During COVID, simplicity is safety
Like many others, during this period of pandemic I have been extremely worried and stressed. Nights are often a struggle for sleep, and I have to work very hard to always keep my "fight or flight" mechanisms in my brain from overwhelming my ability to think clearly or productively, and sometimes I fail. I'm uncertain about the future, personally as where I'll work after my contract here is up, for the health of my family in the USA, where COVID still runs rampant, and even for my industry as an international school teacher.
Yet I know that I am much better off than others in this turbulent time. While I am fortunate in many ways, one reason has really stood out lately. My life is simple. Today I want to write about the value that simplicity can give you in uncertain times, and how it can keep you from financial ruin.
Imagine a man, we'll call him Tom. Tom was a pilot before COVID, and lived here in the UAE. He made a great salary, he had worked hard to get hired by a great airline, and was living the life he'd always dreamed of. He had a great villa here that he was gradually paying off, he had a property back in England for holidays, he had his dream car, and he had his two children in great private schools, giving them the very best future he could afford. There may have even been a boat in the picture. He could afford his loan payments and school payments and clothing allowance, but just barely, and saved little.
Then, COVID hit, and the airlines cut back. Tom lost his job, with few prospects for working in the near or medium term. How will he pay his two mortgages? How will he pay off his car? How can he sell his villa when property values are declining, and he owes more than it's worth? Due to his debts, he may not even be able to leave the UAE to get a job somewhere else or return to his home country legally. The luxury he was used to is gone, and it has been replaced with a mountain of un-payable debt and even more stress.
Luxury and credit are the bait in the trap that has shut on thousands of people here in the UAE, and I do not envy their situation. Living beyond your means in an uncertain world can quickly create a shaky house of cards, and when it tumbles, can lead to devastating consequences.
For me, to leave the country, I merely have to turn in the keys for my rented room, return my rented car, pack my suitcases, and buy a plane ticket. I have no car note, no mortgage, no pets, and only enough possessions to fill a few suitcases. I have enough cash to live on for several years without working or touching my investments, because I've lived below my means for years at this point. I have no balance on my credit card or student loans, as I paid all those off years ago through side hustles and knowing what my daily spending amount was, and staying underneath it. I know that my life is not better when it's filled with luxury, it has no more meaning or happiness, just added stress at maintaining the salary necessary to pay for maintenance and insurance for silly baubles that are destroying our planet through over-consumption of resources.
Another key point is that my investments are all easy to liquidate. I didn't buy into any high-fee "savings plans" that lock you into long term products that have huge surrender fees. These are often scams anyway, and I've been fortunate and educated enough to dodge that trap as well. I have low fee index funds that I've bought myself through DIY brokers, which I learned about in groups like SimplyFi on Facebook, which helps expats for free to learn about personal finance and investing and not getting taken advantage of by "sharks in suits" selling financial products than only benefit the seller and not the buyer.
If you're in a position to simplify your life, do so immediately. Only you can determine what you can realistically cut out, but be aware that even things you think you "can't live without" can often be given up with only a short period of distress before you acclimate and it becomes the "new normal". We are adaptable creatures, and as we can get used to the dangerous softness of luxury, we can also embrace a more spartan lifestyle that many throughout the ages have realized is much better for us.
Don't end up like Tom, with his life destroyed by this pandemic. Stay simple, stay nimble, stay safe.
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