The Book That Changed My Life

February 8, 2010 at 6:51 pm | Posted in Nonfiction, Personal Finance | 7 Comments

In my second week working at home as a wanna-be writer, I wanted to share a little about the book that started it all:  Your Money or Your Life, by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin.  (Hey, it looks like a new edition came out in ’08!)  I was lucky enough to stumble across this book in 1997, and I’ve probably read it 3-4 times since then.

The sad thing about evangelizing a favorite book of this nature is that nobody is interested.  I’ve tried to lend it out half a dozen times, and each time it comes back slightly skimmed.  I can say quite frankly that this is one of only two books I’ve ever lent out that I’ve actually gotten back!  Not only that, but usually within a couple of weeks.  I’m sure I’ve lent out at least two dozen books in my life that flew away never to return.  I’m giving up now, but perhaps this little paean of praise will inspire someone else to check it out from the library or perhaps even buy it.

I won’t summarize too much, except to say that YMOYL is a textbook on how to think frugally, learn to save money, and become financially independent – all without resorting to multi-level marketing, chanting, flipping real estate, or whatever else the Easy Money books teach you to do.  This is what I learned:

  • Money is life energy.  Every penny you earn represents part of your life that you never get to re-live.  When you spend it, you’d better be sure you’re really glad you traded part of your life to buy whatever it was.
  • Debt is a cancer.  When you spend more than you earn, you pay dearly for the privilege.  There is no pair of shoes cute enough that I want to pay for them three years from now!
  • Planning is crucial.  No matter how busy or tough things are, you have to take the long view with your finances because the years are going to go by regardless.  Whether you save or spend, you’re gambling on what your circumstances are going to be like further down the road.  Better hope you’re right.
  • It is possible to become financially independent.  Even if nobody in your entire family tree ever had two nickels to rub together.  Even if your income has never reached the national median.  All you have to do is know how much you really need to get by on and keep saving until your investment earnings reach that level.  If you want it badly enough, you’ll do whatever it takes to save as much as possible to get there.

What my husband and I did last month was to look over our finances for 2009, compare them to the five- and ten-year plans we made last winter, and realize that the time was right for me to Quit My Day Job.  We’re still paying off his ex-wife’s debt from six years ago, and he still has to pay child support as well, but in three years we’ll be done.  In the meantime, we figure, even if my writing doesn’t get anywhere, I can continue to pull my weight with temp jobs from time to time.  In three years, when our little bunny goes off to college and we’re debt free, my husband can make his own jump.  We know what we need to earn to afford our minimalist lifestyle, and as an engineer and a secretary we can pretty much go anywhere in the world to work.

Ironically, my first week at home, Sweetie Junior caught a nasty cold and my husband wound up having to pull 31 hours of overtime.  Words cannot express how much my being at home improved our standard of living, at least that week.

What’s it like?  We spend less than 25% of our net income on our rental house, which is both bigger and nicer than we would have settled for.  We have one vehicle, which is paid off at just over 100,000 miles.  He buys his clothes at Costco and I buy mine at a local thrift store, or we shop at Ross.  We pretty much never go out – we spend $15 a month on Netflix and maybe $60 a month at restaurants for the three of us.  We don’t drink alcohol or coffee.  He has one credit card – a mileage card – that we use occasionally for convenience, but otherwise we’re debit-only and have been for years.

It might sound grim to most people.  It works for us, possibly because we’re both of Scottish extraction.  We started discussing and planning our finances together long before we even began dating!  It was a few weeks after we set up our 5- and 10-year plans that he proposed.  We have our fun cooking together and trying new recipes, reading aloud from library books, playing with our pets, working out together, and talking a lot.  Sometimes we talk about what it would be like if we spent our time sacked out in front of the TV or driving back and forth to the mall, eating fast food, and we both shudder.

There have been times when I’ve listened to my friends – all of whom earned more than me – chattering excitedly about Shopping and I’ve just felt like crying.  Not for me, though; for them.  My husband and I have compared notes, and every single one of our friends has debt problems that won’t seem to go away.  We know because over the years they’ve all come to us and told us about them.  They all also seem to have major dreams that they’ve felt forced to put on the back burner.  For instance, we have a friend whose dream is to “mow rich people’s lawns” when he retires, and another who wants to deliver flowers.  Both of these guys could quit and start doing those jobs tomorrow if it weren’t for debt, you know?

It does take years and it does mean saying goodbye forever to Cute Shoes and it does definitely put you outside the mainstream, which can be uncomfortable.  But it is possible to get up one day and say, “You know what?  I’m going to live my dream now.”  And if you can do it, you should do it, for yourself and your family but also to inspire others, whose dreams might be cooler than yours.

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