I hate talking about it. I hate thinking about it. But I can't ignore that money is a big part of my life, and it can't be separated from the discussion of simple living. Income, expenses, energy, time, and freedom are intimately related.
Summer 2011 I found myself living on my own for the first time in nine years. Suddenly, money was on my mind all the time.
My worries led me to seek full-time employment and to leave some of the things I really enjoyed behind--namely, a flexible schedule and a stimulating job. Frustrated with the pressure (mostly from myself) to work full-time, I read How to Survive without a Salary along with lots of other blogs about people who live with a lot less.
A few points have stuck with me:
A few points have stuck with me:
- I'm going to spend all the money I earn (even if I'm "spending" it on growing my savings), so I will never feel like I have enough. If I earn more, I'll spend more.
- Instead of focusing on having more money, I should focus on having financial flexibility--that is, earning and spending money on my terms.
- It is more efficient and sustainable to achieve financial flexibility by cutting expenses than by trying to earn more income.
With this in mind, I resolved to work fewer hours, to embrace part-time work, and to cut way back on expenses. That sounds easy enough, but I'm still working on a balace that provides me with the quality of life I want.
My continuing struggle with finances stems from a couple things:
1. Unwillingness (so far) to pack it all up and move the country. Country living is a recurring theme among people who write about their simple lives. I was especially moved when I read about a couple who lived on less than $7,000/year, but I am not yet ready for that kind of life. Until I am, I have to try to reduce expenses while living in a very expensive area.
2. Bad habits die hard. I love Target as much as the next person does and maybe a little more. I like new things. I like cute things. I like going out to eat on days when I'm tired or lazy. I like buying gifts. I feel the pressure to fit in just like anyone else.
3. The unexpected or the miscellaneous. Since the end of September, I keep going over my monthly budget, and things always look good. Then my cat has to go to the vet. Then my car needs work. Then I decide to take some classes online. A few hundred dollars here and there add up.
At this point, I should probably address something you might be asking: So why did you resolve to make more money this year? Shouldn't you resolve to spend less? Well, yes. Let's say spending less, just like exercising and eating well, is always on my mind. I do want to spend less, but it's happening little by little. The resolution was actually a separate issue--challenging myself to get paid to do things I enjoy. I don't necessarily need to keep it up indefinitely. I just wanted to have a goal to work towards, and I want to know what my options are.
I've decided to teach an additional class at another nearby college. I'm working on starting a freelance writing business, but I don't anticipate earning much from this for a while. In the meantime, I thought I'd share what my monthly budget looks like for the next few months:
$2,316 = total monthly income from both colleges and the gym.
$891 = monthly expenses including rent, utilities, phone, internet, health insurance, Netflix, Zumba membership.
$230 = monthly grocery budget. I estimated this figure based on a recommendation to spend 10% of your income on food.
$2316 - ($891+ $230) = $1195
So far so good, right? I should have $1,195 leftover after all my known expenses. From here, I have to figure out a realistic but frugal estimate for household purchases, clothing purchases, entertainment, eating out, and professional development, but for now my goal is to put at least $400 per month into savings.
By the way, I estimate I'll work about 30 hours per week most weeks. And by "work" I mean doing something under the assumption that it will earn money now or in the near future. I feel pretty good about this balance in theory; I'll have to wait to see what reality brings me.
The takeaway: Full-time employment is not a necessity for me to live well. To make my life work on my terms, I still need to work on being more resourceful and less prone to retail therapy, but I should accept that my relationship with money is a work in progress. At some point, my needs and wants might change, but I believe in myself to do whatever it takes to survive and thrive.