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.

Retirement Redefined

A few years ago, Angie and I were watching a football game on TV when a commercial for TD Ameritrade came on. I wasn’t really paying attention but for some reason when I heard the word retirement, I spontaneously muttered, “I think I will retire tomorrow.” It sounded good in my head and of course, impractical at the same time, as it tumbled off my tongue. Though I expected no response, I still remember to this day what Angie said – just one little word, okay. This wasn’t the same okay that I usually get when she’s reading and only half listening to me. It was more like the one I get when I suggest we go get ice cream.

“And then what will we do?” I asked with a hint of sarcasm that was mainly directed at myself for suggesting such a thing in the first place.

Without missing a beat, she said, “Well, if it rains like they say it’s going to, then we’ll watch movies.”

It was just that simple. And yet that profound.

For several days after that, I pondered the question: Just what is retirement anyway?

In my grandparents’ day, retirement meant you were old enough to receive your company’s pension and could spend your days doing all the things you had dreamed of while working for 40+ years. Today, I turn on the news and retirement means that our older generation is no longer employable in their career field but can’t support themselves because they’ve overspent and under-planned, so now they must work at Walmart. Don’t believe it? Just Google “Americans Unable to Retire” and you’ll be bombarded with sad statistics like 85% of Americans are worried about retirement, only 54% have a retirement savings account, and 24% fear they will never be able to retire.

Or maybe it’s time we call bull-crap on those statistics and the pessimists who publish them and come up with our own definition of retirement.

Jacob Fisker did. He’s the author of Early Retirement Extreme.

Pete did. You may know him as Mr. Money Mustache.

Long, long ago, the definition of retirement was simply to withdraw to some place, especially for the sake of privacy. I like that. I like it a lot!

If I were going to craft my own definition of retirement, I might start out pretty similar, with one that has nothing to do with money. But you can’t do that, I hear you saying. Money has to be the starting point. You have to have enough of it to survive once you aren’t working anymore.

Nope. Not in my definition.

Retirement is not a financial achievement, though as Americans, we’ve come to see it that way. We work for years to reach a point where we can buy back our most valuable resource – time – and use it as we see fit. We think retirement is when we can travel, spend time with loved ones, take on new hobbies, or simply greet the day with no intentions. No wonder so many of us find the concept of early retirement so appealing! We want to do those things now. If we wait until TD Ameritrade says that we have enough money, most of us will be long past dead!

Retirement shouldn’t be about how you spend your money, but rather, how you spend your day. If you want to work, that’s okay. If you want to fish all day, that’s fine too. It’s your life, live it however you want. And don’t wait until you reach some arbitrary age or ask permission from some greedy brokerage firm to do it. Retirement starts the day that you choose to spend your time pursuing life instead of money.

Retirement is a state of mind, a place of peaceful living and time spent with loved ones, a nap on the couch, or an afternoon enjoying a good book. Retirement is getting up each day, knowing your time is your own, regardless of what you choose to do with it. And by that definition, retirement is a place we can arrive at any age.