This past fall, I came out of semi-retirement and signed a three-month contract at a non-profit organization. Other than a couple very short-term gigs, this is the first real job I’ve had in some time. (I quit my job about 18 months ago to be a happy housewife. Find out more about that here.)
This week I finished that not-quite-full-time contract, and it was eye-opening being back in the saddle again, as it were. Overall, it was a great experience: I met new people, learned new skills, and got out of the house and out of my pyjamas. But I won’t deny that getting up to an alarm every morning and out the door on time was a real struggle, especially the first month.
Sitting at a desk all day is hard (not to mention not good for you). I put on weight, I wasn’t sleeping as well, and the pets started acting up because they felt neglected. At the office, not being able to take frequent breaks, to stretch or go for a walk, or even take a nap in the afternoon was also difficult. (I know, cue the violins.)
I was talking to a former colleague about it, and I told her how surprised I was at the challenge of getting back into that routine that I used to do every day. “I never thought it would be so hard to go back,” I said. “Maybe I’ve been away too long.”
“Or maybe we were never meant to live like that in the first place,” she said.
One of my colleagues at my contract job asked me what I was going to do when this contract ended, if I had something else lined up. “Nope,” I said. “I was unemployed when I started, and I plan to go back to being unemployed. I’m a happy housewife.”
“So you’ve got kids to look after,” he said. “No, no kids. I’m just a happy housewife,” I said, beaming. (I really do love being a housewife. And calling myself a housewife, while being a pretty staunch feminist. I think it’s hilarious. But I digress.)
“Oh. So you’ve got the means to make that work? I mean, you won’t be hanging out on park benches or anything?” he asked, looking me over, trying to reconcile my somewhat slovenly appearance with what must be my enormous trust fund.
“No, not generally,” I laughed. “Maybe on nice summer days.”
He walked away with a puzzled look on his face. I sometimes see that look on people’s faces when I tell them I don’t work, that my husband is the sole breadwinner. People assume my husband brings home a six-figure salary (he doesn’t) or that we must have inherited a fortune or won the lottery (we didn’t). The truth is, this lifestyle is a lot more feasible, for middle-class couples at least, than most people realize.
The median income in an Ottawa household in 2013 was just over $100,000, one of the highest in the country. Our total household expenditures in 2015, not including the mortgage, were less than half that. That includes all car expenses (gas, insurance, maintenance, etc), all utilities, all food, all entertainment, one smart phone plan, vet visits for our dog and cat, any medications or health care we needed, our chiropractor visits, hair cuts, clothes, bus fare, charitable donations, all garden expenses, everything. We also managed to fit in a two-week trip to Newfoundland. All for less than half the median income in Ottawa.
(Again, that doesn’t include mortgage payments on our very average Ottawa home. The mortgage pushes our expenses over the halfway point of the median Ottawa income, but they’re still far below $100,000.)
I realize this income bracket is not attainable for many families, especially those working at or below minimum wage, and the fact that minimum wage is not a living wage is shameful. My husband and I, we’re lucky, absolutely. But we’re not that different, financially, from a lot of middle-class people in our city, or in other Canadian cities.
Obviously, the happy housewife or househusband is not a role for everyone, and I’m not saying everybody needs to quit their jobs tomorrow. But I see people who drag themselves to work every day, wishing their lives were different. I’m not talking about bad days: we all have those, even the happy housewives. I’m talking about people who feel trapped and miserable in their jobs, who dream of having more time to spend with their kids, or of maybe starting a little side business that they’re passionate about, or of taking up a new hobby to help them deal with stress.
These things are not unattainable. In the coming weeks and months, I’m hoping to write more about our experiment with a single income, how we got here, how we keep going, and why it has been absolutely the right decision for us. And I welcome your questions and comments.