28 Comments

  1. “Assuming you have the time, the energy, and the mental bandwidth to do so.” So much yes. I’ve got lots of time lying around (I don’t have a tiny human to care for). But, I for the most part definitely don’t have the mental bandwidth or energy to do so. I struggle with the always-on, always earning mentality that tends to be prevalent in the personal finance space.

    Sure, earning more money now will help me live a better life later (or so we’re told), but what if I miss out on the awesomeness of today because I’m too busy working? That’s what I always come back to.

    • This is 100% where I am at lately. What if, call me bananas, we aren’t actually supposed to be go, GO, GOOOOO 24/7? I am really interested in trying to figure out how to recalibrate. That intensity, I don’t think, is serving me as well as I had hoped (was promised?).

      • There is definitely as aspect of “we were promised” this right? It’s such a weird thing to think about, but it’s true. I’ll all about recalibrating – we can reboot together 😉

  2. Right now I’m trying to enjoy that sweet spot. New job came with a considerable raise, and we’re also permitted to work overtime right now, as we’re understaffed by a few positions.
    But I fight the urge to continue to earn “more” for the sake of more. I might have only made a few extra dollars per hour while Ubering, but times 20 hours that was at least an extra hundred bucks a week. But now my brain says the extra hours (or even 15-minute increments) are better spent at the office earning 1.5x my hourly wage, rather than wasted driving around strangers for a pittance.
    I do still hang onto most of my private clients, since they aren’t exactly strangers anymore, and reliably pay in cash or Venmo. But even then, I value my time a lot higher now, so I won’t be so quick to wake up at 3 in the morning to make $40 while I should otherwise be sleeping.
    I need to work on spending less… This recent pay bump has caused a lot more “excess cash flow” in my accounts, and I’ve been spending a little mindlessly again. Also being paid bi-weekly instead of monthly has relaxed a lot of my previous “scarcity” that helped me stay a bit more frugal in the waning weeks and days before the once-monthly paycheck appeared.

  3. I think it’s really hard to find the “sweet spot”, but we’re trying. We also often talk about our priorities & values to make sure we make decisions based on more than money: whether it’s not sacrificing nutrition in food or leading a group of student volunteers rather than taking on a side gig.
    I could work more, but I wouldn’t be a balanced, happy person. I could cut more, but I need a little more to life than just the necessities. I’m still working on finding that perfect ratio, but I’m honestly pretty happy with where we are.

  4. Heather J Mayfield

    Thanks for discussing this. I think too often the floor on reducing expenses and the ceiling on income is forgotten. Finance community talks about freedom over time but often only considers it for later not during the journey. Given health issues no time for a side hustle. I did move several years ago to higher paid more stressful position. Realized last year the 100+ hour weeks were not sustainable long term and have focus this year on more balance. Luckily, I enjoy the work.

    • I am so glad you are focusing more on balance. 100 hours! WHOA. (This is also the beautiful thing about teaching – I have no idea how many hours I work. I might cry if I actually clocked them.)

  5. I have this great app called “We Croak”. It sends me a notification 5 times per day reminding me that I am going to die. While some may feel this is on the macabre side of the line, I find that remembering that my time here is finite helps me make better choices about how to use the “now”. As a lawyer I can always choose to work for an hour and charge someone another few hundred dollars, but as I’m only here for a little while longer is that really how I want to spend that hour? For me, I’d rather watch my daughter’s cross country meet, or basketball game. I’d rather mow the north forty and have a glass of wine with my wife on the porch. At the end, when I’m drawing my last breath, I doubt my thoughts will be about the work I didn’t do.

    Hold on to what’s important, and remember, this life is about happiness not money. And those two are not as closely connected as we are sometimes led to believe.

  6. When I think “I want to earn more”, I start looking for credit card or bank account bonuses. Besides a little income from my blog and my twice-a-year work at the voter polls, that’s about the only earning I’m doing these days. Yes, I’m retired, but if I weren’t, I’d probably be on disability due to health issues like my wife is. So there’s definitely a ceiling on our income. There’s also a floor on our spending, although I do work to try to keep it low. “You can always make more money” is definitely not where I’m at these days. Thanks for an important post.

  7. Yup, I think it’s always about finding that sweet spot. To only cut or only try to earn more wouldn’t optimize how much money is flowing in and out. But too often we forget that there’s totally a point you reach where you can’t cut anything else, and earning more just ain’t happenin’.

    Maybe we’re all obsessed with continuous improvement with our numbers. I think it’s that “I’ll do better next month” phenomenon. But it’s okay to do your best; you don’t have to struggle to meet the expectations of an internet stranger who doesn’t know your life.

