Me and money…we’ve always had the strangest of relationships. Sometimes we’re tight, and sometimes we’re like two roommates who tolerate each other solely for the sake of the rent. Sometimes I have mad respect for it, but then there are times when I treat it like a lover I just don’t trust – tracking it’s every movement, seeing where it goes, and getting angry when it does something I don’t expect. Money…it’s like air, always surrounding me, necessary for survival, but seemingly polluted nonetheless.
I’ve probably read a zillion (okay, maybe 100) books on money to try to understand it better. After all, I’ve believed all my life that money is the driver of all things good or evil. You go to school to prepare for a career to earn the money to buy a house, a car, etc. and provide for your well-being. You spend money to gain status, please others, and reward yourself for a job well done. Money…it’s like the little gold stars on a Kindergarten progress chart. You strive to get them because you’re told it’s what’s expected, and you never even think to question the logic. I mean why would you? Everyone else is doing it and besides, it was the teacher – a person with authority and expertise – that told you to do it in the first place.
Except, the logic needs questioning. And not questioning it, simply accepting the status quo, is how we (as a society and myself included) got to where we are today. I’m looking around me right now and seeing all of the stuff in my home that I’ve spent money on over the years. Some of it brings me joy, some of it doesn’t. Some of it is here because I think I need it. Irregardless, all of it represents exactly the same thing – hours of my life that I’ve traded for a material object. Our renter’s insurance estimates that we have about $15,000 worth of stuff in our apartment. At $25/hour, that means I’ve invested 600 working hours accumulating this latest round of stuff (which doesn’t include any previous stuff we once owned but no longer have). At $10/hour, that’s 1,500 hours.
If I worked approximately 100 hours per month, that would mean that somewhere between 6-15 months of my time were spent just on the stuff currently inside our apartment. That’s not even including the rent itself, or the stuff outside – like our car, or anything else for that matter. It’s kind of staggering when you think about it like that.
Always late to the party, I just read “Your Money or Your Life”. For the longest time I kept skipping over this book because it seemed to be the bible of the FIRE community, and as someone who didn’t want to work more now to work less later, I haven’t always been the biggest fan of FIRE. I’m more of a leisure-lover. My best days are spent working very little and playing a lot. Which, believe it or not, is how I ended up reading this book.
It all started with “The Freedom Manifesto” by Tom Hodgkinson, a book about how happiness (and a leisurely lifestyle) have next to nothing to do with money. When I finished the book, my e-reader suggested another similar book “Twelve by Twelve” by William Powers, which then led to the entire William Powers collection of books, which frequently mention “Your Money or Your Life”. I knew it was on my must-read list when William Powers talked about his frugal friend (the author of “Your Money or Your Life”) taking him on cheap adventures, and about how she has been living this “less work, more play” philosophy that I’ve come to aspire to since before I was even born.
Midway though the book, I told Angie, “I could have really saved myself some time by starting with this book instead of finishing with it”. That’s not to say that I haven’t read some really good books on money. I have. But this one is the best. Why? Because it speaks my language. (It may not speak yours, and that’s okay.) It says the things I think all the time. Money is neither good nor bad. Money is simply a tool. Money is not the only way to provide for your needs. Money needs to work for you, not the other way around. Frugality should be the norm, not the exception. Enough is the goal, because more is a never ending quest. And most importantly, TIME is the only real currency that matters.
One afternoon, Angie and I sat on the patio going over 6 months worth of financial data to see what we were spending where. Turns out, even though we’re the most frugal people in our family, we aren’t immune to “crazy” spending. We had some pretty big expenditures this year that were…well, undocumented. Gasp! I know! Here I thought we had it all together, living on a shoestring, until I realized that just wasn’t 100% accurate. We spent about $1,700 on something, somewhere, at some time and have no clue where or what it was. Our best guess – food, stuff for the patio garden, food, a new computer, food, some random stuff at yard sales, food, and oh yes…probably some more food. Apparently, we have a grocery addiction. One month, our groceries were nearly $500! There are two, sometimes three, of us. We’re vegetarian/vegan. And get this, all that was spent in stores, and doesn’t even include what we spent at the Farmer’s Market or the U-Pick Farm. That’s just nuts! (Literally. I mean, a good bit of our grocery spending actually does go to nuts – cashews, walnuts, pecans, etc.)
