If you’re like me, when you discovered FI/RE you wanted to be financially independent as soon as possible and started cutting everything that you could from your budget, maybe to the point where life became miserable. As the saying goes, it has to be more than just getting to the destination, you have to enjoy the journey along the way. How then do you make decisions about what to spend your money on and what you can do without? How do you have enough in your life to make it enjoyable, but avoid spending on things that you probably wouldn’t miss that much? The truth is this is probably going to look different for everybody.
Tanja Hester, in her book ‘Work Optional‘, suggests creating a ‘money mission statement‘. This starts with looking at your mindless spending, which may have come about as a result of lifestyle inflation. If you think back to when you were a student or when you got your first job and compare that life with your life now, how is your spending different? What do you spend money on now that previously wasn’t part of your life? Do these purchases really enhance your life or have they just become a habit?
Tanja goes on to repeat a point which is the focus of ‘Your Money or Your Life’ by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. Basically, money is a reflection of the time that you spent earning it. If you get paid £20 an hour and you buy a handbag for £100, that cost you five hours of your life. If you look at purchases in this way, as a function of your time on this planet, you may think twice before you click ‘buy’ on that Amazon basket next time.
So how do you develop your money mission statement to help you decide what you are prepared to spend money on and what you are going to leave on the shelf? Tanja suggests some questions for you to consider. So here’s the questions and what my answers to them are:
What is the single best thing you’ve ever spent money on?
I have struggled to choose one thing. At the moment I would say Natalie Bacon’s ‘Grow You‘ life-coaching course which I joined earlier in the year. It has changed the way that I think about so many things in my life and given me the tools to really examine my thoughts and try to address the challenges that life puts in my path. Previously, I might have said my social work course, which enabled me to have a job that on the whole I really enjoy. The other things that came to mind were major holidays of which I have some great memories.
What ongoing expenditure makes you happiest?
My answer to this was again ‘Grow You’, but I would also include the online Pilates programme that I have discovered since the beginning of the lock down. Both of these are in the category of personal development. One for my body and one for my mind.
What do you spend money on that you wouldn’t miss?
As I write, the answer to this question is honestly ‘nothing’, as I have really pared my budget down to the bone. Before I did that the answers would have been magazines, fiction books, facials, hairdressing and clothes. That’s probably why I have managed to go without these over the past 18 months and not miss them too much. On the other hand I have missed holidays, eating out with Mr Simple and friends and good food, which until the beginning of the pandemic were gradually creeping back into the budget.
What would feel like too big of a sacrifice to be worth it?
In my efforts to cut the budget to the bone I have reduced our grocery spending drastically, but I must admit this hasn’t always felt like a healthy way to live. I’ve realized that the food that is cheap is very carb-heavy, such as bread and pasta. I began to miss my avocados at breakfast. We don’t eat out as much as we used to do, but I have begun buying better quality products, such as extra virgin olive oil.
Could you spend less on the things you value without missing out on the core of the experience?
I found this a hard one. We love meals out, but it’s something we only do rarely. When we do we like to splash out and go somewhere particularly nice. Doing it less often also makes it feel more of a treat. Since March the only food we’ve eaten out was a breakfast baguette and tea and cake, both at local country parks last month. Just those simple treats felt very indulgent.
We have had less expensive holidays over the past couple of years and they have still been enjoyable, but I don’t think that I would be happy if we could never repeat the experiences we had before Mr Simple got made redundant. For example, we did a cycling holiday in Tuscany with Skedaddle. A private car from the airport, bikes and directions provided and bags moved for you everyday whilst you cycled to the next hotel, enjoying the beautiful countryside and leisurely lunches. With holidays like that you’re paying to let someone else do all of the organisation and every so often I’m willing to part with my hard-earned cash for that service.
Was there a time in your life when you enjoyed your lifestyle, but spent less than you do now?
I enjoyed my twenties. After university I worked part time and volunteered a lot. I didn’t have any responsibilities. I didn’t have a mortgage, although I did live in some awful places at times, with neighbours who played loud music at 3am or where I didn’t feel completely safe walking the streets after dark. Holidays were volunteer projects where we worked five days out of seven, cooked for the group and camped. Travel to most of the destinations was by coach, often overnight. Not the most luxurious or a very comfortable way to travel. Would I want to go back to that time? No. I definitely wouldn’t want to rent a property again. I would though like to work part-time, as I did then.
Is there anything you enjoy, but are willing to give up to reach your goal?
As I said above, I have cut my budget the bone and given up lots of things. I see this as a temporary measure until we are financially stable enough to go back to splashing out a bit more on our food budget, eating out and holidays.
Finally, combine all of this into a spending philosophy by filling in the following statements:
- I spend mindfully and without guilt on: Pilates, Grow You, good food, food with friends and personal development books.
- I spend only as much as necessary on: household bills and clothes
- I do not spend money on: magazines, expensive holidays and frivolous items that I don’t need
In a nutshell, my philosophy is based on the value that I place on maintaining my physical and mental health.
So if you’re struggling to decide what to cut back and what to keep or maybe you’ve eliminated too much from your life and feel like you’re missing out how about having a go at this exercise and developing your own ‘money mission statement’?