I speak from a lot of experience here. Despite claiming to be a strategic thinker, I often want to jump into the next thing before preparing everything for that step. For the twelve years of our marriage I've been advocating for, initially Jan and I, and now our family, to move abroad. For the same amount of time I've looked longingly at a writing career, figuring I'll just jump into it and make it work. Even, and this is the biggest one, I was ready to retire at age 22 when I got my first job. I didn't have any money, huge student loans, and no clue how I was going to do it, but I was ready to go!
One of the greatest lessons Jan has taught me over our time together has been to slow down. Whether it's when driving, caressing, choosing a house to buy, or adopting a child, together we've found that when we rush things they're rarely as good as when we take them slow. It's not the speed, though, that is the key criteria, but rather the care and attention given to the act with a thorough understanding of the reality of the situation as well as the true value of what we want from it, that matters most. We found ourselves far more successful by building up to exactly what we want, rather than attempting to seize it from the start.
Here are six large examples from a life filled with too many to mention, on how we learned to make decisions with intent: to slow down.
Buying our Condo
In the year 2003 Jan and I met, moved in together, decided to get married, and decided to buy a condo. Since we had just moved in together we still had a lease on our apartment in DC. We initially wanted to purchase a place in DC because we love living in a city environment. After a short time we realized we were priced out of the DC market, so we found a condo in an old building in a relatively convenient for walking part of Arlington that looked good because the previous owner had taken a wall out of the kitchen. (I have a whole diatribe about walls I won't subject you to at this time.) We really liked the openness of the set-up, and decided to pull the trigger on the place despite it not being where we wanted to live, and learning that the previous owner had done all of the work himself.
The purchase went fine, but there was a lot of work to do on the place because, as it turned out, the previous owner had done a crappy job. We had to replace the heating units, there was water leaking under the new hardwood floors which led to mold forcing us to replace the floors, and we didn't really like the location because it was down this really big hill which became hard to walk when I was having back problems. Also, since we still had so long on our lease in the apartment we'd moved into together, buying the condo led to a legal fight with the apartment company which ended up costing us an additional $2500 to resolve. In the end we were not happy with the quality or location of the condo, let alone the costs of owning it. We sold it in 2007, realizing had we not bought the condo we probably would have saved ourselves about $25-30 thousand dollars.
Moving to Chicago the first time
Selling our condo was part of the process of moving to Chicago. We were very excited for this move. I had been trying to get out of the DC area since 2002, and Jan had just finished her second Master's program, so it was perfect timing. We knew Jan could get a job in Chicago, and I lined up consulting work with my employer at the time, so we were well set to head out. We did thorough research on communities in which to live, I was ready to take all of the improv acting classes we could afford, and we were off.
What we didn't realize was that my consulting work would only last 1 year, and when I then went out to search for jobs people would look at my resume, proclaiming "Wow, that's amazing! What are you doing in Chicago?" Needless to say, it was not easy to find a job that made sense. I did a stint at one place, followed by a stint at another, before walking out on both to start my own non-profit. Unfortunately, I didn't know how to start a non-profit, didn't have the money to get it up and running, and this created a lot of stress in our relationship.
Honestly, this period was probably the closest Jan and I came to breaking things off. I was a fish out of water in Chicago, which was very hard on both of us. We decided the best thing for us would be to leave Chicago, heading back to DC where I knew I could find a job. Within weeks I found a job paying far more than anything I could get in Chicago, tapping into the skills and experience I had built up in my previous time in DC.
We learned from our move to Chicago that we need to understand what we're getting into and set up sustainable ways of supporting that decision before we make leaps into the unknown.
Buying our House
After a year living in Arlington again upon our return from Chicago we were ready to earnestly start our family. As typical Americans, we believed part of that process was to buy a house in which to raise our kid. Therefore, on the snowy Friday after spending a great Thanksgiving at Jan's cousin's house where we fell in-love with the idea of home ownership, we stepped into a realtor's office to begin our search. Our lease was expiring in January, we did not want to renew it, and knew we wanted to be out in time not to have to pay the month-to-month increased rate.
Our search for a home to purchase taught us that we were priced out of the Arlington market, but could afford a place just over the border in Fairfax County. We found a dilapidated looking place with fine bones we could barely afford and snatched it up. It wasn't ideally located for anything, but we thought it was close enough to the metro (1.5 miles of a difficult to walk path crossing a major 3 way intersection), and near enough to a grocery store that driving was required each and every time we needed to pick anything up.
Long-story short, 4.5 years and $150,000 later, we sold the place. It had been a nightmare to maintain, costly to fix, and did not provide the lifestyle we wished to have, particularly walking and community. Doing the math also told us that had we not owned it we'd be at least $100 K richer than we were at the time of selling it.
Lesson learned, pay the month-to-month fee if you're buying a place so you can ensure you're getting the place you want, not just the place available in your time of hurry. I.E. don't be in such a hurry!
Adopting a child
Now we're in the process of adopting a child. Jan and I are both super excited about bringing a new son or daughter into our family! We've filled out all of the paperwork, and are on the cusp of having referrals offered to us. In this process we've even been offered some very special needs children who do not require us to have already finished all of our paperwork because their cases are so acute. Due to our excitement for adopting we've considered these offers, asking an international adoption doctor about the cases, and debating the merits for our family of taking on such a child. In the end, despite the excitement, we've decided to pass on these particular children. Let me tell you, it's heart wrenching to want to adopt a child, see a picture of a child that needs to be adopted, learn the child's story, know you have the financial means to help, but choose not to take on that child because it's not the right child for your family.
What we're learning through this process is buying the wrong condo, messing up our move to Chicago, and buying the wrong house was a blessing. When it comes to the really big thing, e.g. bringing a new child into our family, we're finally not rushing in. We're thoroughly analyzing everything to ensure that we don't mess this up. Unlike our condo, move to Chicago, and house, we cannot fix a rushed mistake by moving. We're in this for the rest of our lives, so we want to do this right.
This is not to say that the child we adopt won't have some special needs, or won't require a lot of new energy and finances, but rather that they will be the right child for our family. It's tough to find that balance between excitement and the right thing.
This is getting to be a long post, so I'm going to end it here for today. In the future I'll add to this topic by talking about ensuring you don't rush into Financial Independence and Early Retirement (FIRE), and how we're doing with that. I'll also talk about making sure when contemplating moving abroad you do the requisite analysis to head to where you want to be, or at least give yourself and your family the option to fix a poorly informed decision.
Key to everything I've written here, though, is this one lesson. When you're working on the big things of life, it often saves money, and potentially lots of heartache, to set yourself up the best you can before you launch. Missing that, life is full of adjustments you can make along the way. Slowing down, analyzing earnestly, and assessing what we really want with intent has worked for us lately. It wasn't always this way, but we're humans, and always learning. Often, when we slow down, listen to ourselves, find out what we really want, we end up with something far more in-line with our goals than if we rush into things.
It's been hard for me, but we're getting there.
What kind of mistakes have you made by rushing into things?
Where have you done well, or not, by assessing a big decision thoroughly?
When do you know you're done analyzing, and it's time to act?