The real price of quality of life

I’ve been asking a lot of questions lately. Where do we go from here? What do I want out of life? What do I want to do when I grow up? But all I seem to end up with are more questions.

I’ve recently found myself in a bit of a quandary and am having to place a dollar value on things I never even considered had a dollar value. How much is setting my own schedule worth to me? Having my kids in the school we’ve chosen? Boy Scouts? Putting down ‘roots’ of some sort? The process of friendship? Health insurance? This is all very confusing.

We returned home to the USA two months ago after three years on the road cycling from Alaska to Argentina and decided we were ready to settle down for a while and live in the good ol’ US of A – something we hadn’t done for quite some time.

We came back to our hometown of Boise, Idaho and are buying a small house (attempting to anyway). The kids were enrolled part time in a great program through the local public schools. We homeschool the rest of the day. Our sons are enjoying Boy Scouts and are looking forward to playing on soccer teams in the fall.

John and I are enjoying life at home. We’re spending time improving our website and writing books about our adventures.

Life is grand, and we’d like to continue in this same vein. I think we would do exactly that if it weren’t for health insurance.

Before we left on our adventure we were covered through a plan from our teaching jobs. While on the road we picked up a health insurance policy designed for long-term travelers and expats. Now neither of them is an option.

Our traveler’s insurance stipulates that we be out of the USA for at least six months per year. That was no problem before, but now that we want to stay put it’s a big problem. Huge, massive, gigantic problem.

Because it means that we have basically three options:

  • Spend at least six months per year in other countries so we can keep our current insurance
  • Pay exorbitant amounts for independent health insurance – money we don’t have, by the way
  • Get teaching jobs or some other job that will provide insurance – which means we won’t have time to do the other things we want to do (including time with Davy and Daryl)

Which brings me to the point – how much are we willing to pay for quality of life? And what is quality of life?

At this point in time, John and I want to stay home and be “self-employed,” so to speak. We have some rental properties and, between the income from those houses and a bit from our website, we can live. Frugally, to be sure, but we can do it. Our current income is about half of what my teaching salary was, but we’re willing to deal with that in order to have the freedom to design our own schedule.

Although we have less money than we used to, we are enjoying the time and energy we have for our children. We’re enjoying working on our own timeline and, if we find ourselves awake at three in the morning, we can work then and take a nap during the day. We like the freedom we have to take off and head to Vancouver to a conference or to Connecticut to see Grandma. We like taking bike rides along the Boise River while everyone else is at work.

We are enjoying living in the USA and having opportunities for the boys. Not only are there great educational programs available, but there are plenty of extra-curricular activities too. The boys will be able to plug in to various volunteer organizations and be pushed in ways we can’t provide while we’re traveling.

But now we’re having to put a dollar value on that freedom. How much is it worth it to us to set our own schedule? To have the boys in their school and Boy Scouts? How much is it worth to live in the States? Can we afford it?

There is no question that it would be cheaper in terms of dollars to live overseas. We could move to Mexico or Argentina or Thailand or Spain and live there. We could continue traveling on our bicycles in Europe or Australia. As for the actual dollar amount spent, it would be cheaper to pursue one of those options.

But by doing that, we would give up a lot too. We would give up the boys’ school and their Boy Scouts. We would give up soccer team and bowling. Our sons would not be able to volunteer at the zoo or be a part of a stable circle of friends.

It’s a tough decision to be sure. We have to figure out exactly how much each of those items is worth to us and if we can afford it. There is no right and wrong answer – just a whole lot of shades of gray. What’s important to me may not be to you. Your essential items may not even be a consideration on my quality of life list.

There was a time in my life when I thought people who could live overseas but chose not to were crazy. I felt I had the best job in the world and was amazed that my employers actually paid me to do it. Heck – I would have volunteered just to have the chance to live in Ethiopia or Egypt! I never thought the day would come when I wanted to live in the USA and would be willing to sacrifice in order to make that happen.

As we go through life our needs and wants change. I want the best for my sons, but I’m not really sure what that best is. Is the best for us to go back to work in order to get health insurance, but not have time for Davy and Daryl? Or should we continue traveling and give up what the boys have here in Boise?

It’s a fine line to be sure – and one I’m not looking forward to navigating in the coming months.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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22 Responses to The real price of quality of life

  1. Rain June 12, 2011 at 8:51 am #

    So difficult isn’t it? It makes me terribly sad that health insurance is a show stopper for so many of life’s plans. Ok, more than sad…angry. We have a health care conundrum, too, but under very different circumstances. Still, it’s ridiculous that anyone should have to be trapped by a screwed up “care” system. It’s moments like these when I think…maybe our home base should shift to Norway, Denmark, or some other health-care-enlightened society. Wishing you all the best as you wrestle with plans for your future.

  2. Neil June 12, 2011 at 11:01 am #

    That sounds terrible. Makes you realise how much private health care kills people’s freedom to make their own choices and work for themselves.

