I recently returned from a two-week summer vacation. That glorious time of year spent exploring new places, experiencing new activities and having long leisurely lunches outdoors… all accompanied by the general feeling that money is being vacuumed from your pockets as you stroll in the sunshine. All those wonderful experiences come with a price tag.
In this post vacation haze, staring down my credit card statement, I’ve got my mind on my money and my money on my mind.
I’ve written previously about money, and the concept of how much money is enough, taking inspiration from the excellent book Your Money or Your Life. How much do we need to cover our needs and a few wants aligned with our values? How much of our time and life energy are we willing to trade for more money? It feels counter intuitive to write about money on a mindfulness blog, but it’s not the money itself that I’m writing about, but rather what money represents in our lives.
Being more mindful about money is not the default position in our western capitalist society. Everything around us is designed to get us to want more and spend more, quickly and mindlessly – we live awash in a sea of advertising, some of which is very subtle, all designed to press our want buttons.
In my quest to have a more mindful relationship with my spending I stumbled across the FIRE community. FIRE stands for Financial Independence, Retire Early where the goal is to, you guessed it, attain financial independence and retire early.
Those following a FIRE path track their spending very closely, make mindful purchases only, and as a result save significantly more of their income. These savings are invested in low interest funds that in time can provide a passive source of income, enough to cover living expenses. This nest egg then provides financial independence and paid work becomes optional, often decades before the standard retirement age of 65.
Some prominent FIRE community bloggers include Mr. Money Mustache (retired at 30), Millennial Revolution (retired at 32) and the Mad Fientist (retired at 34). I won’t go into the detailed elements of the FIRE strategy – I’m not a FIRE blogger and these guys cover it way better than I will – but I highly recommend checking out their sites if you’re looking for some mindful money motivation.
Personally, I’m not a true FIRE adherent. I have a slower, smaller fire burning; I’m not adhering stringently to an ultra-frugal spending pattern, nor am I targeting an exceedingly early retirement (I still want to do meaningful work). However, using some of the tools and inspiration from the FIRE community I have been able to significantly increase my savings rate while not only experiencing no significant reduction in my quality of life but an improvement in my quality of life. Why? Because I started paying attention to the dumb shit I was spending my money on and I just stopped.
I was mindlessly spending money on consumer goods that I really didn’t care about and brought no real lasting joy to my life.
Too much money on clothes.
Too much money on cosmetics and personal care.
Too much money on electronics.
Too much money on takeout.
I could easily reduce spending in these categories because I can say with clarity that I do not value being ultra-stylish, I do not value vanity over experience, and I do not value having the latest gadgets.
I do value financial security, I do value travel and new experiences, I do value education and environmental causes, and I do value spending time with family and friends. And there is research out there to back up my experience: spending on memorable experiences, charity and outsourcing our most hated tasks makes people happier. It’s easy to stop spending in one category when you realize it allows you to get more of what really brings joy and meaning into your life.
I’m not ultra-zealous about any of this (this is Mainly Mindful after all). My lifestyle would not be described as extremely frugal by any means. I still slip up and make mindless purchases. This is a practice, every single day. But as the years wear on I’m getting clearer on my values and as a result reducing my spending, increasing my savings, and reducing my consumption on this wonderful planet that is drowning in plastic. And that feels pretty good.
As a result, I feel ok about my larger than normal post vacation credit card bill, because I have chosen to prioritize spending on travel and experience. Because this spending represents a mindful choice in alignment with my values, I don’t feel stressed out. And I can actually pay the credit card bill because I’m not spending money on other lower value categories.
How are you going to spend (money) this summer?