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Focus is considered one of the most important traits of success. It makes sense. If your mind is constantly wandering it is hard to stick to a project until completion.
Frugality also requires focus. I was lucky growing up in the boondocks where the siren song of spending was only visible in the hazy distance. The nearest store was seven miles away and groceries and miscellaneous hardware supplies were all that was sold. Eighteen miles in the other direction was the next nearest place to get separated from your money. Needless to say we didn’t travel that far often.
Before the days of Amazon and endless online shopping sites, I was content playing cops and robbers with my uncle, brother and a few neighborhood boys roughly my age, racing on our bikes around our 400 acre farm.
Working on the farm paid a small token only. I remember wanting a slingshot in grade school. Coming home from church (we never missed a service back then) dad stopped at Farm & Home, the local hardware store. They had a “wrist-rocket” slingshot for $7 and change. My allowance was 25 cents per week.
My passbook savings account (remember those things) had enough money, but I already had a bit of granddad in me: Never take off the pile. I started saving those quarters each week in a piggy bank. To earn that quarter I had to help feed the calves twice a day and other assorted farm chores.
Around seven months later I was the proud owner of a wrist-rocket slingshot. I snaked my hand through the handle. The loop where your hand went in pressed against the wrist when you pulled back the elastic band to increase the slingshot’s power. The bark would fly when a pebble left the slingshot, smashing into a tree.
For seven months I focused all my energy into saving enough for that slingshot. My biggest worry was Farm & Home would sell it to someone else. There is no proof, but I think my dad had something to do with that slingshot remaining on the shelf for over seven months.
Once I owned the object of my desire I focused on aiming better. My goal was to use the slingshot as a hunting weapon, putting a fresh bunny into the roaster. Things didn’t turn out as planned.
Focus is a powerful trait, but it can also cloud judgment. For seven months I only focused on one thing. Then I owned the object and within weeks the desire faded. I discovered it is better to want than to have, a lesson I frequently need to relearn.
The School Called
Last Thursday I worked from home. By mid-afternoon I had most of my work goal completed. Mrs. Accountant noticed I was ready for a break and asked, “Can we talk?” I knew that tone of voice. Something was wrong.
Mrs. Accountant explained the school councilor called about our youngest daughter. The school was worried she was depressed. So you don’t worry, my daughter was fine; a friend of hers misinterpreted having a down day with serious depression and reported it.
Before Mrs. Accountant and I knew our daughter was fine we tried to figure out what could have caused her to be depressed. She seemed fine at home.
Unfortunately, I have been a bit distant lately, focusing on my work (blog and practice). Life was good as a small business owner, but now with a blog I am working two full-time jobs (according to my office manager).
Excessive focus can harm relationships. My daughter is a senior. When the school year started the school set graduation on Memorial Day weekend, the same weekend I attend and speak at Camp Mustache in Seattle. I said we have to hope they change the date or I’ll not be able to go. My focus was so tight I failed to mention what event I was planning on skipping.
My youngest daughter thought I was cutting her graduation for business. I have to admit I am so focused on this blog and helping readers I actually toyed with the idea. I can be an ass at times. My daughter wanted me to be at her graduation.
I never realized what I did. My daughter wasn’t depressed as the school thought she was, but she wanted dad at her graduation. School doesn’t come easy for her and it means a lot mom and dad are there.
Called Into Action
The bus route this year in insane. My daughter is the first on in the morning and the last off at night. She spends over three hours a day on the bus to and from school. We don’t like wasting gas, but she sure loves when we find an excuse to take her in or pick her up at the end of the day.
Mrs. Accountant and I decided to pick our sweetheart up from school unannounced last Thursday. When school let out she was surprised to see us there waiting for her. We took her to Chilton for a chicken strip basket at Dairy Queen and took the time to speak with her to understand her feelings.
Before we got to DQ we knew everything was fine. But there were still several problems. Going to DQ for dinner is something we almost never do. In fact, nobody had eaten in a restaurant since late tax season. Dining out is something we rarely do, but this was getting excessive
Work is the perfect solution to spending. My normal frugal ways went into overdrive as my focus on this blog dug in deep. I brown bag lunch every day. I drink coffee at the office, never buying a cup at the gas station or anywhere else. Sometimes I bike to work, a 30 mile round trip.
With all my time consumed by my two jobs I was enjoying the hell out of myself so much I forgot there were people living around me.
Spending in a typical year ranges in the low 30s. As summer arrived and later school started again, I noticed I was spending almost nothing. I track every penny spent in our household and we hadn’t broken $1,000 a single month since January. My frugality was driving us to an annual spending level slightly under $12,000 for 2017. It has been a long time since I was so tight with the cash.
