Hello, all! I found the blog in a roundabout way and have been reading here for a bit, finally joined and started posting, but thought it would make sense to introduce myself. In order to do so, I need to back up a bit to the summer of 2007:
Life was pretty sweet. I'd been married to my lovely and handsome DH for almost 7 years. We had a then 14 year old daughter from his earlier marriage and our son had just turned 5, and our baby daughter had just had her first birthday. DH worked as a software developer for a midsize firm in San Jose and by mutual agreement after child #3 was born, it was decided that I'd be a SAHM for a few years. The software salary was pretty decent, and although we paid a freakishly high rent for a small ranch house in Menlo Park, we were still living below our means and had a reasonable stash, which included the proceeds of a little condo DH had owned before we married (we outgrew it), wedding presents, bonuses, etc. We'd hoped to purchase a house, but the Silicon Valley real estate climate was crazy.
And then DH was killed by a drunk driver on his way home from work one night. Nothing ever prepares you for such a shocking, life altering event. At the age of 31 I was a widow with 3 young kids. (the driver, btw, is still in prison, serving the remainder of a 10 year sentence)
So, to fast forward over some unpleasant emotional and legal stuff, I was faced with the decision of what to do. Stay in expensive Menlo and get a job at Google or Yahoo? Or move elsewhere with a much lower COL and move forward? At the urging of relatives, I chose Door Number Two and packed up my kids, our Rottweiler, bunny and kitten into the newly purchased Passat wagon (that replaced the car destroyed in the crash) and headed up to a small corner of California where we moved into a 1970s house on 3 acres, bought at a distressed price from owners going through their own financial crises. Remember: 2007.
Regarding finances, the news was not dire, but it wasn't great. We were underinsured. DH had a life policy through his work that paid out a year of his current salary. There was that. He had a smaller policy through our credit union for $50K, so there was that. From State Farm, our auto insurance carrier, there was a payout for the car, and because of the due diligence of my dear mother, a death benefit for Uninsured Motorist (which the other driver was) deep in the fine print. Another $100K from that came about 6 months after our move. DH had about $30K in a rollover IRA, payable to me; and my own was around $8K. In addition, the kids were eligible for Social Security Survivors' Benefits, to the tune of, at that time, around $2500 per month. No real debt, though the house purchase and moving expenses were quite a hit. DH's company paid our health care premiums for a year, and then I'd be on my own.
I've heard of worse stories in my years of widowhood, to be sure. There was some breathing room, and I am to this day grateful for that. But even living a frugal life, I worried about basic living expenses for so many years, college costs, and in the future, my own retirement. I knew I needed to work at some point, but at what? After a few halfhearted job interviews that were so depressing - one job was so low paying that after daycare for a toddler, and aftercare for my son, would have COST me money, I stumbled upon, by sheer luck (and I was needed to a bit at that point) on a small business was for sale. It was so perfect for me, a tropical interior landscape company. I actually had had experience as a floral designer so was able to pick it up pretty quickly. The owner was selling because she and her husband were FIRE to Hawaii. She felt her clients and part time employee would be in good hands with me and with a small down, allowed payments for 18 months. And it fit in with kids' school schedules, the baby was only in need of care a few hours a day.
Fast forward, if anyone's still reading, to today. I still have the little company, and have "grown" it (horticultural humor) somewhat, and I enjoy it very much. With some of the life insurance, I purchase, along with a relative, a duplex and entered the landlord biz. We are in the middle of a flip of a townhouse, and should do pretty OK with that. The other $$ I've been able to finally invest - it took awhile to figure out what to do. The kids are all bigger: 9, 13 and the oldest just graduated from art school, where she went on full scholarship. I'm so proud of all of them, and their dad would be too, if he could see them now. Rebuilding a life after a tragedy is hard, but can be doable. We're an active family who hikes, bikes, camps and enjoys the beauty of Northern California on a regular basis.
Moving into the future I want to sort out my options regarding investment strategies, frugality while living well and enjoying this rebuilt life I've been given.
Whoever stuck around to read this, thanks. I think I needed to get it out there. I've been enjoying reading some of your stories and hearing solutions, this is a very helpful place on the interwebs.