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Change of Plans

This article was written by in Family and Life. 36 comments.

This post is by staff writer Smithee, who may just be the financial opposite of Flexo.

You’re going to think I’m crazy. At the very least, you’re going to think I haven’t learned how to live a financially responsible life. I’ve written here many times about my struggles with just making ends meet, and for a while, I thought I was in the clear. Last Spring, after thirteen years, I forced myself to pay off my credit card debt, and by the time August arrived, I was finally saving money in earnest. Then I got laid off the very next month, and since then, things have been unpredictable at best.

So, I’m 35 years old with less than one month’s worth of emergency savings. My wife and I are living off of her salary and my Unemployment income. What better time to move from Dallas to San Diego, right?

The short version of the long story

In 2002, I was living in Seattle and loving it, even though I was broke and living in a clean version of squalor. I moved to Dallas to be with a woman I loved, who dumped me within 72 hours of my arrival. I was stubborn and even more broke, so I stayed. I eventually met a different woman and we have a happy marriage, but we don’t like Texas. I’ve been here for about 8 1/2 years. Dallas has been very good for my career, and I like all of my friends here, but this part of the country doesn’t suit us. We visited a friend in San Diego a couple of years ago and fell in love with it.

My wife does some very specialized work with accounting software, and there are only a few people in the U.S. who have comparable skills and knowledge, so she gets a lot of attention from recruiters. She’s been unappreciated at her current employer since the beginning, but because of her contract, she can’t easily go to work for one of their clients, or most other places in Dallas / Fort Worth. Another state like California, however, is wide open. She followed a San Diego lead from a recruiter on a lark, and against expectations found the job offer tempting. Last Friday, she accepted the offer to start work there at the end of February.

Wisdom versus happiness

As I wrote for Consumerism Commentary and read more about personal finance, I came to the conclusion that my family isn’t going to follow a standard plan toward retirement. Given our ages and non-existent savings, we’ll never catch up by having normal careers and saving modest amounts. It’s simply impossible. The only advantage we have is that we don’t have children, and unless something radical happens in our brains and we decide to adopt, we won’t have children.

If we ever want to retire, the only available option is to “make it big” somehow. We both want to be successful in some corner of the entertainment industry. In her heart (and on her hard drive), she’s really a writer. As for me, I’ve been trying a little of everything, trying to figure out what I’m good at and trying to build an audience.

Then again, maybe we won’t ever want to formally retire. Maybe we’re the sort of people to work especially hard for eight months then take four months off every year. At this point, anything is possible… except for the normal plan of starting work out of college and saving every year until you’re in your 60s and coasting until death.

The new plan

All of the above is a rationalization of our decision to incur some significant credit card debt again, before finding a way to crawl back out. I don’t see a way around it. My wife has a set date she needs to be in San Diego working, and I need to follow her there as quickly as I can in order not to have two sets of monthly payments. I want to do this with the minimum of impact on our credit scores, but I am sure they’ll take a downward turn. I just hope it’s more of a stroll than a free-fall.

Photo: kimrose

Published or updated February 8, 2011.

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About the author

Smithee formerly lived primarily on credit cards and the good will of his friends. He is a newbie to personal finance but quickly learning from his past mistakes. You can follow him on Twitter, where his user name is @SmitheeConsumer. View all articles by .

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

Yes a registered Democrat in Dallas is a fish out of water. While San Diego is very nice, the state is also very broke and employment is very high.

Best of luck in your new state and wish you luck finding a job.

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avatar 2 eric

Welcome to California ;)

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avatar 3 tbork84

I wish you the best of luck in San Diego, and you are absolutely right. Even though you are not following a traditional plan for retirement and savings, you are living your life. Just try not too get too far off track relying on credit to get you through a pretty tough time.

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avatar 4 Anonymous

I’m curious though what did you not like about Dallas? We’ve considered one of the areas to move to from NY.

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avatar 5 Smithee

The summers in Dallas last for 6-9 months. (I define summer as anything over 82º F.) Downtown Dallas doesn’t actually exist, it’s just an overgrown office park. There is a serious lack of trees; it’s not a desert exactly, but large swaths of the metroplex seem desolate to me. I know most people like warm weather, but I get angry when I am sweating. I imagine our HVAC energy use will be a lot less in San Diego, even though most everything else will be more expensive.

They have roads that don’t go north, east, west, or south. Instead, they go clockwise and counter-clockwise. Every highway has at least two different names. Roughly 30% of the surface street intersections don’t have any road signs in them, so it’s extra difficult to go anywhere new without getting lost.

When there are ice storms every three years, the city doesn’t have the budget or knowledge for de-icing the roads.

Things like that.

