A long-favored G.K. Chesterton quote I share in my book:
There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.
A text message from my girlfriend last weekend:
That Chesterton quote, the one about enough. Does it work for shoes?
I have always been mindful of budgeting. My parents were wise to raise me with the most basic tenent in money management: Always, always live below your means.
We were frugal, is all. I was frugal because my parents were frugal, they because theirs. Once I became [somewhat] gainfully employed as a summer lifeguard, I was taught to make choices with my paycheck: Splurge it all on the new Adidas or spend a little on Bonne Bell Dr. Pepper lip balm and save the rest?
My decision was always the same: May it be known that the summer of ’97 was a very good year for me in terms of lip hydration.
Here we are, then. Twenty years later.
The paycheck has changed, the circumstances have shifted, the foreseeable needs and wants and musts have all been altered. (Although I hear good old Bonne’s Dr. Pepper flavor is still all the rage, as it should be.)
And yet, my parent’s example continues to serve me well: Always, always live below your means.
Ken and I are sometimes approached for advice on living a dual-income freelance life. How did you pull it off? How have you managed to carve out a life of flexibility – both of you setting your own schedules while neither of you maintaining a secure, stable paycheck? Isn’t it scary? With two kids, especially?
And you know, I do have a few thoughts on the subject…
- Put in the work up front.
Ken and I lived a very disciplined life throughout our 20’s. We were both interested in saving the bulk of our paychecks and investing wisely (we chose real estate at the wrong time, but you’ll get to read alllllll about that in the book). When friends were shelling out cash for expensive dinners and late-night concerts in downtown L.A., we packed a loaf of whole wheat and a jar of Jif and people-watched at the dog park. It didn’t quite matter what we were saving for as much as it mattered that we get in the habit of spending far, far less than we made. It’s a habit that has never led us astray.
- Be content.
Our incomes have changed with our circumstances, but our spending habits haven’t. I still drive the same car I first purchased in college (shout out to my Toyota Echo!) over 15 years ago, because it works in getting me from A to B. It’s functional, and I’m content with it. This is hard work, certainly (confession: I get mildly envious of those luxurious seat warmers, although truth be told, I’d even settle for automatic locks and windows!), but it’s a secret I’m convinced of: Contentment is always a worthwhile choice, in finances and in life.
- Trim the fat.
Ken and I used to make traditional budgets with spreadsheets when we were newlyweds, and a few years later, we began using Mint to track our everyday expenses (head’s up: those automatic categories are a dream come true when tax season rolls around). Once you watch Mint tally up your $4.50 latte habit, you’ll rethink that daily coffee shop visit.
- Get on the same page.
Ken and I were lucky to grow up in similar families where both parents valued budgeting, so this is an area where we’ve always been in relatively good alignment. But, that’s rare. If money’s a tension point in your relationship, try sitting down with a third party financial consultant, or even forming a budget together. Both are great ways to work toward a compromise in creating your best future while still enjoying the present.
- Offer wiggle room.
Even though Ken and I have always been in agreement with our saving habits, we know that our spending habits won’t always align. What one deems a valuable purchase might not be viewed worthy to the other, and for us, this is 100% OK. We both work toward the same goal of living far below our means, so as long as we’re well within that margin, we don’t micro-manage each other’s small purchases. As for larger purchases, we’re quick to communicate with each other; it’s often helpful to have a second opinion in ensuring the spend is in line with our family’s long-term goals and values.
- Get creative.
Ken and I are big believers in the idea that limitations enhance creativity, so for us, spending less is often a fun challenge. In Los Angeles, we scoured through thrift stores to furnish our home – a plant stand became a hat rack, a Houdini magician’s trunk became our coffee table, a vintage curtain as a table runner. When we moved to the Midwest and decided to renovate the least expensive home in our area, our resourcefulness served us well and we were able to stretch our dollars even further.
- Learn from your mistakes.
We all make poor financial choices (the once-used breadmaker in my pantry is my own evidence of this), but often, failure is the first step to learning. Over time, you’ll learn your triggers. Love shoes? Steer clear of the mall. Penchant for trinkets? Avoid the Target $1 aisle. Often times, budgeting is about avoiding short-term comfort in favor of long-term comfort. The more you learn about yourself, the easier this will become.
- Ease up.
With financial planning, it’s easy to be either all too lax or all too rigid. What good is planning for tomorrow if we’re not attempting to enjoy today? Take a good look at your family’s values and invest in those, whether that means violin lessons for the little ones or a backyard pool for the neighborhood. It’ll look differently for everyone, as it should. For everything else, we’re big believers in automating (Mint’s Bill Pay Tool offers a free 2-tap payment system to track amounts and due dates so we can review and expedite payment within 24 hours). The less we find ourselves focusing on money in our day-to-day, the easier it is to remind ourselves that saving money is a tool to achieve our goals, but not the goal itself.
- Lower the overhead.
This is especially helpful when opting for a freelance route, because a set paycheck is truly never guaranteed. For us, living below our means has meant avoiding overhead, whether that means a home mortgage or car financing. Saving your dollars until you can afford to make a purchase in cash means you get to own your things, and your things don’t get to own you.
- Be generous.
Sure, it’s simple to hide all of your funds for a rainy day, to amass piles of cash for someday use. But for us, allowing room for generosity and investing in kindness toward others has always offered far greater rewards. We’d rather be rich in love than in dollars.
Yes, Chesterton was right.
There are two ways to get enough.
You can want for more, or you can want for less.
But there’s also a third way to get enough:
You can want for precisely what you have – not more, not less. You can enjoy what you’ve been given and enjoy when you’ve been given it, and you can be good stewards of the rest.
(And yes, that works for shoes.)
These tips are written in partnership with Mint – our favorite, oft-used resource for money management and financial planning. Thanks for reading!