Am I Unhappy?

I talk to a newspaper, radio, or television reporter on the phone once a day on average. The topics vary all over the place, but they’re usually seeking a quote from the “author of 365 Ways to Live Cheap” for their article or report.

Usually, my response has to do with some financial discipline. I often talk about the many ways my wife and I have cut our spending. I usually mention the fact that our daily routine doesn’t involve much spending – we eat at home, I work at home, our children play outdoors a lot, and so on. I also often include the fact that we don’t indulge in luxury items that much, particularly new ones.

These revelations usually cause the reporter to ask some variation on the big question.

Are you happy living like that?

Absolutely. Here’s why.

I realized that the best way to spend your money is to spend it on time, not on stuff.

For starters, that means trimming your spending on material items. We just don’t buy as much stuff as we used to. Our entertainment budget is about 20% of what it used to be. We don’t buy gadgets very often any more. I wear my socks until they’re actually worn out. We buy many items in bulk and try to get every possible use out of them. The end result of that is that our normal routine of life is a lot less expensive than it used to be.

Many people, in that situation, would channel that extra money into more stuff. We choose to channel it into more time.

Because of these spending choices, I get to spend tons of time with my kids. I was able to switch to a job with a much more flexible schedule (writing) because we didn’t require the nice income from my previous job. Now, we go to the park, the Science Center, out in the yard, and do countless projects all of the time. These are things I simply didn’t have much time for until we took control ove our life.

Because of these spending choices, my wife will take a sabbatical from her job for a while to be a stay-at-home mother. She loves her job and wants to go back to it, but like me, she wants to spend a lot of time with our children, especially when they’re young. This would have been impossible a few years ago – we “needed” the money too much.

Because of these spending choices, I have the time to learn new things. I’m learning to play the piano. I’m steadily improving as a fiction writer. I’ve become very adept in the kitchen. I’ve been able to tackle some extremely challenging books and really stretch my mind. Back in the day, I would have never had time for all of these things.

My life is more rich not because I can afford more stuff, but because I have more time. I’m able to have that time because I applied some financial discipline to my spending.

To put it simply, I stopped trading my time for more stuff that I didn’t have time to adequately enjoy. The first step in this journey, of course, is financial discipline, and it can be hard. But when you reach a point where your debts are taken care of and you’re spending far less than you earn, you begin to see a huge world of opportunities before you. You can move into work that matches what you want in terms of professional challenge and time flexibility instead of whatever work pays the best.

That might not be the result that everyone wants – or even that most people want. I certainly know people who seem very happy with the material items that they have.

I just know that because I took control of my spending and installed some financial discipline, I was able to find a lot more of the one thing I wanted most – time. And I couldn’t be happier with it.

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