I am thinking a lot about the new year and the intentions I want to set. I’m toying with the idea of committing to some kind of shopping ban or spending freeze. I kinda sorta signed up for an uber frugal month project this month on a site that I kinds sorta hate-read. But I can’t seem to find that glowing ball of enthusiasm and can-do attitude inside me. All I see is the smoldering ruins of past failure and regret.
I’m reading quite a few things about changing one’s financial life. It is recommended that one write down one’s goals so they can be revisited when the urge to spend is strong. The idea is that when reminded of your long term goals, it is easier to bypass short term pleasure.
The problem is, I don’t have any compelling long term goals. None that feel manageable enough to help me delay gratification.*
At lunch yesterday my husband and I chatted briefly about future financial goals. He has the “primitive” financial goals (his words) of saving enough for retirement and covering the bulk of our kids’ undergraduate education (I doubt we’ll manage either). He also really wants to pay back my parents the remainder of the $100K they gave us when we bought our house to avoid mortgage insurance, though he doesn’t feel compelled to increase the amount or frequency of our payments to do it faster (we have 10 more years on that loan).
We talked a little about the downstairs unit and if moving down there is a financial dream of ours. It doesn’t seem to be a goal that inspires either of us to drastically change our lifestyle. I, for one, suspect we won’t ever move down into that space, and most of the time I’m okay with that (especially after I watch an episode of Tiny House Hunters). Our 1,200 square feet doesn’t feel stifling, but a second bathroom sure would be nice (oh my god, do I want a second bathroom). Sometimes the idea of adding another 400 square feet feels unnecessary, even greedy. Sometimes I think that even with 1,600 sq ft we’d still be living in a house significantly smaller than most Americans–is that really so bad?
The thing is, our renter provides us with a significant amount of money. Right now we need it to pay our mortgage, but when my son is out of daycare (18 months!!!) we will easily have enough to cover our mortgage without that rent. And yet, if we kept getting that money we could save up for a new car in two years (ours has 5-6 years left on it, tops), and contribute more to our retirements and our kids’ college funds. Will that 400 sq ft of space ever be worth giving up that income? I doubt it. We’d also have to save up to build inside stairs connecting that unit to our home, which would require even more years with a tenant. By the time we could really afford to build and move down there our kids will be preparing to leave home.
So no, adding our in-law unit to our home is not a solid enough goal for me to drastically alter my spending.
Many people live well below their means so they can save up enough to pursue a dream job or just work far fewer hours. While I could see appreciating the opportunity to work part time or pursue a new job with less pay, I don’t have some dream career waiting in the wings. I will have to continue teaching for at least 20 years to secure my retirement, so just leaving my job is not an option. And even when I day dream about writing a book in the summer, I am not motivated to change my life to make that happen. It’s more a fantasy than an actual goal.
The only goal I am absolutely committed to is living abroad for a year or two. I want to do that more than anything else. My husband says I should start researching how much it might cost us to live abroad. Surely knowing how to comfortably live well below our means would give us a lot more flexibility to pursue opportunities abroad–especially if we could manage without my husband’s income for a couple of years. This does get me motivated to change my spending habits, but it is so far away that it still feels really abstract (also I’m not sure my husband is really on board to actually do it).
Mostly I just want to have a better relationship with money, one in which I feel in control, and not controlled. I am not carrying debt besides my mortgage, so I don’t have that weighing me down, but I have become accustomed to a certain lifestyle, one that requires I make a certain amount of money. So in a way, I am a prisoner of my spending, as the idea of living on less makes me feel uncertain, and frankly, scared.
I know I have come a long way with the money stuff. When I think of where I was when I confessed my spending to my husband after years of secrecy, I am reminded of how much I have achieved. But I’m still no where near where I want to be. Can I motivate myself to change my relationship with money for abstract reasons? Or do I need a concrete goal for which I can track achievement? Am I ever going to feel like I’m spending my money intentionally and in line with my values? Or will I always be second guessing my purchases? With my bigger financial goals so nebulous and seemingly unattainable, I worry I’ll never find out.
* I’ve been reading a lot about ADD in attempts to better help my daughter and one book I really identified with hypothesizes that ADD is fundamentally a disordered experience and understanding of time. That people with ADD struggle (or simply can’t) organize themselves within schedules, determining what time is necessary to complete which tasks and how a task must be started at a certain time, and worked on for a certain duration, to be completed. This may cause, and not necessarily be a symptom of, increased distractability. People with ADD find it hard to delay gratification because they don’t process time in the way most people do; the inability to accurately understand time makes the waiting required for delayed gratification such a burden as to greatly undermine the ultimate value of the goal that would later be achieved. While I know that I can work hard in the present to reach a future goal in areas of my life where I feel confident and able, I do think I have a harder time delaying gratification when I haven’t developed effect tools for doing so (like in the areas of spending).
Do you have any future financial goals that affect your current spending? Do you feel you spend intentionally, and in line with your values?