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One of our oldest daughter's latest creations

Buck Up and Dream

At a large-ish gathering this weekend, I came to the realization that much of our society has been brainwashed into believing certain things about life that simply aren’t true.

I’m still in shock over the lack of education in many of these areas.

I know I don’t often write snarky posts, but for the last two days I’ve been feeling an urgency on my heart to speak to those who are still stuck in the world of the status quo, and you may see a little “snark” along the way. .

But, it’s “Normal”!

We lived the life of “normal” for a long time. Not completely normal, as we started homeschooling our kids from the get go. This decision brought a bit of kindly worded pushback from some of our family members.

Their concern was loving and justified, and it allowed us to explain our reasoning for bucking the norm.

I remember as I worried and fretted back then (circa 2003) about upsetting our loved ones that a homeschooling friend said to me, “Don’t worry. As the kids grow your loved ones will start to see the good fruit that came from your decision.”

And it’s been true. People often comment on how kind, mature and intelligent our kids are. They are amazed that they can easily hold mature and in-depth conversations with adults and children alike on a variety of subjects.

I credit homeschooling for this because it’s allowed us to have them interact on a regular basis with people of all ages instead of confining them to their age group alone, which is what the public education system does.

“Normal” in today’s world isn’t always a bad thing, but there are some instances of normal that are literally destroying a large sector of people.

The insistence that ALL students go to college and get a degree has become “normal”.

The problem with that mindset is that our country is now dealing with a serious shortage of workers in fields such as HVAC, plumbing, electrical, auto mechanics and other tech school specialties.

It doesn’t take much thought or imagination to realize that a life where kids are discouraged from pursuing these types of jobs – even if it’s what they truly want to do – will eventually come back to bite us in the rear as prices for construction and other similar services will skyrocket more than they already are.

People are also expected to be “normal” in that they work a 9-to-5 job every day for forty years, that they retire no earlier than the standard age of 65, and that they live a life of debt and coordinating monthly payments.

How I Discovered the World of Abnormal

Despite our “freak” breakout from the normal world of schooling, we were immersed in other parts of “normal” for many years. We practiced keeping up with the Joneses regularly by choosing the cars we drove and the places we lived largely based on appearance sake.

We were fine with carrying car payments, credit card payments and a large mortgage because it was “what everyone does”.

We went out to eat regularly, enrolled our kids in the required extracurricular activities, dressed them adorably and lived a seemingly prosperous life in a popular affluent suburb in our state.

Then we had a moment of clarity and bucked our life in the suburbs for a quiet hobby farm about 45 minutes out of town. Being alone with our debt and not having anyone nearby to impress, we came to the realization that we didn’t like being normal.

Car payments and credit card payments suck. Mortgage payments suck. Living to impress others sucks. At least, it did for us. On a desperate whim to stop being a slave to lenders, I googled “how to get out of debt” one winter day near the end of 2012.

I found a few of the normal, non-compelling online magazine articles that were probably written by clueless finance “professionals” that didn’t have a clue about what it was like to struggle for money.

After digging a little deeper I found the amazing world of personal financial blogs. The first two I stumbled upon where John Schmoll’s Frugal Rules and Grayson’s Debt Roundup.

THIS is what I’ve been searching for, I thought. Real live people who were deep in debt and struggling for money who found a way to buck normal and get out of the rat race. 

I was thrilled – and shocked – to learn that not everyone lives a “normal” life. And lucky for us, they were sharing their secrets for bucking “normal” through their blogs.

I’ve spent the last nearly five years learning, learning, learning more than I ever would have in college about how to live a good life on our own terms. I’ve learned things like:

  • How to find out what I truly want out of life
  • How to create a life of financial freedom and independence
  • How to create a work environment that is not only satisfying but totally in my control
  • How to define, set and achieve all sorts of goals from small to large

“Normal” Lives Are Still Very Prevalent, and They’re Ruining People

My new normal life where I do things for me and our family instead of for the purpose of following the crowd has become normal to me now. Hearing stories about bucking the system from real people like the Groovies and the Fritzes are a regular part of my life.