    I don’t have much to say, except that it does feel like there’s only two options your looking at: live an exotic lifestyle traveling and moving on frequently, or live in Boise. And it makes me wonder, since you’re just starting to put down roots, if you wouldn’t be better off looking into living permanently in another country that’s not so exotic. There’s at least 5 English-speaking countries where you can put down roots and enjoy stability and a similar lifestyle to the US, and not be taking a big risk by not carrying any private insurance. It takes some paperwork and expense to move to these type of countries permanently, but it sounds like, given the cost of US health insurance, that it would pay for itself within a year or so.

  3. JC June 12, 2011 at 11:38 am #

    Health insurance for every little medical bill only drives costs up, just like it would for home insurance if it paid for every broken window. What most of us are worried about is catastrophic costs. All others can probably be managed cheaper than insurance costs. I know one can buy catastrophic policies (high deductible) for a lot cheaper than the usual plans. Think about it….when someone else pays (insurance) no one cares about how much something costs. Health insurance gets all mixed up with the emotions as opposed to other types of insurances and that is a problem. Unless Obamacare is declared unconstitional or repealed you will be forced to buy a type of policy that will pay for the small things, and therefore drive costs up.
    Freedom is priceless and worth the effort to protect it. If you had a catastrophic medical expense (most people never do), you could bite the bullet and sell a rental property. This is worst case scenario, which most people never experience. When you get old tho, those risks change. Good luck in maintaining your freedom.

  4. Erin June 12, 2011 at 12:35 pm #

    If you make little enough money, can you get the children insured under state Medicaid? It’s often fairly generous for children (varies state to state), even if you can’t get the adults covered that way.

  5. Amy @LivinOnTheRoad June 12, 2011 at 3:03 pm #

    It would be a shame to compromise what you want for health insurance. “Having” to spend six months overseas doesn’t sound like such a bad option, maybe you could have a six month stability in the US and six months of travelling, to have the best of both worlds, and have the health insurance?

  6. Theresa June 12, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

    Tough decisions. I would think 6 months in another country wouldn’t be so bad. Plenty of folks do the whole “snowbird” thing here–have a home base and live in AK during the warmer months and spend winters down south. It provides a fair amount of stability. Kids always come back to the same place each year, make friends in both places, etc. It’s probably what we will eventually end up doing eventually.
    Plus, from what I understand there are Boy Scout troops in many other countries. So, it is very possible the boys could hook up with a troop wherever you go.
    The only thing would be the school programs. That would be an issue for sure. Though if you did them a semester at a time it could work. As in, looking at the school year as two separate semesters, one spent here and one abroad. The boys could do the programs here one semester and other activities wherever you go the other semester. Would be good variety at least.
    Anyway, just some thoughts.
    Anyway, just some thoughts.

  7. Theresa June 12, 2011 at 3:19 pm #

    Please ignore the weird repetitions in my comment. Sheesh.

  8. Bluegreen Kirk June 13, 2011 at 5:08 am #

    I guess the quality of life really differs for everyone. I would rather enjoy lesser pay for more freedom. Being able to work from home is something I really enjoyed. Health insurance is really expensive is especially when you have a family this one of the reasons to keep a job. I would love the opportunity to spend time in another country. 6 months though for me is pushing it. Maybe just 2-3

  9. Callum June 13, 2011 at 6:07 am #

    Health insurance is one of the reasons I won’t consider settling permanently in the USA. Have you considered moving north to Canada? As I understand it, healthcare is significantly cheaper in Canada, I’d imagine especially so for self employed people who live outwith the “system” and therefore require independent insurance rather than the insurance of an employer.

    There are first world countries with all the opportunities of the USA for boys, boy scouts, friends, stable social circles and so on, but which are unencumbered with the many issues the USA faces. It’s always a trade off, the US has things other places don’t, but from a family perspective it’s my firm believe that almost any other first world, English speaking country will offer a better family quality of life than the US.

    I wish you the best of luck in your decisions and continuing adventures.

  10. Nancy June 13, 2011 at 7:17 am #

    Thank you all. We have seriously thought about “putting down roots” in another country but, truth be told, Boise is where we want to be. My sons – although they haven’t lived there very much at all – really identify with Boise and always have. Boise has always been “home” even though it’s rarely been where they lived.

    I can only speak for my boys as I haven’t raised any other kids, but for Davy and Daryl (especially Daryl) it has always been of the utmost importance to “be from” somewhere – and that somewhere was always Boise as that’s where they were born. Yes – they left 6 weeks after birth to fly to Ethiopia, but that’s where they’ve always considered was home.

    It’s strange to me now that we may not be able to stay there. I’ve always assumed that we could move to Boise at any time – but the reality is that we may not be able to. And that is unsettling.

  11. Kathleen June 13, 2011 at 8:28 am #

    Hi Nancy,

    Just wanted to let you know that your journeys and travels and wonderful family are a real source of inspiration to us. I’ve just given you a shout out on the Momentum Families on Bikes Blog under “favourite family bike blogs.”

