On wealth (or lack thereof)

I can’t weigh in personally, since I chose a career field that typically does not result in wealth. But I found this Quora link (via APW) that discusses  if getting rich is worth it. Comments mention two points that seem obvious, but are also useful:

Happy people are often still happy when they become millionaires. Unhappy people are often still unhappy when they become millionaires.

and

Yes, being wealthy is worth it.  But without a sense of purpose, being rich could turn you into a very different, isolated and perhaps awful person.

I think I’d be a pretty happy millionaire, based on the first idea. I’d be a bit more concerned about the second, but there are a lot of things I want to do and a bunch of causes I want to support.

LearnVest’s take (yet again, another website I love) is that a $50,000 annual salary is enough to make you happy. They do say that living somewhere with a higher cost of living increases that number (which is my situation). And I’m thinking that some people have interests that cost more than others.

I’m thinking I’m closer to that original $75,000 number stated in the article, at least right now. After I pay off my credit cards (one left, and should be by no later than June), I can put all of that money into my IRA every month. (When I’ve done this for a full year next year, I’ll hit the max contribution amount.) I already save a good chunk each month, though I’ll likely be using some of it for the trip to Portland in April, which I know I’m not supposed to do…

LearnVest recommends that you only put 20% of your income toward priorities, which includes paying off debt and increasing your savings. I’ll just have a very low-interest car loan left. I think I end up putting about 30% toward these priorities, but I’m behind.

In the past few years, as my salary has slightly increased (after an initial substantial cut–I hated consulting), I’ve generally worried about the same amount. When I took this new job in November, I got a pretty good bump, plus practically zero commuting cost (I can walk to work). I noticed I’m able to allocate the extra money to places I knew I needed to send it in the past, and it’s felt good to see the debt shrinking and savings growing.

It’s still a foreign feeling to see my checking account in the higher triple digits after paying rent–I’m used to it being around $100, give or take. It’s definitely a comforting change, though I now worry when I have $400 in my account–that’s now when I feel like I’m getting low. Which is a good thing! I’m hoping the numbers increase eventually, of course, and with age comes more costs and responsibilities, thus more cushion. But it’s progress in a very short amount of time. Something to be proud of, I think.

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Little preparations

Rather than take a big leap into full planning mode for a future business, an epic trip, an inevitable move, a redefining of a relationship, I do little tasks. I read a story about a successful young woman business owner and daydream that I’d be the feature of that kind of article someday. I research when it’s best to travel to Turkey or Thailand or Argentina. I search for apartments on Craigslist in my price range in cities like Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Portland, and imagine the questions I’d ask the landlords–Are these double-paned windows? What’s the average heating cost in the winter? What are the neighbors like? I browse ring and dress websites, mentally bookmarking the ones I like best, in case the need ever arose.

But when it comes to follow-through, I rarely get past these tiny steps, these insignificant blips that fill up a slow day, later to be forgotten or deleted or expired.

A friend wrote a blog post I read today that was defiant and decisive; she’d made up her mind about how she wanted to live her life to the best of her ability, and she didn’t care if anyone else cared. Following her gut, knowing that her decisions, good or bad to others, were only truly relevant to her. No one had the right to comment or judge her movements or thoughts. If they did, let them–she’d go on living her life without their personal observations. She’s not scared to do and say what she thinks because she’s afraid the world will tell her she’s going about it all wrong. (I am constantly reminded why I am proud to call her a friend.)

I wish I had this courage–to take the big steps, to make the big plans, to upend social expectations, to execute what I only sketch out in my dreams. Here’s hoping she’ll inspire me to broach the parts of life I’ve been tiptoeing around. After all, in the end, you’re the one who has to live with how much happiness you’ve allowed yourself.

Relationships–where do I fit in?

I don’t have any plans to get married or engaged anytime soon, but I came across a website called A Practical Wedding recently that I can’t stop reading. There are so many essays that explore relationships and your place in them that really resonate with me.