But it wasn’t until this weekend’s gathering that I was steered back into the reality of a sad normal for so many people. As I conversed with others during the gathering, I routinely heard statements such as:

“It doesn’t matter if you use your college degree as long as you have that piece of paper in your hand that says ‘I graduated'” (yeah, and an average of $37k in student loan debt to go with it. Let’s not forget that part.).

“Yeah, just working every day and trying to pay the bills as usual.”

“I don’t like my job, but it pays the bills.”

“I have diabetes/heart disease, etc.”

When I’d bring up stats such as the fact that 72% of college graduates don’t even work in their field of degree, I’d get this look like “What does that have to do with anything in life?”

When I’d talk about my work as a self-employed freelance writer that makes four times more than I would working a “regular” job people would stare at me as if I’d made up the idea in order to make it appear as though I’m contributing to society when I’m really sitting on the couch eating bonbons and watching soap operas.

When I’d bring up our plans for debt freedom and financial independence so that we could spend more time doing what we love, I’d get the deer-in-the-headlights look, as if they were certain I was spending too much time watching late-night informercials.

Bucking Normal

I remember being a very young age when I started wondering why things happen the way they do, and how I could prevent the “normal” troubles that plague so many people. I didn’t know much, but I did want to know “why”.

What I learned after decades of self-driven research is that many of today’s problems – not all, but many – develop from a simple lack of education and discipline.

Mr Groovy sums it up well in this recent post where he talks about those who make it big and why – and why it took him longer than some to find his groove and to start living life with his wife on their terms.

“When I was a young man, I swallowed the consumerist Kool-Aid and bought all the stuff my meager salary and credit limit would allow. So let’s not kid ourselves. When I was 30 years old, I was picking up roadkill and living paycheck to paycheck because I deserved it.” -Mr. Groovy

Bucking normal IS a possibility, but only if you are willing to own up to where you’re at now and then choose to do something different. 

Recommended Reading: Retire Inspired: It’s Not an Age, It’s a Financial Number

Successful people aren’t successful because they were “lucky”, but because they took the time to figure out what it was that they really wanted out of life, and then made a habit of making small steps toward their goals for many years.

Successful people are successful because they’ve decided to stop being normal.

Like our oldest is successful at art because she works her a** off for several hours a day watching tutorials and perfecting her art, and has done so since the tender age of 3.

Bucking the system isn’t easy. We’ve gotten lots of pushback – and still do – about our decisions to do things differently. But you know what? We are happier now than we’ve ever been. We are working toward goals that we truly care about.

We are often spending our time how we want to spend it and are working on being able to do that on a greater level as we get closer to our goal of financial freedom.

And we are teaching our kids to choose their careers based on their passion and not based on a paycheck or status. Our oldest will pursue a non-college-degreed life as an artist and animator.

She’s already making money through various side hustles using her art skills, and she’s only 17.

Our second oldest is entering high school in the fall and is set on a career as an Elementary Education major. Her passion is to teach 2nd graders.

The other two kids aren’t quite set on what they want to do, but they have a good idea of the general direction they want to go, and it’s because we have been teaching them to follow their passion as they learn the basics in school that will prepare them to enter college IF they decide that’s the right move for them.

Yeah, a lot of people think we are nuts.

I like to call it “happy”. I know that’s an inconceivable concept to many people, but we like it here.

It’s time to start asking yourself the hard questions. It’s time to start asking yourself why you are settling for a job you hate, a money situation you hate or a body condition (i.e. your health) that you aren’t happy with.

It’s time to figure out what you really want out of life before you go off the deep end like someone I know who spent too many years living “normal” until it drove him to have the typical midlife crisis and lose everything he loved for the sake of cheap and short-term thrills.

Just so you know, bucking normal will likely not be easy. You’ll get pushback and potentially ridicule from your loved ones as you change your habits in order to make them align with your goals.

You’ll get pushback from your own psyche. Breaking old habits and forming new, better habits is tough work, but it’s worth it as long as you are forming habits that will help you get to where you truly want to be in life.

To buck normal you need to re-learn a different way of life.

