For those who don’t know – I returned to the USA in April of 2013 after 4.5 years of living abroad. I was pretty much gone for the first term of Obama and a part of his second term. I came back with a wife who had never been here and a 1 1/2 year old daughter who was born in my wife’s native Morocco and conceived in Turkey where we had both lived and taught school, worked with hotels, etc.
We arrived in the USA without very much. Two suitcases each and about $6k. I thought I had a plan, but it quickly went awry. My plan had been for us to stay in San Francisco but I quickly discovered that no one wanted to pay me enough money that we could stay there any longer than we had. I’d thought that running my own small international business and becoming a self trained expert in social media and online travel would have opened doors, but I found instead that I was ‘overqualified’ for the positions I was considered for. A 40-something guy with a family and no fortune 500 experience. So, running out of money and options I scoured the pacific coast for a town where I could support my family on the small income I was still earning from online work.
We arrived in Reedsport in August of 2013 with enough money to last for a couple of months at best and as I have written before, my online work drying up. The thing I had noticed since arriving in the USA was the huge glut of stuff here and the amount of valuable items that were sold at garage sales, thrift shops, and estate sales for far less than resale value. I was buying as much as I could and selling it online and at garage sales – but our new town had a limit on the number of g-sales you could have per year – just three.
Ebay by itself wasn’t sustainable. I found an ad online for a job selling life insurance and bit – after an expenseive course of study and a couple of months which burned through our savings – I became a licensed life insurance agent – and quickly realized that the business I had jumped into was a bad match for me – particularly with the scammy heavy handed sales practices my new company required me to use. Uh oh.
I had more valuables accumulated than I could sell on Ebay – not enough for a shop – but a good bit. So we signed on with an antique mall in Florence and rented a space. I learned a lot from the experience – in particular that the only people who earn a living from antique malls are the owners. We survived by a couple of garage sales, selling online, and making a modest amount from the antique mall. But here was the catch with that – we paid $200 per month rent for our space plus a 15% commission – so if we sold $1000 worth of goods – the owner of the mall got $350 and we got $650. A fair amount of our antiques were a consignment from friends who had lost their parents and grandparents and found themselves with an overwhelming amount of stuff – that was a 50/50 split – mind you – that was before the antique mall owner took his cut – so that meant they got $500, the mall owner got $350, and we got $150 out of $1000 (which, by the way, was a number we never reached in the mall). Of course, if we sold our own product the amount we got was more – but you get the point, I think. It wasn’t a sustainable way to do business.
So, I scraped together as much as I could and in June of 2014 – we opened our own shop Reedsport Antiques. There were bigger spaces available but I found a space that had a very modest rent of $300 per month – with utilities and insurance we pay about $500 per month total. Since that time, I’ve been supporting my little family with the combination of Ebay, a little bit of online work, and mostly – our little antique shop. The good news is – it’s working. Even now as winter slows the tourist traffic to nothing and we are left with only the very poor residents of this place and some bit of driveby traffic on Hwy 101, it is supporting us. The bad news is that it is only just barely doing so – and only because I’ve managed to once again defer my student loan payments of $500 per month for another year…
Here is the summary of our life in the USA – we made it here, we found a place we could afford to live, and we’ve started a little business that is sustaining us. The town is dying and devoid of cultural activities – but it is cheap. We are not sinking in quicksand of debt but mainly because we don’t have any credit and I’ve managed to defer my student debt.
Most importantly, we are making it. It’s a constant battle, but worth it to see my family happy and healthy. Is the USA a land of opportunity? Yes it is – but – the truth is – I found far more opportunity in Turkey, Morocco, Indonesia, and Europe – because I’m American. Here in the USA, I’m just another 40-something guy with a useless B.A. – at least when it comes to employers. In other countries, being an American meant something and gave me value.
I’m not sure that we will stay in the USA for the long term – but while we are here – I will keep busting my balls and building this and other business. I don’t know if I will be a model of American success – I don’t know how likely it is that we will become even middle class – let alone upper middle class or wealthy. I have my own defintions. Middle class folks have a car less than five years old, own (or are making payments on a house), and have enough savings to survive several months with no income and take a two week vacation each year. We are not close to that yet – my car is nearly 20 years old, we rent, and if I stop working for even a week – it becomes questionable if we can pay our bills the next month. There is virtually no safety net. I don’t want to say we are lower class or poor – but maybe it’s safe to say that we are in the worrying class. This life is filled with worries and there is almost no time to relax and breathe. Not yet, anyway.
I think we will start to do our Jefferson’s move on up in 2015. That is my plan. And that is the state of our world.
**I should also note that without the generosity of our friends this move to the USA would have been much much more difficult. We had friends that hosted us for months when we arrived and friends who trusted us with their family treasures. We had friends who welcomed us and offered advice and emotional support. Without friends, this would have been a much harder year and seven months.