Over the last two years, I have learned a lot about my spending, finances, and life, by examining carefully how I have lived my life - and by extension how Americans live their lives. Socrates once said "An unexamined life is a life not worth living" to which Mark Twain supposedly replied that "a life too closely examined might not be lived at all."
Few of us are in danger of falling into the trap Mr. Twain warns of, as most Americans' lives are drowned out in the noise of TeeVee, cell phones, text messaging, explosion movies, Twitter, Facebook, and all the distractions of the modern era. Most folks never, ever examine any aspect of their lives, period.
Very few of us sit back and really examine our lives, our real motives, our habits, or what makes us tick. It is outside of our comfort zone, frankly. Too Scary!
But if you do, and do not draw away in horror, you may find comfort in understanding yourself and your motives better - and believing in your own ideas over the noise and distraction trumpeted by the TeeVee and mass media.
In the last few months, much of what I have written about has coalesced in my mind, and we have taken more drastic action to re-arrange our lives to better suit our needs and to be happier. Here is our battle plan for next year:
1. Debt-Free by 2012: We can sell the vacation home and pay off nearly all our debts, including mortgage debt and owe NO ONE any money. We can do this. So why not do it? Having two homes has been fun, but a lot of work, too. No, it is better to sell it off and learn to live on less and have more fun and less stress.
2. Forget Pride: One reason I "hung on" to things like the lake house, six cars, and two boats, was because of pride. Yea, it was a status thing to live the lifestyle we had - and still have. But you know, pride goeth before the fall, and I'm all out of that. Besides, you want status - real status? See #1 above. THAT is real status. Not the kind you can show off, but something more real.
3. Declutter: As part of our preparation for selling the home, we are cleaning out closets and selling stuff in a huge garage sale - or throwing things out or selling them on eBay or Craigslist. I thought we were pretty clutter-free, frankly. Our home is neat and not crowded. But even so, we had a staggering amount of "stuff" tucked away in drawers, closets, and other spaces. An entire closet devoted to board games, for example (!) that have not been played in a decade or more. Moving forward, I want to make sure that we put NOTHING in the attic, and that closets are left EMPTY of all except that which is used regularly.
4. Knowing When to Quit: While I enjoy tinkering with cars, as I get older, I realize that it will be harder to do. And cars are becoming more of a disposable commodity like computers. So I made the decision that from now on, my involvement in car repair might extend as far as a brake job, but that's it. I sold off a lot of tools and stuff I will no longer need. I don't want to end up one of those doddering old duffers with a box full of rusty wrenches, trying to fix newer technology they don't understand, and end up breaking things.
5. Flogging Real Estate: We are going to restructure the Jekyll house so it could be rented or house-swapped, if necessary, in the future. We may sell it and move elsewhere, where taxes are lower and job opportunities are better. It is a nice place, but we are not married to any piece of land for any reason.
With these changes, the savings in our spending will accelerate even further - at warp speed. The various cuts and savings we have made over the last two years have made a big difference, but the overall cash flow situation still has not improved significantly. And as I lurch toward retirement, I want to have less stress in my life, not more.
And as I move toward retirement, I want to have my life structured in a very inexpensive manner, with low overhead, low taxes, low maintenance, and low monthly carrying cost. Like most Americans, I was sucked into a high-buck lifestyle which was a lot of fun, but not sustainable for the long haul, unless you want to spend every waking hour making money.
Working so that you can "own things" makes no sense at all. I'd rather work so I can own more money - so I don't have to work.
It will be a difficult task, in the next 6 months, preparing the house for sale, moving furniture, and moving on. But the end result will be worth it.