When I was growing up, there was a shining pillar of frugality in my life. She exuded her standards quietly, without drawing attention, but as I got older I came to realize just how powerful they were.
She was a stay-at-home mother. Her husband had a nice job that (I assume–I never asked) made plenty of money. Her children and I were friends. But when we all went shopping together, we’d always go to discount stores and use coupons. It confused me as a kid. They didn’t need to shop at these stores for food, clothes, or everyday items. But they did. And they did it happily.
As her children got older, moved away and started having families of their own, I came to realize what their family did spend money on: family. While brand-name clothing wasn’t on the shopping list, this woman wouldn’t bat at eye at flying across the country to visit a grandchild, take care of one of her own, grown, adult children when they fell ill, or to go to a birthday party.
And I think that’s kind of beautiful. Her example not only taught me what mattered in her life, but it also taught me that in order to be able to afford the things that really matter, you may have to give up some of the things that really don’t. When you have the right perspective, giving those things up isn’t a sacrifice; it’s an active and rewarding choice. She also didn’t have a personal finance blog, which makes me question my own vanity-levels as her simple example taught me more than any preaching could have done.
But there was some preaching.
We also went to the same church, and on occasion she’d teach my Sunday school class. In the religion of my youth, you didn’t go around asking people about their income, but you were taught sound money habits as a matter of spirituality from a young age.
Her lessons stuck with me. I received 52 over the course of every single year, and hers are the ones that I still remember. Her father was also a very frugal man. At several points in their family’s life, something bad happened. A job was lost. A medical emergency came up. What could have been chaos crept up on them as it does at certain points in all of our lives.
But their family didn’t suffer monetarily at any of these times. They had the financial means or opportunities to obtain those means because her father abode by the adage, “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.” He always had a side hustle going on. They always had savings. They were always okay. And there was all kinds of peace that came from that knowledge.
My egg shortage.
Like I said, I’ve always remembered her lessons. As I became an adult myself, I tried to live them. I’ve tried to always have something going on on the side. While it’s sometimes been a struggle, I’ve tried to always have a decent emergency fund. I’ve tried to diversify my baskets so that everything will be okay always.
Recently, I came to the realization that I have a lot of baskets. Like a lot. They’re labeled “Family,” “Work,” “Side-hustle Blogging,” “Health Insurance,” “Car Insurance,” “Professional Development,” “Tutoring,” and so on into oblivion.
I also came to the realization that the eggs aren’t just my money; they’re my time. Here’s my mathematical proof:
Time=Money and Money=Eggs —–> Time=Eggs
I was spreading myself so thin that I literally made myself sick. (Though germs certainly didn’t help.) I was adding more stress to my life in order to feel secure. In order to order the future, I was sacrificing a lot of the beautiful things about the here and now.
I’m not getting rid of any baskets. But I have changed how I manage my eggs. Call it a lesson in time management. Call it a lesson in money management. Call it a convoluted metaphor.
I’ve been getting Steph Halligan’s Art to Self cartoons delivered to my inbox since Day 1. They’re great. I’d sign up to get the same done if you want a little more joy in your life. Last month, there was one that took me a while to truly internalize. It’s entitled, “Slow Down,” and talks about how when we feel rushed, it’s usually because we are rushing ourselves. The world doesn’t end if we don’t get every last thing we have to get done done right now.
And this is the place I’ve been operating at since my recovery. I’ve been thinking less about all the things still left on my to-do list. I’ve been thinking more about what’s right in front of me. I’ve still been getting work done, but it hasn’t taken nearly the mental toll on me that it was in the past few months. I’ve been enjoying life more, and realizing that there’s no point in being secure if your stress levels are at 10 all the time, anyways.
Pick the Necessary Baskets, Then the Ones That Yield the Most Eggs.
There are things that will need to be done whether I’m excited about them or not. The health insurance and car insurance baskets need to be filled, whether I enjoy the time I put into making the money to get the eggs in there or not.
But those baskets are depleted each month and then need to be refilled. So after I meet my necessities, I’m keeping an eye on whether the eggs are disappearing or if they’re creating more eggs on their own. My old, massive cell phone bill? That was definitely a self-depleting basket. So I altered what I was doing.
But when I put eggs (both time and money) into my professional development basket, something amazing starts happening. My “Work” basket starts filling up a little faster each month. I do a better job, have better skills, and have to spend less time processing tasks in my brain. If I keep investing in that professional development basket, I’ll be making more money for the same amount of work.
The same thing goes with blogging. There are so many tasks to get caught up in. But only focusing on the ones that either grow audience, deepen my connection with my audience, or increase income will allow me to get those eggs multiplying faster. So I’m not going to waste as much time on the things that ultimately don’t matter.
But the first basket that needs to be filled, regardless of necessity or spontaneous egg reproduction, is “Family.” And a large part of that is not being stressed out when I am spending time with them. Turning off technology. Turning off all the tabs in my brain. Just enjoying our moments together as they happen. It really doesn’t matter if we live in our own house or rent apartments for the rest of our lives; if I miss those moments with family, not so much out of time-constraints, but out of preoccupation, then none of the other baskets matter. Because in my quest to secure my life, I will have missed life itself.