Ask the readers: How much are you willing to sacrifice to reach your financial goals?

When I packed my hospital bag before having a baby last summer, I tucked my laptop in along with everything else. I thought I might squeeze in some work between contractions, or when the baby was sleeping. Or something. (I'll pause while you all laugh.)

The laptop actually did make it out of the bag once while I, already bleary from lack of sleep, held my baby with one arm and worked with the other. It didn't last long and I will leave it at home if I have another baby.

I could tell you of many other times through my working years. I have worked on my way to vacations, on vacations, in the middle of the night, in the car, and at other inconvenient times. I have also usually had at least two jobs for the last 20 years.

But I have also denied myself by what I didn't buy or what I didn't do. I said no to a trip to France in my early 20s. I drive an old car when a minivan might be more convenient. When I was in college, I dismissed going to visit a doctor unless I absolutely had to.

(Compared to what some of you have to deny yourself, these seem silly. I am sorry for this.)

To be completely open with you, I have struggled for years with the balance between sacrificing now for a future payoff and enjoying life now, just in case I can't enjoy it later. Sometimes, I think I have figured it out; sometimes I know I haven't.

To Sacrifice, or Not to Sacrifice? “How Much?” is the Question.

Sometimes a post here or a reader comment will trigger my struggle again. Whenever Honey Smith posts about her student debt and buying a house (or even getting a massage), someone makes comments. Then I wonder how I would handle Honey's situation. How much would I sacrifice to get out of large student loans?

There is no doubt that our prior sacrifices have yielded some good results:

  • A debt-free college education for me and paid-off student loans for my husband.
  • Our consumer debt is only a manageable mortgage now (although I once had a car loan for 26 months).
  • No credit card debt.
  • My husband could afford to take a pay cut to start his dream job.
  • Both my husband and I have very flexible jobs that average out to part-time over the year. That translates to one or both of us can attend our children's school events, be home with the kids, etc.
  • We have adequate balances in our savings accounts.
  • We have adequate life insurance policies.
  • We take our family to the doctor.
  • We go on one vacation per year.

But there are things we don't do. We aren't funding our children's college accounts at this time. While we dumped money into our retirement accounts when we were in our 20s, we have had to back down our retirement contributions now. If we worked more, we could contribute more to our retirement accounts or our children's college accounts. But then we wouldn't get to spend as much time with them, and our lives would be more stressful.

Even though I still make sacrifices by cutting back on sleep occasionally to get projects done, I am mostly satisfied at the balance I have in my life. For now.

When you are in debt, you have to save more or earn more (or both). To earn more, you will most likely have to cut something out of your current life to make room for a new job, more responsibility, or a longer commute. To save more, you may have to downsize your house, sell something you love, or buy food you don't really like. You may even have to avoid the dentist, doctor, cut back on retirement savings, or some other more drastic measure.

These changes can definitely affect your health and your relationships with those you love. How do we decide?

How much are you willing to sacrifice to meet your financial goals? For how long are you willing to make those sacrifices? What will you never sacrifice to meet your financial goals? Have you ever struggled to reconcile the present you and the future you?

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Mrs. Frugalwoods
Mrs. Frugalwoods

Glad I’m not the only one who works on vacation and in the car :)! On my last flight (to vacation) I wrote the entire time–but it felt like a great use of time. My husband and I have sacrificed what a lot of folks would term ‘material comforts.’ We have a 19-yr-old car, used furniture, used clothes, and we don’t spend any money on entertainment–no eating out, no movies, etc. But, it’s all in service of our goal to retire early to a homestead in the woods. And so, it doesn’t really feel like a sacrifice to us. It… Read more »

mysticaltyger
mysticaltyger

This is exactly how I feel. While I don’t take my frugality to the same level as the Frugalwoods, a lot of people would say my lifestyle is one of sacrifice. (I also drive a 19 year old car, for instance). But it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice to me. It’s just my normal lifestyle. For me, every dollar I put into savings account and retirement accounts means I’m that much closer to not being dependent on the whims of our very fickle and often harsh world of paid employment. That so-called sacrifice is most definitely worth it to me.

Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom
Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom

We’ve given up a lot over the years to be a single income family. But when we decide to give something up, it doesn’t really feel like a sacrifice. More just a choice to live with less to live more.

