Sometimes it feels like I’m riding on a balance scale. Every time I direct my focus I feel myself moving. When I change my priorities the weight shifts slowly to the other side. Over the years the pursuit of wealth has caused my scale to tip primarily in one direction.
My goal has been to earn, save and invest as much as I could. Finding the balance between money, life and time is tough and over the years I’ve found it difficult to steady the scale.
Some people can juggle multiple tasks. I’m not one of them. I tend to throw all of my energy into one cause, which means I have little time left for other important matters.
My brain likes to divide activities into two options. Should I perform action A or action B? Surely, I can’t complete both events to the best of my abilities, so rather than give 50% to one and 50% to another I tend to give 100% to just one of them.
Unfortunately, that means my life is rarely in a state of equilibrium. While the goal to grow our net worth has paid off immensely if I had a do-over I wouldn’t live my life the same way again.
In college I wanted to have fun, please my professors and secure a full-time job before donning my cap and gown. As a freshman I was happy to skip early morning classes so I could stay up until 2:00 am, but by senior year I was interning twenty hours a week, piling cash in my bank account and setting a goal of straight A’s.
After graduation I bought a house, grew my career and eventually got married. It was so much easier to increase my income then focus on my relationship or turn my house into a home.
At work I quickly earned bonuses and raises, but I rarely exercised or cooked healthy meals. Sacrificing happiness and health for future wealth was easy at the time.
After the birth of my first child I quit my six-figure job to stay at home. That was the first time I chose love over money, but even then I didn’t manage my time. When my son was born I rocked, played and sang to him, but failed to help my husband who I’d known for over fifteen years.
Along the path of life I focused too narrowly on my financial goals and quite frankly myself. Why didn’t I work harder to balance my money, life and time?
It’s easy to get distracted in life or to begin walking down the path to the wrong goal. In my case the scale tipped in favor of money over happiness, time and relationships.
We’ve all heard stories about the hardworking parent that misses his children’s school events or the company owner who can never make it home for dinner with his family. We also read about those who focus every waking hour in the pursuit of financial goals.
Why do we find it so difficult to balance our quest for money with the time we are given each day?
I chose not to return to work after my son was born. His birth coincided with my layoff and a six month severance package that provided me with time to evaluate my goals. A hard-working husband who earned more than enough to support us further swayed my decision to stay home.
Knowing myself and my desire to focus on only one thing at a time I now wonder how I would have balanced work and home. Eight years after leaving the workforce and a decade after reaching financial independence I I find myself asking a multitude of questions I never asked before.
Can I find a job that makes me happy? Can I actually limit my hours to 9-to-5? Should I start a side hustle or search for a flexible job I love? Does that unicorn even exist? Can I find a job that enables me to work from home sometimes, attend our children’s school activities and make time to cook dinner and eat at home?
Balancing Financial Decisions
In the world of personal finance the scales are constantly tipping. Monetary questions all seem to have black and white answers with little to no middle ground. So many of us strive to make the most of every dollar that we spend way too long pondering the financial questions at hand.
Should we save in our Roth or pre-tax accounts? Is it wise to buy a house or continually rent? Should we pay off our mortgage in full or invest the money we would have overpaid for the next thirty years?
Should we focus on how much we earn or how much we save? Do we devote our lives to living frugally, clipping coupons, looking for deals and living in a van down by the river or do we dig our heels in at work and strive for promotions and bigger bonuses?
Do we save for the future or follow the YOLO (You Only Live Once) advice? In the all-or-nothing world should we choose to follow our passions or pursue profits?
Must I obsess over savings rates, retirement countdown clocks and our FI (financial independence) number? Must we always seek the highest financial returns?
Opening Our Minds to More Options
In a recent Physician on FIRE post about paying off debt I read this statement, “I have a choice: I can make interest-only payments on the line of credit and invest the remainder in the investment account, or I can save nothing and use the entire amount to reduce the debt.”
Why are only two options cited in this scenario? In the world of personal finance why are we always presented with option A or B? Where is option C?
Why must we choose one thing over another? Can’t we invest half of the money in our Roth and the other half in pre-tax accounts or put half of our money in the market and use the other half to overpay our mortgage? Why don’t we discuss the other choices and why do we place such emphasis and importance on the decisions we make?
Why can’t we balance our financial decisions and merge the best of both worlds.
I can no longer give 100% of my attention to just one cause. I have learned over the years that balance is simply a requirement of life. It’s time to shatter the belief that we only have two options or that we must focus solely on one goal.
I’m not sure if a side hustle is in my future and/or a part-time job. That’s the beauty of an optional retirement. I don’t know if what I want even exists in the world.
I do know that the scale of life will keep tipping if I let it. Fortunately financial independence has allowed me to balance my priorities more easily, but even FI won’t let me hop off the ride.
Achieving balance is still difficult. I don’t need to give 100% of my attention to my children, work or husband. Instead I need to consciously strive for a state of equilibrium even when that feels exceptionally hard.
Money is necessary and important, but it needs to find its rightful place among life’s priorities. Looking back I could have found better ways to balance my money, time and life with the people I love.