One of my favorites is “It’s Still Worth It.” The comments, in particular, made my chest tighten up and a ray of hope shoot out from somewhere. The comment from MegsMom in particular is my favorite. I’m just going to post a bulk of it here:

“I often compare a good marriage to job that you really, really love.

I have spent my career years as a teacher. I love it. I am passionate about it. I always have felt and thought that it was something that I was called to do. Over the years, I have had bad days, bad weeks, bad months. I have had bad YEARS. Years where by November 1, I couldn’t wait for the year to end. Long stretches in which I wanted to tear my hair out and scream by the end of almost every day. For most of my career, I taught in neighborhoods in which the kids had almost every card in the deck stacked against them, and I sometimes felt that what I did for them was a hopelessly inconsequential drop in the bucket.

But did I want to quit teaching? I would sometimes fantasize about it. A couple of times I went so far as to investigate what additional training I would need in order to switch careers. But when it came down to a serious decision, I always chose to stay. Teaching gave me so much joy, so much satisfaction, and the kids returned so much love. And every time a kid’s face literally lit up with the realization that they understood something new, I felt that I had had a small part in the making of that miracle.

If your marriage is that: up times, down times, struggling times, and every once in a while miracle times, however small, then it is well worth helping each other find ‘the courage to love in the face of uncertainty.'”

When you hear “you just know” from so many people when it comes to choosing a future spouse, I get so frustrated. I don’t “just know” about ANYTHING. I hem and haw over which grocery store to go to every week, for goodness sake. How am I supposed to feel completely sure about a much bigger decision, even with time?

While the person who wrote this essay and I do not share the same situation, many of the sentiments are the same. This part particularly comforted me:

“As somewhat of a self-identified hopeless romantic who has always been giddy about the prospect of sharing my life with a partner whom I truly love, for some strange reason I thought the act of getting married and choosing that partner would be different. That it would be immune to the anxious rules that govern my decision-making skills, even though they especially govern huge decisions that will affect me for the rest of my life. I was a little disappointed when I realized that as we started to seriously consider getting engaged, my thoughts were overrun with the same overanalyzing and anxiety I’ve always experienced. Eventually I had to come to grips with the reality that this wasn’t going to be some magical “you-just-know” moment for me. I don’t work that way. I had a great talk recently with a newly wed friend who is similarly indecisive like me and she wisely told me that for people like us, we can’t hold on to a romanticized hope that our brain will just function differently for this one big decision. And it’s okay to analyze it, try to make sense of it in our minds, and that analyzing does not in any way indicate that you shouldn’t be marrying him. That was a relief to hear because not only had I been thinking about the stress of making such a huge decision, I had been worried that because of the fact I thought about how difficult this decision was, it somehow meant that we shouldn’t actually be getting married. The analyzing only indicates that’s how you work, that’s how you make big decisions, according to my friend. And in the end you should trust yourself and know that you’ve never in your life made a big decision that was flawlessly easy, that you were 100% at rest with. This wasn’t going to be that way either. And that is okay.”

I’m hoping that in the next year or two, I have a good idea about where I’d like to be with this relationship long-term. In the words of the second essay, I have a new goal for this time: “Come to a place where you feel like you can trust yourself to make a good and solid decision about marrying.” Because honestly, I don’t even know how I feel about the institution itself.

24 is not enough

I need more hours in the day. After spending eight hours at a desk Monday through Friday, around two hours planning and making dinner (unless it’s poached eggs over some kind of cheese and sauteed veggie), an hour getting ready for work in the morning, and a few hours decompressing and/or exercising/out, it never seems like there’s enough for a good night’s sleep.

Looking at that (very long) sentence, it’s dumb to think that I even do that much. Imagine what doctors, inventors, scientists, business owners, chefs do all day. They probably get so much more done.

How can I make the most of the time I have?

I want to fill more of my days with more activity: exercise more than three times per week, cultivate more friends, volunteer more at the animal shelter. Maybe writing it down will make it happen.