    I was also thinking you might want to consider moving to Canada (where we live) and enjoy free medical coverage with no insurance (except for dental).

  12. Colleen Friesen June 13, 2011 at 7:21 pm #

    Nancy, It was great to meet you at the TBEX conference in Vancouver. I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to talk longer.
    Wow. This sounds like such a horrible dilemma. I would hate to have health care be the determinant in my plans. That’s so wrong.
    Someone close to me has been going through a melanoma diagnosis. I went with her to the oncologist and used an American internet site to help me ask some of the key questions. What stood out for me was one of the first questions that it instructed patients to ask, “What will it cost?”
    I couldn’t imagine having to ask that. It’s horrible enough going through something like that, but to have to figure out how to pay for it as well would be too much to contemplate on an already stress-filled situation.
    I wish I could offer a solution…I’ll be thinking.
    Take care,

  13. flights to bangkok June 14, 2011 at 4:25 am #

    So difficult for you? The only thing would be the school programs. Health insurance is one of the reasons. you were enjoying living in the USA and having opportunities for the boys. Not only were the great days for your boys but also some other activities make you platy good days for your life..Thanks for sharing this

  14. Debbie June 14, 2011 at 12:10 pm #

    Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how much a person weighs the pros and cons, there’s always going to be one item that will not submit to objectivity. It’ll always be rooted in emotion.

    You guys are struggling with Boise being home, regardless of the healthcare situation. For us, we’re finally making plans to take a year off and Europe has always been our goal. But we’ve got three cats and not one of us can imagine going through with any of the alternatives to leaving them behind.

    We’re on the brink of trading cycling around Europe for hauling a travel trailer around North America!

    Good luck Nancy, there’s nothing easy about it.

  15. Thomas Arbs June 15, 2011 at 4:16 am #

    If in all those years on the road you and the boys really carried a place called home in their hearts, then this place cannot be easily swapped for another place. So relocating to a “similar” place is not an option (though I would agree with some other posters that there places worth living do exist outside the US). I don’t know a dingo’s kidneys about the US health care system, ours is complicated enough thank you, but can one job provide for health care for the entire family? Could it even be part-time? If so, this not-quite-comfortable option might still be it in the end.

  16. caleb June 17, 2011 at 8:26 am #

    trying to figure out why canada, and other first world countrys have free or way less expensive healthcare. and the only thing i can see thats different is military spending.

  17. Mike June 22, 2011 at 11:29 am #

    I am self employed and own rental property. My wife is a nurse. When we had our first she decided to work part time 2 days a week which her hospital still offers health insurance to her. Maybe one of you could find a part time position in something you like. My wife loves nursing so it works for us. We have looked at dropping her to 1 day per week and she will lose insurance. Through buying it direct we are able to get a policy with a deductible that is comparable priced to what she has. I would check into buying insurance direct. If you guys are all pretty healthy which you are if you can ride as far as you have maybe a high deductible is the way to go.

  18. Massive D July 2, 2011 at 12:54 am #

    Basically the US insurance option only works for people affiliated with a large organisation. You can’t really privately insure because the only way you can garantee payment is if you are part of something way bigger than your family. When assessing an insurance option realize “coverage” is not what you want. Payouts are what you want. Coverage is the process by which you pay and they promise, what you want is the part where they pay, which is totally a different thing.

    The reason why your life is inspirational is because in your own small way you have stepped out of the rat race, and everyone would like to do that. And everyone can. There is a reason why so few do.

  19. Susan August 2, 2011 at 6:55 pm #

    I know someone here who has an LLC. He’s essentially a freelance editor. He and his business partner were able to secure cheaper insurance by having a business.

    Sounds like a new source of revenue is in order. I’d love to see an ebook or kindle (Amazon lets you create one for free) on guides of how to bike with family, how to travel long-term, where you stayed, etc. I wouldn’t even know how to start on a bike or what roads are bike-friendly.

    I am completely confident you’ll figure it out! If you figured out how to hit the road for 4 years, you can figure this one out.

    • Nancy August 2, 2011 at 7:11 pm #

      I’ve thought about that route, Susan. Trouble is it’s a hassle and (semi) costly to set up the LLC. It would be worth it if we planned to be in this situation for the long-term, but we really don’t know what we’re doing.

      We are working on some books now – hope to have the first one out within a month! It’ll be out in actual paper book as well as e-book form. Can’t wait!

      Thanks for the vote of confidence!

  20. Frankie Sparks December 11, 2011 at 6:04 pm #

    Thank you all. Good luck Nancy, there’s nothing easy about it. It’s strange to me now that we may not be able to stay there.


  1. Links We Love: Summer Links Mama Must Read : Skimbaco Lifestyle by Katja Presnal - June 26, 2011

    […] The real price of quality of life is a great post on the Family on Bikes blog where Nancy writes about their family’s dream; the want of staying put after traveling around the world, but what is preventing them from living life to the fullest right now is… health insurance. I think many of us can relate. […]

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