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?
Lisa Aberle is a college professor by day and a freelance writer by night. Always an aspiring writer with an interest in money, she once ironically misspelled “mortgage” during a spelling bee. Most of her current adventures take place on the four-acre mini-farm she shares with her husband in the rural Midwest (where she writes with gel pens whenever possible).