Hello Financial Slacker readers. You may be wondering where I’ve been the last few weeks. I’m still here. I’ve just been busy creating a better life for myself.
And in between other projects, out-of-town swim meets, and a week in Northern California with the family, it’s been a hectic time.
But things seem to be settling back into a routine and I’m now able to dedicate some time to Financial Slacker once again.
My Background in Corporate Finance
Over these past few weeks, one thought has kept popping into my head.
What is the most important aspect of personal finance?
When I started Financial Slacker, my finance experience was primarily limited to the corporate world. In different jobs over twenty years, I had learned how to help companies make good financial, operational, and strategic decisions. I knew how to value businesses and how to forecast with accuracy how well companies would perform in the coming years.
But I hadn’t spent much time applying that same knowledge to personal finance. The skills, knowledge, and experience acquired during those twenty years has served me well. And while much of that wisdom can be applied to the personal finance world, there are some pretty big differences between corporate finance and personal finance.
Companies Need to Grow
Probably the greatest difference between corporate finance and personal finance is the underlying motivation.
In the corporate world, everything revolves around growth.
There’s a saying, “if you’re not growing in business, you’re dying.”
New companies are always sprouting up trying to take away your customers. And your customers are always trying to get more value for less money.
And if you don’t work hard to keep those customers happy, they’ll leave you.
Personal Finance Is About Creating a Better Life
But personal finance isn’t the same thing. Personal finance isn’t about growing your income stream so much as finding a balance between income and spending and using that balance to create a better life for yourself.
While more income is a good thing and certainly more passive income is even better, the most important factor in personal finance is about controlling your expenses. At least that’s what it’s been for me.
I’ve been fortunate to earn a good income for many years. Some years have been better than others, but generally we’ve had more income than expenses and as such have saved a considerable amount.
But I always struggled when it came to spending.
Stop Spending What You Earn
My spending was always tied to my income. If income was up, we could spend more. If it was down, we needed to cut back.
When you earn a decent income, there are probably things you’re spending money on that are well beyond the necessity level.
For instance vacations.
When I’m earning money, I don’t mind spending money on a nicer hotel room or dinner in a nicer restaurant. There are certainly less expensive options but if I have the money, I can choose to spend it in these areas.
And because I almost always had an income stream, I never stopped to think much about what it would be like without that income stream.
There’s Two Types of Spending – Essential and Discretionary
When I did stop and ask whether I could actually live off my savings if I no longer had an income, I had difficulty answering that question.
And the reason why I couldn’t answer the question was because I hadn’t separated essential spending from discretionary spending.
When I tried to determine how much I would need to have saved in order to live off my savings, the number was huge. And that’s because I wasn’t just including essential expenses but I was also including discretionary expenses.
By looking at my spending broken down into essential vs discretionary, it became clear that we had more than enough saved to pay for essential expenses and even a certain level of discretionary expenses.
It also became clear that we were continuing to work not to pay for essentials but to fund our discretionary lifestyle.
You’re Making a Choice to Work
Once you get to this point, your perspective on working changes. It no longer feels like you’re dependent on your job to survive. You’re not living paycheck to paycheck.
You are making a choice to continue working to pay for aspects of your life. But you know if work gets too bad, you can choose to pass on those luxuries and walk away.
It’s a great feeling of relief. And a feeling of empowerment. Knowing that you could walk away doesn’t mean you will quit. But it does mean it’s an option. As such, you’re now working on your own terms.
Readers, if you’re still working, how do you view your job? Are you working to pay for your essentials or are you working to fund a lifestyle?
At this time, we are working to fund our FIRE funds so that soon that can fund our essentials. We are quite low already on discretionary compared to others.
It can still go lower. 4K per year on ski is really not needed and can be replaced with a 2K other type or holiday, or even staycation, why not…!
At one point in time, we will need to decide on what is more important: the discretionary spending or the freedom FIRE can bring.View Comment
Financial Slacker says
That’s the decision we all make whether it’s intentional or not. Freedom in the future or discretionary spending today.View Comment
ZJ Thorne says
I’m definitely working to survive right now, but I hope to change my relationship to work in the next decade. I want to switch entirely to my own business and only take the types of clients I value.View Comment
Financial Slacker says
Thanks for stopping by and commenting, ZJ.
It has taken me 20 years to get to that point where I only take on the business that I choose. In additon to getting to a financial place where I can be selective, I’ve spent a large portion of that time figuring out what it is I want to do and what type of client I want to work with.
I wish you the best in your journey.View Comment
Right now I have a high savings rate but can’t get it much higher higher because I have an expensive fixed cost (aka my house). So I guess that counts as discretionary but it’s the one thing we really spend on and don’t want to cut for the sake of schools and commute time.View Comment
Dividend fireman says
This post really nails my FI issue. I’ve done fine on the income side, but very poorly on the spending side.
After countless spreadsheets, spousal arguments, spartan budgets that are doomed to fail, etc, I have resigned myself to a certain (read: high) level of spending. However, I’ve learned to separate out the small indulgences (dinners, Starbucks, etc) from the big ones (new cars every few years, really expensive vacations, expensive watches, etc).
Investing has helped me to “hide money from myself,“ which has pretty much prevented me from overindulging with big purchases over the last few years. This by itself has resulted in a significant savings on the expense side of the ledger. But I have learned to let myself indulge with the small expenses.
Great post!View Comment
Sarah Taylor says
A surefire way to speed up your path to a seven-figure net worth is to sock away all the raises and bonuses you get. But as behavioral finance research shows, too much deprivation now may cause you to binge later.View Comment