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.

Financial freedom vs. financial empowerment

I found this line in another budget/finance forum I follow. Being in my mid-50s now it seems a bit late to be contemplating financial freedom (aka early retirement) right now, but I find it curious the trend and thinking from others far younger and better planners than I have ever been.

Financial empowerment, however, is intriguing. It spells a wider variety of choices and freedoms than being enslaved to a job for the paycheck. For us it meant M could retire early, and here we are, 6+ years later and both pretty happy with the low-key lifestyle we have carved out for ourselves.

There was a comment on this post that also got me thinking about such matters:

Good for you, Janelle! You really seem on top of things. I am curious though…it sounds like you employ a veritable team of experts to help you achieve your personal improvement goals. What percentage of your income do you allocate to these professional services? Also, in a long-term marriage, how do you find time to nurture your relationship in between all the personal goals? What kinds of things do you do together?

My village of experts does not exactly come cheap, and her question is a valid one. Training with J, once I realized its value to me, became a consistent line item in the monthly budget. While I only have to revisit this every 4 or 5 months (sessions are purchased in blocks of 40), I budget it out because I am a planner and I have every intention of continuing. Unless he fires me, of course. Or moves to Dubai to work at the most expensive private gym in that country. Or perhaps goes into some witness protection-like program for super nice guys who become entangled with bunny boilers. (Hey, it could happen.)

TM and RD are healthcare expenses. Since I have an HSA-compatible insurance plan, I contribute the maximum to our HSA every year and hope not to have to use those funds until our much older and grayer years when healthcare is projected to consume a lot of our retirement cash. However, the money is there and ready to be spent if needed now to pay for healthcare expenses, including sessions with TM or with RD. Both are also generous with their off-the-clock time, as is J, so I do get extra help as needed. I endeavor to not take advantage of their kindnesses towards me. Thus far this year, I have not had to make withdrawals from our HSA for services received, and hopefully the trend continues.

The real way I manage the luxury of such paid expertise is by increasing my income whenever it feels like we are approaching a pivotal tipping point and something must be sacrificed in the budget. I have taken short-term projects just to pad self-improvement funds, because I am not the only consumer in my household. While I am training with J and working with RD and TM, M is running, running, running in the mountains and shoes and socks and clothes and packs and supplements and gas to get to where he goes to run canyons and such adds up. As I said, I am a planner, and I craft our monthly budget so funds are squirreled away year round not just for my training but also for summer’s peak running expenditures. And if I need to work harder, bill more hours, I let it be known to my network of clients and business contacts that I have time available in my schedule if there are special projects or other work that could be done now versus later in the year. One way or another, opportunities for cash flow come up and the money leak is plugged. In worst cases, I use our savings to cover the shortfall that tightening our belts on expenses cannot overcome.

So essentially I am not above hustling to generate more income for our self improvement luxuries. I also think the money I save on not having to buy insulin and diabetes-related medications and supplies will easily cover my sessions this year with TM and RD, including the gift cards I get for them as thanks for their off-the-clock time investments in me. I know all members of my village have choices in how to spend their personal time; that they choose to share some of it with me is extraordinarily generous of them.

As for our long-term marriage and nurturing our relationship along side our personal goals, I think that’s a big part of what strengthens us – room to pursue our individual objectives to become the better, stronger, faster versions of ourselves. M gets up at 3 a.m. and goes running every single day, usually straggling in around 8:30 as I am preparing to leave for the office (on the days I leave the house for work). I am up at 4 a.m. for the gym on weekdays, by 6 a.m. on weekends. Other than sleeping in together, there is not much else we would likely be doing at those hours if we were not pursuing exercise. Ours is also a very simple, low-key life. We do chores around the house together, we grocery shop and cook and run errands together whenever possible. Mostly we live the normal life of a middle-aged couple – we hang out, talk, pursue things that interest us, and are present with each other. Ours is not a big, flashy, social media worthy exciting lifestyle; we simply enjoy our time and strive to make the most of it.

Over the course of my adult life, I have found that financial stability allows me to sleep restfully. Financial empowerment lets M be at home and unfettered by the responsibilities of a job that ends up having a negative impact on his nervous system. Financial freedom seems to have past us by, seeing as I am probably within 10 to 15 years of actual retirement, and in all honestly does not interest me much. If not working, what else would I be doing with the majority of my time? I can only cope with so much travel – I feel better when tethered to our home – and my hobbies and outside interests would be less enjoyable if I spent large chunks of time pursuing them. Maybe I will feel differently in 10 years, or even 5 years. But for right now, it is best for both my emotional and mental health that I continue to toil at paid employment.