None of this would make a bit of difference in the big scheme of things (since we do eat everything we buy), but during the same time we were keeping Kroger in business, I was also stressing myself to the max to keep up with work demands. Those demands were self-imposed, by the way, since I work for myself. I’ve had more than my share of hair-pulling days this year, trying to balance wanting to cook or go hiking or getaway for the weekend with the incessant “pull” of “needing” to work for money. This frantic schedule I’ve had myself on is also part of what has kept me from writing. Every time I wasn’t doing something productive at home, I felt I needed to be doing something productive at work. Yet…I didn’t want to do either. I didn’t want to “be productive” at all. I really just wanted to be.
So I spent a month reading the aforementioned books and meditating on how I could relieve some of this pressure I was putting on myself. The first thing that helped me was to re-read my own words from this blog and from my journals. Turns out, this work-pressure thing is a recent re-manifestation, and likely a product of the environment in which we live. My mom, though she struggles with pain and aging, still thinks she’s a failure if she doesn’t accomplish something every day. And I don’t mean little stuff either. She recently fell off a ladder trying to clean a window because “asking someone for help is a sign of weakness” (her words, not mine). My niece, God-bless her, has 3 kids and 2 jobs, and tells me about staying up cleaning until 1 AM just to get it all done. And an older lady we visit sometimes, just went back to work because between her social security and her husband’s government pension, they don’t make enough to support their lifestyle. Their home? Filled to the rafters with stuff! We are surrounded by examples of what we don’t want to be, and sadly, sometimes that stuff seeps into your thinking.
The second thing that helped put our time back into perspective was doing the first 4 steps in “Your Money or Your Life”, which are basically:
- Calculate your true hourly wage (your salary minus all the costs of having the job you have)
- Assess how you are spending your life energy (time)
- Review your spending in Marie Kondo fashion (Did this bring me joy? Does it align with my values?)
- Decide what is enough (the amount of income needed to achieve optimal fulfillment according to your own values, ideals, and goals).
Yes, this is a gross over-simplification, but what it boiled down to for us was figuring out what my actual earnings were per hour and determining the number of hours I had to work to live the life we wanted to live. As a freelancer with multiple income streams, I don’t have one consistent hourly wage. Some jobs pay $20/hour. Some pay $9/hour plus mileage, which averages out to about $17-19/hour. Some are production based and pay $2-4 per report reviewed/edited. Here I can earn as little or as much as I want, but average about $27/hour. One gig pays $50/hour but is only 6 hours per month and requires an hour of driving each time we do it.
To get an average, we tracked my work hours and income earned for a week, factored out the cost of doing the jobs, and came to settle on a real hourly wage of $25.
Next, we needed to decide on our enough. After breakfast one day, we reviewed our expenses again, deciding which brought us joy and which did not. Some things got cut, but most stayed. We’ve been pretty good over the years in culling unnecessary items from our budget, like cable, subscriptions, etc. so we didn’t have a lot to do here. The harder part was in determining where our discretionary income was being spent and whether those purchases were bringing us joy. Again, most were, but some were not. In the end, we decided “enough” was actually a range rather than one single income target.
- $1700 – pays all of our bills, buys a normal amount of groceries, puts gas in the car, and supports our current monthly giving plan.
- $2000 – does all of the above, plus allows for all of the “fun and adventure” we enjoy throughout the year.
- $2500 – gives us a comfortable and fun life now while allowing us to save 20% of our income for later.
What this meant to us in reality was this – to make ends meet, I needed to work 68 hours a month (or about 16 hours a week). To make ends meet and have fun, I needed to work 80 hours a month (or about 20 hours a week). And to live our best life, I only needed to work 100 hours a month. That’s a little more than 3 hours a day, something that seemed so reasonable to me that I don’t know why I was ever struggling with the whole time/money/life conundrum in the first place. Most people waste 3 hours a day watching TV or surfing the internet.
To say the least, we were inspired.
Which is how today, I’m sitting here writing instead of trying frantically to get some work done. It’s how we spent an entire afternoon pretending to fish while talking about our hopes and dreams. It’s how we bought a cheap inflatable boat and went out on two 3-hour paddling adventures. It’s how we spent half a day in the kitchen creating recipes to reheat so we could enjoy this holiday weekend without cooking. It’s how we “took the party” to my niece’s house and spent a day celebrating the little one’s 6th birthday.
It’s one thing to know the concept of enough. It’s an entirely different thing to know what enough actually equates to in your own life. It’s freedom redefined. It’s empowering. It’s mind-blowingly simple. And so worth the effort to figure out.
Have you read “Your Money or Your Life”? If so, what impact did it have on you? What is your “enough” point? How can you get there if you aren’t there already?