21 December 2010

Working towards common goals

I received an email during the week from a young woman in Tasmania.  With her permission I'm replying to her here because I know more good advice will come via your comments.  She wrote:

For the past few years I've been working part-time which has given me the time I needed to grow our vegies and herbs, make most of our gifts by hand, and learn to sew and be organised. However now we're in Tasmania where work is hard to get and I find myself in a job market where 5 days a week is the minimum requirement, sometimes 6 days a week. I've looked hard for part-time work but it's either not available, or pays so poorly I could never support my husband at uni and our new mortage.
Besides leaving me extremely stressed out and tired I'm now really struggling to find the time to do those things to help us be more self sustaining that I was able to do before. I was hoping you might be able to tell me how you have coped with those crazily busy periods of your life in the past? At the moment I'm trying just to focus on the fact that we are at least paying our home off but I've got to try and keep up that focus for the next four years until my husband finishes uni - help!

I think there are two parts to this discussion - one is that you'll be the one who puts food on the table and pays the mortgage for the next four years, and the pressures associated with that; the other is having the time and the will power to remain focused on sustainability.

So, you've moved to a new state, your husband is settled in university and you have a mortgage. He will be working towards gaining qualifications to improve your future lives together, while you work to support you both now and start paying off your mortgage - your future asset.  You'll both have to work hard - he must pass all this subjects first time so he not paying more HECS fees than he should, you'll be working possibly six days a week.  You're both living in your home, you'll have to divide the chore up to suit you both, although let me suggest that you make up a chore list that keeps everything clean and tidy and you both fed, while not going overboard on housework.  Don't add more stress to your lives by trying to be perfect at home.  Maybe he does the weekly shopping and the cooking and you make the bed, wash up and do the laundry.  Take it in turns to clean the bathroom and vacuum.  I'm sure you can work out something.  Don't expect to enjoy every moment of it, it will be a hard slog, but working together for your common goals should get you through it.  I worked while I did my degree and I know your job will be tougher than his, although there will be times when he'll have enormous pressure on him.  There will have to be plenty of give and take and you'll both have to be flexible, generous and supportive of each other to get through.

There are plenty of things you can do to remain on your simple pathway.  Don't buy expensive chemical cleaners - make up your own using vinegar, bicarb and soap.  Don't buy disposables.  Cut up some old towels for dishcloths, use cloth napkins, stop buying paper towels.  Use cloth shopping bags and hang washing on the line instead of using a dryer.  Shop at thrift shops.  See if your husband can buy second hand text books or get them from the library.  Use the university library to borrow novels to read instead of buying books.  Use public transport.  It is up to you both to save as much money as you can.  Don't think it's okay to reward yourselves all the time because life is tough now.  Keep your long term goals in mind and keep working towards them.

I know I've been tough but this will be a difficult few years for both of you.  But if you work together as a team, focused on long term goals and not instant gratification, you'll come out the other end of this stronger as a married couple.  When I look back on my marriage I can see that working together through the tough times kept us together and made us more committed to each other and to our marriage.  When you see your partner working hard for your common goals, it makes you work hard too.  Put in the hard yards now and you'll reap rich rewards.

Now that I can see a long life of over 60 years behind me, I know with certainty that life is not an easy walk in the park.  It's a long series of highs and lows with many periods of smooth sailing in between.  This is one of your first periods outside the smooth zone but what you do now will prepare you more than you know for what you'll do later.  The better you cope with this, the more you'll set yourself up for success later.  So knuckle down and work hard, take time out for yourself when you need it, give support when it's needed, be kind to each other and make the most of that one day a week you have off.  Have breakfast in bed, take a walk and enjoy being together.  The pressure is on but it can either be stress or a gift, depending on how you look at it.  I know which one I'd choose.  Good luck.  I hope the year ahead is a good one for both of you.

 The collective wisdom of the readers here never ceases to pleasantly amaze me. If you have any advice to add to help our friend, please do. 


