Saturday, August 30, 2008

How do I relate to my money?

I apologize for my absence. My mind has been on many things--work around the house, in the garden, in the kitchen and lots of thinking about the future.

Keeping and not spending money is always a battle. Temptation is there whether you expect it or not. For example, I really wanted some chocolate last week. I had even decided to raid the vending machine, but ended up finding a small square of brownie in a nearby counter. I ate that, saving me both money and calories as I satisfied the chocolate craving. Truly, it is the small hand-to-hand combat urges that sabotage my efforts at minimizing spending and saving more. I try to ask myself if I really need that item I want or am craving, and remind myself of my long-term goals.

Although my future plans include buying a small farmette to be as self-sufficient as I can be, I am working with what I currently have to make sure that this sort of living is what I truly want to do. This means I walk around my property with a measuring tape and watch how much sun a particular spot gets during the day. I was committed to my farmette purchase four years from now until my dad tells me of a farm that is on the market--just three miles from him.

You see, this is a real temptation. I wish my dad had not told me of the place because my mind is full of the possibilities with my family nearby to help me out. Now, I have not seen the farm and buildings, and it is likely more than I can handle. The previous owner had been sick for some time and just died, meaning the buildings were neglected for that same period of time, at least two years. But here my dad presented a place, a farm with 10 acres, the minimum size I believe I want at a fairly reasonable price, $250,000. Honestly, I cannot afford this and I am not prepared to buy now, but now I am thinking hard about it. My plans had not included buying a farm in the next year or two. I intended to work at my current job until I found a suitable farm in approximately four years before leaving for my life in the country. Granted, life is not neatly wrapped up in nice packages like that, but four years would give me time to save for the farm. Not only do I have to deal with a mortgage, which means I would have to have an outside job, but I have all the investments to make: renovating buildings, building new facilities, fencing for animals, starting a garden, planting trees, purchasing animals, all things I want to do on my farm. While I may be emotionally prepared for a move, my finances are not.

In fact, I had to perform a reality check, looking at my finances and calculating what four more years at my job would get me. I need to keep working where I am to save the money I need for the farm in the future. Unless a large chunk of money is going to fall in my lap, my plans include the slow and steady course I have steered. My analysis also demonstrated that supplementing my income would help build a larger cushion for the farm purchase and investments.

Generally, I have a good relationship with my money. I may make some compromises with my spending plan that involve borrowing from other categories rather than strictly staying within the allocation. This behavior does shortchange me in the short- and long-term, but if I do not consistently do this every month, I am okay. Then there are the larger temptations. Yes, I can pay $1,400 for a newer laptop, but that would deplete my savings of nearly a month's worth of expenses. The return on investment is important: is this item important enough to sacrifice liquidity to purchase it? And then there is a strong opportunity like this farm. It is a great location, something I can really work with, but not worth throwing over my plans to work and save to do it now.

Therefore, while I live on 40% of my income, save 30% and the rest disappears into taxes, fees and insurance, I still have to be wary of how I spend my money. Sometimes I am less on guard (Oh, it's fine, I'll get that anyway) while other times, I take a harder line (I may want that, but I don't need it). No one can be perfect 100% of the time, that is keeping to the spending plan and not spending money in savings. However, there is always room for improvement. Learning to grow my own food and preserve it eases some of the burden on my grocery allocation even with an initial investment. Breaking sod by hand saves money and gasoline (if not hands or back). I try to make choices based on capability and comfort (e.g., can change an electric outlet but not willing to deal with adding an outlet in a new location) that will help me save money where I can and strategically use the resources I have to increase the value of my property, home and even my savings account.

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