friendship, giving, monthly updates

Getting and Giving

Hi everyone,

Here are the numbers from July (better late than never!):

Debt payoff numbers update: As you may remember, I got my student loan balance under $50,000 a few weeks ago. Altogether, I put $1100 towards my loans in July, and by the end of the month my balance was down to $49,529.

Debt payoff emotions update: Honestly, I feel fine about my debt right now. I feel like I’m making pretty good progress (more on this below).

Job update: I’m starting a second job next month. I have somewhat mixed feelings about this, but it is definitely happening.

Extra income update: I made $400 doing freelance writing and $75 participating in research studies in July, for a total of $475.

Emergency fund update: This had been at $1000 for many months, but I added $100 in July, so now it’s at $1100.

Retirement fund update: My usual monthly goal is $500, but this month I only contributed $215. Which is fine. It’s still progress. I may try to contribute extra next month to make up for it if I can.

Travel fund update: My travel fund is up to $398 (last month it was at $374). I have no trips planned whatsoever, but it’s nice to have a little money set aside for whenever I do decide I want to go somewhere.

Selected extraneous purchase of the month: I was a bridesmaid in my brother’s wedding in July, and as we all know, attending/participating in weddings is not free. However, I have zero interest in counting up or contemplating the total amount of money I spent on this event because it was my brother’s wedding, and however much it cost, it was 100% worth it.

*                   *                     *

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a quotation that Rockstar Finance tweeted out a few weeks ago. I was so struck by it that I copied and pasted it from Twitter into my to-do list on my phone so I would be sure to look at it multiple times per day. Here’s the quotation:

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

If I had read these words at a different time in my life, I might not have thought much of them. But right now they feel PROFOUND.

I’ve been focusing a lot in the past year and a half on tracking my spending and being more conscious about where my money goes, and (more recently) on putting a large chunk of my salary towards my student loans. And these have all been good things for me to prioritize. I was at a point in my life where I needed to take control of my financial situation so I could feel more secure and less anxious, and I think I’ve succeeded in doing that. I’ve set habits and systems in place that are enabling me to slowly start to dig myself out of the financial hole I’ve been in since my late 20s. And I intend to keep on digging.

But at this point, the digging consists largely of habits: get paycheck, pay credit card bills, send money to student loans, transfer money to various other accounts, rinse, repeat. These are positive and responsible habits, but they don’t require a great deal of daily thought and attention. In fact, thinking about money allocation and loan repayment on a daily basis often has consequences I’m not comfortable with: it can make me hyper-focused on the future (“Aaargh, I wish it were 2019 so my loans would be paid off!”) and less content with the present (“Man, my life would be great if only I didn’t have these stupid loans!”). These are not thoughts that I want running through my mind. Because, rampant criticism of this expression notwithstanding, you do actually only live once. I want to honor and appreciate and fully live the present, not wish it away…because once it’s gone, I won’t be able to get it back.

Anyway, to return to Winston Churchill’s statement, I feel like at this point in my life I’m doing a satisfactory job of getting. Sure, part of me is thinking, I don’t have enough! I want more! I want my own apartment! I want an in-unit washer/dryer! I want lots of money for travel! I want my student loans paid off YESTERDAY! But another (and, I think, wiser) part of me remembers that in the grand scheme of things, I already have waaaaaaay more than many people on this planet have. I have clean water. I have a safe place to live. I have a job. I have disposable income. I have multiple advanced degrees. Barring huge unforeseen medical expenses or other catastrophes, I will most likely be fine, especially if I maintain the habits I’ve set into motion over the past year or two.

And so this month I want to take some time to think a little less about getting and a little more about giving.

The first step, I think, is to begin figuring out how best to give. One option would be to give money to worthy causes (and I could certainly stand to do more of that), but making a life through giving suggests something more—something deeper and more personal. It suggests giving time, or expertise, or energy, or kindness, or help, or attention, or support, or friendship, or a listening ear. It suggests a lot of things.

The question of how I can and should give is an ongoing one, but I think two areas where I have a lot of opportunity to give right now are:

  1. work
  2. personal relationships

First off, work. I work in a healthcare-related field where interacting with clients is, by definition, giving. That being said, on any given day I can choose to pour more or less of myself and my energy into my work. I can choose to be present with clients or I can choose to be somewhat mentally detached. I can choose to go the extra mile, or not. These choices don’t change the amount of my paycheck, but they definitely affect my clients. (By the way, I’m pretty certain that basically any type of job other than “hitman” offers us the opportunity to give, whether through the product or service we’re helping to create or deliver, or through how we treat colleagues or clients, or both.) I’m also thinking about possible future career steps: how I can build a career that makes positive contributions to my community and to society, and what that could look like, and how I could get there. I want to view work a little less as a means of getting a paycheck and a little more as an opportunity to contribute to something larger than myself. I don’t have a lot of clear answers here yet, but it’s something I’m thinking about a lot.