  1. Attitude is a big part of getting through the tough times. often we have made it into a game.

    With money - both look at the budget not just one have the worry of making the dollars stretch helps too.

    Wishing the couple all the best.

    Love Leanne NZ

  2. Good morning Rhonda,

    i do agree with all you have said. The main thing I would stress is to keep tidying as you go and rememger your home does not need to be perfect. Keep benches surfaces clear of clutter and you'll find them easier to keep clean. the best advise is to take that one day off a week and just do something just for yourselves. eg Pack a picnic and walk to the park, spread a rug on the ground and just relax.One other thing that I think is so important is to get rid of the television. It's the biggest time waster I know of as it is so easy to slump into the chair when you're weary and just watch anything. You are working hard so don't let that box steal the free time you might have. Do also try to get enough sleep. As Rhonda has said the effort you put in now will make your life so much easier later on and I congratulate you on the effort you are putting into your life and marriage together.

    Blessings Gail

  3. Hi Rhonda, I took a break from blog-land for the last month or so. A much needed break. :) But now I've caught up with your blog and it's as great as ever! Keep up the good work! Have a wonderful day. :)

  4. I'm in a similar boat. Hubby is working on his PhD currently (2nd year) and I'm teaching full time. We have baby #1 on the way, due in May. He gets a stipend, which isn't bad, but when I cut back to teaching only part time when baby comes, it will be tight. Currently, I've coped by simplifing everything I can - I cook less fancy, we tend to eat the same things regularly, I hit only one store a week (grocery, or walmart or sams), I do use the dryer (that will change next year when I'm part time), and garden has been simplified. Sometimes life just requires you to take advantage of the market system and pay for stuff you need (the very nice thing about the market system). Its not ideal, but it takes time to get even close to ideal. There are some compromises I've made now so that I stay sane and get the rest I need now, so I can truly enjoy the now and prepare and ponder the future's possible ideal.

    And routines, can't preach routines enough. I've learned mine via flylady.net and have adjusted them to fit me.

    Hubby does what he can, especially when he hits those holiday breaks I don't get (I teach K-12).

    Hope this helps, I'm always willing to talk more about what I do, what works for me, and the ways I'm still struggling. In fact, this morning Hubby asked me to change from mailing a check to calling on the phone to pay the bill, and I broke down. It was a change I wasn't prepared to make! A little time, some perspective and I'm ready to take on the change, but its one example of my struggles.

  5. I think this young lady is lucky to have found this path in life so young and to actively pursue it. Although I have always thought about this lifestyle for most of my adult life it wasn't until recent years that we have actually implemented it. It is hard work but so is 'keeping up with the Jonses'. You do have to rely on each other to meet your common goals and this will be true for all of your life together and try not to be too hard on yourself when you have to take the 'easy' road.

  6. Some ideas that might help:
    1.Stay in touch with old friends before Tasmania & family, perhaps by Skype.
    2.Don't isolate yourselves--even though you might want to spend the precious little bit of time with one another--it can be good to get to know your neighbours, or other students & their partners or older people. A supportive community can help. A cup of tea or sharing veggies could be a start.
    3.Lower expectations and celebrate accomplishments eg finishing 1 craft item/book no matter how long it takes.
    4.Journal, exercise & use creative arts to de-stress (eg music while driving/cleaning/cooking?)
    5.Double cooking & freeze to ease meal preparation.
    6.Record sports & anything on TV that you might miss because of work or tiredness or class/studying and watch later.

  7. my advice (and i will fess up now that ive been slack at following of late, kicking myself in backside as i write)is..
    write a list of chores and spread out during the week(anal, but it works). then adjust attitude, as in, instead of focasing on what has to be done and being overwhelmed, look at each job done as a great accomplishment "yes" ive made bread today "yes" ive dug over my food scraps "yes" ive not drawn out any money for 10 days straight "yahoo" 1 week closer to paying off debt etc etc. be really proud of yourself for your accomplishments and where you are headed. face your challenges with a can do, will do attitude. find a mantra ie "im a bloody legend" (insert own version lol) Good luck, hope hubby does his part too.

