Bearing the Burden Today

Over the last month, I’ve had the great opportunity to spend a lot of time with many relatives and friends older than myself. Some are retired already. Others are close to retirement. Still others are at all sorts of various points on their financial journey, from a person facing an unexpected unemployment and career change to another person trying to continue to do a physical job with a damaged body.

Throughout all of these stories and throughout all of these lives, I couldn’t help but notice one consistent thread: sometimes life goes really well, and at other times life throws you curveballs when you don’t quite expect them. A person who has been really successful for years might suddenly find themselves jobless. Someone who has been doing a hard physical job for a long time might find their body no longer cooperating like it used to. Someone may find that their skill set is no longer needed in their field.

It happens. It will probably happen to you at some point.

What makes it even more challenging is that, when such events happen to you later on in your life, you’re often not as prepared to handle them. You simply don’t have the raw mental or physical stamina you once had. You may have life commitments that you didn’t have at an earlier stage in your life, like an ailing parent or a vital community leadership position or a marriage. When disaster strikes, it can be far harder to pivot later in life than it is earlier in life.

My takeaway? I need to bear the burden today.

Right now, my life is pretty good overall. My family is all reasonably healthy (there are some minor health issues that I don’t discuss on here, but they’re being managed well). My wife has a very stable job, and I seem to have some professional stability, too. We have some money in the bank. We own our house. My work commitments give me some pretty nice time flexibility. We’re both still relatively young, too.

Right now is the perfect time for me to step up and bear some of the burden for that point later in life where things aren’t as good. When my work situation changes, or my wife’s situation changes. When someone falls ill. When I get older and my mental or physical stamina starts to slip. When my parents or my wife’s parents begin to really struggle and need our help.

What can I do?

I can put aside some of my work now for a future when I can’t work. On a good writing day, I strive to set aside an article for the future for when I won’t be able to work. While not every job enables that kind of flexibility, you can still find ways to go far beyond the minimum today so that the people around you give you some leeway when you’re not able to perform as well. Be open about it – you’re putting in extra effort now to earn yourself some breathing room when you’re not able to keep up later on.

I can take on more work to build more income streams. If you have consistent spare time in your life – or when you ever feel that sense of boredom – you’re in a situation where you have time to invest in things like building a side business or taking a part time job or building an income stream by writing a book or making websites or creating a series of Youtube videos.

I can invest time and energy to live much more cheaply now and sock away the difference. I can make my own meals instead of eating takeout. I can clean my own house instead of hiring a maid. I can do my own laundry instead of using a laundry service. I can fertilize my own yard instead of hiring a lawn care service. I can grow my own food instead of turning to the produce section for every need. I can put aside my own food for the winter. I can make many of my own household supplies. Why? I have the time and energy to do so now, so why not do it?

I can resist the temptation to dive into expensive luxuries when they’re really not needed. I have willpower, which means I can resist putting the money I earn into temptations that I don’t need. Instead, I can enjoy the many simple pleasures of life: reading a book from the library, going on a hike in the woods, learning something new, playing a board game with my wife and children, going to community events, and so on. Those things don’t require a huge outlay of money.

I can build things that will save me money over the long term, reducing my monthly living costs by exerting extra effort now. I can do things like install some additional insulation or make cloth napkins or make a giant batch of homemade laundry detergent, projects that will save money over the long haul but require time and energy investment now. Those things are a wonderful way to “bear the burden” today so that things become easier later on, as projects like these tend to slowly spool out the savings over months endears.

I can raise my children to the best of my ability so that they will be strong and independent later (or have a better chance of being independent, at least). Investing extra time and energy into cultivating children with a growth mindset and characteristics of self-sufficiency and independence might be an extra burden today, but it’s a burden that pays off enormously later in life.

I can strengthen my marriage now so that it remains strong during times of trial. Similarly, investing time and energy into my marriage right now means that it is strong at later times when our marriage runs through a difficult challenge, as all marriages do at one time or another.

I can give to others now in building strong relationships so that I can rely on them a little when things aren’t going so well. Just as one invests in one’s children and one’s marriage with time and effort, one can invest in one’s social network with time and effort, too. Doing so gives you a larger and stronger set of social connections, which can really come in handy when life goes in an unexpected direction. Invest in your friendships and professional relationships now so that they’re strong when you need them later.

In short, I can bear extra burden now when I am strong and the path is flat, so that I don’t have to bear as much later on when I am not as strong and the path is uneven. I can do that with every single financial and professional and personal choice I make. I can put in the time and energy to build career stability and build a healthy bank account and build a strong social network and build a low cost lifestyle, all of which will really come in handy when I’m not as strong.

What I have right now is physical and mental health and energy, something I may not have in the future, as well as a fairly stable life. That enables me to bear some real burdens. It’s time for me to bear a little more burden today so that I don’t have to endure misery tomorrow.

Does this mean that life is joyless today, pushed down a life of burden, carrying the weight of both today and tomorrow in an endless trek? Absolutely not. The truth is that there are limits to how much you can bear at any time and learning how to recognize those limits – and how to maximize them by supporting them with adequate rest, good nutrition, exercise, and healthy amounts of leisure and self-care time – is vital to modern life. An overworked life is actually far less productive and beneficial than a well-considered life that includes a healthy workload balanced with other elements of a healthy life. Overburdening yourself is never the answer – finding that maximum peak is always the right answer. If you feel overburdened at any point in life, it’s time to step back a little and find that optimal point.

In the end, today is the day to step up to that challenge. Right now, you’re as young as you’ll ever be, likely with more natural ability to focus and work than you’ll ever have again. Use it. Don’t let it go to waste. There will come a day when you’re not able to bear as much, and by bearing it today when you’re strong, you’ll ensure that you’re still able to walk upright with pride later on when you’re not as strong.

Good luck.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.