Fort Worth is actually kind of cute, but still way too hot.

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avatar 6 Investor Junkie

Fair enough, but what about the culture of that area?

FYI, most downtowns are unfortunately like you describe. Even NYC Wall Street was like this up until approx 15 years ago.

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avatar 7 Smithee

Which aspect of the culture interests you the most? People are outgoing and friendly, which was a real turn-off for this ex-Jersey boy at first, but I finally learned to get used to it.

I worked in NYC for a few months in 1997, and I found that there was always something interesting happening between Penn Station and my office on 45th (between 9th and 10th). I’ve never had the same experience in downtown Dallas. I am rooting for the re-birth of the Deep Ellum part of the city. There’s interesting stuff there, but also a lot of panhandlers and decay.

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avatar 8 Anonymous

Too funny…I’m actually getting ready to move to Ft. Worth! I live in Miami and it’s hell….9-10 months of summer and high humidity…streets have 3-4 names, people drive like morons, and as an English speaker I’m a minority and find it hard to get simple things done (i.e., like asking where something is in the grocery store).

I heard the summers aren’t THAT bad…..lower humidity than Florida.

avatar 9 tigernicole86

Good luck! The advantage to San Diego right now is that their housing economy is rather depressed so if you wanted to own a house, the prices are relatively low there.

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avatar 10 Anonymous

Good luck to you!! I think San Diego will be wonderful for you, and you and your wife will fall in love with it. When all is said and done, life is indeed a big wonderful adventure, and sometimes we just have to do what we’ve gotta do. Come and visit anytime here in Orange County and yes, I’m a Registered Democrat in the OC.

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avatar 11 Anonymous

Welcome back, Smithee … good luck in your move. Even though you’re taking a risk, it’s better than the alternative of staying in a place that you are unhappy with.

On that note, I LOVE Dallas! I’d love to move there someday, but I don’t think my fiance is ever gonna go for it. One can dream … :)

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avatar 12 TakeitEZ

Good luck on your new adventure! I am sure you and your spouse will work it out.

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avatar 13 Anonymous

Can’t wait to see what happens for you and your wife in San Diego. I hope you keep us all updated!

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avatar 14 gotr31

I wish you all the best! It is important to live your life in a way that makes you happy, or what are you living life for?

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avatar 15 Donna Freedman

As someone who is living in an unconventional way in her early 50s (no “square” job since November 2002), I wish you luck.
But even more, I wish you FOCUS. Don’t justify everything you do (or don’t do) as an extension of the “We’re so daring and unconventional!” model. If your wife became sick or were disabled (God forbid), the two of you would really be up a stump.
If I were you I would crack down, seriously crack down. I would look very critically at every dollar before deciding to spend it, especially since you seem to be saying you plan to go into credit card debt. Specifically: Cook from scratch and stay out of the places where you are likely to spend money, vs. “Oh, it’s one of my last chances to eat BBQ/listen to a local swing band/drink at this particular bar/watch Texas sports teams.”
All those things may be true, but YOU CAN’T AFFORD THEM. Too bad, so sad. They’re wants, not needs.
You might get to San Diego and find out that your wife’s check doesn’t stretch as far as you thought it would. Don’t me things thousands of dollars worse before you even arrive.
Have you considered the kinds of jobs you would take, if push came to shove? Here’s a thought: Life is ALWAYS “unpredictable at best.” You may not get a job in your field. You may not get a full-time job at all. You may have to patchwork a couple of part-time gigs such as delivering papers and being part of the overnight cleaning crew at a department store. Maybe not what you would have chosen, but at some point your personal preferences may not enter into it.
Part of the reason I can live the way I am living (full-time freelancer) is that I worked regular jobs for years and have a moderate amount in a 401(k), which I am currently augmenting with a Roth IRA. But the other part is that I live extremely frugally — I save where I can so I can spend where I want.
I urge you to consider the same model. A credit card makes a lousy safety net. Or, rather, it makes a GREAT safety net — for the card company. For you and your wife, it makes it far too easy to sink back up to your hairlines in debt.
I wish you well.

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avatar 16 Smithee

All very good advice. Thanks, Donna.

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avatar 17 Anonymous

Smithee, I think you should do whatever you want, whether you want to spend your money or be more frugal and save. One life to live, and everything is rational. Enjoy life!

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avatar 18 Anonymous

Just curious, have you started looking for a job in San Diego? San Diego is a lot smaller than Dallas and the government (military) jobs is the major employer. Sooner or later, you will have to give serious thought about your future and think about retirement. Good luck.