  8. A sense of humor is crucial. It makes light of everything allowing a more gracious acceptance of reality.

  9. I love Rhonda how you say to do things together. This kind of stress is what usually breaks a marriage and it shouldn't be. It is usually the time you will look back and say 'wow, we did this TOGETHER'.And like Becca said look after yourself health wise.Your health you never get back, the house just keeps on getting dusty. If you look after some small things the big things just happen.

  10. Wise words as usual Rhonda. Looking back on our days of studying and working the lessons I learned were routines and going at things slowly and steadily.

    I used to be very impatient (still am sometimes) and I would decide on Saturdays say that I was going to do the grocery shopping, clean the house, do the week's shopping and washing, write an essay in the afternoon. entertain friends that evening. No wonder I used to get frazzled!

    Routines help so much. A little steadily every day, plan meals so that you use what you have and shop only once a week. Quiet achievement leaves time for leisure and peace.

  11. I've been following a 10-item to-do list for a while and it has really helped me to not get overwhelmed. It is a daily list of 10 things to be done, where at least one thing has to be fun and at least one has to be for yourself. This is not a check-off type list. My weekday list items are: work, downtime (alone or with my husband), zero-sum (clean up after myself), dinner, exercise, shower, take care of finances, go to meetings or write blog post, do something fun, and meditate. Since the 10 item list is also a description of my day, it helps me stay conscious of my limits of what I can feasibly get done in one day. And when I start wishing I could get more done, I also have this list to remind me that I am getting things done.

  12. I liked the comment about being kind. I think kindness as a value is vastly underestimated in importance. Be kind to yourself and to your partner. And appreciate the little victories: the paper that is handed in, the weeks chores (almost) finished, the mortgage paid yet again.

  13. If I was this woman, I'd be feeling very worried too. What I would do first is to calm down. Then look around what I already have. Take some time to accept that things would be changed, but accept how much self sustainable work I would be capable of doing. You don't want to destroy the other parts of your life just because you want to keep living sustainably as you've been doing. I'd say, the way of simple living is different each person, each situation. I think it is important to look for what fits you and your family as you go instead of comparing to the lifestyle that you are used to. Keep your common goals clear, (I'd buy a whiteboard and write the goals down then put it on the wall that I'd see every morning) and be aware of what keeps both of you together. When I had a difficult time finding out about love languages helped. You can read my story in here.

  14. Great advice Rhonda. I too am studying and working part time from home while hubby works full time. We have just re-financed all of our debt into one mortgage. We budget together, share the chores and no longer worry about what others think about what we do or how we do it. Our place looks lived in - and so it should. I bake bread, make yoghurt and jam and moving towards doing everything around the home with simple ingredients and less fuss. Growing some food goes a long way in the budget too and we are just about to put in a few raised garden beds. We use the library for books now (I used to spend a fortune on them!) and we do free entertainment. Discover all the parks around you and have a picnic lunch. Have tea in the garden while you are pottering in there - do these things together and the next few years will fly by and at the end you will be able to say to each other WE DID IT!!

  15. Do it together, Budget together, work together, dream together, plan a day or 1/2 day in the week to spend time together, but not cooking or cleaning or chores. walk together. If you have a bad day tell him, and if he has a bad day, listen to him. it needs to be together, you will be each others soldier and when you come out the other side, you will be triumphant - together. Dare yourselves to get through it, dare yourselves to WIN. Thrift shopping, use less 'stuff'. All the very best to you with your challenge, you have many along on the same journey as you.

  16. Hang in there, it will be worth it in the end. My husband when back to school when he was nearly 30 and at that point, he quit his job and we lived on my salary. It was tough, but it was worth the struggle. Think of it as working to build your future. You can do it!

