Right now, I’m seated next to a big window that faces out into our back yard. As I glance out there, I can see my oldest son. He’s laying flat on his back out there, staring up at the sun. A few minutes ago, he said he wanted to go play out in the yard and I told him it was fine, but after a moment or two, he simply laid down in the grass.
He seems to be happy and secure with his life, much like our other children (who are napping right now). He doesn’t have too much to worry about. He has a home that’s safe and non-threatening. He has two parents that love him deeply and a large extended family that cares about him as well. When he needs something, he almost always has it.
Providing that for him, as well as making sure his future childhood is similarly stable, is the responsibility of Sarah and myself.
I’ve come to realize over the last year or so that this task fuels a lot of the decisions we make in our lives.
It’s easy to see that impact on a larger level. For example, when our oldest child was born, Sarah and I had only minimal life insurance policies. Today, we each have policies large enough that it would replace our incomes for quite a few years if one of us were to pass away. We wouldn’t have to move out of our home in a rush. We wouldn’t have to change our way of living. The tumult in our children’s lives from the passing of a parent would be as limited as we could make it.
In a similar vein, the overall decision to reboot our finances and commit ourselves to spending less than we earn was triggered by our first child (and the idea that we would have more). We saw ourselves in a very sticky financial situation and we knew that if we didn’t fix it soon, our child would grow up with stressed-out parents and perhaps even an unstable home. We didn’t want that.
This motivation filters down to even the small decisions. When we’re planning our meals for the week, a meal that incorporates black olives (our oldest child’s favorite food) and portabella mushrooms (our middle child’s favorite food) is going to always get some serious consideration. Meals that involve sweet potatoes (the one food all of our children seem to reject) is going to almost always be excluded. This helps us filter through the abundance of options available to us when we plan meals.
Behind all of it, though, is an incredibly strong desire to make the right choice for our children. That’s our motivation in so much of what we do, from our career choices to our dinner choices.
I believe that without that central motivation, our financial recovery would not have happened.
Before having children, we weren’t really motivated by anything other than what seemed fun in the moment. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that you’re sacrificing elements of tomorrow for more fun today. If you enjoy an expensive bottle of wine today, you are giving up something tomorrow.
When you’re motivated by something beyond immediate pleasure, sacrificing elements of tomorrow begins to have an additional cost. Before having children, Sarah and I used to travel quite a lot, and we tended to spend a lot on those trips (and by spending, I mean accumulating debt).
Now, when we think about taking such a trip, one of the things we’ll consider is how that impacts our children. The trip becomes more expensive with them, and the money spent might have some other use for their life. The solution usually ends up being a balance between the enjoyment today and the possibilities tomorrow. This summer, for example, our vacation is taking us to a national forest.
Obviously, I’m using children here as an example of motivation, because that’s my motivation for many of my decisions. Your motivation could be completely different.
One of my closest friends is motivated with almost every choice in her life to help out the charity she works for. Helping the people that charity serves is her primary motivation and she’s making life choices so that she can do this work all of her life. It’s her motivation.
A reader wrote to me recently describing her dream of pursuing her painting as a full-time endeavor as soon as possible. She’s willing to make some very drastic lifestyle choices to get herself to that point. That’s her motivation.
I don’t think such a strong motivation is necessary for financial success, but I do think it makes the decisions a lot easier. If you have something constantly motivating you to make a better choice, it becomes much easier to make that choice.
What’s your motivation? Maybe you’ve found it, maybe you haven’t. It might be people in your life. It might be a passion you have. It might be a cause you care about.
If you haven’t found your motivation yet, don’t worry. However, if you’re dreaming of a better (or, at least, different) life, finding a specific motivation to fuel that change will make it much easier.
This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.