Not all of it was my fault. The cell phones were switched to Google Fi a while back so the phone bill for two phones was $40 per month. Gardens provided a good portion of our food and a simpler diet also cut costs. For some reason the utility bill was nonexistent. The bill last month was $56 and $20 of that is just to have service. I ran a small farm and my household on just over 300 kilowatts for the month!
As we ate our chicken strips I explained to my daughter there would be some changes. Now that she is seventeen I told her she should have her own phone, especially now that she is driving. When Mrs. Accountant and I are out of town she really needs a phone. (We have no landline.) That’ll add $20 a month to the recurring expense column. (I feel those recurring expenses acutely.)
Our daughter was also nervous about Mrs. Accountant and me heading out of town for FinCon. We made arrangements so she would never be alone. We also gave her the good news she could drive to school when we were gone. That brought a smile. (Good thing for daddy the school doesn’t have any parking fees. You’d have needed the smelling salts.)
I reiterated I would be attending her graduation. As much as I enjoy Camp Mustache in Seattle, my daughter is more important by miles. If people want to see me they have to attend FinCon or CampFI. This blog has a “Where Am I” calendar now showing my schedule. It is easy to meet up.
Dust Bunnies in the Wallet
My oldest daughter comes home from college each weekend. She enjoys the good life so she had several gap years before rolling up the sleeves and digging in. She also has matured a pile as she added a few years. She sounds like mom when she talks about other students. It seems many more lessons were digested than originally thought.
The girls wanted to go out to Funset Boulevard on Saturday. They had some coupons for a farmer’s market so they stopped there first, bought a fresh lunch and several dozen cobs of sweet corn with the coupons.
Funset Boulevard is billed as one of these family-friendly entertainment venues. They are as expensive as hell; my blood begins to clot even thinking about it. Funset has laser tag and other assorted games.
At first I was thinking the whole family should go, but then decided the girls might like some time out without parents around. The girls don’t mind mom and dad coming along. Still, the girls need to have girl’s time out. Besides, my oldest daughter wanted to talk with my youngest daughter privately to make sure nothing wasn’t wrong. It feels good as a parent to know they look out for each other.
When nobody was looking I slipped $40 to my youngest daughter to cover their expenses. I told her to share it with her sister, but to tease her it was a loan at 47% interest per day.
Forty dollars isn’t a lot of money at a place like Funset. The girls left around 9 a.m., went to the farmer’s market and then enjoyed a few hours at Funset. They spent $39.50, keeping the change. Dad noticed.
When deep in debt, massive frugality is required. However, once the crisis has passed, responsible spending is allowed.
The investment accounts have received a heavy dose of additional capital this year. The money had to go somewhere.
It took a short scare as a wakeup call. Concern I may have absconded my parental duties caused me to realign my focus in a more appropriate manner. Saving is a good thing. Saving 90% of my income for no reason might be going a bit too far.
Focus is good as long as the focus in on the right things. Focus at work, even pleasant and enjoyable work, should stay at the office. Focus on family is required at home. Having my own business means the line between business and family is blurred. It’s still no excuse.
I’m lucky. I’ve always been lucky. Things always seem to work out. I forgot my duties as a father and my daughter didn’t flip out or try drugs or get knocked up. She waited for dad to come to his senses, even if only momentarily. Then dad sinks into a book or his writing or work. I am one very lucky daddy.
But I can’t take luck for granted. You can be too frugal, as I sometimes am. This year got extreme. It does illustrate how little money a person can survive on.
I love the girls in my house. I found the right woman and married her. She stayed with me even when I tested her to the limit. She deserves the “Wife of the Millennium” award for putting up with me. My daughters have never been in trouble, unlike dad. No drugs, alcohol, police visits, late nights (except for my oldest daughter reading like dear old dad until the wee hours of the morning), boyfriend drama, pregnancy or disrespect ever entered our household. My girls are the best.
It will be hard for me to do the right thing. I suggested we make it a point to go out to eat once per month and to see a movie or check out a museum or some other sort of entertainment monthly. It doesn’t have to cost much. The goal is to put work down and enjoy family time.
Very successful people sometimes have difficult personal lives. Laser focus can eventually destroy a family. And a destroyed family is not frugal, nor is it right to put the people you love under such stress.
Frugality is part of this demographic. I get it. It is important for good mental, physical and spiritual health to put an all-encompassing hobby down for other activities.
Call it mad money, FU money or anything you want. Just make sure you use it with the people you love most.
Now that is something to focus on.