Fortunately I have always liked my jobs and gotten a psychological boost from work, so our present arrangement suits us and our marriage. Working at the law firm provides benefits and the human interaction I enjoy and thrive upon. Self-employment gives me the flexibility and more control over our monthly income in the present and funds our long-term plans. Right now I have the very best of both worlds. If there was something I was missing and really wanted, I would be working on mapping ways to make it happen for us. As it is, we do not feel especially deprived or as if there is a large crater of emptiness in our world.

I feel very spoiled, I admit. But I also work really hard and do not take our simple lifestyle or anyone present in my/our life for granted. I make sure to say please and thank you and try to help others when and where I am able. My kids are grown and living their own lives, and I love, Love, LOVE that we are as close and so much a part of their happily ever afters.

Ours is a good if simple life. I have no strong desire to pursue more outside the objectives I am presently chasing. And personally, I think that is a huge bonus – to be happy and satisfied with all that I have.


Aging. Aging gracefully. Aging well. We are all getting older, and lately it’s been dominating my thoughts. Retirement and all it’s components – financial planning, our mortgage, when I might be able to retire, what retirement might look like, what retirement might feel like.

They say age is just a number. For me it’s a number that carries a whole lot of big choices and decisions. I feel unprepared. Not completely unprepared, but still not ready. Being a planner, I have to have at least a framework of flexible expectations to feel comfortable going forward. There are things I can control – how much we strive to save for retirement, getting the mortgage paid off before I cease working a full-time job, thinking about what we would like to do once I am no longer tethered – and a few big things I cannot. The days pass I grow older; it happens to everyone. But I need not feel my age so much, or leave myself completely vulnerable to the problems that can crop up coasting into senior citizenship.

Left to my own devices, I am not doing bad. I eat better now. I exercise daily. I get plenty of rest. I see my doctors regularly and (mostly) have a routine for taking necessary medications. I have a great husband, fantastic support system, and wonderful circle of family and friends. Other than reading and the occasional needlecraft project, I do not have a lot of hobbies. Working seems to consume a lot of my available time. Perhaps when I am no longer committed to a full-time job I will develop new hobbies, or pursue the hiking and exercise adventures more heartily with M.

But it feels inadequate. I am ahead of many I know in my age range, yet I know I still have weight to lose and blood sugar to control without so much daily anxiety and weekly frustration in one form or another. I need professional help and intervention. *sigh*

M has wanted to renew our gym membership for the last few months. We have a pretty impressive home set-up with the pool and spa outside, my rower, the arc trainer, a rack of free weights, and a total gym – all of which one or both of us use from daily to several days per week. But there is specialized equipment at the gym that we have no room for in the house and will never prioritize in the budget. Aside from that, I think we both kind of miss the social aspects of being at the gym. I have another 18 months of membership at my local yoga studio, having taken advantage of a periodic special of buy one year, get a second year free subscription, but I can understand his desire to be back in the weight room and almost understand the allure of the steam room and sauna.

I have been mulling it over from a financial perspective as well thinking about what I want for myself from going back. While I am doing better than ever with my diet and exercise, I recognize that I could do better if I (1) set some more specific goals, and (2) I sought the experience and specialized knowledge of a personal trainer. The gal I had used previously – a type 1 diabetic with a degree in kinesiology – is still there and would happily work with me again. M and I went down yesterday and agreed to a one-year commitment, which also came with 4 personal training sessions. That should be adequate to get me started again, but I am realistic in understanding that I will have to carve out some financial support for additional sessions in the coming months.

But first things first – setting up a first appointment and then establishing a schedule for these appointments. My goal is to establish a sustainable routine for strength training and then tweaking it/rounding it out with the balance of these appointments.

There is that side of the equation. It seems relatively settled. I’ll go to the gym a few times per week and practice/work on the machines to build my strength and prettify my muscles. Or so is the goal in my mind. I will also continue my rowing/arc training cardio at home, because I’m already in that routine. Off gym nights I’ll go to yoga. Weekends, I walk with my neighbor every weekend and do a lot of stuff with M, so I’ll not be on the couch eating chips and swilling soda.

We shall see how that works out for me this summer.

On the food, so much harder. I eat pretty well most of the time, but one slip and I’m going WEEE! down the slippery slope of sugar and carbs. A great thing for me in June is that (1) M is grilling like crazy, so we have chicken and beef several nights per week, and (2) M does not make side dishes – that’s my contribution to cooking and I can usually restrain myself to salads and vegetables during the week. Once the guests start arriving there will be pasta and breads and potatoes galore, but it’s a lot easier for me to show restraint when I’m not preparing the food. When I’m cooking I know what I like (lower salt, no pepper, and limited other spicy spices) and prepare my own stuff in all it’s bland glory and spice it up for everyone else. I do not expect that from our guests when they are here, and they have learned I am quite content eating greens and vegetables and avoiding the spicey stuff they all enjoy.

