Whenever I meet someone face to face and they ask what I do, I tell them I’m a writer and that I mostly write about money from the perspective of the average person, looking at how normal people make ends meet and can get ahead in the world, maybe even achieving a nice retirement or even early retirement.
Most peoples’ eyes glaze over at that point (not necessarily out of boredom, but because it’s not a conversation you typically have in polite company), but some people follow up with a number of additional questions.
Inevitably, when that happens, they start digging into the “why.” Why would you give up the pleasures of life to just have some money when you’re old? What’s the point of all of that?
Here are my rewards for being frugal and having a mindset of pushing myself toward financial independence, as I see them.
When the weather is nice, I want to be able to have the freedom to just walk out the door, get on my bike, and go for a long bike ride. I want to be able to ride all the way over to Ledges, wander around on the trails all day, and bike back home, without a constant worry about skipping work or missing deadlines falling on my head.
I want to go to a restaurant and have it feel like a genuinely special occasion, not just the ordinary way I get food. When I go to a restaurant all the time for meals, it begins to seem ordinary, and in order for it to feel like a special occasion, I have to keep chasing more and more and more expensive experiences.
When I decide to shop for something expensive, I don’t want to feel artificially hemmed in by the prices. While I’m price-conscious, I want to be able to make my purchasing decision based on the true value of the car and how long it will last and how much value it will provide for me, not whether or not I can afford that car payment right now.
I want to not be worried about money. I want to not be scared that my credit card will be declined if I go out with a friend. I want to feel like I have money I can spend if I want, within reason, and not worry about it in the least.
I want to never, ever again have a fight with my wife about money issues.
I want to be able to throw myself wholeheartedly into an interesting opportunity when it comes along, not in the margins of my life where I’m just robbing time from proper rest, but in the prime hours of my day.
I want to have adequate time to read deeply from books and long, well written essays each and every day, not when windows of opportunity allow it.
I want to be able to give my kids meaningful opportunities right now, at this stage in their life, but I understand that meaningful opportunities don’t just mean throwing money at expensive experiences. It means spending time with them.
I want to be able to take my children to a park and spend hours playing soccer with them and helping them get better, as long as the experience is enjoyable. I want to practice taekwondo forms together in the back yard. I want to have meaningful conversations with them about what it means to grow up and become a responsible, independent adult who puts more into the world than he or she takes out of it – and do that by example, not just by telling them that’s what they should do.
I want to do all those things without being worried about work, about money, about getting a phone call, about anything other than being focused on the moment with them.
I want to never be an absent father, not even for a moment. I don’t want to be an absent father while they progress through childhood. I don’t want to be an absent father while they progress through their difficult teen years. I don’t want to be an absent father when they’re an adult, either.
I want to never, ever be a financial burden to my kids when I’m old and they’re in the sandwich generation.
I want to never, ever feel like the demands for money in my life are so strong that I’m forced to give up basic self-care for them. If I make the poor choice to not exercise or to not eat perfectly healthy, it’s a choice I make for reasons other than a need to please a boss or a need for money in the moment.
I want to do things like that now, without having to “make up for it” later or putting my family at risk.
I already have some of these things. I want to shore those up, and I want the rest of them, too.
To achieve all of those things, and many more, I have to spend less than I earn – and often significantly less than I earn. That’s a tradeoff that I’ve learned that I’m more than willing to make.
It means that we only have one television in our house, one with a pretty noticeable flaw on the screen.
It means that I primarily drive a sixteen year old SUV with a bit of rust on it, one that will have to be replaced at some point, but not quite yet.
It means that I don’t stop at a coffee shop each and every day, even though it’d probably be tasty. I get my coffee fix by making cold brew.
It means that I buy mostly store brand items when I go to the grocery store, and I even make some items like homemade laundry soap.
It means that I think about little details sometimes, things like what sock purchase will keep my feet warm for the next five years for the lowest price because it might save me $50 gradually over that timeframe.
It means that we don’t have a Nintendo Switch, even though several of my friends do and my children are clamoring for one, and we’re not getting one for Christmas, either. It’s not as if we’re lacking for sources of entertainment at home.
It means that I visit the library all the time for new books to read, rather than visiting the bookstore.
Every single one of those sacrifices is a tiny one. It’s something that I barely notice in the big scheme of things.
None of them prevent me from kissing my wife or holding her close.
None of them prevent me from telling a joke at the dinner table and watching everyone pause for five seconds before they get the punch line.
None of them prevent me from enjoying a slice of homemade toast with a little butter on it and a cup of coffee for breakfast.
None of those sacrifices kill any of the real pleasures and joys in my life, big or small.
What those little sacrifices add up to, though, is something enormous. Something life changing. Something I never again want to do without.
It adds up to a ton of freedom. It adds up to internal peace and low stress and great relationships and a future that doesn’t involve working until my body or mind break down.
The greatest mistake I’ve ever made in my life was not making that tradeoff from the very first day I went to work after college at my first “real” job, because even though I started late, the choice to sacrifice a little to gain a lot is, quite simply, the smartest move I’ve ever made outside of marrying my wife and having these three great children.
That’s why I’m frugal. That’s why I push toward financial independence. And that’s why I hope that you do, too. Good luck, my friends.