A Sarpy family downsizes to live larger

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Posted: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 12:00 am

The Lippincotts mom, dad, daughter and son went from a 2,000-square-foot house in suburbia to a one-bedroom apartment where the kids share a futon sleeper and everyone shares one clothes closet about 33 items apiece.

Their downsizing wasn't driven by foreclosure or job loss, although the shaky economy did nudge them to shed materials and expenses.

The result, say Lorilee and Bryon Lippincott, has been more savings, less stress on family and the environment, and extra time to do more of what they really value.

This week, for example, the four are taking off to China, where they'll spend at least a year absorbing another culture and the parents will be teaching English to university students.

“The way we're living and not burdened with debt allows us to drop everything and take off to China,” said Lorilee, 32. She and Bryon, her college sweetheart, are parents to Lily, 9, and Ian, 6.

The Lippincotts of Sarpy County are an example of a family that cinched the financial budget and emerged on the other end of the recession with a lifestyle they see as a keeper.

They're not alone in trying to make financial shifts a permanent thing. According to a recent survey by Fidelity Investments, 62 percent of consumers said they had stuck with past New Year's resolutions to improve finances, a record high for the four years the financial resolution study has been conducted.

The survey found also that 46 percent of individuals set out in 2013 to crack down financially, mostly by saving more and spending less. That share was up from 31 percent since the tracking study started in 2009.

For the Lippincotts, the seed for living simpler which Lorilee said has significantly cut back on furnishings, utilities and entertainment was planted in the winter of 2007 while staying in a hotel during an out-of-state job related to Bryon's construction business. Lorilee went along with the kids.

“We had so much more time when we lived out of a suitcase,” she said. “We were like, man, if we could do this all the time. ...”

The family began conserving in various ways while living in the 2,000-square-foot Elkhorn area home they had purchased in foreclosure. They also were building Bryon's construction business.

He preferred the freedom and independence of being self-employed, hiring subcontractors for electric and other specialty work needed for his residential or commercial projects.

A World-Herald article in December 2009 outlined cutbacks the Lippincotts had made up to that point: Heating only half the home; keeping the thermostat at 50 degrees at night, snuggling with heated blankets to stay warm; line-drying clothes; no air-conditioner; canning food from their garden; cutting their own hair; driving older cars to save on insurance premiums; buying items at a discount; rarely eating out; making everything from pizza crust to laundry soap from scratch.

Still, it was not enough, Lorilee said.

“You want to take care of your kids. You want to take care of your spouse and your 2,000-square-foot house. You want to be able to shower and you just can't do it all. I just couldn't make it all fit.”

In May 2011, they made a drastic move into a two-bedroom apartment with a garage. They kept the Elkhorn-area house as a rental.

Admittedly, said Lorilee, going from house to apartment goes against traditional investment strategies she'd been taught.

But it enabled the family to put away money and continue to “de-clutter.” A year later, they moved to their most recent digs: a one-bedroom apartment in Sarpy County.

The living room has little more than a futon that doubles as the kids' bed at night; a table and chairs, toy box, portable piano and a few pictures on the wall taken by Bryon. (He hopes photography will replace the construction job.)

One closet in the entry area is filled with toys and materials Lorilee uses to home-school the kids. Another closet in the entryway is filled with linens, cleaning and bathroom items.

A pair of closets in the bedroom serve as an office and the family's clothes closet. (Off-season clothes are in an under-the-bed compartment made by Bryon.)

Lorilee figures the family which spends about $2,000 a month on living and insurance has saved more than $400 a month in expenses since moving out of the Elkhorn house.

The $1,300 in monthly rental income from the Elkhorn house covers its $960 mortgage. The Lippincotts pay about $550 for apartment rent but save on utilities and by limiting shopping.

“The purchasing we choose not to do makes a big difference,” Lorilee said. “We don't, for example, have to purchase things to fill two bedrooms, which saves tons of money.”

Even for cars, the couple practice cash-spending (except for four payments they made when buying their new Toyota Prius, now sold for the China trip).

A few years ago, they bought two more rental houses that Bryon has renovated, adding to their long-term investments. The couple paid about $265,000 for the three houses that have been appraised at about $400,000, Lorilee said. Fifteen-year mortgages, versus 30-year, shaved interest costs.

The Lippincotts have no TV, rarely eat out and spend about only $75 a month on entertainment. Having fewer things to maintain frees up family time which is initially why Lorilee said they began to live simpler.

They watch movies together on a computer, go to the library and take advantage of free events.

Before Bryon sold his work van and tools for the China trip, the family brought in about twice as much income on their businesses (real estate properties, her writing and his photography and construction) as it spent, Lorilee said. They have always reserved a slice of income for charities and religious causes.

As a rule of thumb, they like to have six months' worth of expenses in the bank.

But Lorilee said downsizing has yielded more than just savings.

The family in the last three years has spent 14 weeks traveling, visiting all but 12 states. They sleep in a tent and cook their food.

Bryon has been able to focus more on photography. Lorilee began to blog about their “minimalist” lifestyle and has written three related e-books.

In part because Lily and Ian aren't that exposed to TV commercials or traditional school, they aren't as caught up in comparing with friends or in buying new things. (They consider a Goodwill purchase something 'new,' mom said.)

Sometimes they wish for their own bedrooms or a back yard with a pet, Lorilee said. But the parents emphasize choice: If they do without this, they can have more vacations and family time.

“It wasn't necessarily an overnight thing,” Lorilee said. “But they see mom and dad not having a lot of things to worry about and they see the benefits of not having a mess to clean up all the time.”

The Lippincots have been wanting to go abroad for humanitarian work and so the family can learn another language and culture. Details for a China visit worked out first, Lorilee said.

They'll be staying about 300 miles south of Beijing, and both Lorilee and Bryon will teach English at a public university. Lily and Ian will be with a tutor, learning the language and a different world view.

The cost to the Lippincotts is about $5,000, mostly for tickets, visas and medical exams. Their employer agreed to pay for the return trip. And while in China, Lorilee said, the couple's earnings will cover expenses and perhaps allow them to save.

The Lippincotts will leave nothing in storage, as they'll donate the last of their belongings to a local refugee agency. Rent on their properties will cover the cost of a management company while they're away.

Selling cars and construction tools helped build up a reserve to re-establish in Nebraska and, if necessary, fly back sooner than expected.

Of China, Lorilee said, there is much they don't know, but they're excited for the new challenge.

“It is kind of the ultimate,” she said.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1224, cindy.gonzalez@owh.com

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