Focus is considered one of the most important traits of success. It makes sense. If your mind is constantly wandering it is hard to stick to a project until completion.
Frugality also requires focus. I was lucky growing up in the boondocks where the siren song of spending was only visible in the hazy distance. The nearest store was seven miles away and groceries and miscellaneous hardware supplies were all that was sold. Eighteen miles in the other direction was the next nearest place to get separated from your money. Needless to say we didn’t travel that far often.
Before the days of Amazon and endless online shopping sites, I was content playing cops and robbers with my uncle, brother and a few neighborhood boys roughly my age, racing on our bikes around our 400 acre farm.
Working on the farm paid a small token only. I remember wanting a slingshot in grade school. Coming home from church (we never missed a service back then) dad stopped at Farm & Home, the local hardware store. They had a “wrist-rocket” slingshot for $7 and change. My allowance was 25 cents per week.
My passbook savings account (remember those things) had enough money, but I already had a bit of granddad in me: Never take off the pile. I started saving those quarters each week in a piggy bank. To earn that quarter I had to help feed the calves twice a day and other assorted farm chores.
Around seven months later I was the proud owner of a wrist-rocket slingshot. I snaked my hand through the handle. The loop where your hand went in pressed against the wrist when you pulled back the elastic band to increase the slingshot’s power. The bark would fly when a pebble left the slingshot, smashing into a tree.
For seven months I focused all my energy into saving enough for that slingshot. My biggest worry was Farm & Home would sell it to someone else. There is no proof, but I think my dad had something to do with that slingshot remaining on the shelf for over seven months.
Once I owned the object of my desire I focused on aiming better. My goal was to use the slingshot as a hunting weapon, putting a fresh bunny into the roaster. Things didn’t turn out as planned.
Focus is a powerful trait, but it can also cloud judgment. For seven months I only focused on one thing. Then I owned the object and within weeks the desire faded. I discovered it is better to want than to have, a lesson I frequently need to relearn.
The School Called
Last Thursday I worked from home. By mid-afternoon I had most of my work goal completed. Mrs. Accountant noticed I was ready for a break and asked, “Can we talk?” I knew that tone of voice. Something was wrong.
Mrs. Accountant explained the school councilor called about our youngest daughter. The school was worried she was depressed. So you don’t worry, my daughter was fine; a friend of hers misinterpreted having a down day with serious depression and reported it.
Before Mrs. Accountant and I knew our daughter was fine we tried to figure out what could have caused her to be depressed. She seemed fine at home.
Unfortunately, I have been a bit distant lately, focusing on my work (blog and practice). Life was good as a small business owner, but now with a blog I am working two full-time jobs (according to my office manager).
Excessive focus can harm relationships. My daughter is a senior. When the school year started the school set graduation on Memorial Day weekend, the same weekend I attend and speak at Camp Mustache in Seattle. I said we have to hope they change the date or I’ll not be able to go. My focus was so tight I failed to mention what event I was planning on skipping.
My youngest daughter thought I was cutting her graduation for business. I have to admit I am so focused on this blog and helping readers I actually toyed with the idea. I can be an ass at times. My daughter wanted me to be at her graduation.
I never realized what I did. My daughter wasn’t depressed as the school thought she was, but she wanted dad at her graduation. School doesn’t come easy for her and it means a lot mom and dad are there.
Called Into Action
The bus route this year in insane. My daughter is the first on in the morning and the last off at night. She spends over three hours a day on the bus to and from school. We don’t like wasting gas, but she sure loves when we find an excuse to take her in or pick her up at the end of the day.
Mrs. Accountant and I decided to pick our sweetheart up from school unannounced last Thursday. When school let out she was surprised to see us there waiting for her. We took her to Chilton for a chicken strip basket at Dairy Queen and took the time to speak with her to understand her feelings.
Before we got to DQ we knew everything was fine. But there were still several problems. Going to DQ for dinner is something we almost never do. In fact, nobody had eaten in a restaurant since late tax season. Dining out is something we rarely do, but this was getting excessive
Work is the perfect solution to spending. My normal frugal ways went into overdrive as my focus on this blog dug in deep. I brown bag lunch every day. I drink coffee at the office, never buying a cup at the gas station or anywhere else. Sometimes I bike to work, a 30 mile round trip.