Our Build Wealth category and our Get Out of Debt category both have articles that can help you with that, even if money isn’t a primary concern. There’s lots of motivational stuff there that will inspire you to reach for more in life.

It’s time to buck up and dream, people. You deserve better than “normal”.



  1. Kathy says:

    While I think every student should get some additional education/training after high school, not everyone needs to go to college. I don’t think that vocational training gets enough respect in this country and are actually looked down on by a lot of people. I often tell the story of our friend’s daughter who went to college and majored in African studies. Upon graduation, she couldn’t find a job so she went back to school for her Master’s degree. Finishing that, she still couldn’t find a job. She lamented that she had all these degrees and was only qualified to work at Hardee’s. Finally she entered a nursing program, became an RN and instantly had a good job after completing the program. So six wasted years and how much debt, she finally found a program that paid off. I think part of a parent’s job is to not only raise a child but to provide guidance and perhaps a little tough love in helping a child make better choices about what their course of study should be.

    • Laurie says:

      Wonderful comment, Kathy, as usual. I agree that vocational training education is looked down upon, and it’s really so sad. We need to think outside the “drink the koolaid” box a little more when it comes to education. Not everyone is meant to be an engineer.

  2. We can definitely relate to your story here. We’ve faced some surprising pushback with recent lifestyle changes, both financial and health-related. It seems like many people take it as a personal attack/commentary on their own lifestyle if we aren’t doing what they’re doing, when in all reality we’re just living for ourselves (for once). I still occasionally encourage friends and family to challenge the social norms, but I’ve realized that most people are too far gone to “get it”.

    • Laurie says:

      Yes!!!!!!! Thanks for that great comment, Ryan. Although I feel badly that you are experiencing some of the same stuff, I’m so glad to hear we’re not alone. As the old saying goes, “At first they’ll ask why you’re doing it. Later they’ll ask how you did it.”

  3. Another great post Laurie! I feel odd sometimes compared to my friends because they have no problems always saying yes to going out to eat or going to a concert or take an expensive trip. I always wonder how they afford so much, but you know what? Not my problem! I need to focus on what makes ME happy and how I operate best!

    • Laurie says:

      Well, and as I learned in the banking industry, most people can “afford” all of those extra expenses via a whole lot of debt. That was the case with most people I came across over a 15 year period, and it didn’t matter where they lived, what they did or how much they made. The problem lies largely in a lack of discipline.

  4. Hear Hear Laurie! I totally agree with everything you said. I see this awakening in people every time I watch a video about full time RVers. People who are just saying NO to being zombie sheep, not one more day. You are doing God’s work Laurie, in so many ways, by shining that Light for others. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      YES!!! “Just saying ‘no’ to being zombie sheep”. I love it!! Yes, not one more day. God has a better plan for us that that! All of us!

  5. Aaron says:

    Kudos to you and your family for bucking “normal”. Also, that illustration by your daughter is excellent! She’s really good.

  6. Brian says:

    So many just get caught in the hamster wheel, and do what others have done before them. Saying things like “Everyone has debt” We fell into that trap early on, but have moved passed that now. We are focused on preparing our kids, to think for themselves, to look at multiple paths for their futures. Sure I’d like to help others along the way, but find often many aren’t listening.

  7. I admit, outside of the blog, I rarely try to explain our choices unless people ask. Semi-retired at 49/57 can be hard for folks to understand so Jon “manages real estate properties” and I’m a “stay at home mom who does tax prep in the winter.” It’s the exact same thing, but somehow it seems to fit folks expectations better.

    Are we trying too hard to appear normal? Could we have more impact if we didn’t downplay our choices as much as we tend to do? These are questions I need to do a better job exploring. Maybe we’re taking a coward’s way out by taking a path of least resistance, or maybe we’re just protecting our choice.

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, funny, isn’t it? I don’t think you’re trying to appear normal, I think you’re just trying to avoid some unnecessary confrontation – something I need to be better at. As far as having an impact, like Brian said so many people just aren’t listening. I found that this weekend at the gathering. Even the most passive comment about stats on debt or college or what we were doing was met with complete uninterest.

