we’re here with our first thursday post in a long time because yesterday’s post was a bit of a bummer subject, and we never like those to be the leading story for long. :-) so enjoy post #3 for the week!
we’re talking today about our personal relationship with money, something we could write many, many posts about. (and probably will — how much time ya got?) this one is about a journey of sorts, and about the light at the end of the tunnel. so if you ever get discouraged reading finance blogs, because you can’t relate, read on…
one of the things that’s different about us, compared to lots of bloggers in the pf community, is that we are not frugal by nature. not even a little bit. we have never been big shoppers (trips to whole foods notwithstanding), but if we had unlimited resources forever, we’d have zero hesitation to spend loads and loads of money on travel and dining at fun new restaurants, and on doing things for others. we used to love picking up the tab for a group at a bar or restaurant, or we’d buy friends and family plane tickets for christmas gifts, so that they could come visit us. having to dial that back has been one of the hardest adjustments to make as we’ve gotten into the frugal mindset. (thank goodness we both pile up loads of airline miles from work travel, and can still “buy” people flights with those. if only we could retire on airline miles, we’d be retired already!) we also like to give a lot to charity, and used to be good for a check for basically any worthy cause you might want to hit us up for. you’re running a marathon to raise money to find a cure for athlete’s foot? sure!
of course, this is no longer our modus operandi. at some point, we realized that all of that spending, even if it wasn’t on stuff, was still locking us into needing our jobs, and needing them for a long, long time. and since we value time more than anything, and were in a position to make early retirement a reality (sufficient earnings, no debt besides mortgage), we knew we’d regret not changing our ways. now we’re well on our way to early retirement, so end of story, right? sort of.
it’s easy to shorthand it and say “we realized we were doing x, but should be doing y, so we stopped doing x and started doing y.” and that’s true, but it’s not the whole story. because the truth is, a lot of the change was hard. is hard. will continue to be hard for a long time. lifestyle inflation is a very real thing, and maybe you’ve experienced it in your own life. heck, anyone no longer sleeping on a mattress on the floor of a crappy apartment shared with multiple roommates has experienced some degree of lifestyle inflation. we could not care less about our lack of designer clothes or accessories, since we can’t see ourselves ever getting into that in the first place, like our east coast friends clearly have. but going from being relatively unconcerned about spending to caring a lot about every dollar has required changes in what we do, changes in how we think, and even changes in our relationship.
we’ve come to really understand where people get the idea that money buys happiness. of course we all know that it doesn’t, as borne out by numerous studies, but we for sure know that money buys convenience. money makes things easy. it’s nice to be able to pay people to help you do some project or make a problem go away. it’s lovely to be able to stay at whatever hotel is closest to where you want to be, or to try the trendy new restaurant without thinking to look at the prices or worrying about how many drinks you order. asking for the fancy halibut at whole foods without even thinking that the parcel you get back will cost $40. having plenty of money to spend eliminates the need to think much at all, or to plan. (we also think having money makes you helpless in many ways, but there’s no denying that it makes plenty of things easier.)
so going from ballers to savers has not just been about buying less. it has in many ways been a fundamental shift in how we think. we’ve always been into diying, but still hired some jobs out, and now try hard to do as much as humanly possible ourselves, which takes more time, effort and planning. things we once would have bought when we felt like it, we now plan for for several months or even longer. or things that one of us would have bought, we now discuss together at length. those changes aren’t that big a deal, although on some level, we each feel less autonomous with money than we used to. maybe that’s not a bad thing, since we’re married, and believe in fully combined finances. but feeling like you, a grown ass man, have to run some purchase by your wife, when you wouldn’t have in the past — i have to believe that feels at least a little emasculating. (fortunately mr. onl is a champ, though, and never complains.) but even with very clear goals in place, and a reason for working hard to save right in front of you every single day, there is still something strange about going from an unconcerned attitude about saving to a mindset of committed frugality.
to put it bluntly, it’s super weird to have to tell yourself that you can’t afford something, when you know for a fact that you can.
we aren’t really into trying to trick or lie to ourselves (except when it comes to paying ourselves first, of course), so we’ve tried to look at the other side of it. rather than focusing on the money side of it (what you might call “the supply”), we focus on the want side (“the demand”). now we’re constantly asking ourselves, “is that really something we need? if we don’t need it, how badly do we want it? will it make our lives better, or just become something we have to to repair or deal with down the road?” and, truly, since we’re rarely tempted by stuff (not counting sports equipment, or yummy delicacies at whole foods), most of these questions are about travel and meals out. now we ask ourselves, “will spending this money on this trip give us a memorable experience? can we get the same experience without paying so much, by staying at a cheaper hotel or ordering less food at a meal?” travel is the absolute most important thing to us, so an unwritten rule of our savings plan is that we’re never cutting out travel, even while we’re in hardcore savings mode. but we often look now to do it as cheaply as possible, which often means passing on things we would have done without blinking an eye in the past. i won’t try to sugar coat it: there is something that feels a little sad about the shift. it’s a loss, and we wouldn’t try to hide that fact.
if all we did was change our ways without changing our mindsets, it wouldn’t all be worth it. oh, poor us. we spend so much less money than we make! will someone please take pity on us?! (#firstworldproblems) that’s not how we ever want to be. like with so many things in life, attitude is everything, and it’s definitely what has helped us make this shift and stick with our (no longer so) new frugal lifestyle. instead of feeling deprived of experiences, emasculated and inconvenienced, we choose to feel grateful and stoked. we choose to focus on the positive side of the reforms we’ve made, and think about what frugality will do for us, all the freedom it will buy for us. tracking our net worth and goals helps enormously with that. it makes every dollar we don’t spend worth something, and shows a tangible gain in our numbers. and, it may sound dumb, but we try to recognize and celebrate when we make good decisions that are different from what we might have done in the past. pass on a purchase? high five. stick with just an appetizer when dining out? high five. find a way to camp instead of stay in a hotel on an upcoming trip? high five. no, literally. we high five over it. and we have a five-second celebration about staying on track with our early retirement goals. we’re all about the positive reinforcement.
if i may channel maggie from northern expenditure for a moment, and go all social-science-research on you, being around the right peer group has also helped us a ton. it’s well-established that the social influence is hugely powerful, and it’s why you’re more likely to be thin if your friends are thin, or to be a nonsmoker if your friends don’t smoke. were we still entrenched in the very money-focused city where we lived before, it would be a lot harder to live frugal lives without feeling deprived. not even in a keeping up with the joneses way, but more about the fomo (fear of missing out). by moving to a small mountain town, we’re surrounded by free activities and people who care far less about money. you don’t move to the mountains to focus on your career, after all, unless perhaps you’re an aspiring professional skier, and then you probably don’t care about the money anyway.
we suspect it will always be a little tough to be frugal, but we’re okay with that. being challenged is good for our ongoing personal growth, and it gives us something to strive for — to keep getting better at optimizing our spending and saving. we love the warren buffett quote that he wanted to give his kids “enough money to do something, but not enough to do nothing.” if we had endless resources, there’s a good chance we would do nothing, or would become hopeless gluttons, which is basically the same thing. if nothing else, we think we’d lose our sharpness pretty quickly. having to hustle, having to be self-reliant, and maybe even feeling a little money stress sometimes, are all good for us long-term, and will ensure we don’t get old too fast. that’s a very good thing in our book.
has anybody else struggled to make this transition? what was hardest for you? any strategies you’ve found to help you get past the fomo? share in the comments!