With all my time consumed by my two jobs I was enjoying the hell out of myself so much I forgot there were people living around me.
Spending in a typical year ranges in the low 30s. As summer arrived and later school started again, I noticed I was spending almost nothing. I track every penny spent in our household and we hadn’t broken $1,000 a single month since January. My frugality was driving us to an annual spending level slightly under $12,000 for 2017. It has been a long time since I was so tight with the cash.
Not all of it was my fault. The cell phones were switched to Google Fi a while back so the phone bill for two phones was $40 per month. Gardens provided a good portion of our food and a simpler diet also cut costs. For some reason the utility bill was nonexistent. The bill last month was $56 and $20 of that is just to have service. I ran a small farm and my household on just over 300 kilowatts for the month!
As we ate our chicken strips I explained to my daughter there would be some changes. Now that she is seventeen I told her she should have her own phone, especially now that she is driving. When Mrs. Accountant and I are out of town she really needs a phone. (We have no landline.) That’ll add $20 a month to the recurring expense column. (I feel those recurring expenses acutely.)
Our daughter was also nervous about Mrs. Accountant and me heading out of town for FinCon. We made arrangements so she would never be alone. We also gave her the good news she could drive to school when we were gone. That brought a smile. (Good thing for daddy the school doesn’t have any parking fees. You’d have needed the smelling salts.)
I reiterated I would be attending her graduation. As much as I enjoy Camp Mustache in Seattle, my daughter is more important by miles. If people want to see me they have to attend FinCon or CampFI. This blog has a “Where Am I” calendar now showing my schedule. It is easy to meet up.
Dust Bunnies in the Wallet
My oldest daughter comes home from college each weekend. She enjoys the good life so she had several gap years before rolling up the sleeves and digging in. She also has matured a pile as she added a few years. She sounds like mom when she talks about other students. It seems many more lessons were digested than originally thought.
The girls wanted to go out to Funset Boulevard on Saturday. They had some coupons for a farmer’s market so they stopped there first, bought a fresh lunch and several dozen cobs of sweet corn with the coupons.
Funset Boulevard is billed as one of these family-friendly entertainment venues. They are as expensive as hell; my blood begins to clot even thinking about it. Funset has laser tag and other assorted games.
At first I was thinking the whole family should go, but then decided the girls might like some time out without parents around. The girls don’t mind mom and dad coming along. Still, the girls need to have girl’s time out. Besides, my oldest daughter wanted to talk with my youngest daughter privately to make sure nothing wasn’t wrong. It feels good as a parent to know they look out for each other.
When nobody was looking I slipped $40 to my youngest daughter to cover their expenses. I told her to share it with her sister, but to tease her it was a loan at 47% interest per day.
Forty dollars isn’t a lot of money at a place like Funset. The girls left around 9 a.m., went to the farmer’s market and then enjoyed a few hours at Funset. They spent $39.50, keeping the change. Dad noticed.
When deep in debt, massive frugality is required. However, once the crisis has passed, responsible spending is allowed.
The investment accounts have received a heavy dose of additional capital this year. The money had to go somewhere.
It took a short scare as a wakeup call. Concern I may have absconded my parental duties caused me to realign my focus in a more appropriate manner. Saving is a good thing. Saving 90% of my income for no reason might be going a bit too far.
Focus is good as long as the focus in on the right things. Focus at work, even pleasant and enjoyable work, should stay at the office. Focus on family is required at home. Having my own business means the line between business and family is blurred. It’s still no excuse.
I’m lucky. I’ve always been lucky. Things always seem to work out. I forgot my duties as a father and my daughter didn’t flip out or try drugs or get knocked up. She waited for dad to come to his senses, even if only momentarily. Then dad sinks into a book or his writing or work. I am one very lucky daddy.
But I can’t take luck for granted. You can be too frugal, as I sometimes am. This year got extreme. It does illustrate how little money a person can survive on.
