September 23, 2005

On that day, I wrote the following entry in my personal journal (edited just a bit):

Sometimes I feel like my life is completely without purpose and I’m just following some invisible pattern that someone else has put into place.

Today was a typical day. But every day is a typical day.

I woke up about 6:30 and said good bye to Sarah as she left. I watched the news for a while, got dressed, and headed off to work. I stopped at Gregory’s and ate a bagel and drank a cup of coffee while I read the paper. I drove to work. I got a few tasks done, surfed the web for a while, did a few more things. I went out to lunch at El Azteca and dropped $12 on a tasteless lunch. I sat at my desk most of the afternoon, thinking about the weekend and wishing I wasn’t a complete failure at writing. I stopped at the bookstore on the way home and bought three books. I went to the music store and got the new Basement Jaxx album that Charlie talked about. I listened to it on the way home and didn’t like it at all. I got home, tried to write a little bit while waiting for Sarah, hated everything. Deleted all of it. We went out to dinner. Now she’s watching a movie and I’m sitting here doing nothing.

I do all of these things almost every single day – but I feel like I’m going nowhere at all.

Five things really jumped out at me as I read this piece.

First, a typical day for me meant wasting a lot of money. On this “typical” day, I bought three books, a CD, and ate all of my meals out, even though I had a fully-functional kitchen at home. That’s easily $70 to $80, just wasted that day.

Second, all of that spending was utterly joyless. In theory, that spending would bring me happiness, one would think. Instead, it was just so routine that I didn’t even really think about it at all, let alone enjoy it.

Third, I had stunning amounts of time that were wasted as well. Out of that eight hour workday, I seemed to have wasted six hours of it (although I was probably exaggerating quite a bit). Still, even if I were just wasting an hour or two, why not use that time to build relationships with other people in my field, investigate new ideas, or sharpen my writing skills?

Fourth, I knew what my dream was, but I wasn’t taking real action to achieve it. I wanted to be a writer – the same dream I’ve had for most of my life – but my “action” towards it was writing for a few minutes, deciding it was “terrible,” then deleting it. I was actually writing every day in my journal, but I didn’t view that as “real” writing in any way – just a way to blow off steam.

Finally, I had a strong sense of not having any real purpose in life. I felt aimless. I didn’t know where I was going or what I was doing. Mostly, I felt like I was following a pattern that someone else had set in place for me.

The amazing part is this – all of it ties back to the money.

I knew what I wanted to do with my life, but I felt like most of the choices I wanted to make were out of financial reach. I had a pile of debts overshadowing my life and I knew I needed a healthy and very steady income to maintain my lifestyle and keep those debts at bay.

The thing was that I was actually unhappy with my lifestyle. The things I did on a daily basis – for the most part – didn’t bring me much joy at all.

Financial freedom opened the doors for me. By stepping up to the plate and making some fairly simple financial changes in my life, I was able to walk away from all of that. I now work on my own, on my own terms. I don’t bring in as much money as I once did, but I have the freedom to spend the afternoon at the park with my kids. I have the power to choose the things I want to work on instead of having to do whatever the boss says.

Yes, I gave up those stops at the bookstore. Yes, I stopped eating out. Were those big losses? They stung a little bit at the time – but mostly because it was difficult to find new patterns, not because I was losing anything. I just started cooking more at home and taking leftovers to work, and I learned to enjoy the public library.

To me, the choice to live cheaper was, in the end, an easy one. I didn’t give up the things that actually added value to my life – I just cut away a lot of the fat.

And that fat cutting made all the difference.

If you’re unhappy with the way your life is, start by cutting back on your spending, getting rid of debt, and building up some savings. Having that kind of base gives you the freedom to make the changes that you’re afraid to make now.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

Loading Disqus Comments ...