Now that the markets have dropped the volatile act for a while, our numbers are back where we like to see them. We’re hitting new peaks so far in March for retirement balance and liquid investment balance. In fact, we’re on the verge of a *very* significant financial milestone, which could even happen this month with a little help from the markets. Or in the next month or two from our savings. But…
We’re facing down a pretty expensive April. We have three different trips planned, though most of the big elements like flights and event tickets are already paid for, which does help. We also have that monster tax bill the IRS will subtract around the 15th, and that’s going to hurt — no two ways about it.
When you’re saving like crazy for early retirement, any money not going into the savings pool can feel like a setback. I’m sure it feels the same way if you’re saving for another big goal, or working hard to pay off debt. When you put this much of yourself into the effort, it’s hard to see funds pass through your hands that don’t serve the ultimate goal.
There’s More to Life Than Future Goals
This is something I often remind myself these days, that there is more to life than the future, and there’s more to life than goals. Future goals are great, important, critical even, but they shouldn’t always take precedence over today. And those goals also shouldn’t take precedence over our values.
If we dumped every dollar we could into our retirement funds, there’s a chance we could be retired already, or at least we could retire sooner than the end of next year. But we’d live a far less joyful existence, and we wouldn’t be able to support the causes and people that we care most about. That wouldn’t be worth it to us.
There’s More to Money Than Future Goals
It’s easy to think of money as somehow separate from our lives, but it’s not. Money is a clear representation of our life force, something we receive in exchange for our time and energy (concept borrowed from Your Money or Your Life). It’s not a perfect representation, of course, and those who earn more aren’t more worthy human beings than those who earn less. But how we spend our money is not just a proxy for what we care about, it is directly what we care about.
And while we care a real whole lot about our future goal of retiring early, we care about other things too. And that’s why we try hard to ask ourselves, especially in those times when we’re most impatient to save fast to early retirement will hurry up and get here already, what our money is really for. It’s an important question that we all should be asking ourselves.
A Little Living for Today
We love music and the arts more than just about anything, and while we’ve scaled back a ton on the number of concerts and performances we attend, we still place huge priority on them. So we have a few big splurges coming up in April that are so totally worth it to us:
World-class ballet — This is me redeeming my birthday present from last fall with a trip for both of us to see one of the top ballet companies in the country. Much of the travel is covered by points, but there was still the cost of the tickets themselves (not cheap), and there will be a nice dinner afterward.
Our favorite music festival — In April we’ll make the long trek to Coachella, to soak up some sun and enjoy the best the festival circuit has to offer. At $375 each, tickets aren’t cheap, but we see on average 30-40 bands over the course of the long weekend. And it’s just generally one of the highlights of our year. Well worth the money!
Seeing Elton John with my dad — David Bowie dying earlier this year made it really hit home for me that the musicians of the 60s and 70s won’t be with us forever. If we want to see them, we need to get on that already. I took my dad to see the Rolling Stones a few years ago, and he still talks about it all the time — it was super special for both of us, but a major life highlight for him. This time I’m taking him to Las Vegas to see Elton John, another one of his favorites whom he’s never seen. It being Vegas, you know the tickets were a small fortune, but travel hacking covered all the rest. Plus, my dad’s only a year younger than Bowie was, so I can’t pretend like he’ll be around forever either. Having the privilege to get to do something like this with him, knowing that he’ll carry the memory with him until his last days, is the true definition of priceless.
Supporting Those We Care About Most
Speaking of family… we’ve made some decisions that others might disagree with (or actually have disagreed with, right here on this very blog!) to support family. Family is super important to us, and we wouldn’t feel right if we were prospering and selfishly socking all this money away, but then refused to help family members in genuine need. And not just in genuine need of seeing Elton John or the Rolling Stones. It’s why we made that personal loan to a relative, against the well-reasoned counsel of many of you, and why the year before, we bought a house specifically to rent to a relative and we helped move that person cross-country.
We’re not suckers. We aren’t just handing out money left and right. We’re not like those horror stories you hear where someone in the family strikes it rich and all these leeches come crawling out of the woodwork to ask for money. The loan is a loan, and we are making money on it, but it’s also helping a family member who is serious about getting out of debt do so. The rental house is a long-term investment on which our family member is paying fair market rent, but he also got plenty of say in choosing the house, and he gets a guarantee of never getting evicted or getting some unreasonable jump in rent.
Rather than view these instances of helping family as financial setbacks, we made them part of our financial plan. The loan principle is an asset that we count in our net worth, and we’ve reduced our bond investments while the loan is outstanding since they cover the same hedge against stock declines. The rental property was a decent deal for us, and will be a better deal for us once we’re in a lower tax bracket post-retirement. It also provides us with a number of contingency options in retirement in case any of our other investments go south.
What’s Our Money Really For?
We are big fans, whenever we’re questioning some decision of using the “when you’re looking back on your life…” measure. Like the adage that no one ever says, on their deathbed, that they wish they’d spent more time at the office. We don’t want to look back and feel like we hoarded our money selfishly when we could have helped others, or that we missed out on major joys in life because we were so focused on saving.
We want to know that we lived well, if not every day, at least every year of our lives. That when we saw opportunities to help, we didn’t look away, we stepped up. That we supported causes we care about, not just with lip service, but with dollars. That we put our money where our values are.
That’s a life we’ll be proud to look back on. :-)
What’s your definition of what money is really for? Do you have anything you’d like to be able to do besides early retirement or debt payoff that contributes good to the world or even just to your own life? We’d love to hear!