Along with being busy with many various and sundry things, I keep a close eye on my money. I grew up without a sense of abundance around money–though we were solidly middle class–and while I’ve had off and on times of cultivating feelings of abundance around money, I do worry about having enough. “Enough” being defined specifically as enough to live comfortably now while also saving enough to keep me from eating cat food in my dotage.
There was a time in my 20s when I would regularly check out the library’s 332.024 call number, which is the personal finance section. A friend, seeing my interest in money, gave me the book Your Money or Your Life when I was 26 and I applied those principles for the next decade or so.
I’ve slacked off over the last few years. In 2015 I took a pay hit when I left my job of nine years. My justification was that taking a reduced salary (which also gave me summers off) would result in many more opportunities within the organization in the future. It turned out to be a bad gamble. After a few months of observing the organization, I concluded I wouldn’t want to work there for another few months, much less for the rest of my career.
Happily, the job hunt was brief and successful, and I landed a new position where the salary exceeded my job-of-nine-years salary.* I received two raises the first year, boosting my salary to its highest level, ever.
(*Though actually, due to the 32-hour week and 7 weeks vacation at the job of nine years, I was making less money at the new job. I knew that once I left that particular job it would be very hard to equal the pay/benefits ratio.)
This new position fits me well, and I’m happy to have the job. O! But I miss the days and days of time off I used to have. It turns out that what was fueling my many projects over the years, was being supported by having enough time to do the projects. And I didn’t just have time for the projects. I had time to read a ton and goof off and not get a lot of things done too. Now, working 40 hours per week, not even having ALL the federal holidays off, it seemed like there wasn’t any time left for rebuilding the planter box out front or painting the back doors where the painters declined to finish the job. I had even solicited names of handymen to rebuild said planter box. Because when you barely have time to get the laundry/grocery shopping/cooking done, how can you even think of finding time to do the fix-it things?
Then, two things happened in quick succession. The first was that I took an online class this summer. It took up time. The first three weeks, in particular, took up 12-14 hours per week. After that, things settled back to 3-4 hours per week, but I noticed that even during the weeks that took the most hours, I had time to finish all my assignments. Could that time be applied to other things?
The second was a link in the YNAB newsletter. YNAB is the budgeting program I use to manage my money. They are very good at helping people get an understanding of the money coming in, and how to allocate for your priorities. Their newsletter is full of stories of people who paid off gobs of debt in small amounts of time, or people who saved for the exact vacation they had dreamed of. One week, there was a link to an older post by Mr. Money Mustache about appreciating the work you’d done to grow you ‘stache. And to enjoy life.
Who was Mr. Money Mustache, and what was this ‘stache to which he referred? Happily, there was a “start here” post.
Mr. Money Mustache (MMM) is the online persona of a former tech worker who through his 20s saved large amounts of his large tech salary and “retired” by the time he was 31. He believes in saving much more of your money than spending it, in reducing your consumption of many things and of not wasting your time on things that aren’t worth your money. He also believes in both “insourcing” as much of your life as possible, and living in frugal luxury.
He’s funny, swears a lot, and also suggests a good punch in the face, often self-applied. (In one of my favorite “punch you in the face” posts, he discovered that Mister Money, a check cashing firm, had opened in his town. Aghast that people who don’t have any idea what they spend in the first place would go to Mister Money and pay a $15.00 fee for a payday “loan” he contemplated opening a competing store next door where people would give him $15.00 and he would punch them in the face and not take the payday loan.)
Mr. Money Mustache writes a lot of things that elicit a reaction of, “Nuh-uh” for the general population. Never buy a car using a loan, bike everywhere, hang your clothes to dry, save 75% of your pay, stop buying stuff. Stop buying most everything.
There’s a part of me (MMM would call it the complainypants part of me) that has the same whiny response. I don’t have a tech worker’s salary! 75% of my pay isn’t enough to live on! It’s hard to bike everywhere, especially when it’s rainy! Clothes take forever to dry if you hang them in the winter! Sometimes I like to buy stuff!
But even as these thoughts were crawling through my head, I there was a louder drumbeat:
Mr. Money Mustache is your people!
And that voice was right. While I still live a fairly frugal existence–cooking my food, riding public transit to work, buying a lot of my clothing second hand–over the past winter, I noticed a small voice asking where was that person who biked a lot of places, got excited about projects and got stuff done? Where was the person excited about anything?
Reading Mr Money Mustache posts feels like a shot of the best “early-rising-farmer energy” the kind that usually kicks in around May every year and lasts through the summer. That energy boost didn’t happen this in May, and I wondered if it would come at all. It turned out what I needed was a good talking to from MMM.
I’m already set up for the MMM lifestyle. Laundry? I bought a really nice outdoor clothes dryer years ago. Plus I have two in my bedroom for when it gets raining again. Biking? My bike is tricked out for all sorts of errand running. I don’t even need a bike trailer for most stuff. Saving money? I’m crazy good at it. When I looked at my budget 40% of my net pay is already going either to my retirement accounts, or to speed up debt repayment. Not buying stuff? I’ve got some room to improve there–just last weekend, even after reading MMM, I spent almost $50 on window washing gear–but I’m game to try.
And guess what? If I found 3+ hours per week to study and do my classwork, you bet I can find time do some projects. And I love doing projects. I love to plan projects, and I love to work on projects, and I love having done projects. (Finishing them is not my favorite thing). My house is full of cool stuff that wouldn’t be there unless I (and whomever I roped into helping me) hadn’t done the projects. And my house is just waiting to be cooler than it was because there are still projects to do.
Am I biking EVERYWHERE? No, not right at the moment. My work pays for a transportation pass for me, and I don’t love that bike to work, so for now I’m keeping my commute the same delightful (and free!) experience it is. But I did get out a compass and draw a circle on my the big map in my living room that shows me one mile journey in every direction from my house. I’ll start by biking to all of those places and make the circle bigger as I get my biking muscles back.
Am I saving MOST ALL of my paychecks? No, but I’m keeping a much better eye on what I spend, and I’m excited to finally do the project where I find out how what the best price for the food staples I use really is.** I’m also looking into some side jobs that can bring in extra cash.
(**I really want someone to build me an app for this. Here’s what I’m looking for. A way to list all my staples: brown rice–long grain, pinto beans, peanut butter, apples, etc. A way to be in the store, and to quickly find a particular staple on the app. When I find it, it will show me the average price I pay, the lowest price I’ve paid in the last (specific amount of time) and the price I paid the last time I bought it. I would also like to have a desktop interface, so I can type the newest data on something besides my phone. If you build me this, please let me know you have done this. In the meantime, I’m going to make a Google sheet. So unfancy! I would pay up to $5.00 for a no-ad app.)
Am I thinking of doing a big landscaping project–one that will bring much daily joy to me after it’s finished, as well as adding curb appeal–armed with only my wits, books from the library, the tools I already own and the willing help of the boyfriend? Why yes I am, and I know that Mr. Money Mustache would be proud.
Will I be able to save enough to retire in 10 years, at 52? Maybe. But regardless, I don’t feel so hopeless about working until 70. Because I’ve got the skillz to get the savings in order long before that. I’ve spent all of my adult life honing them. I just needed Mr. Money Mustache to remind me.