AMW
AMW

I think “sacrifice” and “non-negotiables” are relative. They depend on income level and who the sacrifices are for. I know that my sacrifices were different when the household income was less than $25,000 vs. when it was triple that. I also know that I sacrificed more for the sake of my children than I would have ever done for myself as a single person. However, I like to look at it more as “delayed gratification” than sacrifice. To me, the semantics matter. It means I might not get what I want now but I can have it later. Then it’s… Read more »

Kim
Kim

I fall into AMW’s camp when thinking about sacrifice. However, if I had the income for occasional splurges like eating out, or larger splurges like vacations, my husband I will indulge. This is as long as we are accruing any debt by doing it. It’s not stopping us from paying off debt, and we can continue to save. We let those three things guide us.

Old Guy
Old Guy

Sacrifice is a loaded term with nothing but negative attached to it. I have never sacrificed. I have decided my priorities over and over again, and chosen based on the desired end.

Language is a powerful thing, and while many terms and phrases are as common as houseflies, the real question should always be “what behavioral changes have you made since you established your financial goals that occasionally/often get scorned by those without similar/any financial goals?”

Beth
Beth

I totally agree about the importance of language and love your comment! I think it’s much easier to save when you’re content with your lifestyle.

Carla
Carla

“I think it’s much easier to save when you’re content with your lifestyle.”

I could not have said it better, Beth.

Patricia
Patricia

Sometimes what’s called sacrifice becomes something far better. I spent two summers whacking weeds to make small investments. It was hot and long hours, but it has helped more than can say at this point.

When you have little and are limited, you do what you can. And, if real opportunity comes your way, you learn to see or find it.

Laronda
Laronda

I think sacrifice is the correct term, and I think I have a completely new understanding of that term since having children. I have stayed home with them for almost 8 years now, which means things like big trips and extra mortgage payments are not an option. I’m fine with those sacrifices or trade-offs. I’m even fine with not being able to save for their college educations as I think someday they’ll appreciate their dad and I having focused on retirement savings rather than planning to live with them in our old age. There are some decisions, though, that I… Read more »

Beth
Beth

I think what Old Guy is getting at is that a lot of things we “give up” for our financial goals aren’t hardships at all — it’s cutting back or not indulging in non-necessities. For instance, I almost stopped for take out after work tonight but decided to eat leftovers instead. Sacrifice? Hardly. It didn’t make much of a difference to me. I also don’t like to travel all that much, so not taking a yearly trip abroad isn’t a big deal. I won’t pretend that’s on a par with the time, energy and money parents give up for their… Read more »

Sarah @ little bus on the prairie
Sarah @ little bus on the prairie

Currently we’re sacrificing what sometimes feels like a lot by living on a school bus with our four kids to reach our goal of building a house on our property this year. There are definitely days when I question whether or not it’s worth it, but it’s not forever and I think (hope… pray…) that looking back on this time we will be glad that we did it!

Kayla @ Femme Frugality
Kayla @ Femme Frugality

Everyone has different levels of what they are willing to sacrifice. Is giving up cable TV a sacrifice? Maybe not for you but it might be for someone else who absolutely LOVES watching TV. I have made changes, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say sacrifices. Most of them don’t feel like sacrifices at all because I know that I’m doing it for something that means more than what I’m giving up.

JS
JS

Agree 110%. We live in a modest house because, well, we really don’t want a big house. We don’t take exotic vacation trips because they stress us out, quite honestly. But we will not cut back on what we give to our church. And my wife and I both love cars. While we are not making reckless decisions by any means, our choices of transportation probably seem strange for a single-income family with two elementary school age kids (me = 2013 Mustang GT and wife = 2014 BMW X3). I am sure we get talked about, but people fail to… Read more »

maggie
maggie

Absolutely, its about your own personal priorities.I pinch pennies to stay home with the kids and to travel. I don’t really care about cars or cable tv or the latest fashions. Recently though I was feeling guilty about talking up an upcoming vacation with a friend who is having financial difficulties and my husband pointed out that if she actually cooked and didn’t have to have all the latest Apple toys she could take a vacation too! He’s right but so is she, that’s just what is important to her. Also, our thrifty lifestyle is going to pay off big… Read more »

Rebekah
Rebekah

I would never cut out doctors appointments or taking care of your health. That’s important. We cut back on things like-not going to the movie theater. Instead we wait until it’s in the Redbox. We cut back on not eating out so much. We do free activities & rent books from the library not purchase them. There are so many ways to cut back if you do little things here and there. We also stay up on our bills & make sure we are paying the least amount of money for things like Electricty, etc…

Laronda
Laronda

I think sacrifice is an appropriate term. Especially once we have children, most of us face far more stark trade-offs financially speaking than we did before children. That isn’t to say we don’t feel many of those sacrifices are worth making, but they still may cause us pain or be a real either-or rather than simply a case of deferred gratification. In our case, we live on a single income, and that single income is lower than it could be if the paying job were less flexible and family-friendly. We face many of the same trade-offs as other families with… Read more »

Carla
Carla

How about no vacation – in almost a decade? Or no time off work when you’re a contractor and every minute counts? Living with chronic illnesses I can’t avoid the doctor (though I should probably take more time off work). Its always a juggling and balancing act that’s going to be different for everyone.