I love the girls in my house. I found the right woman and married her. She stayed with me even when I tested her to the limit. She deserves the “Wife of the Millennium” award for putting up with me. My daughters have never been in trouble, unlike dad. No drugs, alcohol, police visits, late nights (except for my oldest daughter reading like dear old dad until the wee hours of the morning), boyfriend drama, pregnancy or disrespect ever entered our household. My girls are the best.
It will be hard for me to do the right thing. I suggested we make it a point to go out to eat once per month and to see a movie or check out a museum or some other sort of entertainment monthly. It doesn’t have to cost much. The goal is to put work down and enjoy family time.
Very successful people sometimes have difficult personal lives. Laser focus can eventually destroy a family. And a destroyed family is not frugal, nor is it right to put the people you love under such stress.
Frugality is part of this demographic. I get it. It is important for good mental, physical and spiritual health to put an all-encompassing hobby down for other activities.
Call it mad money, FU money or anything you want. Just make sure you use it with the people you love most.
Now that is something to focus on.
Monday 2nd of October 2017
Thanks for posting on how to be too frugal (aka cheap). The first step is admitting....
Supersavers struggle with this concept but if we loosen the purse-strings a bit, we reach a happy frugal/cheap balance. As a physician with a PA wife, we do well, and my litmus test to see if I'm at that sweet spot of frugal/cheap is compare to my physician friends. I have several that live more lavish that I'd like and a few that are too cheap. If I find myself in between, I don't even worry about it. A yeah, the right restaurant is the key, you're eating at DQ and MDs (i worked there in high school). Go to Seattle and have a just off the boat tuna rare with a side of local grown rice. Disgusting?? I think not : )
Monday 2nd of October 2017
I'm sure the tuna is good in Seattle, but it's a 3000 mile hike. What I need is a good restaurant across the road from my farm in the boondocks. Actually, we have a bar and grill a couple miles down the road, but it is bar food.
Sunday 1st of October 2017
I'm curious...for you, what value do you get from being so frugal? I'm personally frugal because my net worth is a lot less than $12 million (a lot, lot less) and I want to have as many choices about how I live my life as possible. But if my net worth were $12 million, I'd personally quit my job, travel the world, eat out often (although not all the time, because I enjoy cooking and don't want to die young from a heart attack), and probably stop being frugal. Is it lack of interest in spending money or force of habit that keeps you so frugal?
Sunday 1st of October 2017
Probably both, SD, but lack of interest in spending is highest on the list. Spending takes time and effort I don't want to spend. What would I spend on that would make me happy? I'm already happy and more stuff would not make me happier. Traveling doesn't thrill me unless there is a reason to go, ie. business. Eating out is disgusting once you raise your own food and discover what real food is. And if I quit my job, what would I do to fill my day? After serious soul searching I discovered I would do what I'm doing right now! So I keep running my practice and writing a blog. If I lose interest I'll move on to something else that does interest me.
Money reveals who you are. When you don't have to, you discover the person you are. If you enjoy traveling, do it; if you enjoy eating at a variety of restaurants, do it; if you prefer a different line of work, do it. My way is best for me, not you. I just throw ideas out there for you to use in discovering your path.
If I have to live up to societal expectations because I have money I'll tell people I'm poor as dirt so I don't have to act the way I'm "supposed" to. Once upon a time I thought having money meant I could sit around and read all day. It doesn't work that way. Still go for the money, SD, but leave yourself open for change. It's a lot different when you get there. (And you'll be judged for having money. Develope a thick skin early. Once "you" did the things necessary to have money people will tell you how you must live since you have money. For me, I still wear jogging pants and t-shirt to the office many times. I am who I am. You can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy.)
The Sunday Best (10/1/2017) - Physician on FIRE
Sunday 1st of October 2017
[…] This week, I discussed the difference between acting frugal and cheap. The Wealthy Accountant, who is worth some $12.6 Million, realized he was on pace to spend about $12,000 for the year. That’s a 0.1% SAFEST withdrawal rate, and he realizes that is Too Frugal. […]
Wednesday 27th of September 2017
More curious than anything, did you retire your mortgage or is it calculated in the 1k per month?
