Fall Update — Some Progress, Some Setbacks

Time is really flying by — 2013 is almost coming to a close.  Yet the future seems no more certain than it did a year ago.  That’s not to say things are going well — things at work are fine (albeit a little slow) and our net worth hit the seven-figure mark a few months ago.  But I’m plagued by malaise, lack of long-term vision, and on top of that, it seems like our spending has been out of control.

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(source: New Yorker)

As a lawyer, I’ve come to expect that my life will revolve around work.  As sad as that sounds, it’s the truth.  But I always seize opportunities to make my life easier by, for example, delegating tasks to junior attorneys.  I’ve hit my hours already this year, and I’ve delegated most of my work to others.  That leaves me showing up to work at noon and leaving before 5 pm on most days.  That would be great, except I’m really not taking any advantage of my new found time.

Instead of being productive, I find myself surfing the web, playing video games, and watching Netflix.  As weeks turn to months, I start to feel like I’m squandering something valuable.  It also calls into question whether I’m suited for early retirement.  This feeling has cast a cloud over me and, in turn, I feel more sluggish and less motivated.

For me, the best feeling is when I’m engrossed in a project.  I get on a natural high and time seems to fly by.  I’ve been trying to find discrete projects for myself to capture that feeling (like the recent effort to go paperless).  But discrete projects are short and fleeting.  I feel like I lack substance and I’m not really driven by anything except a basic want of security and leisure.  I want to discover things that exhilarate me, but so far I feel like I’ve been poking around an empty box.

*  *  *

The other subject bothering me lately has been our spending.  This time, it’s not even my wife’s fault, it’s all mine.  My ability to distinguish between needs and wants has disappeared.  Some examples: I spent over $1,000 to replace my car’s bumper — it only had minor damage.  We spent $250 at a Michelin-ranked restaurant on Saturday, followed by a $100 dinner on Sunday.  We bought a smartphone and are considering a tablet.  I bought some random gadgets from Amazon either because I needed to replace something that broke or because they just seemed irresistible.  I signed up for 2 credit cards with annual fees so we could get a bunch of Southwest points and a Companion Pass.  I encouraged my wife to buy higher quality (and more expensive) clothing and shoes.  That’s all in the last month.

I could rationalize all of those purchases (like the first dinner was to celebrate a special occasion), and some will even save us money in the long run (like purchasing the smartphone allows us to switch to Ting and ultimately slash our phone bill significantly, and the Companion Pass will allow my wife to fly with me for free for almost 2 years).  But taken together it’s a lot of spending.  I’m not sure if I’m just trying to make myself feel better, or if this is being fed by my instinct to constantly optimize things in my life.  I’m sure it’s a combination.  In mitigation, we’ve been trying to donate/sell items that we no longer need, especially those that are no longer needed as a result of new purchases.

I think another reason I’ve been more willing to spend money is there has been a disconnect between our spending and our savings.  Our spending target is under $4,000 a month, or $45,000 a year.  Our savings target is calculated based on the spending target — you can save what you don’t spend, right?  But lately, the stock market has been going gangbusters — to the point that some people are starting to get nervous.  Our net worth went up $41K last month.  Most of that increase was due to the market, not our savings.  If we kept true to our spending target (which we probably did not as discussed above), then we should have saved $16,500.  That means the market handed us almost $25,000 without us having to lift a finger.  It used to be easier to save when there was a tangible link between the amount spent and the amount saved.

6 thoughts on “Fall Update — Some Progress, Some Setbacks

  1. those theories you came up with are sound but I wonder if you’re self sabotaging. lol j/k sorta…

    I mean, from reading what you just wrote, I feel like you still don’t have a solid plan of what you want to do and where you want to go, when you reach FI. Will you keep working, try a new hobbies or travel on a sabbatical? Maybe find a job that suits you better? ( I think I remember reading a post about you stressing over work and saying as a INTJ, your personality doesn’t fit being a lawyer?)

    Maybe you’re not putting so much importance on being frugal because, you’re so close to you’re financial independence goal, and when you get there you might not know what to do with yourself.

    • You’re right that I need to find some direction. I hope I am not self sabotaging — I would still welcome financial independence even if I decided to continue working. Actually I know quite a few lawyers who hit the IPO lottery and quit, only to come back a few years later. Do you have a long-term plan for yourself?

  2. Hi there. We all suffer setbacks. I take it as a positive that things I wouldn’t have blinked an eye at buying two years ago now make me cringe to buy. It’s a good sign that your spending is bothering you so much.

    By the way, I also lack a clear plan of what I’m going to do after reaching FI, but it’s surely not what I’m doing now. That is plenty enough motivation for me, and it sounds like enough for you as well.

      • Three more years for me… assuming I stay at my law firm. So far no major changes to the goal but my wife and I sit down to reevaluate every few months.

  3. So I just came across your blog via Budgets are Sexy and already I can say that I can relate to you. Not on the large leaps and bounds of net worth growth, I’m not there yet. But I can relate to filling your time with things that aren’t necessarily productive. I work from home, so I work in 1 to 2 hour bursts followed by an hour or so of nothing. At first, I would just watch netflix and kind of loaf about. I need constant goals to stay focused.

    With that said, do you ever do charity work? Maybe you could volunteer your legal skills in the pro bono arena more or start a clinic for low income litigants. I haven’t read TOO far into your site but hey, just throwing out ideas 🙂 I hope you can find your way out of this malaise!

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