As I’ve written about before, a bit more than six months ago our family went through a BIG life change. I quit my high-paying job in finance, we moved from our beloved-but-too-expensive-and-crazy New York City to a suburb of Boston, and I started a company (this here Work It, Mom!, of course!) As part of this transition we’ve gone from living on a fairly large income to living on mostly my husband’s income, which, while completely respectable, is a lot less than what we used to live on.
As this BIG change got closer I was completely freaked out. I was freaked out about leaving the city I came to love, moving to a new area, starting my own business, and changing our financial situation significantly. My husband and I are pretty frugal people - we saw our income increase 5x since our first jobs but we didn’t really change our life in a big way. Sure, I splurged on something for myself from to time, but I’d only buy things on sale and would agonize about spending significant sums of money just as much when I made lots of it as when I made little of it. But having the security of a steady and large paycheck is a nice luxury–your savings account grows, you don’t have to watch EVERY dollar, and the general stress level related to money is down.
So when the BIG change came, I was ready to be stressed and worried about money all the time and this impending stress made me very anxious. But as the weeks and months of our new life went on, the stress didn’t increase as much as I expected. Itâ€™s there, no doubt, but itâ€™s not nearly as paralyzing as I anticipated.
To be honest, I am not quite sure why this is. I am an immigrant who has truly experienced what itâ€™s like to be hungry and poor (welfare, food stamps, eating disguising canned fish — been there). My background has made me very conservative financially and I worry about our daughterâ€™s college savings, our retirement and my parentsâ€™ retirement on a regular basis. (Itâ€™s OK to laugh at me now.) In other words, I am wired to stress about money and now that we have a lot less of it, I feel that I should be stressing more.
But Iâ€™m not.
My lower-than-anticipated money stress is probably due to the fact that I am fairly young and can always get another high-paying â€“ or higher-paying â€“ job (Translation: Weâ€™re donâ€™t have much money now, but if I brush off my resume and give up this entrepreneurial obsession, weâ€™ll be just fine.) And hey, thereâ€™s always that 1 in 10000 chance that Work It, Mom! becomes a successful business that pays me in more than just thank you notes from members. (Please keep those coming in the meantime!)
But itâ€™s more than that. In the time since weâ€™ve made our BIG life change I’ve figured out a few things about money that I am sure I should have known before — but as these things go, living it is different from reading about it:
Having less helps you appreciate more. An example: We never used to eat out too often before, but weâ€™d do it a few times a week. Now itâ€™s once a week max and we treat it as a special occasion. Itâ€™s more fun, we look forward to it, and to be honest, I donâ€™t think we miss eating out that much.
Money alone cannot make you happy. We all know it, but I see it from a new angle. Money is importantâ€”it buys things we value, like time with family, trips together, being able to take care of loved ones. But having less money does not mean that you canâ€™t do those things; it means that you have to do them differently. We invite friends over for dinner instead of meeting at a restaurants. We make more presents than we buy. You get the idea.
Spending money less often feels good. Iâ€™ve never been much of an impulse buyer, but Iâ€™ve definitely had my share of â€œOh, this is only $20, letâ€™s get it!â€ moments at Target. Thereâ€™s no room for this now and know that weâ€™re not wasting money on things we donâ€™t NEED feels really good. (I am curious to see if Chris agrees with me as her family embarks on an awesome experiment of no discretionary spending.)
Liking your job makes up (somewhat) for making less money. Money is necessary and when you don’t have enough for necessities I doubt that liking your job makes a difference. But I can tell you that going from a job I hated where I made a ton of money to a job I love where I hardly make any is, so far, a net positive in terms of how I feel about my life.
I wonâ€™t lie and say that some days I donâ€™t miss the security of a fat paycheck or knowing that yes, we can spend $300 on dinner and be totally fine. (My husband is laughing now because when we had money we did this maybe twice!) But having a lot less money has had much less impact on our life than I anticipated.
Now Iâ€™ll just have to find something else to be anxious aboutâ€¦ let me go check those traffic numbers for Workitmom.com!