Many of us spend most of our life burning the proverbial candle at both ends.  We work while we attend college.  We raise kids while climbing the corporate ladder.  We try to save money, while spending more than we make.  It’s the American Dream, right?  Success has come to mean giant mortgages, cars that park themselves, a garage full of toys we never use and the bills to prove it.  Is this what you wanted to do with your life?  I didn’t think so.

Even those of us fortunate enough to work at a job we love eventually get sick and tired of the politics, the horrible bosses or the paper work.  Small business owners grow weary of government regulation and dealing with employees.  Doing the same thing for decades wears on you, even if you used to love it.  We start dreaming about retirement.  Traveling, golf, fishing or sitting on the porch complaining about the government, but we feel it’s out of reach.  We owe too much and don’t have enough saved and we’re not getting any younger.

Even if we decide to live frugally in retirement, we still need some money.  Most of us sigh and go back to work.  We don’t change our habits and we don’t start planning for that which we most desire, freedom.  It’s tough, I know.  Payments on all the debt we have accrued prevent you from building your savings.  Your lack of saving means every unexpected expenditure becomes more debt.  There seems to be no way out.

Well, the solution can be borrowed from our hyperactive lifestyles.  Burn the candle at both ends, but your financial candle.  Paying off debt and saving, two sides of the same coin really, is only half the solution.  Reducing your spending is the other half.  Doing both simultaneously is very powerful.  Every dollar you don’t spend is a dollar you can save.  You’ve dug a hole with one shovel, now you’re filling it with two.

This comes with pitfalls, most of them perceived.  You will have to resist the urge to keep up with the Joneses.  You will have to ignore the marketing that compels you to spend money on things you don’t need or want.  You will have to set limits and priorities.  Occasionally, you might feel like you’re doing without, though that is more perception than reality.  You might even find that when you wait to buy the latest gizmo until you have the money, you don’t really even want it anymore.

Honestly, reducing your spending might require drastic lifestyle changes if you are seriously overextended.  Most of us, however, can reduce pretty simply.  Maybe it’s reevaluating your internet, cell phone and cable plans.  Maybe its reducing your grocery bill, turning down the thermostat or buying a cheaper car.  How about that boat you never use but make the payments on or all those nights you eat out.  Maybe it’s the all too famous latte that everyone suggests you cut out of your routine.  Even small reductions can help pay down your debt or go into savings.

The result will be a simpler lifestyle and more of what you make going to productive purposes.  Retirement may become a reality instead of a pipe dream.  Then you have choices.  If you feel like working a little longer to save a little more, you can.  But if you don’t, you won’t need to make big sacrifices in order to quit working.  In fact, all that money you’ve been saving every month now can go into your pocket.  You might even end up with more money to spend in retirement!

Now don’t take any of this to mean you have to live a life of everlasting sacrifice.  It just means you spend your money on the things that are important to you and not on the things that aren’t, even if Madison Avenue or your coworkers tell you otherwise.  It’s about having enough stuff to live comfortably and no more.  If a home theater makes you happy and you’ll use it, by all means build one.  Just don’t do it because Phil at the office built one and thinks everyone should.

Some people have chosen to reduce spending so much they could retire immediately!  There are thousands of young retirees, including people in their 20’s and 30’s, who chucked it all, sold their stuff and now live in an RV, on a sailboat, in a tiny house or in a foreign country.  They might earn a little money here and there and might not even call themselves retired, but if it walks like a duck…

Even if you have kids, like me, you can still change your spending habits.  You might even teach your kids a few important lessons about life along the way.  You don’t have to drag them out on the road in an RV or move them to Costa Rica.  A smaller house, used cars, inexpensive vacations, etc. can all save you a lot of money.  Besides, what will your kids remember when they grow up?  The Beamer and the 5-star hotel rooms, or just the quality time you spent with them?

Working on your goals from both ends like this will not only improve your financial situation, but it will make you feel happier and more in control.  There are no shortcuts to retirement, but don’t make the journey longer than it has to be by not using all the available options.  Reducing your spending and paying off debt will not only get you piece of mind, it will get you your freedom back.

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