Freedom Tastes Better Than Ice Cream

After getting my head back in the financial game, I decided to take a hard look at our spending during the months that we were doing a “no-budget” budget. Being the big spenders that we are, most of our unplanned purchases during that time went to food. Not dining out. Just plain old groceries. Okay, maybe “plain old groceries” is a bit of a misstatement. We seem to have developed a serious penchant for high-dollar yogurts, fancy ice cream bars, and fresh cuts of salmon. And what’s with that $12 bag of “hand-crafted” chips we bought at the produce stand?? They weren’t even all that good!

After analyzing the data, I popped my head into the living room where Angie was reading a book.

“Did you know we’ve been spending more than $450 a month on groceries and household stuff over the past 3 months?”

“No,” she replied, and kept on reading.

Not to be ignored, I plopped down on the ottoman. “$450,” I reiterated. “Remember when we used to spend $150 a month on groceries in Florida?”

“Yes. And remember how we also spent $20 a week at the Amish market?” she countered.

“Okay, fine,” I said, doing the math in my head. “But that’s still just $230 a month. I know groceries aren’t that much more expensive here. And we ate red meat back then! Something has changed.”

That something was us.

Over the years, we’ve gone in a lot of different directions, all for pretty much the same reason – to live with less. We embraced minimalism and tackled downsizing. Then we paid off debt, which meant we could work less. Next, we took some time to travel. And then we settled in to try living more sustainably. Each of these directions has required us to be diligent with our budget. It gave purpose to our spending…and our saving.

We’ve been living a pretty comfortable minimalist life for quite a few years. If you were to look at us on paper, we’d look something like this – we’re a one income couple with no kids, no consumer debt, and no mortgage. We rent a mid-priced one-bedroom apartment in a growing suburb of Nashville, where the cost of living is 27% below the national average. We have one car, one cat, and one heck of a good time taking advantage of all the free outdoor activities we have nearby. In short, we’re doing all right. But we have no goals…which means there’s little reason to think about the difference between spending $230 on groceries and $450. Both are reasonable (one, I’d even call cheap) so why be concerned?

Because life is better when you have a direction.

I mentioned last week that the landscape of my employment is changing. Our CEO is leaving at the end of July. Generally, management changes mean little to me but this one is different. Over the past 8 ½ years, I’ve quit this job twice (or rather, tried to quit). Both times, the demands of family were my primary motivators and both times, our wonderful CEO made accommodations that allowed me to stay. I am the only remote employee of a community center located 1,200 miles away. I work 4 days a week and still receive all the benefits of a full-time employee. In short, it’s a pretty good job (as far as jobs go) and I do enjoy the work; but I mainly stay because of the relationship I have with the CEO. She is not a micromanager. She trusts me and I trust her. I always said that if she left, I’d leave too but I guess, I didn’t think that would happen this year.

I haven’t turned in a notice or set a quit date or anything like that. I’m simply exploring our options right now. You see, leaving my job is not so much a loyalty thing as it is a freedom thing. I felt compelled to stay because so much was done on my behalf, but my heart has always been in a different place – a place where I could wake up every day and choose what I wanted to do without the constraints of any one job.

Along the way, I’ve made contingencies for such a day. Though we had a bit of a falling out with finance this year, we’ve never stopped saving for (and dreaming of) this opportunity. That commitment to minimalism that I described above has put us in a good position where I could work even less than I do now – provided we stop buying $12 bags of chips – and the thought of finally being able to do that (without feeling guilty) is pretty exciting. So exciting, in fact, that it’s the main reason I started rethinking our budget this week. If cutting our grocery budget is what it takes to achieve our version of a “work optional” life, then bring on the beans and rice, baby! I’m all in!

Simply said – saving money makes so much more sense when it is in pursuit of something attainable. If I can own my most precious resource – time – then I don’t just want to toss money around carelessly, even if it is for food. That $5 ice cream bar may be delicious, but I don’t want to look back one day and find that it (and others like it) stood in the way of our achieving something truly rewarding.