This post is from staff writer Sierra Black. Sierra writes about frugality, sustainable living, and raising children at Childwild.com.
One of the hazards of blogging is that you can't always be right. When you're wrong, you get to be wrong in front of a lot of people. Which can be embarrassing — but also a great learning experience.
In April, I wrote about my “frugal” decision to let my broken shower languish, and the critical comments came in fast and furious. People were concerned that it was unsafe, that it was irresponsible, and that I was just being lazy.
It's not unsafe, I promise you. The water temperature is warm enough to ward off Legionnaire's Disease without being hot enough to scald the kids. Likewise, arguments about it detracting from the value of the house don't hold much water. There are plenty of things that detract from the value of the house, from the cracking old linoleum on my kitchen floor to the age of the wiring in my upstairs rooms. No one would argue that I should do every possible home repair or improvement immediately.
The shower is a nuisance, though, and I see now that failing to fix it is more lazy than frugal. The most compelling critique I got from readers here was that letting something like this slide might turn into a bad habit. Slowly, small projects like this can accumulate and detract from the quality of life in my home — not the resale value of the house, but the joy my family and I get from living here. That's worth paying attention to. The kids, and all of us, really do deserve a decent shower every morning.
Solving the problem
I'm not really worried that we'll become slackers who slowly let the house fall apart around our ears. We do a lot of household projects.
The same week I posted about the shower being busted, we replaced our decrepit garden fence and planted tomatoes. On the other hand, deciding to let the shower go indefinitely turns out not to be an awesome choice. The “quality of life” argument has persuaded me to fix the shower ASAP. Which turns out to be easier said than done, since fixing this kind of shower problem is like performing major surgery.
My husband is on it though. He's taken the shower apart, figured out the parts he needs, and put it back together. Now he's waiting on a special part to come in so he can finish the job. I'm confident we'll be showering like civilized people with hot and cold water any day now.
In the meantime, I've been reassessing my priorities. I've been writing a lot about frugality recently, in part because I've been spending more money than usual. I'm trying to explore anew how awesome frugality really is. Readers have called me out on my excesses when I've written about yoga classes and visits to the climbing gym.
Maybe it's time for me to reassess my financial values, to come back to my own frugal center. To do so, I'm turning to my financial roadmap.
Since 2007, I've operated my financial life off the same 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper. On it are three sections, ranging from the bare essentials to dreams we'd like to achieve. I've mentioned this sheet before; now I'm going to share its contents with you. This feels a little like getting naked in front of all my readers, so please be gentle in your critique.
Here's my roadmap:
Laying A Foundation
- Living sustainably – being able to comfortably pay for housing, food, health care and transportation
- Getting out of debt – paying off credit cards and loans, no new debts
- Building savings – creating an emergency fund, contributing regularly to retirement savings
- Maintaining good financial hygiene – keeping up good credit, having appropriate insurance policies, etc.
Quality of Life
- Owning a home we love
- Having happy stable careers
- A great education for our kids
- Time with friends and community
Beyond the Basics
- Travel – visiting family in Argentina, Arizona and elsewhere
- Giving to charity
- Living with a small environmental footprint
- Entertainment – dinners out, cultural events, concerts
- Fostering spiritual growth
This isn't meant as a template for how you should manage your own finances; everyone's objectives will be different. You want to organize them in the way that works best for you.
Also, this roadmap isn't meant to represent hard and fast rules for my money. What this piece of paper has given me for the past four years is a set of guidelines that help me decide where to put my resources. It helps me organize my priorities so that each time I spend money, I can answer the question, “Is this in line with my values?” I've used these general guidelines as the basis for organizing my much more detailed monthly spending plan.
Making course corrections
Looking at it now, it's clear that it's time to update the roadmap.
For one thing, there's no mention of physical fitness, which has become really important to me over the past year. I've learned creative ways to stay fit without spending money, like running in my neighborhood and using yoga DVDs or podcasts at home. But I've also learned that I'm more committed and successful with my fitness goals when I am willing to put some financial resources into them. Paying for yoga or rock climbing shouldn't feel like a splurge: There should be some cash devoted to fitness in our budget. Clearly, maintaining my health deserves a place in my financial goals.
In general, there's not enough attention devoted to maintenance in my list. Home maintenance and car maintenance deserve their own section as foundational items along with covering our basic expenses and saving for the future.
Along with a place in my financial guidelines, I'm thinking of setting aside a dedicated “maintenance account” in my savings. That way, when something small like our shower breaks, I'll have money set aside to fix it. An emergency fund could cover these expenses of course, but they're not really emergencies. I don't know what is going to break, but between my century-old house, my car and my computer, I'm confident I'll be paying for some repairs during the year.
So, fitness and maintenance are clear additions to my financial guidelines. But what else should I add to my master plan? Am I missing other fundamental pieces of personal finance? Also, do you have written guidelines for your spending? What do you do to make sure you're staying on course?