If life is the currency, I’m already rich.

J. Money has started a “Million Dollar Club” at his site, Budgets Are Sexy. Nicoleandmaggie from Grumpy Rumblings of the Untenured isn’t rushing to join.

(I’m not really sure which of the two bloggers wrote this, so I’m going to guess that it was Nicole. I have a 50% chance of being right.)

Nicole and her spouse are making some smart choices, such as paying the mortgage off early, being canny about retirement funds and living on less than one salary. In this post she noted that throwing every extra dime and spare minute toward millionaire-hood would get them there faster.

But.

To do so would mean giving up things like charitable donations, trips to the used bookstore, the option of having a second child, or even simply trying a new variety of cheese now and then.

“I’m not willing to make deep sacrifices for something that isn’t going to change my quality of life that much in the future,” she writes.

Me either. Besides: If life is the currency, then I’m already rich.

Sweet corn and old friends

It’s precisely because I’m not chasing wealth that I have been able to spend six of the last nine months visiting friends and relatives in New Jersey, Alaska and Arizona. Two of those trips occurred due to serious illness of family members. Right now I’m in South Jersey visiting an aunt who is not likely to survive chemo.

Then again, last April I rushed here to visit another aunt who was very ill with pneumonia and not expected to live. She’s 87 and still with us. I’m visiting her three or four times a week, too. I have that luxury because as a freelance writer I can work from wherever I happen to be.

In addition to visiting my aunts I’ve been able to help my dad on his Christmas tree farm. I’ve hung out with my brother and his family. I’ve met my niece’s husband and baby. I had a great breakfast meeting with Flexo of Consumerism Commentary (boy, do I miss Jersey diners).

I spent some time listening to an old friend with a serious illness pour out her fears and anguish. I’ve eaten really good sweet corn, tomatoes and peaches (and far too many Tastykakes). I’ve driven around the area where I grew up and ruminated on who I was then vs. who I am now. And I’m hoping to make side trips to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. before I go back to Seattle at the end of the month.

Couldn’t do those things if I were a regular working stiff.

Not ignoring the risks

Had I taken a job as soon as I finished my degree last December, I’d have had to wait at least a year to earn vacation time – and it probably would have been only a week’s worth. I’d also have had either to quit writing for MSN or not create Surviving and Thriving. Both options are unpalatable.

I can easily survive on what I earn because I live simply. I save where I can so I can spend where I want. My income is a tool, not a toy: I use it to craft a life that works for me.

And this life does work for me. I plan to live as a freelancer (which pretty much precludes millionaire-hood) for as long as I can get away with it.

I’m not ignoring the risks, mind you. Like Nicole, I’m mixing short-term serendipity with long-term security. I do have some retirement monies from my newspapering days. I’m funding an individual retirement account and I have a solid emergency fund. I also have health insurance; it’s pricey but I pay it because no machine runs for more than 50 years without some maintenance issues. And I bought a life insurance policy so that I can leave something for my daughter, who has a chronic illness.

Life holds no guarantees

When I think about money as “security,” I get a mental picture of someone sitting in a bank vault surrounded by piles of cash that he is unwilling to share. I don’t want to be Scrooge McDuck, backstroking through an ocean of dollars and singing, “Mine, mine, all mine!”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years on the planet, it’s that there’s no such thing as security. Your job, your health, the economy can all go south with incredible rapidity.

Suppose I’d found a full-time job after college (and these days, that’s a big “if”). Right now I could be making more money. But I’d likely be spending more money; working people often do.

More to the point, I wouldn’t be making a difference. For every obnoxious (and conveniently anonymous) comment I get on MSN Money, I also get feedback like “I’m out of debt because of you” or “I’m back in school because of you.”

Knowing that I’ve inspired people to change their lives is something I wouldn’t trade for a 9-to-5 with a dental plan.

Living a freelance life lets me spend time with the people I love. It lets me travel. It gives me the flexibility to, say, take a house-sitting job in New York City on the spur of the moment. (And if you know any Manhattan residents who need someone to feed Fluffy and water the plants, give ’em my e-mail address.)

I’m 52 years old – when am I going to allow myself the luxury of life’s surprises if I don’t do it now?


27 Comments

  1. You’re absolutely right, Donna. After working as a full-time freelancer for the past year, I’ve really only begun to appreciate the freedoms it’s given me. I’ve been able to travel to Italy, Los Angeles, and Mexico over the past several months – trips that would have been difficult were I still working full-time as a cook and only writing on the side.

    I still struggle with stretching a freelancer’s budget over those thin periods. In fact, I’m in the midst of one of those moments now (“Blanche, you’re soaking in it!”) but the freedom I have is hard to give up. When I think of returning to a 40 hour a week job, my heart starts to race.

    I don’t have a lot of money and I don’t get to buy big ticket items like some of my friends. Somehow, I’m learning that’s far less important than maintaining my sanity. I do get to volunteer and participate in activities at my temple, I get to meet interesting people through my work, and I have more time to spend with the people I love.

    Life is about choices and I’m coming to see that I’ve made the better choice.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Eric: I think that you and I both wouldn’t trade the whole of our lives, although the thin periods are a little scary.
      But you live in a nice place, have great friends, do work you enjoy (and that helps others) and volunteer. I’d say that’s a great definition of “the good life.”
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  2. Besides, you need to save up so that, when you come and visit, you can take your wonderful daughter and son-in-law out to eat!

