24 June 2011

Risking it All: Surviving the Global Financial Crisis and Finding a Better Life In The Process

My wife always complains that I’m not a very introspective person. She’s right to a point, however I do have my moments, and I’ve been having a lot of them over the past few weeks as I reflect on how much my life has changed in the past eighteen months.
To give a little background, in 2009, we lived in a small village in rural central Virginia. We had an old farm house, a few acres with a pond, and a small flock of chickens. My wife telecommuted to a large technology company based in Colorado (our former home) while I worked in town, about forty-five minutes away. Our jobs were tolerable, we had good social circles, both together and apart, and we made enough money to put a little aside and take the occasional vacation.
Life was good. In the back of our minds, we knew there was a financial crisis underway. It was on the news each night and it was sure reflected in our 401k balances. But it seemed distant, one of those market corrections that would sort itself out in a year or two.
Our wakeup call came late in the summer of 2009 when my wife received notice that her job had been terminated.
No matter how well you think you’ve prepared, there’s never a good time to lose half (or all) of your income. When that packet arrives in the mail, you know deep down in the pit of your stomach that one part of your life is over and another part, one you cannot predict, is upon you.
We did our best to adapt, cutting back on expenses and living frugally. I learned how to bake bread. My wife applied for unemployment and began searching for a new job. Unfortunately, she was now one of several million other highly skilled people with years of experience, a perfect resume, and no bites.
Flash forward to Valentine’s day of 2010. We made a vow early in our marriage to limit our celebration of this quasi-holiday to an exchange of cards. We were six months into her unemployment at this point, she had no job prospects and the future looked grim. To top it all off, we had just decimated our savings account replacing our failed septic field. Money was running out faster than it was being replenished. Tensions were rising fast.
I opened her card. “West or bust,” it said. She opened my card and grinned. I don’t remember the words, but the sentiment was the same. We had both reached the point where we needed to try something different, to abandon our broken dreams and go somewhere where she could find a job, where we could resume the lives that had been so rudely interrupted by the financial meltdown.
There was one problem. Actually, there were many problems, but there was one big problem. Our house. Like I said, my commute time into the nearest town was about forty-five minutes. We had a very unique property that required a very unique buyer. And from what I saw on the news and heard from friends around the country, locating a unique buyer in those days was near impossible. Compound this with the harsh reality that all of the appreciation that our house had seen between 2004 and 2010 had vanished like a puff of smoke. Our house was barely worth what we payed for it in 2004. Ouch.
We talked about it. A lot. Over walks in the woods. Sitting in the living room by the wood stove. In the car. Then we made up our minds. It was time to do something drastic. It was time to act.
I cleaned up my resume and joined my wife in the job hunt. Whether it was because I was currently employed, or I got lucky, I don’t know. But I found a job first, in Tucson Arizona. The job looked interesting and I liked the people. The only drawback was the enormous pay cut. “Tucson is cheaper,” everyone told me. I didn’t completely believe them, but with spring approaching, it was time to put up or shut up, to list the house and throw our fortunes to the wind.
I took the job.
We put the house on the market.
Like my wife’s job hunt, the listing met with a deafening silence. I think we had two showings in the three weeks before the POD people came and took all of our belongings. We arranged with a friend to take care of the house, loaded the dogs into our cars, and set out for Arizona.
When we arrived in our new rental home, I knew in my gut we had made the right decision. Something about the bright blue skies and the exotic desert vegetation called to me, so much that I completely rewrote one of my novels and set it here, in Arizona.
Still, the house in Virginia remained unsold. I didn’t sleep much that first month. I would often have nightmares about cashing out my 401k, or even worse, tucking tail and returning to Virgina in financial ruin.
But then one bright Saturday afternoon, we received a call from our Realtor in Virginia. She had a young couple, much like us, who were interested in our property. They wanted a farm. They planned to have chickens and a garden. Maybe some sheep and pigs. They were perfect, the mythical unique buyer. Weeks of intense negotiation ensued but we finally came to an agreement. Then there were more weeks of nail-biting as we waited for inspections and buyer financing to be completed. Then, all of a sudden, we were at closing. It was all done. We were free.
Shortly after closing, my wife finally landed a job. A good job, one she is proud of and really enjoys.
Five months later, we purchased a house in Arizona. It’s a lot smaller than our place in Virginia and it’s a lot closer to work, which means we both have more time in our days for the important things.
They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. After the past eighteen months, I’m a believer. Life is change. Sometimes you have to put everything on the line and hope for the best. We got lucky.

20 June 2011

Thriller author of the week at The Writing Bomb

I've got a guest post this week on Jeff Bennington's website. While you're there, take a look at his latest novel, Reunion. It's nice and dark, my favorite kind of read :)