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The Secret To Financial Freedom Is Not More Money

25 September 2009 4 Comments

Women & Finances is a new series written by a 20-something about her financial journey. Her columns will be appearing weekly here at 20smoney.com. You can read her other articles by visiting the Women & Finances category.

Just when I thought I had somewhat conquered my crazy spending habits and my husband and I ceased to fight about money on a weekly basis, two pink lines appeared on the pregnancy test. Nine months later, we decided to sacrifice my income so that I could stay at home with our daughter. Though I am grateful that this is even an option financially for our family, as a young stay-at-home mom I often succumb to the plaguing “If only we had more money…” thoughts.

As a nursing mother who rarely left the house and no longer “got dressed” every day, I did not initially feel the tightened budget. But life has finally adjusted back to normal from the sleep-deprived, milk-leaking, zombie days of a new mommy. And with the greater energy and ability to take outings with my eight-month old I find myself noticing the the lifestyle cramp of a one income household. The shopping ability and discretionary spending I once thought was pretty limited (but doable) has now plummeted to zero.

The income loss is not only more noticeable because spend-happy outings like trips to mall and “quick runs” to Target and Whole Foods have become my daily events to get out of the house, but as our baby girl grows we have the added need of baby gear and clothes for each new stage and size. I find myself addicted to surfing online retail stores for all of the latest and greatest in lightweight strollers, bicycle seats, frilly little girl clothes and a plethora of other baby items and gadgets that I never knew existed before becoming a parent . And oh am I starting to feel the absence of new clothes for myself, pricey hair cuts, expensive date nights and sushi take-out. Having less money has certainly prompted that lust for “things” again and tension over spending has resurfaced as a point of disharmony in our marriage.

It’s no surprise that my adjustment to the role of mommy, maid, and cook coinciding with the lack of “sexy” that money used to buy would have me feeling less than glamorous these days. To be perfectly honest, I find myself drifting into reveries about how I can generate some extra cash, truly thinking that more money would be the key to financial freedom.

It is with this discontented state of mind that I headed off to a baby play-date one sunny morning.

I had randomly met another young mom who invited us over so that our little girls could be friends. That day, my cooing daughter and I made our way to a google-mapped address which led us to the guard gate of an exclusive neighborhood nestled among a beautiful chain of lakes. If my eyes didn’t turn green at this point they certainly did when I pulled into a long drive at the end of which a stunning lake-front mansion peaked out from behind luscious and immaculately manicured landscaping. I had known that my new friend’s husband was a professional athlete but I hadn’t expected the surprising feelings that would accompany having a peak into their charmed lifestyle. I don’t think anyone would publicly say that they aren’t happy for the blessings of others, but it was sure hard to ignore my inner thoughts and comparisons as I received a tour of this enormous, beautifully appointed home with designer decor, a fabulous pool, hot tub, outdoor fireplace and boat dock with multiple boats and jet skis all belonging to my 20-something acquaintance. The baby’s nursery was straight out of a Pottery Barn catalog with every conceivable personalized (and expensive) touch. It was hard not to feel that my sweet daughter would not somehow be smarter, happier, or better off if this were her nursery! On the outside I was polite, sweet and conversational but on the inside I was battling big time envy.

In conversation that day it came up that my friend owned at least ten pair of Tory Burch flats because they were just so “practical”. We laughed about her online shopping addition and as if on cue the doorbell rang and my friend hauled two large brown packages from Neiman Marcus inside the door. Well at least she can afford to indulge her addiction, I thought.

As I was lusting over her fabulous lifestyle and financial freedom, she laughingly mentioned that she would have to hide her new deliveries in order to avoid a fight with her husband. I’m sure I rolled my eyes. How could people with a personal chef, personal trainer and maid service fight about money? They certainly had enough for any responsible person to live it up while still saving plenty, right? As if sensing my silent judgement she proceeded to tell me how squeezed her husband feels with so much real estate debt from the big house and vacation homes in addition to the business ventures and lifestyle they have grown accustomed to. She said that all of it has unintentionally stretched their income to the max and that “you can never have enough”. She said that money is the number one thing that they fight about. I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me as bankrupt millionaires end up in the news all of the time. But hearing her say these things helped me realize my own folly.

If they still didn’t have “enough”, then maybe my idea of “enough” is only an illusion. If rich people still spent more than they should, how can I assume I would learn to live within a larger budget if we somehow made more money? I started to understand that maybe learning to live within my means (whether large or small) is the secret to contentment and financial freedom rather than having more money.

On my way home that day I thought about a college friend of mine who dropped out to get married. She and her husband both work low wage jobs now and live paycheck to paycheck to pay the rent and bills. She doesn’t have new clothes and expensive shoes but she is the most content person I have ever met. They do not use debt to finance a lifestyle that they cannot afford and she does not seem to mind that she doesn’t look and dress like Paris Hilton. While I am not advocating her choice of dropping out of college and living paycheck to paycheck, there is a freedom that she possesses that my rich friend does not. Sure, sometimes I get the “not in service” message when I call her cell but I have never once heard her poor-mouth, complain about money or lust about things. She is happy with what they have and even though I have more, I am not.

I have certainly realized through this reduction in our family’s income and my resulting mentality as well as my envy of my rich friend that money is still my master. As trite as it sounds, I am currently learning that contentment is not about how much we have, but about adjusting our lifestyle and being happy with what we have. What I have is enough. I just need to learn to live within smaller means than before. I also need purge myself of a culture of comparison and what advertisers tell me I “deserve”. With the way I have been acting, I am so glad that my daughter is not yet old enough to observe my lustful attitude towards money and things.

Do you max what you have to the limit or do you responsibily adjust to live within your means while saving for the future? It’s easier said than done, but there is not enough money in the world to eliminate your financial stress and marital strife if you cannot learn to be content with what you have–right now.

4 Comments »

  • Save Money Hound said:

    Good point about making the best of what we have. It is too easy these days to be influenced by what others think you should have and companies selling you what they think you should have.

  • Kate said:

    Well said. I had a similar revelation. As a dirt-poor college student, I lived paycheck to measly paycheck for several years, just waiting for the big break of getting a real job and having money to live on. Upon graduation, I got a job with a "real" salary…and a pretty good one. One year later, I realized I was still living paycheck to paycheck and thinking how great it would be if only I made more, got a raise…etc. Living within my means is a constant battle. I constantly have that voice in my head saying, "You DESERVE that leather jacket. You work hard. You DESERVE that ridiculously expensive haircut." But I also deserve a stable future. It has to be a conscious decision, and I am still working on it.

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