  3. Susan Morgan

    Hi Donna AND Eric! Ah, I love you both and am so happy you’ve crafted such lovely lives. It shows in both of your faces.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Susan: Thanks for your comment. I’m coming back up in December. Want to do the Talkeetna Bachelors Auction and Wilderness Woman Competition with Linda and me?

  4. Great post. And you are incredibly inspiring!

    And I’m glad our post inspired this one. :) Thanks for the link-ups.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Nicole: Was I right, then? Was it you who wrote that?
      Your ability to sort the wheat from the chaff makes me feel good about my own choices. Keep writing!

  5. Can’t tell you who wrote it, or I will violate the implicit contract of our About statement. I can’t even say which one of us likes mushrooms!

  6. Lol! I thought Janet Evanovich made up Tasty-Kakes, didn’t know they were real! =D
    This post I have to agree with unilaterally. Donna. you know my parents, we are not the dress to impress, social climbing type & I love it. They truly embedded the idea of “if we have each other, we have a lot” in me & I couldn’t be more grateful. <3 Nothing is ever worth passing up a bite of amazing cheese!!!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Leah: Go to http://www.tastykake.com/. Then drool.
      I’ve mailed two USPS flat-rate boxes of them up to Anchorage so far, for my expatriate niece. Along with a new (and evil) discovery: Miniature gingersnap-type cookies put together with a cream filling, like Oreos. I mailed her a box of those, too. It’s like that movie “The Ring”: The only way to free yourself from the curse is to pass it along to someone else. ;-)
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  7. I absolutely love this article and shared it on Facebook. I read a lot of personal finance blogs, and it can be really easy to focus on your net worth and building that as quickly as possible. I was really happy to see this blog post that encouraged enjoying the process as well.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Shena: Thanks for sharing the link. I’m with you on the PF blogs — some of them making the accumulation of wealth the absolute be-all and end-all.

  8. Leah– my new love is St. Andre.

  9. Donna,
    I’m envious of your freedom…
    I couldn’t just pick up and travel and visit friends and relatives…with four kids, 2 at home, a husband, and a needy golden retriever, my hands are full. But you are right. It’s important to live in the present, not saving only for the future.
    Great post.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Sharon: That reminds me of the joke about the priest, the minister and the rabbi discussing the issue of when life begins.
      “Life begins at conception,” the priest said.
      “Life begins at viability,” the minister said.
      “You’re both wrong,” the rabbit said. “Life begins when the dog dies and the children leave home.”
      But seriously: Watch for a break in the wire, and then RUN! Even if it’s just for a long weekend. When you’re feeling better, that is. How’s the healing process going? Will you be towing tractor-trailers with a chain held in your teeth in time for the wedding? Inquiring minds want to know.

  10. As long as I have my supply of percocet, I should be okay for the wedding. Thanks for asking!

    I may just have to escape some weekend after the wedding. I might even bring my husband! :)

  11. Thank you for this! Obviously I’ll ever be a millionare now (living on a widows pension and social security soon enough). but even if things were to change, while I would obviously enjoy more security (and hope to get it with a new business ready to open), there has to be a difference between building weath and heading to millionaire hood (is that even a world??), and making oneself secure in retirement. Life is to be lived now, wherever now is for you. one of the problems i have with the Dave ramsey school of thought is the “build wealth, build wealth” that comes after the “eliminate debt, eliminate debt” part. How about live without debt, on an even keel and see how that works for ya-

  12. I finally have the career I have always wanted and it does not give me your level of freedom but it does provide me with happiness and fulfillment (a first in my life). If you are going to be in the DC area soon, let us readers know and maybe we can do a mall meet up or something!

    • Donna Freedman

      @CandiO: Let’s hear it for happiness and fulfillment! I’m right there with you because I’ve never been happier.
      Thanks for reading.

  13. Well said, I think this is one of my favorite. I love the idea of putting it all in perspective.
    Have a great weekend!!

  14. I am all for enjoying the ‘now’. I could save more, but I would rather have experiences with my kids. So, we take decent vacations and I don’t feel guilty about it. Life is for living. It is also for being responsible, and it is possible to do both.

  15. Love, Love, Love this post and especially the title! I admire the fact that you freelance. A lot of people stay in jobs they dislike just so they can continue to buy things they don’t really need.

    I’m trying more and more to savor my relationships and experiences with others. I think your trips and visits with family members speak to the heart of your goals. The goal is not to put money in a vault, it’s to spend time with the people we love!

    By the way if you make it to DC definitely let me know. I’d love to meet up.

    • Donna Freedman

      You’re in D.C., too? Jeez, the place is lousy with PF bloggers!
      Thanks for your kind words.

  16. Firstly, you would have to work a year before holidays and then you’d only get a week?????!!!!! What the hell!!! I’m Irish and that sounds awful!!!! We get 20 days here in most jobs. And a fair few Bank Holiday Mondays too. Work life balance and all that!
    I was reading one of your travel posts and saw that you stay in hostels. I was wondering if you had ever tried couchsurfing? Its cheap coz its free, I think you just have to be available to return the favour. Heres their website, would love to read about your experiences!!! http://www.couchsurfing.org/
    Also, as a Psychologist, I reckon you are not paying enough attention to the possibility that the young guy thought you were attractive. So allow yourslef to consider it ;-)
    Love the blog, keep it up!!

  17. Donna Polofsky

    I hate to malign money. I’ve always wanted to get lots of it but I never cared about keeping lots of it. I love to be able to do things for other people. I think I have a fairy-godmother complex :)

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