  17. My 22yr old DD has just completed a 4yr Uni course with no financial assistance from us and working 3 part time jobs (one of which was tutoring students at their homes) whilst dealing with Centrelink payment muck ups. She lives 1000km away and is having a working year off at the moment and has started the vege garden she always wanted but didn't have time for. Do what you can do and if you have to buy veges occasionally or the grass in the yard is too long, don't stress over it. Do stay in touch with your friends as DD said it was a lifeline to have someone to talk to when things weren't going well and also to celebrate with when you'd finished an exam or a craft item you'd started! Find free entertainment - our council has author visits at the library, some craft groups meet there and they're fee free, our tourist centre has art exhibitions that are free or gold coin donation. Look up your council on the net and you'll be surprised what happens in your community.
    As the old joke says "how do you eat an elephant...... one bite at a time" and there's lots of suggestions here you can get your teeth into so find the ones that work for you.

  18. It sounds to me like she is expecting to shoulder the full burden in this situation. As a recent graduate I would question why the husband is not able to contribute to household income through a part time job (evenings, weekends)and perhaps do things such as the vegetable garden. As a student my vege garden was the most valuable thing I had - many weeks money was too tight for food but through a little effort I could always create a good healthy meal (even in the winter) from my garden. Many uni friends were in a situation where they were working, studying full time and supporting a partner and children. Perhaps a reassessment of whether a mortgage is a wise thing at this time could be useful? Balance up property outgoings (including maintenance, rates etc) against rent. I know this sounds a little harsh but both need to pull their weight in this situation and decide what their priorities really are.

  19. Lots of good advice already, I also love Rhonda's 'Be Kind to each other', really doesn't everything spring from there. I have a system where just before bed I write down 3 things I need to do the next day, if I don't finish them I can carry 1 over to the following day, only 1. It sounds trite but it is the best thing for me and I get everything done.
    Can you teach piano? Can you board anyone from the Uni? Can you hire out your garden for photo shoots? Can you make gourmet soups and sell at the local market?
    It's going to be tough but in the context of your life you can do 4 years of this. At least you know that there is an end in sight, some people never get that.
    Lots of luck and hang in there,

  20. Introducing full time study back into life makes things complicated, and requires a complete reevaluation of how you do things as a couple/family. My husband studied full-time for 4 years a few years ago, with me also studying full time for the first 2 years (living off savings) then living off my income for the next 2 years. It was hard, but rewarding.

    Things that worked for us:
    *A second freezer so we could buy in bulk and cook extras for days when neither of us had the time to cook from scratch;
    *Growing our own herbs was manageable where veges weren't;
    *Including a coffee budget which meant we could go out for coffee together even if we couldn't afford to eat out (good for relationship health in our case!); and,
    *Dividing up chores 50/50

    I'm probably more conscious of living sustainably now, but for us having very little money meant we were living fairly frugally and consequently more sustainably anyway. The time needed to live self sufficiently might not be available at the moment, but there are probably many other ways you can maintain your values even if your lives look a bit different for a while. Good luck :-)

  21. IslandHome's advice about one person not shouldering the full burden is spot on. Working long hours to pay off a mortgage when you are young, fit & healthy is not such a bad thing but hubby MUST pull his weight too and all options need to be considered.

    Do you have a spare room to rent out and bring in some extra cash?
    If your husband is doing his PHD full time, has he applied for a scholarship? Currently $22,000 per year tax free & allowed to tutor up to 4 tutorial groups per semester (another $8000/year).
    Strict budgeting & all spare cash going to paying off the mortgage is also good.
    However, if the pressure is really too much, then renting & still saving towards a home may be the best option in the long term...Maintaing your health & sanity has to be the number one priority at all times.

