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.