It was last April, a year ago now, that I really suffered the worst of my financial meltdown, and I finally woke up to the realization that I needed to make some drastic changes in the way I spent my money. I cut a ton of fat out of my spending, paid off all of my credit cards, paid off my vehicle, put thousands away in an emergency fund, and started this website.
In March of this year, I actually managed to spend less than 50% of my take-home after-tax income. I used the rest of that money to make a large payment on my student loan debt, do some investing, save for a home down payment, and build up my emergency fund even more. In April, I won’t quite get there because of an income tax payment (which I was able to simply write a check for without blinking), but if you eliminate that tax payment, I could have possibly been under 40% of my take-home spent.
The end result of this is that I’m undergoing a profound change in how I perceive the requirements of my life. This has manifested itself in a ton of ways, some simple and some profound. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about.
More lifestyle choices Last night when my wife and I were taking a serious look at our financial state and we realized that a lot of doors are now open to us that were simply not even worth considering before. It is now realistic for my wife to quit her job and become a stay-at-home mom; we could not have done that before. It’s even somewhat realistic for me to quit my job and become a stay-at-home dad.
Less insecurity about employment Because of that financial freedom, I no longer have to be constantly stressed out about work. I don’t have to go to work and walk on eggshells to make sure I don’t get “downsized” or “outsourced.” I no longer nod my head in agreement and keep my mouth shut during meetings when something doesn’t make sense – I find out what the real story is. Instead of simply following protocols, doing what I’m told, and twiddling my thumbs otherwise, I dig in and fix interesting and worthwhile problems. My work identity is transforming rapidly – and to my benefit. Even more interesting, I recently flat-out told my boss why the change occurred and he was completely dumbfounded.
Less stress about life I’m no longer worried about any bills, nor does the thought of a financial crisis really worry me. I used to have a hard time sleeping at night because of the financial stress, and my temper was also much shorter than it has been as of late. The sole difference is in my personal stress level, and that stress was mostly fueled by a feeling of being trapped and of hopelessness about my financial state. It’s gone now, and I’m much better for it.
Discovering and rediscovering the things that make me happy When I come home at night, I spend maybe an hour doing stuff I have to do, like housework and such, and the rest of the evening is spent doing what I want to do. With the biggest stresses gone from my life (work stress and financial stress), I realize how many interesting things I really want to spend my time on. I’ve rediscovered my love for writing (and you’re reading some of the output of that), been reading like a madman, been spending hours with my son (especially taking him to the park), been teaching myself how to play the piano (using one freely available to me), and basically doing stuff that seems enjoyable to me. What do all of these have in common? They cost very little money and bring me a lot of personal enjoyment.
So, the question to ask yourself is whether or not the stuff you spend your money on is worth sacrificing this type of freedom. Is splurging for a new Lexus versus driving your Caprice for a few more years really worth what you truly give up for it? For me, I will never go back to spending anywhere near all of my income in a given month, at least not until retirement. The freedom from spending money is an incredible freedom.