How One Book Changed My Relationship With Money

How One Book Changed My Relationship With Money


If you are paid $25 per hour for a 40-hour workweek, for instance, but spend 30 additional hours commuting, decompressing or nursing stress-induced headaches, and $300 goes toward your business suits, your “real” hourly wage is $10 per hour. That means a $100 splurge at Sephora costs you 600 minutes of your life. You’re forced to ask, at every turn, “Was it worth it?“

“Your Money” redefines not only your relationship to money, but also to work itself.

Ms. Robin calls our jobs, what we do to put food on the table, “paid employment,” and argues that our collective definition of work should be expanded to include “any productive or purposeful activity,” such as caring for a child or volunteering at a homeless shelter. Money and “paid employment,” then, should help us live fuller lives, but not dominate them.

For the writers, this realization manifested in a commitment to early retirement — not from work as defined by Ms. Robin, but from the nine-to-five grind. They zoned in on how much they needed, saved aggressively and invested smartly and early; now, Ms. Robin lives off the income she earns from those investments. And she is working with Millennial Money blogger Grant Sabatier (the millionaire whose story originally piqued my interest in the book) to create an online community for “Your Money” devotees. Mr. Sabatier famously increased his bank account balance from $2.26 to $1 million in five years, and he credits the book for lighting a fire under him.

Photo

Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin in 1992.

Credit
Yuen Lui

“Ninety percent of my brain was dedicated to making money,” he said. “After I reached financial independence, it’s literally like 90 percent of my brain opened up.”

In 2016, when I quit my job and moved to the Dominican Republic for a few months, using my limited savings and some freelance income to live a quality life, I felt a similar clearing of mental space. I also witnessed firsthand the sustainable way my family and others lived there. Most had fruit trees bearing coconuts, star fruit or mangoes growing on the land surrounding their houses, and my grandmother and aunts owned hogs and chickens that they’d eventually sell or eat. Family gatherings happened in my aunt’s living room, with one cousin contributing a few jumbo sized Brahma or Presidente bottles of beer and an uncle or aunt, a portion of the meal. When one of the wealthier neighbors in our countryside built a well, he installed a spout outside his home so anyone could fill their buckets with clean water. It was nothing like the drinks-after-work, brunch-every-weekend, treat-yourself life I lived in New York, and yet it was no less joyful.

I know much of what I witnessed in the Dominican Republic isn’t replicable here (it’s much harder to raise goats or pigs in my concrete yard in Queens), and that frugality as a choice is a privilege that does not solve the real issues of inequality that force many to live paycheck-to-paycheck. But Ms. Robin argues that if more people adopted the tenets of the book, there would be more resources to go around.

“Your Money” encouraged me to scrutinize my spending, and habits and patterns quickly emerged: I was impulsive and often overspent on credit. I gave frequently — to street performers or the homeless; to family and friends; to the fund-raisers who walk beside you down city streets to convince you to donate to a good cause. It’s an area I’d never accounted for in the past, but I started setting money aside for this purpose. I forced myself to use only what I had in my bank account, which helped me realize that my credit spending was based in fear — I was afraid of running into the walls set by my debit card balance, so I used my credit cards even when I had money in my account. Once I started spending only what I had, my spending became less mindless. I felt more aware and in control.

“Your Money” teaches very concrete methods of keeping track of your finances — there are spreadsheets and expense tracking, simple graphs and investment recommendations — but what I took away from it was a shift in thinking, from chasing money for the sake of having it to using it in service to my goals: to help my parents, achieve financial and mental freedom and continue to write full-time. It worked for my family: My dad’s thriftiness helped him buy a home and start his own small business, and it helped my aunts purchase property back on the island for their retirement. I’d forgotten the values I learned as a child. “Your Money” reminded me.



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