  8. Laura says:

    AMEN Laurie!! This is such a great post and I’m so glad I found your blog. You are very inspiring – keep up the good work! It is so hard to not be “normal” in America. We are former homeschoolers, so I know exactly what you mean about pushback. Now we trying to live debt-free and I actually think this may be more challenging than homeschooling! My oldest has taken the vocational route because college was NOT for him and it’s such an amazing fit for him, but not without some pushback there too.

    Also, I just discovered Money Peach and listed to his podcast with Chris Hogan and really enjoyed it. I saw you there too!

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks so much, Laura – I really appreciate the encouraging words! Good for you guys for bucking the system, working to live debt free and encouraging your son to follow his heart. I hope you show this post to him. We NEED more people in the vocations!! SO glad you liked the Chris Hogan podcast. That story about Michael and Donna hit me hard. Yes, I’ve been loving writing for Peach. He has the same heart for encouraging others to strive for more. Glad you found us!

  9. People get real cranky when you tell them they are behaving like a herd, because everyone wants to be special and different. But we do act like cattle, especially when it comes to “norms”. And obviously some norms are good and needed but our inability to see how dutifully following, say going to college when learning a trade is better suited to you, is unfortunate. People need to learn to embrace themselves and follow their own track, which on occasion, will be different from what others expect. You are a great home school mom and my sister-in-law was not. Ironically, she tried it because that it was what all her friends were doing. 😀 Thankfully, she also realized that it was not right for her after trying it for a year and sent the kids to regular school, which was right for their family. People need to stop fearing those who try something different, like home-schooling or being debt-free, and respect their choices. We’d all be much happier people!

    • Laurie says:

      That is so great that your sis-in-law realized it was not right for her. It’s not for everyone, that’s for sure. Tanya, SO many great words in your comment. I love what you said about acting like cattle. “Sheeple” as we call them sometimes. We have got to learn to think for ourselves. It’s our ability to do that that makes a valuable community. Thanks so much for stopping by!!

  10. I think I’ve become somewhat accustomed to the push back since Alan and I have always been a bit “abnormal”, especially in certain areas, like parenting. But, we also tend to surround ourselves with more like-minded people. Plus, since I’m so immersed in the personal finance community online, I often forget about “normal” until I’m forced into a situation, such as your recent gathering (or Target on a Sunday). Love this post, Laurie! 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      We’re having trouble finding like-minded people, with the exception of cherished online friends like you guys and maybe one other couple who we know that thinks similarly. I hope we find some soon! 🙂

  11. I hear you, Laurie. I think a lot of people are totally unhappy with their situation and would benefit from getting out of the normal routine.

    But I like to make space for those who are actually quite happy and satisfied with a typical American existence. Some people are okay working until 65 because they like their job, and their coworkers, and maybe even like having new cars and toys every so often, too.

    Anyway, I think that if things aren’t working for you, as you noted, then taking a different path is almost required. But if you’re happy doing you, then keep on doing you!

    • Laurie says:

      I wouldn’t be surprised if some people were happy working till 65 at a 9-to-5, but I seriously doubt they’d be happy doing it because they have to in order to keep up with debt payments. Sometimes we need to dig deep to find out what makes us truly happy. 🙂

      • Debt does make people less happy, on average. In our case though, I’m happier with a mortgage than without, for example. It took me paying off a house to figure that out, but I like having those funds in the market rather than in the house for whatever reason.

        As you said, it’s a bit of work to figure out what works for you, and what makes you happy.

        • Laurie says:

          Yeah, but that’s the difference: you are keeping the debt in order to funnel more funds into wealth-building investments. Many people keep the debt so they can spend the extra money on things that don’t truly matter to them. They just don’t realize it. 🙂

          Love having friendly discussions with you, DB40. You always give me food for thought. 🙂

  12. Mr. Groovy says:

    When my brother and sister and I look at old pictures of our childhood birthdays, we laugh and shake our heads. In practically every picture, you see adults smoking. And it’s not because the adults in our lives were stupid or callous. It’s because back then, turning your home (or car, for that matter) into a gas chamber and subjecting yourself and your children to a noxious cloud of smoke was perfectly “normal.”