I honestly don’t think the above mentioned and other sacrifices has paid off. When caring for your health is a full-time job, you’re always running behind the 8-ball if you’re not well off or a high earner.

Golfing Girl
Golfing Girl

The things we sacrifice don’t really seem like big deals for us. I don’t know if I’ve just brainwashed myself over the years that those things don’t matter, but I really believe it now, so it must have worked. I don’t get my hair and nails done. I don’t shop for clothes, and our kids wear hand me downs or things I find at consignment shops. We rarely eat out (mostly because it isn’t much fun with three kids). We drive older cars that are paid for. We don’t have iPhones or iPads, or iPods. We have a very old… Read more »

Jeff
Jeff

Working during a vacation isn’t a sacrifice, it’s plain “doing it wrong”. If I’m not going to relax then there was no point in even going anywhere. Especially if you’re childless and the vacation is all about your own enjoyment, and if you have children it doesn’t help the kids enjoyment if they can see that you’re not truly involved in the fun. It’s also foolish to donate money to charity if you’re having trouble making ends meet. You need to take care of yourself before you try to care for others, otherwise you may very well not be in… Read more »

Mysticaltyger
Mysticaltyger

I agree with you on the vacation thing. I’m a bit more ambivalent about church/charitable giving.

chris mophart
chris mophart

i have been working tirelessly to improve my financial status juggling through jobs but now focusing fully on my blog.and i would work every moment and not necessarily sleep but rest then back to work to achieve my financial goals

Jason
Jason

I wonder if we are truly sacrificing enough. I mean I have attempted to cut my lifestyle down, but I know I could cut out more going out to eat. However, I am not sure how much my wife would want to sacrifice. I am truly the saver and she is the spender. I don’t think she would be down (and I have asked her) with cutting back to bare-bones sacrificing. In fact, if I think about it I am not sure I even sacrifice that much. Maybe I don’t even know what that means, which is why I like… Read more »

Chris
Chris

For most, it’s not as bad as they thought it would be to sacrifice, and it doesn’t last forever … more people just need to bite the bullet and get started!

Bob J
Bob J

After bills.. I split the money 50% saving.. 50% spending.
You never know how long you will live.
You can enjoy life and save for retirement too!

lmoot
lmoot

Like others here, I feel like I sacrifice in the eyes of other people. Although I do work alot and am frugal in the general sense, I have a strict set of non-negotiables: 1) I don’t work on designated breaks or vacations 2) I don’t compromise on my sleep or health 3) I don’t put family 2nd to work or financial goals (though I admit I do flake out on friends and a social life, but I’m working on that) I “sacrifice” now because I want something better, so I don’t really consider that a sacrifice. I will be “sacrificing”… Read more »

Nick @ Millionaires Giving Money
Nick @ Millionaires Giving Money

During my 20’s I got into consumer debt and I paid the price by sacrificing to pay off the debt. After learning my lesson I’ve now turned the tables and now sacrifice instant gratification for future financial wellbeing. I am prepared to make sacrifices if I am sure it will make a tremendous difference to my life in the future.

Brandon @ EZfrugality
Brandon @ EZfrugality

It’s funny that I am stumbling across this post. Just today some coworkers and I were talking about this. With my current job I work anywhere from 50-80 hours a week, and have lived frugally my entire life (I’m only 21……..I’ve also never had a vehicle newer than myself) . But, honestly the sacrifices that I make now don’t bother me so much. I know that it will be worth it one day and it really has already paid off!

Great post by the way!:D

Charissa
Charissa

Every decision has a trade off and always there is sacrifice involved. You sacrifice one thing to pay for another, which is just the opportunity costs associated with spending your money in one place or doing one thing instead of something else. For me the future benefits of becoming debt free (and continuing to live debt free) are far greater than keeping payments around like a pet.

As another person commented above, you can enjoy your life and whatever situation you are in when you have contentment. Enjoying life does not always need to include spending money.

Blair
Blair

The way I look at it I’m sacrificing some spending now so I’ll have more to spend later. I don’t think most people do that. They’d rather enjoy today only. I guess that’s OK, but it leaves a person on the treadmill indefinitely. With each dividend stock purchase I buy myself a tad more freedom.

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