Second, relationships. I’m thinking about all sorts of relationships here, including relationships with family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. Obviously relationships aren’t just about giving—ideally there’s a fairly equal balance of giving and receiving—but giving is definitely part of the equation. So I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately too: about how I can develop my existing relationships and expand my social circles.

I considered adding “volunteering” as #3 on this list, but it’s probably not realistic to think I can work two jobs this fall and volunteer. I will also say that I’ve had a surprisingly difficult time over the years finding volunteering opportunities where I’ve felt like my efforts were actually making any type of difference. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try again.

So yeah. That’s what I’m thinking about this month. I have to say, it feels odd to write a post on a personal finance blog about how I want to spend a little less time thinking about personal finance, but that’s where I’m at right now, so I wanted to share it.

Bye for now!

22 Comments on “Getting and Giving

  1. I love this post! You are spot on about people getting too hyperfocused on their money and accounts and looking to the future. You have a solid plan that you are happy with but being in the present with those around you can never happen again. I especially loved your focus on that. If we are always “chasing” you’ll never get there. Give 100% to whatever you do and whoever you are with and you will always be richer in the end!

  2. welcome back! I’ve been missing your posts! It’s great to see you putting giving on the radar, even though right now you are both strapped for cash and short on time. I think there is always some way anyone can give, even if it’s smiling at every stranger or doing random acts of kindness that don’t cost money. It just puts you in a positive frame of mind, and hey, the world can use that right now.

  3. There are always ways we can give, and your thought about pouring more of your energy into the work you’re already doing is a really amazing one. So often we think we have to give money, or we don’t have time to volunteer, but even the little things we do for the people we already encounter (both family/friends and strangers) make a difference.

  4. It’s so easy to struggle when it comes to balancing your plans for the future and living in the present. I love the idea to make more of a life by giving. We have plans to do volunteer work once we reach semi-retirement, but there are other ways that we can give back right now.

    Keep up the good work on your debt repayment. It is going to be wonderful to have our school loans paid off, but we’re on the right track. There’s no reason to wish away valuable time.

  5. Yes, I definitely believe you can give a lot through your job. I think it’s important to give both time and money (though the amounts of each may shift with different seasons of life). They are not interchangeable; both are important. It’s awesome you’re thinking about this so early in your career. I believe practicing giving throughout our journey rather than waiting till we have more time or money, is the way to make sure we build a full life, and that we will give more when we have more.

  6. Cool post here Sarah, congrats to your brother on his wedding as well, sometimes it’s important to have those sort of times when you’re not focused on how much you’ve spent 🙂

    Good on you for considering & taking action on volunteering, for me that’s a massive driver on improving my financial investments..

    All the best with the second job :)!

  7. Seriously. There is only so much you can think about money (I would be curious to know how often money actually crosses most people’s minds … multiple times a day for me). Totally support stepping back when you need to.

    1. Yeah, I’m definitely at the stepping-back point, though who knows — I could swing the other way again in the future! 🙂

  8. I think this is a really worthwhile post. I am in much of the same situation. Similarly, I am paid the same amount monthly, put the same amounts towards retirement/debt/other payments, much of my work is the same most days. It’s time for me to do more and feel more like I’m truly living my life. This is a much needed reminder for me.

    1. Sounds like we’re in a similar place, Jennifer — working on trying to live beyond our habits. It’s a worthy endeavor, I think! 🙂

  9. I think you’re dead on with this post. I haven’t really volunteered in the past five years but five years ago, I did call up my local high school and host drop ins for students who wanted extra help on their college application essay. The students who dropped in really needed the help and it made me feel so good to help them out, I would take vacation time off work just to do it. I need to get back into that again. It’s so easy and you don’t have to join a group to volunteer. I literally just called up the highschool and said – hey I went here forever ago and want to give back!

    1. That’s awesome! What a cool way to volunteer. I bet a lot of students would really appreciate that type of help. 🙂

  10. Not to come off cheesy but this blog is a form of giving. Your ideas enlighten your readers, maybe bring them a new perspective on a topic. Not saying, I’m just saying.

    Kudos on the improvements to the savings goals – $100 might not seem huge but a 10% increase to your emergency fund is pretty impressive regardless of the amount. Upwards and onwards right?

  11. This sounds wonderful! I’m finally at the point where I’m not obsessing about my money on a daily basis, too, and it’s really nice (though bad for my blog posting schedule, heh.) I feel like, over the course of my life, I’ve gone through phases where I really needed a lot (energy, love, money) and other phases where I had a lot to give and really wanted to do that. Right now I’m more in one of those phases; I’ve been spending a lot of time in the local community, on things like volunteering (very simple, just cooking dinner mostly), politics, and just being available for my friends. It feels good because a few years ago I was a giant ball of need! Anyway, congrats on the financial progress, but even more on the feeling of peace that’s enabling you to think bigger picture again.

    1. Ha yeah, I can definitely relate to decreased money preoccupation translating into decreased blog posting. But it feels really nice to have gotten to this point. That’s great that you’ve been feeling more free to focus on other things as well. It’s good to let ourselves go through phases in our lives, without feeling obligated to criticize ourselves for doing so.

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