Monthly Archives: March 2016

Moderation is really hard (for me)

It’s been a while since I posted. Last July, I updated on my family’s financial situation, and how we’re finally debt-free except our mortgages. At that point I thought the only challenge left, financially, would be to ramp up retirement savings. I felt like we’d pretty much have enough money to do whatever we wanted, within reason.

And for a little while it worked out. We were able to spend on frivolous things without planning, though I still tracked everything out of habit. After years of being really budget-conscious and about a year of more strict parsimony, it felt really freeing.

Then I started looking ahead to the next year. I knew we wanted to travel to England, go to my 20th college reunion and perhaps install air conditioning in our 100-year-old home. I thought it might be tight but thought we could manage it, so I started putting money aside, but not with any real sense of urgency.

Then Neil broke his collarbone and had to go to the ER. And then had to get surgery on said collarbone. And Anitra’s tooth that had long plagued her started to fail, and it became clear she’d need an implant in the next year. Our not-up-to-code basement bathroom needed additional work to avoid being fined or worse by the city. The dishwasher started leaking. And these were all things that would need attention in the first half of the year.

Suddenly it didn’t feel like we had that much money after all. We think we’ll maybe be able to handle it all without dipping into credit cards (well, maybe not the air conditioning), but I had to put Roth IRA contributions on hold. That means we’ll need to double up in the latter part of the year to stay on track. Which means the second half of the year won’t feel like we have much either. Paying yourself instead of spending your money isn’t very exciting in the short term.

I’m not complaining; I’d rather know the limits of our income than close my eyes and charge on the credit card. And we’re extremely privileged to be able to afford these big expenses without going into debt or dip into savings. But I’ve realized that at almost any level of income and budget surplus, it probably seems like you hit your ceiling pretty quickly, especially if you have medical events crop up. I mean, there are naturally moderate people, but there are also a lot of people like me. And if you feel like you make a lot of money, you might not feel like you need to track it. Suddenly, those pro athletes and movie stars with huge debts have started to make sense to me.

But thankfully, I’m still tracking. I know exactly where our limit is, and I’m determined not to slide back down into consumer debt. But I’m finding myself engaging my willpower again, as well as scouting for deals on any purchases I need to make.

Financial freedom apparently doesn’t mean the freedom to do what you want. If you want to stay free, control and self-discipline are still very necessary.escrow