and three months after our wedding, Joel was transferred again — this time to Curaçao, an island in the southern Caribbean Sea. We had a year to prepare for the move, and, during that time, I looked for work. We knew that financially, it would be feasible for me not to work; Joel would be making enough in Curaçao to support both of us. The transfer meant a better title and a raise to a low six-figure salary. So while I looked for a job, I didn't feel pressured to take anything that came up. I also wanted to be careful not to dive into a career at a hotel on the island, because I feared that if I did, Joel and I would never see each other. I knew his hours were going to be long — he was on the management team that was building a new hotel on the island. I knew that if I also worked at a hotel, then we'd never have time to spend with each other and to travel around the island — something that was important to both of us.
The joy of joblessness
Of course, there are worse things than moving to a tropical island! I felt so grateful for the opportunities that not having a day job afforded me. I was always trying to discover the untouched spots, where none of the tourists went. Most days, I'd walk to a new beach and I'd collect sea glass, coral, and driftwood. I even started making crafts with my beach finds. One Christmas I made a tree out of driftwood, and at the urging of one of my friends, I even sold a few of the trees at a local crafts fair. When people started asking how I made the trees, I put a how-to tutorial online, and that was the birth of my blog.
I'm lucky that Joel has always been supportive of my choice to not work. If he walked in the door at the end of a long day and felt resentful of me for being at home all day, I don't think our situation would be feasible. He thoroughly enjoys what he's doing, and he recognizes that I gave up my career so we could follow his, so he's supportive of me finding what's meaningful to me — even if it doesn't support us financially.
Joel and I combined our finances very early on in our relationship, and for the most part, it has always felt equal. However, when we first moved to Curaçao, there would be times when I would get insecure about not pulling in any income. But I credit my husband with making sure I always felt like it was our money.
Plus, I feel like I'm a huge part of why we spend our money wisely, because I'm the one who keeps track of our finances. I actually fired Joel from being our personal financial manager after one too many overdrafts! I told him, "You make all the money, and I'll make sure we spend it in a reasonable manner." He said, "Deal!"
Finding creative ways to save
Just because Joel is the breadwinner, doesn't mean that I'm a complete bystander when it comes to our finances. When we first got to Curaçao, instead of dumping a lot of money into our rental property, I asked our landlord for a trade: I'd make some décor improvements to the house for reduced rent. Joel and I ended up paying $500 a month less than all of our friends because I did things like add a palate bed to the roof and install pretty lighting fixtures throughout the house. The best part for me is that all of these things really made our rental house feel like our house, so I saw these little projects as a fun way to improve our home while also saving money.
Another thing that's made a single income work in our household is that Joel and I are inherently very thrifty people. We don't splurge on non-necessities — and we don't feel like that's a sacrifice. While Joel does make enough to support our lifestyle, I always keep a close eye on our budget to make sure we're spending wisely. For example, I drive an old car with 140,000 miles on it and a broken air-conditioner. If I was working full-time, I might upgrade. But a new car just isn't that important to me now.
We also don't go out to eat as often as we did when we were both working, and since I'm home more, I'm able to cook more. As for Christmas, birthday, and anniversary gifts, we don't exchange those with each other. We buy what we need or want when we really need it or want it, and then we say, "Happy anniversary to us!" even if it's months until our actual anniversary. It sounds silly, but it's probably saved us hundreds of dollars.
Making it work — without working
I have never minded the fact that we were following Joel for his opportunities and not mine. I've always been excited by the idea of reinventing my professional life wherever we moved, so I was fine with the change. Also, Joel has been with the same hotel company for 20 years, so his job was always going to offer better opportunities and a bigger salary.
A year ago, Joel was transferred again, and we're now living in Key West, Florida. Even though we're back in the U.S., I'm still happily unemployed! Although, much to my pleasant surprise, I've started making a little bit of money on my blog, which has been picking up steam.
I'm convinced that not working has done amazing things for my marriage. Joel and I aren't actively trying to have children, so it'll probably be just the two of us for a while. We make such a good team. All the annoying job-transfer details — like shutting off utilities, scheduling movers, requesting doctor records — are easy for me to handle, which makes it a smoother transition for both of us. We'll continue moving with Joel's job wherever it takes us. In fact, we could easily end up moving internationally again, and I would actually welcome that.
Thankfully, we have plenty of savings. We max out Joel's 401(k) every year, as well as a Roth IRA for each of us. Plus, back when I was working, I always maxed out my 401(k), so I also have separate retirement savings.
As for fears about what I'd do for money if something unexpectedly happened to Joel or his job, it's definitely something I've thought about. And here's what I keep coming back to: I'm a smart, educated woman. I have no doubt that I would be able to get a job if I needed to work again. I'm a strong enough person to come out on the right side no matter what happens. And I don't feel like I've given up my career for a guy; I feel like I'm taking the life path I was supposed to take.
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