Updated on 05.16.11

What’s Your Foundation?

Trent Hamm

It took me most of a decade to figure out what things really mattered to me in my adult life. My family. My closest friends. My sense of right and wrong. My values and morals. Writing. Reading. Playing a game with someone whose company I enjoy. Cooking and then enjoying a good meal. Teaching my children something new – or just playing with them. Enjoying the outdoors.

As long as I have those things in my life, my life is good. I don’t need anything beyond those things. Almost all of my time and energy is absorbed by one of those things – and when I’m absorbed by those things, I’m at the very least content.

These things are my foundation. Much like the foundation of a house, they’re the things upon which my life rests. If I provide that foundation with care and love and support, it will last throughout my days. Everything I build upon it can grow tall, crash to the ground, and be built again, but if I stay true to that foundation, it will remain, no matter what comes.

Even at the lowest point of my financial journey, I had my family. I had my friends and my values. I had access to books and to paper upon which to write. I could always go outside and take a walk.

These things were constants. They were there for me at the times of greatest need in my life. They have been there for me every day since, when I’ve seen success and when I’ve seen failure. They provide me constant joy and value, each and every day.

Thus, it makes sense that with my time, my energy, and my money, I do all I can to preserve this foundation while still enjoying it.

How do I do that? Simply put, I minimize the energy and money and time I spend on things that aren’t directly part of that foundation. I don’t desire or need a new car, so I’ll keep driving my ’04 Pilot until the thing’s falling apart. I don’t need new clothes, so I’ll wear my t-shirts until they’re starting to get holes in them. I don’t need to go out to expensive places when I can just make a meal or a drink at home.

Instead, I try to spend the extra money, time, and energy I have preserving that foundation. I’ll spend time with the people I care about.

For example, I’ll call my parents a few times a week, an experience I enjoy. In theory, I could be doing things that might on the surface be more fun than talking to my mom about a long-forgotten third cousin, but that relationship I have with them runs deep, and they’re there for me whenever I need them.

I could buy myself a new computer, as the rusty bucket of bolts I’m using right now has some ongoing hardware problems that cause me to reboot it regularly and makes it so I can’t use any programs that tax the processor much at all. But why? I don’t really need to use it for anything beyond writing and accessing the web.

What do I have instead? I have a well-stocked emergency fund which will help feed my family during a short-term emergency, and I have life insurance that would help with other situations. I have no debts other than my mortgage. I have a good marriage and three kids that squeal with delight whenever they see me because they know they’ll have my attention for the next few hours. I have a circle of close friends who are there for me when I need them and share a laugh with me all the time. I have a pile of books to read and a pile of ideas in my head to write about.

My foundation is secure. It brings me joy and fulfillment.

What else do I really need?

What else do you really need?

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  1. Ryan says:

    “I could buy myself a new computer, as the rusty bucket of bolts I’m using right now has some ongoing hardware problems that cause me to reboot it regularly and makes it so I can’t use any programs that tax the processor much at all.”

    Those sound like legitimate reasons to upgrade to me. Especially considering your income is dependent on a computer and you can easily afford it.

  2. kjc says:

    Trent, can’t you claim your computer as a business expense??

  3. Troy says:

    Convienent when your kids are little.

    Wait until they value things you don’t. Like a new computer or better than rags for clothes.

    And get some originality. The important things are your family, friends, comfort, security? Really?

    No Kidding. That is everyones foundation. That is like saying it’s important you breathe.

    And you say you don’t need anything beyond those things?

    Really? You don’t need shelter, or water, or heat, or electricity, or an internet connection, cars, fuel, insurance.

  4. Tyson says:

    Great post…its really asking what your values are.
    I recently bought a kindle, then returned it. Because I can read most of the books for free as well, I like to write notes on the side. I bought it as an impulse…but I’d rather spend that money doing something with my family.

    Saving for my kids college education or emergencies are more important to me than buying a new/fancy car (my 1998 truck still runs fine), and spending money on dining out or buying expensive toys, just for the sake of having them or impress, just doesn’t interest me.

    I’ll spend money on time and making memories with my family. They’ll remember our camping trips more than me having an ipad…right?