    Thank god “weirdos” decided to buck that convention.

    And thank god people like yourself are bucking “normal” when it comes to college and personal responsibility.

    Does everyone really need to go to college? And for those who do decide to go, do they really need to buy 40 classes when only 12-15 pertain to their majors?

    I failed to achieve financial success early in my adult life because I was an effing bum. But apparently, that’s extremely rare. Today, very few people are responsible for their own predicaments. The failure lies with the government, the one percent, or the countless “isms” that plague our land. “Sure, I drank a pint of gin every day. But the reason why I live under this bridge is because society doesn’t care.”

    Meh. I get so frustrated.

    A pox on normal!

    Thank you so much, Laurie, for mentioning me in this post. I’m truly honored. May your war against “normal” succeed spectacularly. Cheers.

    P.S. Your daughter’s artwork is nothing short of phenomenal.

    • Laurie says:

      AMEN!!!! I love what you said about smoking. My brother was out of school several times a year with bronchitis due to the smoking in the house but it wasn’t until years after he left home that my mom and stepdad stopped smoking. Didn’t occur to anybody that maybe they could stop smoking, in spite of the fact that we had loving parents.

      Thanks for the compliment on Madelyn’s artwork. She just finished another doozy that I can’t wait to share with readers. We’re having this one framed. 🙂

  13. Mackenzie says:

    I like the stat you mentioned about 72% of college graduates don’t even work in their chosen field. *raises hand slowly* Even though at present I am a stay-at-home mom, when I was working, I worked as a buyer for a large retail company. That is NOT when I went to college for. When you graduate from a university, your first priority is finding a job and 9 times out of 10, you end up in an occupation that has nothing to do with your major.

    Food for thought 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      So true, Mackenzie, and that’s what really is messed up about “normal”. We have to teach kids to really research and think about what’s best for them instead of shipping them all off to college just because.

  14. Maddie’s artwork looks truly professional! It will be exciting to track her progress over the next few years. You do these kick-in-the-pants posts so well! No more of normal for me! I feel motivated now to tackle what I need to tackle in several areas of my life – all of them fitting under the banner of “self-discipline”. I’ve been off refined sugar for a full week now. That’s got to count for something. On to the next week!

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks, Ruth!! I’m so honored and excited that the post inspired you, my friend! I know you’ll continue to make great strides. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks, Val!!! Glad I didn’t sound snarky. Exasperated is the perfect description!! Thanks for reading – we appreciate it!

  15. Olivia says:

    Being the child of a sculptor, I didn’t grow up “normally”. We went to public school, but all of dad’s friends were in the business. It didn’t dawn on me until junior high that most kid’s parents worked 9-5 and had matching furniture. We encountered some hostility from a particular neighbor, but for the most part the other families on our block were bemused by dad’s differences. Going to college was encouraged, my folks were children of immigrants, but we were well aware it was a means to an end, namely making a living.

    Having had this background encouraged me to think outside the box when my own family’s finances were rough. Our furniture doesn’t have to match, we don’t need to shop fancy stores, be in car debt, have tons of clothes, but beauty, comfort, and function are important. It’s a shame our society values conformity so intensely. They miss out on so much.

    A book I go back to often is “The Tightwad Gazette”. It primes the pump so to speak, even if it doesn’t address a particular issue, it gives me the freedom to explore alternative solutions.

    Keep pressing on Laurie.

    • Laurie says:

      What a privilege to grow up in a family where art is so prevalent, Olivia!! I love the Tightwad Gazette. Such practical tips that, added up, lead to huge money savings for reaching any financial goal!

  16. Normal sucks. The most popular beer in America is Bud Light and the most popular restaurant is McDonald’s. Why in the world would you want to do what everyone else is doing?

    A good rule of thumb is if people think you are crazy you are probably on the right track.