  8. Hi Penny, thanks for such a wonderful post. It’s a really refreshing point of view from everyone else preaching the importance of boosting income. I think I really needed this one.

    A few years ago I graduated from law school, but I had been miserable my entire time there. I knew I couldn’t work in a high-paying legal job without losing my sanity, so I settled for a much lower-paying job as a credit analyst. I don’t earn a great deal of money, but I enjoy the work-life balance and spending my free time blogging and writing.

    It didn’t take long, however, for doubts about my decision to start creeping into my life. My loved ones constantly tell me that I’m working a dead-end job, and my peers are always comparing their incredibly high salaries, while I’m earning so much less.

    I could go back into the legal sector and earn big bucks but I’m really unwilling to do that. The mere thought of that sends chills down my spine. Like you said, I guess I need to learn to be alright with being unwilling to increase my income. Even though everyone out there is telling me otherwise. It’s tough, but I’m trying. 🙂 Thanks again for the refreshing post, it really made my day.

    • And you made my day, Liz. Wow! It’s so reaffirming to hear that I am not the only person at this crossroads, if you can call it that. I am so happy that you have found some semblance of work-life balance. It’s priceless. We just need to talk it up more!

  9. I think one of the reasons that there is so much focus on earning more is because it’s measurable…at the end of the month, we can say “I earned $X through my side hustles and put an additional $Y into savings”. We like numbers and being able to quantify things, and we can’t do that as easily with health/happiness/being rested. I try really hard to prioritize my happiness in the present moment over money (within reason!), but it can be a big mental challenge to book holidays or give up an extra weekend of call when I know that it’s “costing me money” to do so.

    I feel like there’s a blog post in this idea somewhere….

  10. I’ve been feeling the itch to earn more but also the pull of not throwing away my time for a little money. The problem with the sweet spot is while I’d like to call this IT, I can’t. Our major monthly expenses are a heck of a drain (mortgage + related costs, daycare, JB’s therapy) and leave us with very little wiggle room.

    So my compromise is this: when I simply cannot concentrate on my real work, as long as I’m not just avoiding regular life stuff, I can work on making a bit of money on the side. Otherwise I’m fully committed to being present nights and weekends with my family.

    • I think that’s fairly close to where we are. Now that we aren’t just paying the grandparents but we are actually doing part-time daycare, I’d like to totally pump the brakes. But I can’t. I’m trying to always make sure that when it’s HP time, he gets my full attention, though!

  11. Chris

    I’m a teacher too, but with grown children. Since I’ve almost maxed out the salary schedule, the only way for me to increase teacher salary is to do after school tutoring & such. I’ve decided it isn’t worth it compared to the time I need to recover from the day. I highly regret taking such extra duties during my daughter’s senior year of high school (& I was finishing my Master’s as well!). When I looked at the dollar totals for working the extra hours that year I realized it was an extremely poor exchange & the time is gone. What was I thinking?!?? Fortunately our relationship wasn’t hurt in the long run but I would protect the work/life better if I had the chance.

    • I am so glad you shared, Chris. I feel like I did something very similar last year. My son was a baby baby (he will always be my baby, right?!), and I kept telling myself that it was OK to side hustle nonstop because he wouldn’t really remember. The problem is that I do!

      That’s great that your relationship with your daughter wasn’t hurt in the long run, and I’m sure you meant so well (we always do as parents!). It’s a lot to juggle, especially in our field when you really are so limited in terms of how you can earn extra. Here’s to more balance this school year, friend!

  12. With a 2 year old, I haven’t gotten a full night of sleep either since he was born. At least he’s doesn’t wake up at 5am anymore…now its 6am.
    I’m in that situation where I can earn more after my day job but don’t want to cut back on time with family in the evenings and weekends, feels like those times are precious especially with a baby at home. That’s why take advantage during my time at work where I can participate in that Google User Research and earn $100 for about an hour. I’ve been doing it during my lunch break since the google building is walking distance from my work.

  13. Honestly, can’t you build up some passive income? Like invest in stocks or bonds to build up some side income you don’t have to trade your labor for it?

    • Sure. We have a taxable account and retirement accounts, but beyond that–that’s also the deep end the pool for a lot of people (like me). Plus, it’s a long-term plan, right? Not necessarily wanting to trade those earnings for a mortgage payment. I’m a big fan of paying down debt while investing, but this is a point in our life where we probably have to pump the brakes on debt paydown.

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