Save for tomorrow – but don’t forget to live today

Save for tomorrow – but don’t forget to live today

I recently received an email from one of my readers (Doug) and I thought I would share it with you as it really hit home with me and I think it might with many of my readers. Doug was kind enough to give me a few compliments, which made my day, but in the end it was I who really learned something. It’s a little long, but please read it in it’s entirety as it is probably one of the best pieces of writing you will see on this site.

After a Google search once again led me to your site, I thought I’d let you know how much I appreciate your quest, and your efforts to chronicle them. We’re about a generation apart, my oldest daughter arriving at 30 a couple months before your August 2009 deadline, but I’m amazed how in step your thinking is with mine. At the same time, I’m jealous over how easily these thought patterns seem to come to you, while I rely on trial-and-error conditioning to reach the same conclusions!

My wife and I raised eight children – a “Yours, Mine, and Ours” effort that did terrible things to our finances, but did teach me how to be cheap…very cheap. As things improved over the years, maintaining the same cheap lifestyle allowed me to make an aggressive, belated (beginning in my late 30s) start to saving, and I think we are now nicely on target for retirement down the line. I’ve started a campaign to urge my kids towards saving, and perhaps they can come closer to emulating you than me at your age.

I had a conversation with my son, Aaron, over the July 4th weekend in 2005. Then a 23 year old college student, he was quite poor at handling his finances, much better at spending it than earning or planning; somewhat cliche, I suppose. He had borrowed some money from me to handle credit card bills that didn’t match his cash flow, and was disturbed that he couldn’t pay me back as agreed. He had borrowed from me several times before, and while not adept at managing money, he was surprisingly responsible at paying it back. But this time, he had too many bills and was overwhelmed. I pulled him aside before he headed back to school, and told him to forget about repaying me this time.

This was a big deal to me; I was in a position where missing a few hundred dollars didn’t mean scrambling to figure out how to eat, like for years it would have. It might not cost $800,000 to raise a child, but eight are still expensive, no matter how you calculate it! He was certainly thankful, and I hoped this could relieve the pressure a bit. Soon he headed back to school, along with his fiance. Two hours later, their truck was hit on the expressway, and they were both killed.

I have lived frugally for over two decades – sometimes out of necessity, sometimes out of habit. I was struck by how many of Aaron’s friends mentioned that he knew how to live, how to enjoy himself. I’m not sure I do. While I admire your goals, and thank you for openly sharing your thoughts (and even though I suspect you don’t require the reminder) I submit this cautionary offering to remind you to enjoy yourself, too. Balance.

I don’t know if I can really add much more to Doug’s email that will get the point across any clearer. It’s great being frugal and building that mentality of saving money and letting the miracle of compound interest work away, but it’s a fine line between saving for better things tomorrow, and enjoying your life today. Unfortunately tomorrow may never come and so be careful you don’t sacrifice too much now for something that may or may not happen in the future.

In fact the night before I received this email from Doug I was actually talking about ways to get my wife and I to spend money on things that weren’t entirely necessary. Certainly not forgoing our retirement savings and filling the house with plasma tvs and expensive cars, but finding more of a balance in our spending so that we are enjoying a little more today. Basically my wife makes a couple thousand dollars singing for weddings and substitute teaching and I make a few thousand dollars doing web based stuff on the side. Essentially we are making sure that all of this money goes to things we normally wouldn’t spend money on. It’s actually going to be hard, but I think this is a good way to get us started in enjoying ourselves a little more today. I’ve also thought about donating plasma and this money would also go into our fun fund. So then if we want a plasma tv, new golf clubs, (actually having trouble thinking what my wife would like to spend money on – just like the millionaire next door my wife is more frugal than I am) furniture??, etc.

The nice thing about this method is that once we get used to living the good life and actually spending money it only allows us to spend as much money as we’ve earned doing side jobs. Meanwhile we can still pay our bills and save for retirement on my normal salary – maybe I’ll even allocate a small portion of this to go to our fun fund. Anyway I want to thank Doug for sharing his story with me and while I always knew I needed a little more balance, this email is actually making me act.

  • I couldn’t agree more. Balance is everything.

  • Tim

    yeah, people seem to forget that having a budget is for spending money, too.

    i have some thoughts for doug. doug may be confusing what living life means to him rather than expectations or other people’s view of what living life means. doug should be thinking about what he has valued up this point. if he didn’t value family and enjoy himself, he wouldn’t have had 8 kids. if family is what doug values/valued, then i see doug, thus far, as having lived life. doug should also think about that if people thought aaron lived life, it may have been a facade as he ran up the credit to pay for the life that others seemed to envy.

    living life is highly subjective and individualistic. doug should realize this and not measure his life thus far compared to someone else’s. if he feels that he has not lived life thus far, it is never too late to remedy the situation.

    balance, doug, was having a great family, raising them, and seeing them live.

  • Sun

    I agree with Tim. It’s always the balance between saving for tomorrow’s retirement and enjoying today’s life. Saving is necessary, but doesn’t have to be excessive.

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  • What a letter! The final paragraphs took me by complete surprise. I cannot imagine having to live through something like this.

  • Wow, great post. It’s hard to find the balance, but it’s important. It’s one reason I encourage my students to develop free or at least cheap hobbies. Then you can both enjoy your life and save money. I spend a lot of time talking about finding the balance because a life of just saving is boring and can be unhealthy.

    Thanks for posting this!

  • Al

    I was led to your site by searching for 2008 401K limits. I have read various parts of the site and I am very impressed by what you have already accomplished and the way you think about money and lifestyle.

    I am an engineer by trade but have a degree in Finance and Quantitative business analysis because I like you enjoy managing my money. I had raised a family and now I am in high-gear for early retirement.

    Even though I am educated in Finance and have read numerous financial books I learned some valuable lessons from my grandmother who only had a six grade educations. She taught me the following two lessons when I was very young and they have stuck with me:

    1. It is not what you make, it is what you save – Obviously you have this one down and you are saving more than 99.9% of all people especially in your age group. WELL DONE!

    2. If you watch the pennies the dollars will watch themselves. – You get an A on this one too managing your budget and doing as much as you can yourself!

    I have found that I enjoy the simple things in life. Riding a bike, fishing, walking in the woods. I am not driven by all the must have things in modern society. I think that is why most people in your age group have higher debt than ever before. They are easily seduced into buying more than they need.

    I wish both of my sons were like you!

  • Fred

    Hello Sir,

    I need help starting my nest egg. My income’s
    around @100,000. I spend about 6000 per month and save 2000. Is it possible to achieve the goal of $100,000 in my IRA in 3 years?


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