Not Always Either/Or. Sometimes It’s Both.

There’s an awful lot of divisiveness on the Internet on a range of topics these days.

And taking a controversial stand on something online often leads to more attention, thus perpetuating the echo chamber.

Is this getting worse?  Why is it so challenging to see the commonality rather than the differences?

The older I get, the more I realize it is possible to acknowledge two seemingly disparate thoughts at the same time.

Here’s a few examples, specifically related to personal finance:

  • While many people can pull themselves up by their bootstraps (or achieve FIRE), not everyone is fortunate enough to be in a situation to move up the socioeconomic ladder (or to retire early).
  • It’s possible to feel empathy for someone who is drowning in debt while at the same time celebrating the hard work and discipline that goes into paying it off.
  • It makes more logical sense to invest in the market rather than pay off a 4% mortgage, but there is a tremendous peace of mind for some people in being mortgage-free.
  • Some people are willing to work 80 hours a week to make more money and get to FI sooner, whereas others recognize that time is a finite resource and choose a slower route.
  • Pretty much everyone agrees an emergency fund is a great idea, but some feel better with a big pile of cash sitting in the bank.  Others might hate to lose out on market returns and choose a smaller e-fund with the option to leverage credit, home equity, or investments in time of need.
  • Work on that side hustle.  Turn it into a business if you want.  Or, spend your time working hard at your 9-to-5 if that’s where you’ll have the biggest payoff.
  • Common canon in the personal finance community says you should buy a used car but sometimes a new car might be the right choice.  (Side note: My first new car lasted me 13 years.  My second one is going strong at almost 5 years and I hope it lasts at least as long as my first one.)
  • Despite much evidence to the contrary, it’s not actually forbidden to have cable, if that’s your thing.
  • The 4% rule works for some while others might feel better with a 3% withdrawal rate.  Guess what?  I bet this depends on your risk tolerance…
  • Just because you haven’t been discriminated against when it comes to pay or promotions, that doesn’t mean that others haven’t.

The bottom line is that personal finance is personal.  It’s great to educate others, and to share your own experiences.  That’s what I love about this community.  But there’s not ONE TRUE WAY to go about being successful at this personal finance thing.

What personal finance canon have you seen that I didn’t include above?

Optimizing for Happiness

I recently listened to this episode of the ChooseFI podcast, where J from Millennial Boss talked about her career hacking.  She has made several moves to advance her salary and career, but now she is in a job she really enjoys and mentioned that she is working on optimizing for happiness.

This phrase struck a chord with me, especially since it aired shortly after I interviewed for another job.  Despite being sad when I initially declined the offer, it gave me a chance to reflect on my current situation – and it led me to a greater appreciation for all the things my current company and job have to offer.  I am optimizing for happiness right now and I didn’t even realize it.  Here are some of the factors contributing to that.

My job pays well.  It would be nice to make more, but since I’ve been in the workforce for a while, my pay is pretty good.   My pay looks even better when evaluated in relation to the number of hours I work and the stress level of my job.  I don’t work much overtime, and my job (generally) doesn’t keep me awake at night.  I’ve had jobs in the past, when I made less money, that required more hours of work and involved higher levels of stress.

My job has some great benefits.  I feel blessed that I could easily add Mr. FIREDup to my really good health insurance when he left his job this spring.  I was granted some stock options a couple of years ago and they will be partly vested this fall.  We have a gym at work; it’s free.  It has workout machines, fitness classes, a pool, and a locker room.  I recently found out that spouses can join our fitness center for free, too!  It’s amazing to have the opportunity to head out for a lunchtime run during the workweek when time allows.  Which leads to my next point…

My job has a fair amount of autonomy and flexibility.  I can work from home if I need to.  I can leave for a doctor’s appointment or take an early or late lunch break to get outside and enjoy a run on a sunny day.  My manager trusts me and my ability to get my work done and doesn’t micromanage me.  And in general, I work with intelligent, motivated, capable people.  This is something I likely take for granted as the average level of talent at this company is not typical of all workplaces.

I have amazing time off.  Since I’ve worked for my employer for a long time, I get a pretty good chunk of time off every year (at least by American standards).  My company also has a (paid) sabbatical program that I’ll be eligible for next year!

I don’t waste precious time commuting.  My commute is generally 30 minutes or less round-trip – plus I can work from home on occasion.  If I were to work in another part of the city, that would be 30-60 minutes a day of additional commuting time, which would directly eat into time with my family in the morning and evening.

At this point in my life, I don’t need to chase money, because we have enough to pay our bills; what is more precious to me is time, and I am maximizing that precious resource.  I’m optimizing for happiness.  What a lucky place to be.

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