I am probably the worst person at slowing down. I like to take on too much and always stay “busy”. This almost always means I never finish anything. I will read three-fourths of a book and decide another book is more worthy of my time. I will overbook my social calendar knowing someone will cancel or plans will fall through, so there is always a dinner or a fun night out at the bar to choose. I will drag you to three museums in a row and a foreign country all in the same day if I can get away with it.
Before the global pandemic and the most dreaded word, Covid-19, put its ugly spiked corona through all my dinner plans, travel plans, museum plans, summer crawfish boil plans, fall BBQ plans at friends’ houses and a whole bunch of activities, I would have hated this much down time.
A few days after I went with my husband, mother, and sister to see Midland perform at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, it was shut down amid growing anxiety about super-spreader events. Then there was even anxiety about small gatherings. Overnight it became even more socially acceptable to decline any and all plans and then a couple days after that it was the law of the land: Stay Home & Save Lives.
Before I even realized it, everyone including myself was shirking plans. The popular rejoinder “I’m busy” turned into “Choose life” when declining a hang out. There was work and there was sleep, and that was about it! Just me in full couch mode watching the world fly by on autopilot. The other thing on autopilot was my bi-monthly paycheck, and after what I thought was a particularly pricey trip to the grocery store, I checked my balance and was completely shocked at how high it was.
At first, I panicked and wondered if my rent had not gone through. I quickly went though and checked my monthly budget sheet to see what had gone unpaid, but to my surprise everything had been paid. A big novelty-sized lightbulb went off in my head… and I did some quick math. Without all the distractions of going to dinners, shows, out to bars and all that, I figured I could finish saving to buy a house in about a year. At the time, I didn’t expect the pandemic to last nearly that long, but I thought that I’d at least get a huge chunk of the down payment out of the way. A year or two sounded better than five or six years. Maybe playing a sporting round of cards in my apartment with my own homemade margaritas wasn’t so bad after all.
I played Words With Friends to socialize outside of my immediate household. I set GoogleMeet video chats with friends, and even set reminders on my phone to text certain people. I got caught up with far flung family members, and I actually felt closer than ever before. Over the next several months, I really tried to tone it down on the pandemic crazes, too. “Eye on the prize, Joe!” I kept telling myself.
I wasn’t splurging on crazy meal kits that cost double what I was paying at my local Kroger, and I was avoiding that Amazon list of “36 Things You NEED for the Pandemic”. But I was baking my own bread. I was baking A LOT of bread. So much so that I had to justify my purchase of the SoulCycle bike. I did need a healthy outlet and some exercise beyond walking around the block or at Memorial Park. The monthly payments were a lot cheaper than what I used to spend taking classes in person. (Shout out to the staff at Westheimer and Kirby! I miss y’all!)
I couldn’t believe how much I was saving and how fast it happened, so I did make one more splurge once I had met my monthly savings goal for four months in a row. The only other pandemic craze I let get me was buying fresh seafood boxes, but let’s face it, I really needed a protein-rich, low-carb alternative after I kicked my bread-baking addiction. I chose the Wild Alaskan box because I got $35 my first order, and also because it was just the fish, nothing else fancy that I didn’t need. My husband and I could cook delicious healthy meals with all kinds of fish and work on getting rid of our bread bumps.
By the time the end of the year came, I had actually already met the goal I gave myself of being able to put 20% down on the house of my dreams. I started working from home, and when my car lease was up, that was that. I took the rest of my savings and maxed out my Health Savings Account as well as my Roth IRA. With the leftovers, I went over to Best Buy and West Elm and made a few purchases. Not to be too sentimental, but it was also really great to connect with friends and family with activities not centered around spending money on elaborate dinners, going out and paying too much for drinks, and filling time with empty distractions. And now I will be able to host family gatherings and make memories in my own home.
Yesterday, I finally got the keys to my first home, and it feels really amazing to have had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a break from the world, slow down, and figure out what is truly important in life and be able to focus on a single goal of saving for a home.