Lunches are always hard, because sandwiches get boring and the allure of junk food is always right there. Taking leftovers helps – I make a salad for lunch and portion off some of whatever M has grilled many nights – but it does not always overcome my weakness for cheeseburgers and french fries. My neighbor works a few buildings down from me 2 days per week, though, and we have decided to fight our temptations by walking during lunch hours those days. It should help. Heck, just having a meal plan helps, if only I can get it together and get it done.

Other than wearing sunscreen while out and about, I’m not sure what else I can or should be doing. June is my physical month, though, so I shall confer with my doc about anything else I’m missing. He’s going to tell me I’m doing great, my A1c and blood sugar readings are heading in the right (lower) direction, to continue with at least 30 minutes of walking or cardio daily, etc., etc., etc. I do know last I checked everything else the labs reported was great – cholesterol, kidney function, etc.

Now that we have done our wills/trust, we are on our way with the financial planning thing, and I am actively battling the weight gain and overall slogginess that seems to come with the passing years, it seems likely M and I area as prepared as we can be for whatever the future holds. I just want to face it head-on and with as much overall good physical, financial, and mental health. I always wonder how much is enough, and right now, I believe we am paying attention and doing a lot of the right things. From where we sit right now, our future seems bright.

Retirement panicking … er, planning

I have a phone appointment on Friday with a financial planner. This is part of my quest to at least try and act like a grown-up and cross items off my to-do-before-I’m-really-old list. We got our wills done (finally) and associated trust established, so it seems likely we are now immortal, because I have done the advance prep so the kids will not have to wig over the paperwork and expense after we move on into all that comes next.

With the financial planner, my primary focus is retirement planning. I turned 54 last week and realized I have only 13 years left before I am eligible (under present rules, anyway) to collect my full social security amount. With M being 4 years older, he is in single digits, with only 9 years left. From life experience thus far, I know those years will pass quickly, so I am trying to get our affairs in order now.

We got a late start with retirement savings. However, my mom’s death gave us an unexpected boost, and using the retirement calculators we do not look too bad off right now. But I want to do better, and my floundering around on my own is not particularly reassuring. M is not especially worried, because as long as we have our home and can afford our basic day-to-day needs we will be fine. Our present-day social security income calculations indicate that is entirely possible even without the retirement savings, but we would both prefer to have more options.

One of the things I am doing now is paying extra principal on our mortgage, because I really want that bad boy retired before the sun sets on 2023, when I am 62 and M is 66. Is that smart, though? We have a 15 year mortgage with an interest rate of 2.75%. Even if I do not give them another dime in extra principal, our mortage will be retired in April 2027. While emotionally we want it gone yesterday, financially I’m not sure it is most bang for our bucks paying extra principal each month or investing that money now. I would like the FP perspective and opinion.

We already contribute the maximum amounts to retirement vehicles available to us – Simple IRA through my full-time job, traditional IRA for M, Roth IRA for me – as well as saving in a taxable investment for the future and regular savings account for home improvement projects, emergencies, etc. I frequently wonder if it is enough? Striking the balance between enjoying our lives in the moment and saving for our older and grayer years is challenging for me, and it feels like we go through these intense, expensive spending sprees that are actually nothing more than utilizing budgeted funds for specific objectives. Still, saving money is an ongoing discipline for me, because it does not seem to come naturally or easily. My fear of cat food consumption at 70 is part of what drives me in maintaining both a full-time job and the couple of part-time gigs.

As I said, M is not especially worried, so I therefore worry enough for both of us, the kids, and probably any future grandkids. Our life and lifestyle is relatively simple. We have no major ambitions to travel the world or acquire expensive hobbies once I cease working quite so much, although we do hope and work now at achieving/maintaining good health so we can relax and enjoy our future. The biggest dream is possibly a motor home, so we can be self contained with our own stuff as we venture to beautiful places to walk and hike and run. We are not talking some tour bus sized thing – a modest sized carriage for the two of us – with enough oomph in the engine to get us where we wish to be. Hopefully that will be acquired in the next 5 to 6 years and without financing, but we shall see.

Finding balance – why is it so hard? While I am speaking financially in this post, I and just about everyone else I know struggles with it in various forms.