  5. Angie says:

    Sorry to be a bit negative, but these last couple of posts have been repetitive and boring. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great you love your life and family, so do I! I just feel lately it’s taken over the “financial talk for the rest of us” part of the blog I come here for.

  6. New Reader says:

    Troy – “get some originality” seems kind of harsh. Trent’s list includes things that don’t make my list, for example: I couldn’t care less about playing games with friends, I’d rather sit around and talk about ideas without the distraction of a game; the only writing I do is technical/work related, and is not fundamental to my enjoyment of life; and I know plenty of people who don’t enjoy the outdoors. Of course family and friends is going to be on almost everyone’s “foundation” list, but there’s still room for originality. My own list is different than Trent’s: family, friends, helping others (I’m a medical professional), taking care of my health, playing cello, loving my dog, spending time in the forest. Besides cello lessons, nothing on this list requires a certain amount of money. I love my family time whether we’re at Disneyland or in our backyard.

  7. kristine says:

    It varies for everyone. For my hubby- a fine meal is the height of enjoyment. That and a perfectly researched history book. For me, drawing, painting and writing. Great food (not my cooking!) and art supplies cost money, but writing, not so much.

    Our kids are older- 1 going to college, and one at 16, so our nuclear family is not the focal point of their everyday interactions- friends and girlfriends/boyfriends are. It changes over time, some of it, as the kids venture out. Their values shift as they grow, and will come full circle when they are mature.

  8. Dorothy says:

    Trent, Sarah seems to be absent from your recent posts with the exception of the one a week or so ago with her photo. Often you say things like, “I have no debts other than my mortgage.” and “Teaching MY children something new – or just playing with them.” Sarah is oddly absent from statements like that.

    Is it your intention to make Sarah sound like such a peripheral part of your life, and of your children’s lives?

  9. Emma says:

    Nice and honest post. Enjoy your calm life when the childen are young, healty and don’t question, need anything. It chanages. Your outlook on life will change too.

  10. con says:

    #8, Actually he has mentioned his wife a couple of times lately.

  11. deRuiter says:

    Buy a new computer. It costs a third less than you pay because it’s a business expense, a tax write off, and it will save you loads of time and frustration. The new computer will be faster, it will not freeze up and have to rebooted frequently. Trent, a person needs certain tools to do his / her job as easily and well as possible. This is silly. Buy the computer, do your work faster, with less frustration, and have more time for other things.

  12. Annie says:

    Trent, everytime i read your blogs you don’t value clothes or cars or expensive toys. While i find that very humble of you to point out about yourself, i feel like that is the standard you set out that is correct and that is the right way to live. I don’t have any kids, i don’t want any to be honest. I like nice cars and nice houses and value hard work and respect money. I thought about children and for me saving for the college education would just be something i HAVE to do, to just give up everything and focus on kids seems like a boring life to me. I like friends that want to better themselves and like being successful and giving to others, i don’t necessarily like having friends that all they do is struggle and boring things that are cheap and have no meaning whatsover. Everyone has their own values about things but when i read blogs like this it always makes it sound like having a life of prosperity is low value and having a life of simplicity is high value. Why? why is that high value? should we put engineers out of work for designing luxury cars, should we put builders out of work so they don’t design luxury homes, should we stop shopping for clothes so people will lose jobs…the answer to all this is NO, NO, NO, NO. You only get to live once and that’s it, I dont’ know of anybody that came back to live a better life. I have to disagree with some of the ways you think but i have to remember it’s jsut your opinion, you are not telling others to live this way.

  13. Jon says:

    Annie, he is constantly telling everyone to live his way! Remember anyone who has better things or higher standard of living than Trent is drowning in debt, neglecting their family and working a job they hate.

  14. Adam P says:

    Annie you don’t want kids!? Well, you are merely a “candle in the wind” in Trent’s eyes! Only passing forth your genetic material impacts the future generations according to him.

  15. Maureen says:

    Trent, You don’t feel any need to upgrade your computer to protect your livelihood but you will spend quite a sum to attend some gaming conference?

  16. Julia says:

    Just wondering…with all of the criticism Trent receives in the comments of most posts, does he ever read the comments? Nothing changes in subsequent posts based on suggestions from readers, questions or criticisms are never addressed. Where’s the interaction with the reader besides a response to “Mailbag” questions? It’s fortunate Trent has such a thick skin – a pre-requisite to writing his blog, obviously.