  22. One of the best tips came from my mother in law ( don't tell her I said so!)-Clean up as you go-if you don't make a mess you don't have to clean one up. The other I learned as I went- cook double and freeze. It takes no more time to make two meatloaves, pasta sauces, chickens- then it takes to make one. When you
    are just too exhausted to do one more thing-dinner is in the freezer. Good nutrition will also give you more energy.
    Also, prepare for the future without worrying about it- if that makes any sense. Worry wastes energy and time, preparation is
    productive and eliminates worry.
    Merry Christmas

  23. My advice -

    Do not feel that you have to do everything that you did when you worked part time. You might not be able to make all pressies and you might need to rethink what you grow this year. As others have said herbs demand less of you then veggies, but there are also veggies which require little attention. It is only for a limited time but you retain the skills to pick up again in the future. Think about what aspects of what you do at the moment are the most important to you and retain them, let the others fall.

    Following on - don't beat yourself up if you have to start buying something which you used to make yourself. Such as bread. I don't like having to buy bread, but sometimes I'm so busy it's a must if we want bread.

    Also, I work full time and my travel time adds another maybe 15 hours to my working week. If there's something simple which helps destress you, such as say knitting or crossstitch, then take it with you to do in your breaks at work. Don't use it as a stick to beat yourself, I don't personally aim to knit every single break, but when I do it destresses me and means that I'm doing something simple and creative.

    I also use some of my annual leave (and my flexi) for taking on projects that I don't have energy/time for in the normal course of things. Oh and I also get a friend to help me with the garden/allotment. We tend to tackle the bigger stuff together at weekends and then I can do the smaller tasks like watering during the week.

    As Rhonda has pointed out many times in her blog - we each find our own path. Good luck, don't take on too much, and don't beat yourself up if you don't achieve it all. Try stuff out, evaluate, and move on.

  24. I know that you're likely to be exhausted and busy a lot, but I'd like to put my 2 cents in to say that if you find any type of meditation that appeals to you (I'm talking 10 minutes, every morning, not much time) you'll see a MAJOR difference in your mental clarity, evenness of mood, and ability to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
    A little exercise will make a big difference too - do a couple Sun Salutation each morning, followed by some soft jumping jacks, a few push-ups, squats, and sit-ups. This will increase your energy level (your body works on supply and demand with this), and it will also keep your muscles toned and your tendons, ligaments, and muscles loose, which will help with stress and more importantly, immune system health.

    Good luck!

    Charis Brown Malloy

    (I'm a holistic health & wellness consultant - if you ever need a pick-me-up, feel free to contact me any time!)
    Site: www.aluminouslife.com
    Blog: www.rawkout.com
    Tweet: www.twitter.com/charismb

  25. I work part time now and do a lot of simple, frugal homemaking stuff, along with helping my husband with his ministry. But for five years, I worked full or almost full time putting him through seminary. It was very hard being the primary breadwinner, and in some ways hard on our marriage, but we learned how to be frugal and love each other unconditionally during the hard times. Now that we are more settled, those lessons we learned during the tough times are really paying off (and actually enable me to be able to just work part-time and be a homemaker!)

    One tip I would give is make sure you DO make your marriage a priority - spend time together at least one night a week, even if it is just going for a walk to catch up.

  26. I agree with Island Home too. I live in Tasmania and it is the best place to be if you are trying to pay off a mortgage on a part time income. I did it for years with two children and on an income that makes peoples' jaw drop but you do have to change priorities. I didn't have a car for years because they are a huge expense when you add up all the costs.
    As for supplementary income that your husband could be doing, I suggest he rings a couple of private caterers from the phone book, they are often desperate for staff. I would suggest that he also knows where the jobs are going for students as they have a good word of mouth network...and you must have suspected by now that that is totally how it works here in Tasmania. People who know people who know people. It's one of the last bastions of community networking.
    I also agree with dillpickle...budgets are key but you MUST have some sense of normality too. Total penury can be a drag. I used to pack lots of picnics and hop on a bus. The museum and art gallery were our best source of low cost outings. The city councils have a calender of events for the year and most of them are free or very low cost.
    If you want to keep a couple of chickens in the backyard, Craig and I would be happy to mentor you through that process...just contact me through my blog, www.suburbanjubilee@blogspot.com


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