I am perched in the corner chair, cup of Chai in hand, with just hours before the deadline for this post. I have piles and piles of clean laundry that need to be folded. Dishes need to be washed. I can't recall the last time I've dusted any room in the house. My husband has been working 80-hour weeks for a few weeks, so I am doing the single-parent thing: kids awake, dressed, fed, homework, and chores. (Single parents, you have my undying respect.) The loftiest thought I can come up with at this point is, Can I clone myself? Through it all, I am still trying to juggle three part-time jobs, but there just aren't enough hours in the day.
Yesterday, I read a comment by El Nerdo in Honey's post. Here's an excerpt of the comment directed to Honey, but I took it and ran with it:
“But with the income (since for you it's an extra job besides your full-time one) there is the other side of it that means more hours working, less time to sleep/read books/play/eat ice cream/etc. It can get tiring in the long run.”
In my head, my exhaustion and El Nerdo's comment got married. And this post is their baby.
Gestation of financial progress
I have read a lot of personal finance blogs. With slightly different twists and turns, the basic story is usually the same: most bloggers were deep in consumer debt, stressed-out, in jobs they didn't/don't like, had no hope (or plan) for the future, had accumulated too much stuff, and were just plain overwhelmed.
Then, to borrow a term from Dave Ramsey, they got gazelle-intense. They sold their stuff, they worked extra jobs, they ate beans and rice and rice and beans, and – voila! – one day, they were out of the hole, even if they hadn't started climbing yet.
My story shares similar financial genes. Though probably not as debt-ridden as some, I still wanted out of the hole. So I started working extra jobs, teaching an extra class or two, and trying to cut my expenses. After I was out of the hole, I wanted to increase my net worth, so I kept working my extra jobs. We paid for our adoption expenses, beefed up our emergency fund, and got to a place where I could quit my full-time job.
And I did quit my job and thought I would have lots of free time. After all, I had freed up 35-40 hours per week. And elementary-aged kids can mostly take care of themselves, right? And they'll be in school most of the day, so what's the big deal? Ha! Around a month ago, after I was rushing from one task to another, I added up my three part-time jobs and realized that I am still working 40 hours a week, not to mention the unpaid work that I do. No wonder I feel like I am almost as busy as I have ever been. This isn't the slower-paced life I imagined. This isn't the slower-paced life we planned for.
And here is where this post gives birth to its point (which took long enough, but sometimes labor takes a long time).
The point is, when do you stop sacrificing your health, relationships, and your time for the sake of your finances?
Digging out of financial holes takes some sacrifice, no question. But at some point, like El Nerdo says, you do get tired. We're not going to live forever, so we should enjoy our life. If I take after my dad, I have about seven years left. I want to make whatever time I have count for something!
When to push and when to relax
A few years ago, I was listening to Dave Ramsey's radio program. A woman called in to ask how long she and her husband needed to take on extra jobs to better themselves financially. Unfortunately, I don't remember Dave's response, but I have a few ideas of my own.
- If you're slipping further behind every month, it's time to push.
- If you're so stressed about money that you can't enjoy anything else, it's time to push.
- If you're in danger of defaulting on a loan, it's time to push.
On the other hand, drastic life changes, whether it's working many hours or eating an inexpensive (if it's unhealthy as well) diet, isn't sustainable over the long-term. At some point, things should get more relaxed.
Once you've balanced your money, you can relax.
If your relationships are suffering because you are spending too much time on your finances, it may be time to relax.
But I am a hypocrite. I have oldest-child syndrome. I am not sure what it all entails, besides being bossy (that's according to my siblings, though I will say that if everyone did what they were supposed to do when they were supposed to do it, I could keep my mouth shut). But I feel like I shouldn't relax until our mortgage is paid off. Even though we can make our payments easily, have paid off a sizable portion of our mortgage already, and have savings, both long- and short-term, I want to fill my days with as much financially productive activity as possible.
Trying to cram too much into my day means that something gets pushed out. And unfortunately, sometimes those things are very important. Or it may cut into my sleep, which means I am not as patient with my kids.
Because I am kind of intense, if I had any type of non-mortgage debt, I would probably keep on driving myself until it was gone.
But how about you? How did you define when you were “good enough” financially and didn't need to push yourself to work extra jobs or slash more expenses? Do you feel that you need to push yourself more? Or do you think it's possible to be gazelle-intense for a long time, even if others think you're too extreme?
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).