Either way, impressive. Without mortgage we could do it, but not with.
Wednesday 27th of September 2017
No I didn't, Gene. But you got me thinking so I went back and checked. During the winter and spring my spending exceeded $1,000 when mortgage interest was added. (My monthly interest is below $175 per month. Farm loans get good rates if your credit score is 828.) However, including mortgage interest, my spending never exceeded $1,000 from May to September. My goal is to lighten up and spend some FU money at FinCon in October. Man has to have a plan.
Monday 25th of September 2017
You wrote you use 300 kilowatts a the month and that's with a hot tub & jacuzzi? I don't see how that is possible. Do you have an a/c? I have 2,000 sq. ft. house that is currently vacant. Everything is turned off except the refrigerator and some clock radios. The smoke alarms are on an electric circuit as is the home alarm system. That uses 120 kw per month. In the summer, I use 60 kW per day just for the a/c. Add in a computer, a TV, the wireless router, interior lights, the electric garage door, exterior lights, electric space heater, etc. and I am approaching 2,000 kW per month in the summer; maybe 500 kW per month in the winter.
Great story about parenting. I'm not quite sure about the frugality angle. It seems like your daughter was more upset about your potential absence from her graduation and your spending too much time at work. I guess the fact that you gave her $40 and she spent $39.50 implies pent up spending desires. Still that's only $19.75 per person for "a few hours" which works out to approximately $5 per hour per person...not too expensive as far as entertainment goes. On par with a movie (no concessions of course).
I saw similar behavior from my father. My parents saved for a lifetime and then when my father really needed to spend the money on his own health & welfare, he refused to out of habit. I can't recall if you wrote about it but if it is your intention to leave your entire estate to your daughters, I would recommend teaching them how to enjoy money. Everything in FIRE is frugal, frugal and more frugal but if you amass enough you need to consider ways to spend down that amount.
My father died few years ago and I was thinking about how my life has changed as a result of a modest inheritance. My net worth doubled. I could only think of three items I spend more on now when compared to before his death. 1) insurance premiums; I increased my liability coverage which subsequently increased my premiums. 2) parking; rather than take public transit or park for free a mile away, I am now willing to pay for parking as I consider it a convenience. Even then it's not something I do often but on weekends if my schedule is tight, I will drive and pay for parking. 3) gifts; my "go to" gift for several years has been high end Swiss chocolate. I'm buying larger sized and more expensive samplers as gifts now.
I think my inability or unwillingness to spend more money is a result of a lifetime of example by my parents.
Monday 25th of September 2017
Dan, We empty the hot tub except for the coldest part of winter and haven't used the Jacuzzi in years. Our home has a geothermal heat pump to heat, air condition and heat water. Summer was cool in Wisconsin this year with the exception of the last week. We were close to considering the furnace in late August as daytime highs were only around 60 F. The AC never went on this year which is usual for us. When it gets warm we circulate basement air and use ceiling fans. The TV rarely goes on and computers and lights don't use that much. Part of the decline is my oldest daughter now in college. She was using a disproportionate amount of electricity.
The $40 thing was my way of saying "have fun". Smart girls they are, only used the money I gave them and stopped. I am one proud daddy. $40 isn't much when considering how much everything at Funset costs. Personally, I didn't think it would cover it, but the frugal mini-accountants enjoyed their day with the gift from dad. It was a free day of fun.
My legacy: I will not dump all the money on my girls and my legacy will be spread out over 15 years. As I wrote this post I started considering an annual gift once per year around the holidays. My encouragement will be to save the original gift and only spend the income stream at the max. I wrote a few articles here about this in the past. I'd have to look them up.
As for frugality, for the first time ever I upgraded our air flight to FinCon. Jim Collins and I talked about that earlier (look up Conclave in the Archive.). I will spend more in some instances. My point is spending went out of control in the opposite way it does for many people. The hyper frugal show up here and in other blogs so I thought it would be a good idea to address the issue.
Thanks for the comments, Dan.