Money, happiness, enough?

Election week has been quite extraordinary in good and in bad ways. Work has been insane, I have been getting fewer than 5 hours of sleep most nights, and I have felt somewhat marginal some of the time. As they say, something has to give.

Thursday night as I worked at work-related tasks that are tedious and boring for a client I do not especially enjoy, I found myself wondering why I was doing this to myself. I had earlier in the day characterized myself and M as “hyper-responsible weirdos” and ruefully realize it is true in all aspects of our lives. Where I would have preferred to be writing/finishing my training session recap post, I was instead compiling information and writing a pretty dry report for people who were unlikely to read the detailed backup they insist upon and only skim the summary I provide. Even then, they would find fault, pick apart everything from the font and font size I use to the size of the margins to the pieces of my recommendations they disagree with or do not want to implement to comply with the law.

I was not an especially happy camper. Yet, I was well-compensated for my misery. Is that enough to overcome my distaste for the work I was doing?

The past few months, I have been thinking about this a lot. Money is a great equalizer, but when do you decide you have enough money? Or does anyone never have enough money?

We are far from rich, affluent, or even upper middle class. I work very hard for long stretches of days to keep my small business relevant and fulfill my responsibilities to the clients. I agreed to do the work within an established timeframe, and while there are notable exceptions where I did not receive adequate cooperation to meet deadlines, for the most part I do the work to ensure I hold up my end of a contract. For all this I am pretty well compensated, but I also pay a pretty hefty amount of taxes on the money I earn. Still, I have no basis for complaint from a compensatory standpoint. Yet anymore, it does not seem like enough. The trade-off between more money and less happiness – I believe my tipping point has been reached.

My part-time job has grown, expanded, evolved into more than a simple part-time gig. We are currently in discussions for the new year about my role and how much time I will be able to provide the firm. I do not wish to give up my 4 day per week schedule, and I like the flexibility I have for a later start on Mondays and Thursdays to accommodate my training sessions. The bosses understand and actually appreciate my commitment to my health and overall well being, so we are presently brainstorming ways to satisfy their desire for a larger share of my time and attention within the constraints of my desires. I have not asked for a raise; my compensation and benefits are already generous. However, the increase in hours and expansion of responsibilities has changed my place in our bonus structure, which pleases me greatly and seems far more lucrative and fairer to all sides.

These things are all very good things. I have a thriving small business as well as responsible position in a traditional employment situation. M and I have already achieved our retirement savings and long-term savings goals for this year, and if I took the rest of the year off from paid work we would likely be capable of handling our monthly expenses. Since I am not likely to take that much time off without pay, we are simply planning to continue to pad our interim savings account.

But it does feel as if we have enough. Enough money. Enough stuff. Our home is on track to be paid off within the next 6 years, about 5 years earlier than our 15 year mortgage term. We take good care of our vehicles, and our Toyotas – mine is a 2013 and M’s is a 2008 – should be fine until the mortgage is paid off. The rest of our expenses relate to household expenses, food, entertainment, gifts, vacations, general spending. We have a budget and follow it, and we do live pretty well below our means even if we are not especially frugal. All good things.

Looking at our retirement accounts and our plans for contributions through the next 10 years of my work history, I think we will have adequate funds in retirement. The way things are, though, we cannot count on anything or take it for granted that all will be well or better in 10 years. So we will continue to contribution to the retirement vehicles available to us, take care of our health to the best of our ability, and look forward to a simpler life when the older and grayer years do arrive and take hold of us. We have no plans for a retirement filled with travel and adventure. Ours is a pretty quiet, low-key life now and expectations are it will continue once I cease working at my present full-time schedule.

But it all brings me back to my present lingering thoughts: how much is enough? Should I chase the all mighty dollar just out of a sense of fear and anxiety and panic and to offset my lack of frugality now?

I don’t think so. I am judging the extra work, the lesser state of satisfaction as no longer worth it to me. With the expanded role in my firm job, I am going to relinquish and/or terminate several contracts with different clients, freeing me to pursue more work/happiness balance in my life. A solid core of self-employment clients that I enjoy will continue, and I will work hard and fight if needed to keep and always strive to make room for their requests. I feel confident we can make our ongoing business relationship flourish and thrive well into the future.

By cutting back on my self-employment business commitments – I expect as much as 50% – my income will drop as well, although not in a direct one-to-one proportion. Considering my self-employment income is about 35% to 50% of our annual household income, that is also not an insignificant drop. However, I anticipate my happiness/work/life balance will increase at a much higher percentage. While we will definitely has less disposable or saved income, money is not everything, or at least it is not to me or to us.

As I mentioned, we have a budget to keep tabs on our overall expenses and spending. Other than our mortgage we have no debt, and there is fat the could be skimmed from the budget if I completely stopped my self-employment projects. In our judgment and estimation, M and I have enough. We have more than enough. We are truly blessed and fortunate to have what we have, and it is not something we ever take for granted. We can afford our small splurges and to be generous when it seems appropriate and makes sense to us.

Is this the next level? Or am I just jumping from one plateau to another? Either way, it feels right to me right now. I can always go back to pursuing new clients and projects if I get bored or feeling panicked about the future.

Seems unlikely, though. Because right now, it feels as if we are building enough to make our modest dreams an eventual reality. Actually, we have more than enough; we have abundance.

Lucky to be rich in the ways my life feels rich.

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