I am Janet’s daughter Jessica. Recently, my husband Eric and I decided to take a close look at where our money went last year. We used mint.com to group transactions into categories (such as clothes, restaurants, and taxis). I will write more about the results of this little experiment later, but for now, suffice it to say that we were shocked at how much we were spending.
All of this got me thinking: why am I drawn to simplicity? The obvious answer is to save more so that we can retire early. That’s part of it, but I think the real reason I feel so compelled to slash my spending and possessions is that I want to live a more deliberate life, a la Thoreau in his Walden days.
By reviewing last year’s spending, I realized that we were not making deliberate choices with our time or money. We had no overarching goal about the kind of life we wanted to live. Instead, we spent all our non-working time flitting from one pleasure or distraction to the next. Due to our work schedules, we justified treating ourselves to expensive conveniences like taxis in order to save time. If I was out running errands and passed a store selling $8 green juice, I would suddenly develop (and cave into) a craving for liquified kale. While sitting in the airport waiting for my flight to some fun weekend destination, I would amuse myself by buying overpriced magazines and snacks (did you know they sell organic Kombucha and dark chocolate at the Virgin America terminal at SFO? I KNOW!) or having a glass of wine and an appetizer with Eric. And let’s not get started on my online shopping habit.
Was my entire life going to be about instant gratification?
Apologies in advance for this philosophical tangent, but I got to thinking about the Big Stuff. While lying on my death bed, would I look back at all of this conspicuous consumption and feel as though I really lived? Would I feel as though I had “suck[ed] out all the marrow of life?” (There’s Thoreau again.) Or would I realize that I spent my entire life seeking instant gratification and acceptance from my peers by blowing money?
I want to spend time with friends and family, and to be a good friend, daughter and sister. I want to be a good wife to Eric and, when the time comes, a good mother to our children. I want to spend time in nature. I want to be the best I can be at a job I enjoy. I want financial freedom so that I don’t have to worry about money. I want to visit museums and beautiful cities. I want a comfortable home with a bright happy kitchen. I want to cook, a lot. I want to help others. I want to read.
One thing is clear: my current pattern of spending is not helping me achieve any of those goals. Sure, some of the restaurant meals were spent with good friends. But how many of them were take-out because Eric and I were too lazy to cook, or a means of entertaining ourselves on the weekend? How many of those weekend trips were enriching, meaningful experiences, and how many were extravagant mini-vacations we thought we deserved because of our stressful jobs?
Standing alone, the prospect of spending less can seem scary and hard. But when I view it as one step towards living a happier, more fulfilled life – a deliberate life – it becomes thrilling and meaningful. It’s not deprivation, it’s abundance. And that’s something I can get excited about.
Note from Janet: If you’d like to begin your own journey towards simplifying your finances so that you can enjoy a free, simplified life, check out my class, Financially Free in 21 days.