Between the ages of 21 to 31, I invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to achieve what is known today as FI/RE – financial independence, retire early. What this meant was that I had the ability to live off the earnings of my investments and not have to work anymore. Sounds really glamorous now, but in the thick of things, people made fun of me for being very frugal – I lived in a small rent-stabilized apartment, rarely ate out at restaurants, often took leftovers home from a work party, had a limited capsule wardrobe, and got a lot of things used or got them for free. Sometimes I would work so many hours that there would be weeks where I wouldn’t be able to socialize with a friend.
At age 30, I began earnestly trying for a child, and would not have my miracle IVF baby until I was age 34. I decided to try out the work optional life by taking a year off (most of it was unpaid). I had no idea that it would be one of the best decisions I’ve made my entire life, afforded through the years of sacrifice and frugal living I’d done up to this point.
The work optional life gave me the flexibility to move quickly
When my husband and I saw COVID-19 cases increasing in New York City, we made the decision to live elsewhere with our parents. I did not have to check in with my employers, and my husband luckily has a remote position, and thus the decision could be made very quickly. By being around grandparents came a crucial extra perk – more childcare and support. Our son could see his grandparents every day and grow up near them, something that we otherwise would never have been able to do.
I did not need to worry about becoming unemployed due to pandemic
While I did have the offer to return to my full-time job, I did wonder whether I may not have a job to return to. Instead of worrying about my income every day, I decided that I would turn off my email and check in once a week if there was news. Luckily, I did not lose my spot with my company, but the added benefit of being work optional was knowing that even without my job, I would be financially okay.
My frugal habits helped prevent me from over-spending on my first child
As a parent, I’m constantly being exposed to messages that imply that I would not be good enough of a parent if I did not get this kind of toy, or that kind of furniture, or clothing, for my child. By being able to identify those messages and tuning them out, as I’d previously done for impulse purchasing for myself, I bought only what my child truly needed. I splurged on strollers, but in terms of home goods, we repurposed many existing pieces and added mainly a crib and high chair. Some of my son’s toys are homemade from materials we already had on hand. Since I lived most of my life away from streaming services and cable subscriptions, I also did not buy any apps or digital products to keep my child occupied on a screen.
Having little worry over employment meant I could focus on my mental health
Like many other mothers, I experienced post-partum depression. However, mine did not show itself until much later – around nine months after my child was born. My sleep patterns began to change and I would often find myself spiraling into anxiety over the smallest of decisions, despite being a rational human being most of the time. Thankfully, this was caught early because I wasn’t constantly worried about my employment, and I sought counseling and help and got better.
I found community in the midst of isolation
Over time, while I was isolated from all my friends, I knew that I was never alone. I was able to connect with my friends around the world through Zoom calls and regular phone calls, and reach even more strangers through my Instagram and blog. The isolation of pandemic was hard on me as an extrovert, but I always could find someone to connect with each week to share laughs and cries over what a year 2020 has become.
This was not the year I imagined for myself as a first time mother. There were no play dates or exciting birthday parties with little humans to attend. We did not get the chance to visit a ton of museums and pop up stores all over NYC. Our travel plans got abruptly canceled and altered. Despite all of that, I feel that FI/RE saved my sanity, and allowed me to have a better year than most other mothers in my position. I will never forget having all this precious time with my child, and while he might not remember it, I do believe that it will have a positive effect on his life in the long term as well.