This blog is about co-housing, but behind that it’s about relationships. The FLAFF (“Footloose and Fancy Free”) story, which I began last week, isn’t exactly about co-housing, but it IS exactly about accomplishing two key ingredients of successful shared living: creating financial freedom, and building durable friendships.
So to continue unveling the seven secrets:
Our FLAFF project began in the context of understanding the impact of our finances on our future lifestyles. After designing our focus, creating vision for ourselves and deciding to keep things convivial, we moved on to Secret # 4…
4. We worked hard (but still had fun)
Teams thrive on doing good work, pooling resources, and achieving results. Our work, of course, was about our finances. We researched things like how the superannuation legislation might be used to our advantage (“superannuation” is a uniquely Australian form of pension, sort of a cross between a personal savings plan and a pension plan). We looked at how inflation might impact our finances. We did online tests to predict our life expectancy and confronted how many years we might have to provide for. We studied books related to planning for retirement.
For me, the most valuable work Rick and I did related to clarifying our finances.
– We started keeping track of how much we spent and what we spent it on.
– We developed an idea of how much we’d need to live on for a year, given the kind of lifestyle we wanted.
– We created a statement of our assets and liabilities and spewed a figure out the bottom that represented EXACTLY what we had to our name (not as bad as I thought, to my amazement).
– We projected what we might accumulate over the next few years if we really put our minds to it. What might we sell our business for? What might we earn? What other assets were lurking in the background? What pensions could we factor in?
– We set a goal: We’ll retire in five years with x dollars.
The resulting clarity energised us. All six of us experienced a new freedom for action. Ken and Sue sold their house, bought an off-road caravan – and hit the road. Kerry took on getting a Masters degree and Gordon left his professorship at Sydney Uni to accept a private sector job that fascinated him. Rick and I decided to sell our business; Rick would rake it in doing IT consulting and I would work with the purchasing company on a big bonus system.
Frequently Rick and I raced to our spreadsheets to see how we were tracking against our plans.
We were highly motivated.
5. We spiced things up
For example, we arranged a “makeover” weekend in the Hunter Valley. We committed to showing up at our vineyard B&B with a marvellous new wardrobe that represented our vision of who we could really be in life. As none of us were fashionistas, we each quietly located a style coach and went shopping.
We met up at the B&B one Friday afternoon, looking self-conscious but terrific. As we headed off to dinner at one of the local wineries, our smart casual was a sight to behold.
I was beginning to taste freedom.
6. We travelled
All right, I admit that travelling isn’t an essential secret, but it’s an interesting part of our story. I tell it because what we chose to do is an inspiring insight into how to really deepen relationships.
Ken and Sue had been inveterate travellers for a long time and led the charge. Six months after our long weekend in the Hunter Valley, we flew to Townsville to look at properties (as part of our investment research). We took the ferry and visited Magnetic Island. A year later, we spent several days on Fraser Island. For my sixtieth birthday, we sailed the Whitsundays.
And then we did something innocuous that eventually launched a completely crazy project. We went to visit Ken’s birthplace.
Ken was born and grew up in Yethome, just the other side of the Blue Mountains. On our weekend visit, we saw the house he’d lived in, heard stories about his grandparents, and met an old friend of the family who lived on a nearby farm. It gave us a whole new perspective on Ken to have shared that with him, so we invented the crazy project: we would visit each of our birthplaces.
The following year we moved on to Kerry’s heritage. Kerry had lived in Victoria, not far from the Murray River, so we rented a houseboat at Echuca for a week. We saw the farm she grew up on, visited her family graveyard and learned about the chequered history of the Murray-Darling river system.
Next came Gordon. We camped on his brother’s property along near a little river in Yarram in southern Victoria. We visited Gordon’s dairy farm, swam in the river, and met his brothers and their families. In turns, we sailed to Snake Island in the same little boat that he’d used for a hundred adventures during his teenage years.
That took care of the easy ones. Remaining were Rick and myself, both born and raised in western Canada, and Sue, who had grown up in England. However, we were committed to travelling to each of our birthplaces and having a turn at hosting the FLAFFs in our home territory. One Canadian summer, the six of us showed up in Edmonton, Alberta, where both Rick and I were born. We explored the city, walked through Mill Creek Ravine where Rick used to play cowboys and Indians, and had a barbecue with a dozen of his old schoolmates. My friends got to see the farm where I grew up, the school I attended, the tiny hamlet (Tomahawk) where my family picked up its farm supplies and I attended piano lessons. We travelled the Rockies, from which Rick and I both had strong childhood memories. It was a blast.
Two years later found us in merry old England, where Sue introduced us to British pub food, favourite girlfriends, and her wonderful Mum. We toured her brother’s factory, met other family members, located her childhood home, and saw The Jersey Boys in the West End. Can you imagine?!
You can see that by the end of this, we were a solid little team. Friends for life, really. Like any good team, we were getting to know each other well, we were learning together, we were accomplishing our goals, and we were celebrating.
And speaking of celebration….
(Next week’s post will capture what the FLAFFs recognised about the power of celebration, and how we weave that into our day to day lives.)