Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Saving money is buying freedom

This week I've been a little down. I think it's because of work, at least partly. Over the past few months I've concluded that I want a new job. I don't think the details are germane to this blog; basically I've given up hope that the professional principles I've come to consider important are supportable at my company.

I was a little surprised to conclude that work is making me unhappy. I have a plan, after all. I save money to buy freedom. I have a goal to one day live entirely off passive income, which will give me the freedom to pursue more fulfilling activities than full-time employment. I'm living the plan every day... mostly, but not completely. I think it's that differential, the niggling idea that I'm not quite on course, that's been getting to me.

You see, my consumption habits have been trending upward. This is a feeling I have: it has been a few months since I drilled down into my spending to get a quantitative sense of how I'm doing, so I'm not positive, but it is a real feeling. Come to think of it, this lack of situational awareness is probably another part of the problem. Joint expenses for my girlfriend and I last month were higher than usual by a few hundred dollars. We've been getting take-out more often, maybe once a week. I've been buying lunch maybe once a week or so. I've also bought a few things I don't need, like a Kindle book and an upgrade to our homebrewing setup. None of these is troubling on its own, but taken together and without a clear view of how our overall spending fits into our plan, it paints a darker picture.

I think that even with a bad work situation I could be happy if I felt I was on track. Sure, I've been applying to other jobs, but I haven't put forth a concerted effort or set a goal or timeline for sending out applications. Sure, I've been saving money, but it hasn't been as much as I could be saving and I've been distracted by consumerism. It feels good writing about it since this is the first time I've pulled my situation into a narrative for my own sake: I need to get back on the Mustachianism band wagon for my own happiness.

I don't want to be someone who takes his work with him into his home life. I don't want to depend on my job for life satisfaction. I don't want to need my job, either. I've strayed a bit from the right path, and that implies a greater dependence on my job than I'd prefer. I'm overdue getting back on the path toward Mustachianism.

Mustachianism, I think, is about valuing things like freedom and flexibility over things like consumerism and status symbols. It's about living up to those values and avoiding getting stuck in a rut of bad habits. I'm going to re-commit to my savings goals, not because I want money, but because I want freedom.


  1. I hear ya :) I've had the same sort of week! I'm feeling very frustrated with work at the moment and using it as motivation to really focus on my finance goals.

  2. It is not easy to fight lifestyle inflation but I don't think that buying kindle is that much of a sin. I had bought the basic Kindle e-reader earlier this year but instead of buying it in UK for £69 I went for "with special offers" (ad-supported) version in US which was $69 but I got the refurbished for $45 (and collected from New York when I was there) so instead of £69 I only spent about £35. As a result I no longer pay for books - I get them for free instead. Either free MOBI format books or PDF ones which I can conveniently convert to Kindle-compatible format. Even if I read 5-10 books a year, the kindle will have already paid for itself!

  3. I would like to point out that MMM (whom you appear to follow) has pointed out several times that the main focus of his lifestyle is not to save a ton of money so you can retire early, but to REDUCE YOUR FOOTPRINT ON THE PLANET. This message is somewhat hidden, but not secret. I think remembering this helps to motivate a continued path to Mustachianism. So recoup, reorganize, punch yourself in the face and keep going!

    1. This is a good point. Sometimes spending money is consuming real resources, like buying a crappy toaster for $15 that will break in a year. But spending money on e.g. Kindle books has very little environmental impact. It's another reason I can feel good about donating money to charity.

  4. holy cow- it's like you read into my mind! I was having these exact same thoughts and feelings a few weeks ago. With regards to work, the one thing I had to remind myself was that it's not worth it to make yourself miserable for 8+ hours a day just to build up your savings a little quicker. There are so many jobs out there in the world that you can try that might leave you invigorated rather than making you feel down. Yeah, maybe they won't pay quite as well as the job you have now, but is the money really worth your unhappiness? In the grand scheme of things, maybe it means it takes you an extra 2 years to get to financial independence. I think your happiness is worth it!

    But seriously, I totally understand what you're going through- if you ever want an impartial party to talk to, please send me an email! I feel 2000x better after making the leap from my office job and i'd love to help you be able to get out of yours, too :)

    Sometimes you just need to shake things up a little bit to get yourself back on track. Good luck!!

    1. I definitely hear you. I think it's great that you're doing something about your office job malaise. It's rare that someone actually takes the leap from a 9-to-5 grind to something more interesting. I for one am looking forward to hearing about your journey!

      In my case, though, for my job, I'm not discouraged by the 9-to-5... not so much, anyway. More like I'm not happy with the current environment. I want to believe that there's a company out there that shares my values.

      Of course, I can totally imagine myself in a few years, after a few more failed jobs, that I decide it's up to me to shape my own company with my own values. Anything's possible. I just need to keep doing what I think is right for me.

  5. Lifelong commitment to a company and transcendence through its ranks was once my ultimate goal. But when you decide that your frugality will allow you to peel off and live off passive income with a more flexible and creative lifestyle, you encounter a strategy question. Because you hit the inevitable feeling of wanting that passive income phase to start RIGHT NOW - which it cannot.

    So a few possible paths seem to make the most sense:
    a) Make as much money as possible to make the FI phase come sooner. Get a higher paying job, 2nd job, or side gig. Chances are you are not earning as much as you possibly could right now.
    b) Search for a more pleasing job to make at least the lifestyle design aspect start sooner, even if it pays less (Ashley's point). Chances are you are not in the most pleasing job if you dream of FI.
    c) Keep doing what you're doing, keep your eye on the goal, stay cool at your job, save earnestly & invest wisely. And be patient.

    I have been doing the last one, but it is hard. If you dream of something contradictory, it takes the air out of the Now. The mathy part of me says the ROLI (return on lifestyle investment) is not worth it FI-wise. But the lazy part of me stalls on going for option a which makes more money sense.

    I am interested to hear how you and others deal with the crossroad. The minute you realize you might not *have to* work your whole life, many motivations change...

    1. I'm doing the last one too -- still looking for a better job though. And I feel the same way: option A is way too much work for my lazy self.

      What's this Return On Lifestyle Investment you mentioned? I'm not familiar with it. Maybe you should blog about it!

      My first big FI play is going to be when I have enough "screw you" money to throw my weight around at my job. Like quitting before having something lined up, or something less severe, like demanding we do things the right way. Threatening to leave feels like a pretty strong bargaining position if the situation warrants it.