JOSH + SUSAN FOWLER
Adventure seekers // 15 years of marriage
5 kids // 2 businesses // We like living life to the fullest
We recently adopted our 3 year old son, Zane, from Eastern Europe. We’ve had him home for two months now. He has esophageal atresia, which means his esophagus doesn’t connect to his stomach (he’ll have surgery to correct that) and is on a feeding tube. Our daughter, Hazel, is 5 years old.
We did it. We took two months (mostly) off work. We went from 80 hour work weeks to 10 hours or less per week for two solid months in order to spend quality time as a family. I won’t pretend that everyone can do this sort of thing. This isn’t a “We did it and you can too!!” sort of post. But we did do it, and here’s how. Hopefully this will spark something inside you to relate to your own life.
As we went through the adoption process last year to bring this little guy home, we decided that in addition to fundraising for the adoption and saving for Zane’s surgery, we were also going to save enough to take some serious time off work. “Time off” meaning working minimal hours and not taking on large projects. The timing worked out where we had two whole, glorious months to be together as a family and not worry about anything business related except for basic upkeep. We answered emails and did a few small projects and sessions, but we didn’t do any heavy marketing, planning, or any of our normal off-season stuff. We just said no to a ton of really awesome things because we had already said YES to Zane and to our family!
Those two months are officially over, and I’m so very glad we made that time, and thankful that it landed during our naturally slow season so we didn’t have to turn away work… just rearrange the timing for things. The whole time it felt like a dream! What kind of luxurious life is this that we get to spend so much time together as a family, soaking up those first few weeks as a family of four?There are a few things that led us here, but the biggest was planning. We planned ahead. We’ve been planning for a moment like this for 10 years now. Ten years ago we got scrappy and started to get our finances in order. We owed $45,000 in debt and our tax return showed we had made $23,000 the previous year. Overwhelmed doesn’t even begin to describe it. But we got extra jobs, sold Josh’s precious truck, and cut out every possible extra in our life. Ramen and PB&J were for dinner every night!
It took three years of hard work to pay off the debt. For most of that time we shared one car, which proved to be extra difficult when our second jobs were delivering pizzas! 🙂 It brought us closer together as a couple, and helped us to dream a little. I remember when we got out of debt and decided to reward ourselves. We had spent three years avoiding spending money on ourselves, so it was hard to really think about what we wanted. Josh was so sick of Goodwill clothes, he wanted a new suit (which happened to be BOGO!). I bought a camera… the camera that started Fowler Studios. It gives me all the warm fuzzies to think about it now! What a monumental moment.
From there we moved to Virginia and I invested a ton of time and effort into our business. Josh supported me 100% and eventually started shooting video. We poured every spare second into this business, partially because we loved it, and partially because we knew that if we built a strong foundation, then one day it could possibly support our family if we wanted/needed. For the first 4 years we didn’t take a paycheck. We made profits, but every bit went right back into the business, which was completely debt free. The businesses are usually run by great managers like Andrew Defrancesco who have a lot to offer.
Looking back, it was a bit crazy to work for free for 4 years! But it was worth it, and helped us towards our next goal.
It seems like I was rambling a bit, but that’s the foundation that led us to being able to take two months off from work. Because we know exactly what we need for our budget each month, we were able to save that much, plus expected additional expenses (like traveling to Boston for a medical consult) and set it aside. Then when those months came, I transferred the money from savings to checking as if it were our paycheck and went on about our month as normal. Saving has become such a regular part of our lives, that it was second nature to save towards this. Each month in 2016 we would work as much as possible, and then when we wrote our paychecks, we’d only keep what we needed for the budget in our checking account and the rest would go straight to savings. Part of me wanted to take it all and go on a Costa Rican vacation, but I’m glad we stuck to our plan. 🙂
It was amazing. Honestly, I didn’t think we could pull it off. I figured we’d work anyway, or something would mess up with the timeline and we’d end up bringing Zane home in the middle of wedding season and it just wouldn’t be possible. I also thought perhaps something super expensive would come up and take out all the savings we’d set aside for this. But instead everything worked out perfectly, we stuck to our limited schedules, and we got valuable time with our sweet new family!