10 Years in the Real World: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

by Kevin on June 21, 2012

Ten years ago this month I graduated from an unassuming high school in an unassuming city in east Tennessee. I walked the stage, grabbed my diploma, and prepared to enter “the real world”.

Some of you might argue going to college doesn’t equate to the real real world, but I disagree. In college you are mostly independent (depending on your family situation, finances, scholarships, relationships, and so forth) and run your life on your own. You decide what classes to take and if you even get up for them. You pick your advisors, your friends, and so forth. It’s a trial run of the real world, but the vast difference from pre-college life qualifies it as the real world in my opinion.

It’s been a wild ten years of ups, downs, and in-betweens. I think it is important to stop, pause, and reflect on life, too. I’m sharing my 10 year reflection with you; will you share yours?

What I Did in 10 Years

Looking back over the last ten years of my life is both disappointing and uplifting. I didn’t start the company that saved the world or even “just” made me independently wealthy. But I didn’t flame out, either, and have done quite well for myself while managing the financial resources given to me well.

First, and most important, I got married to my best friend. One of the biggest decisions anyone ever makes is their mate. It’s a huge decision on so many fronts: emotionally, financially, spiritually, and physically. A bad spouse can ruin you in all of these areas and I’m blessed, so blessed, by my wife. I always joke with people that I didn’t just marry up — I married from the subbasement to the penthouse.

And it’s true.

My wife is great.

In 10 years I’ve had a whopping two full-time, career-oriented jobs. The first one lasted 6 months full-time and the second one I’m still going strong after almost six years. I’m lucky enough to work for a great employer that enables me to earn a nice income to support my family. And I’m not miserable at work — being miserable just for money isn’t worth it, in most cases.

I’ve moved three times during the last decade: from college to Birmingham (where my then-fiancee was in school for another 18 months), from our apartment in Birmingham to our first house, and from that house to our home in Knoxville. (Where we joke we want to die in. I hate moving.)

Those moves weren’t always the best decision, unfortunately. I moved to Birmingham with a job in hand, but it turned out to be a poor one. I got lucky when I left to go to my current employer because I was running away from my last job, not necessarily to my current job. That doesn’t normally turn out well.

Our first house was great, until we had to sell it to move to Knoxville. (A pretty good summary of that transition was documented here in all its painful glory.) In short, it turns out we bought right at the peak of the real estate market and sold in the middle of the recession. We didn’t want to manage renting a home more than 4 hours away and took a massive loss… but we avoided foreclosure or short-selling, so I’m not complaining. (Okay, I’m complaining a little bit.)

Our financial situation has been more smooth sailing than choppy waters thanks to being on the same page as a couple. We’ve had a significant range of income: from single income working a crummy job while my wife finished school to dual income with no kids. We’ve adjusted along the way.

We’ve never had any consumer debt aside from our mortgages, and we just paid cash for my wife’s new vehicle late last year. We’ve also been very consistent with investing for retirement by socking away the maximum Roth IRA contribution while also getting our employer match for 401ks.

We’re not ultra-rich, we’re not inheriting oodles of cash, but over the long term we should come out just fine. Consistent investment plus a long investment horizon usually turns out alright.

More recently we have learned to splurge on ourselves a bit. We paid a landscape company to enhance our backyard, bought a new vehicle for my wife (that she will drive for the next 10-12 years), and we’re in the midst of turning our bonus room into a man cave. We just took our first weeklong vacation in over two years, but did so in a financially responsible manner by finding a cheaper place to stay outside of our destination.

Spending money has always been hard for me, but not hard for my wife. That’s normal; a spender and a saver end up together. They keep each other from being hermits and broke… by meeting somewhere in the middle. I’m still learning to enjoy spending money; I usually spend money and then instantly want to turn back the hands of time. But we’re working on it.

What about you? What have the last 10 years looked like?

{ 3 comments }

BryanM July 3, 2012 at 8:34 pm

Congratulations on your success, especially with this blog. I’m a few years behind you, but hope to have a great 10 year story soon enough. It’s just been really tough the last few years – feels like everyone has had to work twice as hard to catch up, especially since it seems like the older generation has put much of the financial burdens of this country on their children.

Jozzy July 12, 2012 at 9:01 am

I’m running a campaign called “Student Debt 4 Charity” that acts as a creative way to replace debt repayments to banks with payments to charity. Please have a look and spread the word!

http://www.indiegogo.com/studentdebt4charity?escape=false&a=785527

Suzan July 29, 2012 at 7:48 pm

I’m both surprised and glad to hear that neither your wife or yourself have student loan debt. Unfortunately it is a huge burden for many college graduates today: http://www.secureloanconsolidation.com/blog/educational-dream-becomes-a-nightmare-in-the-face-of-student-loan-debt/ Glad you guys didn’t end up with any though!

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