Moratorium on Micromanaging Money

I celebrated my 46th birthday this week and I celebrated it in grand style! I took the day off from work. I had almonds in my oatmeal instead of walnuts. I went to the grocery store and found a mango on the clearance rack…in a bag of organic apples, no less! I picked up my free treat from Starbucks and gave it to my mom (which made her very happy). I watched a short documentary on stuff, went for a brisk walk in the cold, and worked on a puzzle with the love of my life. I even had my favorite dinner – pizza – and a big slice of homemade birthday cake for dessert. It was epic and I’m not kidding.

You see, I connect with simple in a way that defies explanation. The fact that my mom wrapped my gift in a piece of paper that she saved from a gift she received two years ago, the fact that she took nearly 3 hours to scratch bake me a yellow cake with chocolate icing (my childhood favorite), the fact that Angie ordered our take-and-bake pizza without cheese so I could put my own non-dairy cheese on it and she used a coupon, means more to me than any elaborate birthday celebration ever could. These little things show that my family gets me and if that’s not a gift, I don’t know what is.

Now it’s time to start getting myself.

Besides taking the day off, I decided to give myself another birthday gift. I decided to call a moratorium on micromanaging our money. In looking back over the past few years, I realized that I had inadvertently given money a more powerful position in our lives than I had intended. I was spending an inordinate amount of time playing with Excel spreadsheets, envelope systems, and budgeting apps; but more importantly, we were side-hustling part of our time away and investing our income in companies that thrive off the very things we are trying to remove from our lives. This hasn’t set well with me for a long time, so I decided it was time to take some steps to reconcile it.

Thus, the moratorium. Which does not mean that I plan to be oblivious to what’s going in and out of our bank account. That would be irresponsible. It simply means that I don’t intend to obsess over money – chasing it, spending it, or saving it – until I know where it fits into our life.

To make sure I don’t break down and break out the budget apps, I’ve set all our monthly expenses to auto-draft and have allocated $510 per month for personal cash, gas, groceries/household goods, and entertainment. This will be ALL the flexible spending cash we receive, so in a way, I suppose we’re also doing a version of the no-spend year (though that was not our main intention). There will be no income-generating side hustles this year. I moved all our investments into two vehicles – our personal IRAs and U.S. savings bonds. No matter what the market does, I do not intend to manage these accounts more than once or twice this year (instead of weekly like I was doing when we owned individual stocks and ETFs).

What do I hope to accomplish by this hands-off approach to personal finance? Peace of mind. A better connection to the world outside of money. Greater resourcefulness. The pride that comes from being able to figure things out without throwing dollars at the solution. Increased contact with real people. Better bartering skills. I believe the possibilities are endless; and for as much as spreadsheets once excited me, the idea of living without one is even more exciting.

Do you have ever feel that money management plays too great a role in your life? Do you ever struggle to align your spending with your personal beliefs and values?


Less time balancing finances means more time to concentrate on what’s really important.
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What if I Don’t Want More Money?

I was at the end of a very hectic week when the head of the non-profit where I work called. She wanted to ask for my help on a tech project – something I gave up doing a few years back. She opened the conversation with a simple and often used lead-in: “I don’t know what your life looks like right now, but…”.

She didn’t wait for a response, but if she had, I might have said something like this: On Monday, my niece gave birth to a high-risk baby who is awaiting heart-surgery in the NICU at Vanderbilt. While she was in the hospital for four days, we kept our 3-year old great-niece. We took her home – which is a 3-hour round-trip drive – on Wednesday night, only to have my mom text with a 9-1-1 emergency while we were still half an hour away. We rushed to my mom’s house and rushed her to the ER, where I spent the next 5 hours (until 2 AM) watching her get poked and prodded as they worked to bring her out of hypertensive crisis. The next day was a blur of picking up prescriptions and checking on various people and Friday was spent at the doctor’s office with my mom. Like I said, a very hectic week…or was it?

Having had some time since then to reflect, I don’t know if it was actually hectic or typical for my life these days. In any given week, I may have to take my mom to the doctor 1-2 times, pick up groceries and prescriptions 2-3 times, and work on some project that some one else deems “the most important thing” of the week, like painting Mom’s laundry room door. Betwixt this, I also manage to work 32 hours, make dinner when it’s my turn, read books, write posts for this blog, and spend quality time with Angie, doing the things that make us who we are. I think this is the nature of life when you have older parents and you are the sole caregiver. Yes, it is frustrating sometimes and yes, it’s hard to balance all the spinning plates, but then there are those moments, when you are faced with new options, that you realize, you’d choose this same life again. Every. Single. Time.

But, for as much as I would choose family over work…I haven’t yet figured out a way to say no when I’m asked for help. It’s in my nature to be helpful. I feel guilty when someone asks me for help and I don’t oblige, even when doing so goes against what I want to do. And like a lot of people I feel afraid; afraid that I’ll be fired, and the next job might not be a good one. Sure, there’s a part of me that knows that’s not true but nevertheless, the thought is there. So, I agree, and then I get angry. Angry at myself for not being able to say no. Angry at myself for trading my most valuable asset – time – for something I have zero interest in. Tech projects don’t excite me. The prospect of working more hours doesn’t excite me. Money doesn’t even excite me. The things I love to do are usually free (or super cheap) so mostly, I just want enough money to pay the bills. Employers don’t want to hear that. And even if they did, I don’t know how to even begin to tell them.

For as good as I am at expressing my ideas in writing, I completely suck at speaking my own truth. I recently tried to talk to my mom about my feelings about work and money and it totally backfired. Here’s a person that I’ve talked to for 40+ years about everything from Jesus to jelly beans and I couldn’t make my words make sense. The conversation ended with her nearly spitting at me as she yelled, “well I don’t know how you expect to live without money when you love to go on all those expensive vacations!” It was as if my disdain for money was an affront to everything she believed in. As if saying that I didn’t want to work my life away meant that her choice to have a career was wrong. We are all different. Why is this so hard for folks to grasp?

Side note: the most expensive vacation we took this year was to Florida, where we spent a week just steps from the water…in a campground. Transportation, food, lodging, entertainment and a new pair of flip flops cost a whopping $263. But I digress…

I don’t want to carry around society’s fears or my own family’s fears about money – that there’s never enough and you have to work yourself to death to provide. I believe less money doesn’t equate to all the bad things people imagine. I believe less money actually means more freedom. If we choose a life where money is not our primary consideration, it becomes easier to say no to excess, to consumerism, to stuff, to unrealistic expectations, to the American Dream Delusion, and most importantly, to tech project and other jobs we just don’t want to do.

Most people who subscribe to minimalism, choose to live with less in order to have more money; money to do more of the things they love, to pay off debt, or retire early. I’ve been hard-pressed to find examples of folks living with less simply to have less money. I think I want to be one of those people. Or maybe I don’t. All I know right now is that seeing lives lived for the sole purpose of earning money makes me question the meaning of our existence.

Can we ever learn to peacefully coexist with money? What does living within one’s means actually mean anyway? I’d love to hear your thoughts on work and money; and stay tuned for future posts about this subject as we spend some time in the coming months figuring out our own relationship with the two.