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avatar 19 Smithee

Yes, I’ve been applying to jobs there since last week. I might have an easier time than some people with the military industry there, since I have a history working on the Navy Marine Corps Intranet and I think I still have my Secret Government Clearance.

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avatar 20 Anonymous

welcome to san diego! i’m sure you gonna love it here!

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avatar 21 rewards

Welcome to 10% sales tax and 8% state marginal income tax.

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avatar 22 Anonymous

i am a reckless spender that never met a product i couldn’t buy on impulse. My debt soared, my credit rating reached great depths, and saving for retirement was often overlooked. My financial life proceeded on this track until i was in my late 30’s. Then I started to winnow down the debt and throw $$ at savings. Now there is money in the bank, retirement is not hopeless and, my credit rating is impeccable. Lots of cc debt at 35 does not mean that you’ve dug yourselves into a hole from which there is no escape.

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avatar 23 Anonymous

Congrats to you guys for moving to San Diego! The weather there is perfect! Life is too short to live in Dallas, and I’m glad you’ll be coming out here to enjoy the good life.

The only thing is 10% state taxes!

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avatar 24 skylog

…and i thought my 6% was high!

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avatar 25 Anonymous

In defense of my beloved state and city, I attempted to write down a huge list of things that make Dallas awesome. Unfortunately, the only things I could come up with on the top of my head is 1) the Texas State Fair and 2) the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, and the latter is a stretch since the games are played in Arlington.

If there is anyone out there thinking of moving to Texas (and yes you’d better be ready for the hot weather), I would suggest looking into Austin and/or Fort Worth before Dallas. *hint* *hint*

Smithee pointed out almost all of the problems we encounter with our roads, but he left one big one out: potholes. They can appear almost anywhere and may stick around for a while if the local governments are trying to pinch a few pennies. But perhaps Smithee didn’t mention them because he was trying to be nice to his former home :-).

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avatar 26 Anonymous

Wish they had a better gov’t in California than they have now. I can’t believe how screwed up the unemployment / tax situation they have in there. It’s a shame because the climate / weather is so nice there.

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avatar 27 faithfueledbennetts

It is funny to me that there is a comment before this post about you being so different from Flexco because I find you more relate-able :) As much as I would love to relate to being a millionaire, I am far from it! I would just say, try to look at this as a new start for a new opportunity. It is never too late to start saving and in all reality, you could save for retirement from the age of 25 without seeing it’s fruit. Enjoy your life and the love of your life. Perseverance produces character.

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avatar 28 Anonymous

Just because you’re 35 and don’t have a retirement account, etc. does NOT mean you can NEVER retire. If that’s the case then I’m screwed too. I’m 33 and just paid off 67K in CC debt and will be getting my first ‘real’ job after finishing my PhD. I plan on retiring one day….it is possible…I mean, 35 years old still allows you a solid 30-35 years of saving.

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avatar 29 Anonymous

27 Comments and I am the first to ask? Maybe it is in an old post, but you have been out of work since September (paid off CCs in August, laid off one month later)? Have you been looking for employment? Couldn’t find?

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avatar 30 Anonymous

I think (at least me) assumed he was looking for a new job. One has to only look at the unemployment numbers.

Smithee, at least for me. I think it would be an interesting post (posts?) that discusses your job hunt and what you’ve seen on the frontline.

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avatar 31 Smithee

I picked up a few weeks of contract work shortly after I was laid off, then that ran out, too, and I’ve been applying to lots of things ever since. Only last week did I start applying in San Diego instead of Dallas.

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avatar 32 Donna Freedman

Whoops. That should have been “Don’t MAKE things thousands of dollars worse…”

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avatar 33 shellye

I’ve lived in San Diego and Dallas now…in SD the weather is great, the people are nice, but your wallet will be EMPTY.

However, I wish you the best of luck.

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avatar 34 Cejay

Good luck Smithee. Since your wife has a skill that is easily translated and job offers I will say that life is too short to work at a job that you dislike out of fear. I spent too many years like that. I can also say that I am having to play catch up on my retirement plans. It is doable. So once again, good luck.

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avatar 35 Bucksome Boomer

Welcome to San Diego, although I’m planning how to leave when we retire, LOL.

No where else will have the kind of weather we have here, but housing is still expensive. Where you live is a matter of trade-offs and sounds like the trade-offs here are what you’re looking for in life.

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avatar 36 moneymatters

I think there are the pros and cons to just about anywhere you might live. San Diego has the great weather and people, but high taxes and real estate costs. Of course being in Minnesota I’ll be jealous of your weather there since we only get 3-4 months of summer – summer is at a premium! My wife and I talk about retiring some day to some warm climate where the summers are a bit longer, but that’s a way off. So enjoy the weather, and good luck in the job search!

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