This topic crosses a lot of categories in my life right now, so bear with me a little while I get on to the money part of the topic, because it really is more about what life, and how money feeds that. [This kind brings up a visual image on the intermixed topic of health love and money: what do you think of the logo? Dick over at the sexy-married and very adult site, Dick-N-Jane, put it together – I think it is mucho awesome]
We are sort of at an interesting spot in our lives as a couple. Up to this point, we’ve both worked full time to support the goals that we’ve set for ourselves: nice home, a family, good neighborhood, good schools, retirement goals, and, oh, STATUS and success symbols! As we step back, we have nearly everything we could ask for, and as I mentioned before, we are finally making real traction on further increasing our positive net worth. But of course there is a price for all that. The price was, and still is, acceptable: stress from both of us working, compromises on having the kids in afterschool and summer programs, less clean house, less time to do everything. Now I can handles stress most of the time pretty well, but Holly doesn’t cope well with stress, and starting a new office by herself has been very stressful. She gets her energy from working with others, and as an extrovert, it’s very draining to be by yourself all day, nearly every day. While we’re hoping this is temporary until she can hire someone to work with her in the small office, we just don’t know for certain.
We feel the stress has contributed to some adverse health things, or at a minimum, the stress is not helping live healthy lives all the time. While being out of work for awhile in 2013 was itself a little stressful (though not really too bad financially due to unemployment and emergency savings), Holly was much happier having relaxed days set to her own schedule. I too enjoyed not having to be on point so much for kid duties and household duties (that we both split), and having a relaxed wife was good for me too. Plus the atmosphere allowed her to be as lean as she has been for awhile, which allowed her to get good sleep, exercise frequently, eat well and generally have less of the things that demote recovery or promote production of the stress hormone cortisol. Presumably from the cortisol and stress, my wife is really struggling to lean out right now despite a pretty clean diet and a workout plan that is specifically designed to keep cortisol low. If you’re unaware, cortisol impacts testosterone production, which impacts so many other things adversely in men and women such as lean body mass and libido. My wife told me today, in her research, she hits every single one of the markers for low testosterone. Roh, roh. That is really a topic for a different day, but being mentally and physically healthy and sexy is important to us, and getting there may be at least partially a matter of resolving some financial matters.
Her being stressed so often recently jump-started a discussion of what we really want. For me, my needs are very simple, just like this post I did before (What Married Men Really Want from a Wife). I want a hot wife who appreciates me and fucks me proper, and who takes an active part in maintaining the home and family. Beyond that, I don’t really care if she works or not, as long as we’re happy individually and as a unit. Many days she is the good wife with good energy, but it is like a hole in the bucket many other days, something draining away her spirit and energy.
Now in our current situation, to pay our regular expenses and to one day retire, we both need to work; but we may not both need to work in higher stress, professional jobs bringing in decent income. We saw how close we were to having the freedom for Holly to be a SAHM when she was unemployed, and the discussions are still on the table. Some readers have suggested this route, that it’s difficult, especially for a mom, “to have it all.” For me, I really enjoy my job (most days) and am usually able to juggle the stress from that while taking care of my other passions without too much struggle, so that’s why you won’t see me discuss my work too much here – it’s simply not an issue most days.
So finally getting to financial matters. Our goal this year is to save until it hurts for two main reasons. First, we want to be able to see if a change in her (or mine too, since my job and position isn’t infallible) employment in the future is even a possibility, and if one (or one and a half at least) salary(ies) is enough to sustain our life; and two, even if we decide to continue on the path we are on (and presumably, she succeeds in her position and stress comes down), it leaves us more freedom later. See, we are fully on board with what Keoni recently discussed about being a slave just to consume. Essentially, I am sick of buying shit we don’t need to impress people we don’t like. I’d rather put that money to the one-day freedom of deciding if we want to continue to work, at our current jobs, or have a choice on when we can retire and pursue other passions. We’ve wasted money on lots of stuff, and I can say without a doubt we do not need any more large tangible items. They won’t increase our happiness.
So we are going to spend our money this year on reaching these other goals; of purchasing our freedoms and buying the key that unlocks the shackles on our wrists. With our current cash fund balance, upcoming tax returns and upcoming work bonus, we’ll finally have what I consider a healthy emergency fund. We’ve done pretty well on contributing to our retirement accounts, but now we’re going to save until it hurts. That means that we’ll be contributing 31% of our after-tax (and social insecurity and medicaid), or about 25% of our gross, income to savings this year, basically living off of 50% of gross current income. If a hoped-for upcoming promotion for me actually happens, by adjusting some retirement savings withdrawals a little, taking out child care costs from the mix, we could almost, sort-of, kind-of scrape by on our current life base expenses on my income; so we may be even to save more than the figures above. In my dream savers’ world, we’d be close to 40% but there is still a balance of living for today versus saving for tomorrow and quality of life does start to suffer when you cross a certain threshold. I have a lot of respect right now for those who decide to budget themselves for a parent at home, it really is a challenge to meet family and financial goals at the same time.
Anyways, that’s a pretty powerful epiphany. That if we cut most of our foolish, discretionary spending out, were more frugal and mindful of our other life options, the world suddenly opens up in possibility Maybe we decide to have Holly consult on the side a little, volunteer a little and spend more time with the kids. Maybe she gets in a groove at work, finds that client or co-workers that inspires her and the stress goes down some; but regardless, with this savings rate (if it can be sustained) we have options on the back-end for getting out of the game much earlier. Freedom to make these kinds of choices are priceless, but that means sacrificing that new car every few years, or redoing a kitchen or bathroom that is perfectly fine, or buying a new bigger house. Not really much of a choice. It will hurt a little to start to save this much, but the rewards are worth it mentally and maybe physically or health-wise as well.
While we weren’t one of the high income people living paycheck to paycheck that the Simple Dollar recently wrote about, we probably weren’t too different in the mentality. Leading my wife on this approach hasn’t come without bumps though. As I told her what we were doing this year, she basically said: “Oh, so we aren’t having any fun this year huh?” As I asked her to think about what it could mean if we cut deep, she started to come around. Maybe that means giving up the idea of the big Disney trip, instead planning the Griswold road trip to national parks. Maybe that means spending a little more time at the local thrift stores to find designer name clothes for a few bucks versus having those same designer names in this season’s fashion for hundreds of dollars. Maybe that means only drinking our homemade wine less frequently, instead of buying distilled spirits as often as we were. Maybe that means a stay-cation hanging out at the local neighborhood pool all week soaking up rays instead of renting a cabin. Options always exist.
We’re figuring out what the price of freedom means to us. What does it mean to you? What would you give up to have more freedom of choice now, or later? If unplugging from the societal indoctrination and expectations were easy, everyone would do it. Be better than most and try it along with us. Dare to be different. Peace.