MONEY/LIFE BALANCE: Your Money Or Your Life Program Step 1

In seven years I managed to transform my financial life to the point where I stopped working for money. Using the book Your Money Or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin as a guide, I gained the knowledge to make this happen.

This is the first in a series of nine articles (published every Friday and Monday for the next month) that make up a condensed and updated Simple Living Guide based on the steps of the Your Money Or Your Life program. In each article, I’ll write about my own experiences in applying the steps. I’d like to dedicate this project to Joe Dominguez, who passed away on January 11, 1997. Thank you, Joe. You and Vicki helped me to create a life of freedom and delight.

Chapter 1: The money trap—The old road map for money

The first chapter begins by laying out a grim picture of most people’s financial lives—how we find ourselves locked into our jobs, spending our lives just working to pay the bills. It’s all true. Consumer debt now exceeds $2.7 trillion, or $8,600 per capita. That’s excluding mortgages, and those all-too-common home equity lines of credit. When I worked full-time, I never had a “9 to 5 job.” They were always 8 to 5, with a theoretical lunch break. But now it’s more like “work all day.” A 2012 poll by Good Technology found that 80 percent of Americans surveyed check work email and answer calls after working hours, making up an extra day of work per week. Sixty eight percent check work email before 8 a.m., 69 percent won’t go to bed without first checking their email and 57 percent read work emails even while on family outings.

It would be one thing if we really loved the way we’re living. But the thing is, it’s not working out that way. Consider the book’s introduction of the “Fulfillment Curve,” showing the way our satisfaction actually drops when we’ve gone too far down the road of buying more and more stuff. Sure enough, we see a correlation in the use of antidepressant medications today in the United States. According to the CDC, 11 percent of Americans now take antidepressants, which is up nearly 400 percent in the past two decades. Those big-screen TVs just don’t seem to be making us any happier!

For me, the appeal of the book was that the description the authors laid out matched my own experience. I was working full-time at a job I enjoyed but didn’t love. I was commuting about 1.5 hours per day. I never had enough time for all the outdoor activities I cherished. I wanted to be outside more, instead of spending the best part of each day in a cubicle. I spent a lot of money on new things which brought momentary happiness, only to end up with a cluttered garage. I had a wonderful dog, but not enough time to spend with her. I was always tired, drinking soft drinks and munching sugary snacks at work to stay awake. I was nearly 100 pounds overweight.

Making peace with the past

The first step the authors’ present is to look at our financial history, consider what we’ve done, and accept it. The idea is to give us a clean slate. What’s past is now history. We’re moving on. For me, it was embarrassing. I didn’t want to look at what I had done. In reviewing it, I came to accept it. By now it’s a sort of novelty. I look back and smile at the way I used to live.

The first part of Step 1 is to calculate how much we have earned in our lives. The authors say to do this meticulously. While many people do, I confess that I didn’t. I figured out a reasonable estimate, which was about $276,000. At the time, I was 28 years old. I was a software engineer, generating a good income.

The second part of Step 1 is to calculate what we’ve got to show for it. In short, we create a personal balance sheet. In my case, I was over $12,000 in credit card debt, but I owned a home with about $10,000 in equity. I guessed the total value of my possessions to be about $5,000. The result was that I had a financial “net worth” of about $3,000. That’s it, after earning $276,000!

I think the most important message the authors give us is, “No shame, no blame.” Emotions such as guilt and regret don’t help us at all. We can’t change the past. The key is to know how we have been living, so we can make a conscious change towards a better way of life. We come to know our tendencies. We know what we want to change! We recognize our own dissatisfaction. We have no one to impress, and we have nothing to be embarrassed about. That was all before. Now we don’t live that way. Now we live the way we want to. Our choices become conscious.

Step 2 is where things get interesting. The authors talk frankly about money, and give some concrete tasks to be done in our lives. At this point, we start collecting some hard data that is the key to recognizing what we’re doing. It’s some simple left-brained thinking that’s coming up, using clear numbers and statements in an effort to create lives which match our personal values. Hang in there, this is just starting to get good!

Come back on Monday for Step 2 of the Simple Living Guide

Fred Ecks is a dedicated follower of the program detailed in Your Money Or Your Life. He uses the time freed up in his life for writing, volunteering, sailing and trail running. He maintains a Web Log at www.crazyguyonabike.com.