    I’m a long time reader and appreciate the financial insights but frankly, I, and others it would appear, are getting tired of the “my family” routine. Great, you have a family, congrats, but there’s a whole lot more out there in life to explore and appreciate as well. Breeding is not the only way to find satisfaction in life. Procreating is not rocket science or hard to do, managing finances is a bit more complex.

  17. Jon says:

    I wonder what Trent is going to do in a couple years this blog is not generating the revenue it is now? People seem to be tiring of the way it has been going the last 6 months or so. If you don’t adapt and please your customers/readers they will leave. I could see this perfect life he has built for himself unraveling and he will have to grow up.

  18. MK says:

    If you don’t want to buy a new computer, have a computer-savvy friend (or even pay a shop to) take off the CPU fan, clean off the CPU chip and heatsink, replace the cooling paste (at a cost of a few dollars) and replace the heatsink and fan. At most, this takes perhaps half an hour to an hour, costs $10 plus whatever you pay for the labor, and runs a pretty good chance of fixing those lock-ups.

    Whenever the computer freezes up when you do processing-intensive tasks, chances are pretty good that it’s a CPU cooling issue. If you’re otherwise content with the computer, there is absolutely no need to buy a new computer for that.

  19. MK says:

    “replace the heatsink and fan” – reseat, not buy new. Sorry for the confusion.

  20. getagrip says:

    @ #16 “Procreating is not rocket science or hard to do, managing finances is a bit more complex.”

    Managing your finances isn’t complex. Spend less than you earn and invest it. There, done, piece of cake right? Same impact as your intent with respect to slamming Trent with “procreating”. The fact is the complexity only exists with the after effects, e.g. how you go about that difference and how you go about rearing the kids.

    While I agree many of the recent posts have dwelt a a fair bit on the kids aspect, it is a personal blog. His kids are a focal point of his time and life right now. I think it is to be expected to some degree.

  21. Vickie says:

    I enjoyed this post, I think it’s a nice reminder to “keep your eye on the prize”……whatever a person’s reason for wanting improve their financial situation.

  22. Gretchen says:

    It’s not a personal blog. It’s his career, as he’s mentioned time and time again.

  23. the duchess says:

    I too, am growing a bit tired of the often lofty and preachy tone that Trent takes on. The theme of the posts has become very onerous – each time I open one up, I keep hoping (aside from the mailbags) that I will find a nugget of financial wisdom I can actually use. I find a lot of the blogs are very repetitious, and don’t have much to do with actually saving/investing money. The best years of my life were spent raising a family in a frugal manner, but my life has taken a completely different direction now and I am not interested in reading about this anymore.

    When I first started reading this blog 3 years ago, I often printed up the entries and kept a binder called “trent’s best posts”. Unfortunately, it’s been a very long time since I have bothered to run off a hard copy, and lately I find I am turning to other financial sites for my information and inspiration.

  24. Mary says:

    Folks there is a time when everything that needs to be said about a topic is said, I’ve learned a lot from this site, but how much can be said about frugality, living well on less. I also do not have children by choice, but they are a part of the financial decision making in his life. I really enjoyed the food posts and maybe it’s time to devote a second blog to food. Even Amy Dacyczyn had to quit sometime and do a life change assessment. That being said, I’m not suggesting Trent stop the SD, I suggesting maybe you need to find a blog that fits your life style. Trent has opened his entire life to us, not many of us would do the same.

  25. tentaculistic says:

    Trent man, I love you, really I do, but sometime I think you’re just baiting the trolls by bringing up, yet again, your bucket-o-rust car and how you have no desire for a prestigious new car — when you bought a brand-new Prius (eco prestige, true, but the equivalent of a yuppie’s Beemer for greenies). Can’t you just let that imaginary virtue die? You DO value new cars, even if it were just for the fuel mileage (although I think prestige prob played into it too, and that’s ok!), and you showed it by putting your money where your values are. Just own up to it and stop trying to pretend otherwise! There are plenty of other extravagances out there that you avoid, why wave the red flag (red herring flag?) about the car? It just irks those of us who otherwise love your posts.. And feeds the trolls.

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