Striking A Balance

Broccoli and gin balance each other out, right?

I just got done reading a book called Doing More With Less by Bruce Piasecki.  In it there were some quotes from W.B. Yeats, and they reminded me of financial independence.  Maybe that’s a sign that I’m a crazy person, but I’ll assume it’s because I’m super awesome.  Here’s the first one,

“There have been men who loved the future like a mistress, and the future mixed her breath into their breath and shook her hair about them…”

This brings to mind people who post on personal finance forums or reddit and say something along the lines of, “I really hate my job, but now that I never go out and do anything that I used to love I only have 9.5 years to financial independence.” They are totally in love with the future.

If you’ve spent much time reading about personal finance on the internet, you’ve met these kinds of people.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with getting serious about your finances and buckling down.  There’s nothing wrong with looking forward to a future that’s better than your current situation, but it’s important to remember that the journey is part of the fun.  The future is sexy, but nothing is more sexy than the present sitting next to you.

Future is sexyShould you skip the $6000 yearly vacation?  Probably so if you want to expedite FI.

Should you skip the $500 plane ticket to see your family over the holidays?  Probably not unless you can drive there for less money.

It’s important to have priorities and money should never be your top priority.  For example, a lot of people who want to be able to stop working forever say they want to spend more time with loved ones.

Well it doesn’t make any sense to skip a $500 plane ticket to see family if one of the reasons for saving that money is to spend more time with family. Capiche? [Please read that last question in your best inner mob boss voice.]

The next quote from Yeats is,

“In the beginning of any work, there is a moment when we understand more perfectly than we understand again until all is finished.”

This sounds suspiciously like people who are working for financial independence.

I assume (because I’m not there yet) that after you’ve hit your numbers and you are financially independent that you get a sense of “this is why I did it.”  A feeling that makes it very clear why you started the journey in the first place.

And in the beginning when you are first exposed to the idea your eyes get wide, and gears start rapidly turning in your head.  You start playing around with spreadsheets and realize it’s possible.  You get giddy and start making plans to trim your budget.

You’re just opening your eyes to the idea of financial independence and you know exactly why it is that you are reaching for it.

It’s exciting and it’s fun and, for most people, there comes a time when you squeeze things a little too tight.  That’s good.  It means that you are pushing your boundaries and really trying to optimize your spending.  The expression “trim your budget ’til it hurts” comes to mind.

The problem is that it’s really easy along the way to just focus on the dollars and cents and lose sight of the bigger picture.  Sometimes people cut things out so fast that it goes from hurting to serious injury.  In my experience, there are two big obstacles when it comes to reaching financial independence.

  1. Not trying hard enough.
  2. Burning out.

Not trying hard enough is easy enough to understand.  You don’t want to cut out cable TV, the lunches out with coworkers, new cars, the daily coffee, [fill in your favorite financial vice].  I get it.  Everyone enjoys these things occasionally and only you can decide for yourself whether or not they are important to you.

Just know that you can’t have your cake and eat it too.  If you want all those things you might be working until 65+.  If you’re cool with that, then so am I.

On the other hand, burning out is what happens when you try for too much too fast and end up saying “this is too hard.”  If you’ve already cut your budget ’til it hurts, then just be OK with that for a while. You might find that after a few months it doesn’t hurt as much and you can try to cut a little more.

But, if you ever find yourself in a situation where you are saying to yourself “I can’t do this anymore, it’s just too hard,” before you throw in the towel try adding a small luxury or two back into your life.

Look, just because you tried and it didn’t work doesn’t mean you failed.  You just learned about your boundaries. That’s perfectly fine and, in fact, is a necessary part of the path to financial independence.

It’s supposed to be a little uncomfortable sometimes.  That’s how you know you’re making progress.

Just don’t lose sight of the forest because of the trees.  You are trying to create a better life for yourself.  The money is only the means to the end, so don’t forget to focus on the things that make for a happy life.

Call your family or loved ones.

Get some outdoor exercise.

Make time for burning peasants (or whatever your favorite hobby is).

In the end, it’s up to you to strike a balance that you are comfortable with.  You have to find the Goldilocks Zone: not too much, not too little…. just right.

No one wants you to succeed more than you do.  Except me.  I want you to succeed pretty badly so that I can have people to talk to after I’m FI 🙂

Have you ever cut something out of your budget and then realized that you needed it back for your sanity?


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6 thoughts on “Striking A Balance

  1. Mrs. Budgets is really cheap. In my single days, even though I was a big saver, I loved eating out once a week. Now that Mrs. Budgets is in charge of the budget, we have an “entertainment” budget. Don’t get me wrong, I “love” her cooking but we have tried to get back to eating out once a week. Even if it’s a cheap 5 dollar meal depending on how much we have left in the entertainment budget for the month.

    Mrs. Budgets has gotten into mystery shopping recently. And while mystery shopping pays peanuts the real benefit is that we get to eat at expensive fine dining restaurants for “free”.

    • Yeah, eating out is one of those things that makes our list occasionally. We don’t go out a set amount, but it’s sometimes nice to just go out and not have to clean up. I don’t mind the cooking, and the food is delicious, but the cleaning is where the mental pain is for me.

      Mystery shopping is a great idea for “free” meals. Honestly, I’d never thought about it, but I like the potential. Any particular company or service that you would recommend? Thanks for the comment.

  2. It’s constantly a balancing act with everything. Some things are easier to judge than others. I pay a guy to cut my lawn, because it would take me probably 3-4 hours to do it myself. As long as the price is right, it may be worth the expense. People tend to forget the opportunity cost lost by doing things themselves. If I cut my lawn, how much do I lose in not being able to research a stock, gain valuable insight on finances, or, more importantly, spend time with my family? How much do you value your time? That’s a part of the problem I have with some of the overly frugal people you come across in some of these blogs. They compete to see who can do the most outlandish thing to prove they are more frugal than the next person. You lose sight of what life is really all about.

    I just recently wrote a post on brewing your own beer vs. buying it – which is along these same lines. You don’t have to cut out the good things in life entirely; you just need to be smart in how you approach them!


    • It’s certainly true that some things aren’t really that cost efficient for DIY’ing. As you say, everything is a balancing act. What’s worth it for you may not be worth it to someone else and vice versa.

      I just clicked over and read the beer brewing post. As a home brewer, I’ve done similar calculations, but I still brew at home (I also buy at the store, of course, for variety). The main reason is because I enjoy the process and it strokes my ego in the self-sufficiency department 🙂 Also, the cost/benefit analysis is better for some other beverages, like mead. Not everyone likes mead but it’s Mrs. Dragons’s favorite. I made 10 gallons last December that is finally about to the point where we’re going to start drinking it. It’s WAY more cost efficient to make your own mead if you have a decent connection for the honey. A lot of the price comes from the storage and time costs of aging, but it doesn’t cost me anything to let it sit in my closet 🙂

      Anyway, it sounds like you are mindfully striking your own balance and that’s what’s important, so kudos! Also, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment!

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