    I was listening to conversation between two very high income earners this weekend at a hotel. They were discussing their $700/month car payments and one of them was looking to get a Tesla in addition but it would mean changing his cell phone and cable plan to afford the payments. His friend seemed to think it was perfectly normal to be buying a second $100K car and I was thinking what the hell is wrong you. Isn’t one extremely expensive car enough?

    • Laurie says:

      Not to mention that both that beer and restaurant food are nearly totally void of quality taste. 🙂

      I’m impressed that you didn’t give him a smack upside the head, you know, straight from your subconscious. But I see the same thing all of the time. It’s amazing how much money you can waste if you don’t make a plan.

  17. This is one of the few posts I’ve read lately while nodding my head. Amazing.

    I grew up in a “normal” family and have mostly “normal” friends (with the same ideas about the importance of college education, getting a “real” job to pay bills, etc) so being someone who attempted stepping out of a certain comfort zone to pursue a freelancing career was and still is quite difficult to explain.

    There are plenty of people I love a great deal who continue having “normal” lives and that’s fine. In many cases, they don’t even do it because they don’t know other options exist, but because it’s so much easier!

    I’ve learned to deal with it though. Explaining to people that working from home doesn’t imply soap operas makes me sound like a broken record 😀 So, I just ignore and move on..

    PS: where are your share buttons when I need them? 😀

  18. Great post! With two kids under 3 I’ve begun to think long and hard about home schooling. I’d expect some pushback from family, but there are many benefits! I’ve been surprised how many people we’ve come across that have home schooled too, it’s very encouraging.

    • Laurie says:

      That’s great!!! We’ve found it wonderful in that we can cater each kid’s curriculum choices toward their career goals. Madelyn spends 8 hours a day drawing and watching tutorials on drawing and animation because she can get all of her schoolwork done in 3-4 hours. It allows for some wonderful flexibility!

  19. Josh says:

    I usually don’t tell people about my freelancing. Even our close family still think we live on pennies because it’s untraditional.

    As others have mentioned votech careers are shunned by most people. My brother in law is one of the most in-demand mechanics in our small county and could get a job anywhere. He makes more than I do now and he’s still in his mid 20s. The trick is that he started young and he worked hard (still does) to build his skills.

    • Laurie says:

      Yes!!! People often mistake that votech stuff for “crap” jobs when they are making really good money these days. If it’s your passion to be a plumber, a mechanic or something like that, I say go for it!! Time to start bucking the mainstream garbage that’s been feed to us for so many years.

      • Josh says:

        Yea. I was in that camp in high school and college, even though many of my true best friends (in high school) leaned to that route.

        I guess part of my stigma is that both sides of my family did manual labor on factories, farms, and construction sites growing up and I “knew” college was my way to escape that trend.

        Also, great artwork design by your daughter. That’s a real talent.

        • Laurie says:

          Thanks, Josh!! The manual labor work is tough stuff. Rick did landscaping one summer and he says it’s the hardest work he’s ever done. But some people are really cut out for it and love it. Plus, it can lead into other things. Rick’s brother was an electrician for years – now he works at a much cushier job as an electrical inspector for a major metropolitan city.

  20. Steveark says:

    Awesome post. Normal is overrated. But some parts of normal still work if you can avoid the stupid stuff that composes so much of what is considered normal today. I was a normal chemical engineer, loved my thirty year plus career. Saved aggressively and invested 100% in equities while living modestly with my awesome stay at home wife and now am early retired and doing four side gigs for pay and seven to help less fortunate people. Raised three kids in public schools, three engineering, one business, one special adult education and one medical doctor degrees among the three of them, all costing us not a penny due to great mom imparted study skills, scholarships and kids having jobs. I’ve got more money that we could ever spend but still buy used cars and live in the only modest house we’ve ever owned. Still married after 39 years to my beautiful and fit marathon and tennis champion wife who is married to her marathon plodder and tennis also ran husband. Different path from yours but same values and results I’d say.

    • Laurie says:

      This is what I’m talking about, Steve!! You guys created your own path based on your values and it worked for you. It’s time we stop following the crowd and start swimming upstream in whatever ways help us achieve our goals. Great comment. Thanks for sharing how your plan worked for you – gives me hope!!

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