Nothing but groceries and gas

An acquaintance of mine told me that she hadn’t paid for anything other than groceries and gas in months. I admire this, and I also find it hard to fathom.

I think we live pretty cheaply. This can mainly be seen in our housing – our house cost $115,000, and although our salaries have quadrupled since we bought it, we have no plans to move. Our two cars have a total of 290,000 miles on them, and while we made do with one car for a long time, and buying a newish soccer mom van felt like we were being traitors to the cause, it’s not like we’re living large in Ferraris.

But never, even in my poorest, cheapest days, could I say I went months without buying something. Birthday presents, the rare night at a restaurant with my husband, new rain boots to replace the old ones. With kids it’s much worse: gift shop purchases, school fundraiser t-shirts, scholastic books, fast food on a long drive, Easter baskets, slime materials (I’m a masochist, it turns out).

I want to be financially independent, mostly because I want to feel secure. My parents are still working at 72 and 76, and, in contrast, someday I want to say “my daughter just had a baby and I’m just going to go stay with her for two weeks to help out.” I want to make good choices with my money, so I don’t piss it away on things that don’t matter.

I also want to live now. I want to see the joy in my kids’ faces when I finally agree to let them get that stupid overpriced thing at the gift shop. I want to drive 19 hours to see my parents and not have to worry about packing every last snack. I want my kids to have a party that ends up looking like this:

The aftermath of slime

I wonder if I can’t go all in on being frugal because I don’t hate my job. Not only do I not hate my job, I think I could happily do it until I’m 80. I wonder if my life would be more fulfilling if I could just shut off those spending faucets completely, retire in three years (but to what, I wonder? To also never buying a thing in a gift shop?). I wonder if I’m failing at this FI game because I don’t have the discipline – or maybe I just don’t have a strong enough desire.

I am jealous of people who have the rigid self-control that I lack, who can really walk the walk and put every penny that isn’t for true necessities into their future. It doesn’t work that way for me. If I’m being honest, our retirement accounts would probably be hovering at zero if I didn’t get money taken out first, before I ever see it.

We are doing okay. I think we are on track to have a decent amount of money come retirement time, and since I’d kind of like to work forever, that’s good enough. On the other hand, we could have more in retirement if I’d just stop it with the not necessary spending. I guess my main question is this: at what point do the future rewards make up for complete present austerity? For me, for now, they don’t.

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