What’s the point of saving, anyway? Erin Lowry of BrokeMillennial.com struggles with goal setting and balance—just like every Grownup.
Texting with my dad, I started lamenting my decision to go freelance and the subsequent hit my net worth will take. He texted back:
You also need to make sure you are happy. Money is great, but not the be-all, end-all. I know you know that, but it is good to step back from time to time and make sure your life is balanced.
Spoiler alert: My life isn’t balanced…yet.
For nearly three years, I juggled a full-time job with building a blog and writing personal finance articles. This year, everything changed: My freelance earnings drastically increased and I signed a book deal. Life began to feel completely off-balance; the bulk of my weekdays were spoken for at an office, so all my writing needed to get done outside traditional business hours. Burnout was real.
So I decided to become a cliché Millennial and be my own boss, but I couldn’t decide exactly when I would make this drastic change.
The decision to pay my own health insurance and take a pay cut, even temporarily, left me panicked and wondering: How much money is enough?
Can Rigid Goal Setting Cause Anxiety?
My mantra is savings with a purpose. All my money works toward various goals: travel, retirement, emergency savings, building a business, and myself. The savings and investment accounts even have special names to reinforce why the money is being set aside.
I have spreadsheets with metrics sketched out to hit certain milestones by specific deadlines. I want to have my first million by 35—you get the picture.
Rigid goal setting has served me well in the past: It’s how I graduated college debt-free and with $10,000 in the bank. It helped me pad my emergency savings fund to the point where I felt comfortable joining a startup, because I knew if everything went upside down, I’d have plenty of cushion while I hunted for another gig.
Now, my net worth goals are working against me because the thought of falling short makes me anxious to quit the job that provides benefits and a steady paycheck. Should I take a gamble on myself and live on a variable income? Do I really have enough saved to be my own boss, or should I stay in the traditional workforce another six months, year, or at least until I get my end-of-year bonus?
The scarcity mindset plays tricks with my brain. Even though I have nearly twice my annual salary stashed away in savings and investments, it still feels far too risky to ditch my golden handcuffs in pursuit of becoming a personal finance author and speaker.
When I feel I’ll never save enough to take a risk (which is always), I focus on my dad’s advice as a calming meditative practice:
Don’t get too fixed on the short term. Your upcoming job transition and a market correction could cause a significant short-term decline. If that happens—don’t worry about it. You have a plan and are working it well.
What’s the Bottom-Out Metric?
In order to psych myself up to take the leap, I decided to set a bottom-out metric for my net worth. Should it take a hit of more than $40,000 in the first year of freelancing—save some big drop in the market—then I’ll consider re-entering the traditional workforce.
Not to be confused with preparing to fail—which is a terrible mentality to have when starting a business—a bottom-out metric should keep me rational in a highly irrational setting. Starting your own business and doggedly pursuing success can lead even the most pragmatic Grownup to financial ruin—because they don’t know when to call it quits. I’m setting a measure for when to stop building my brand and return to traditional employment; for me, that’s a net worth drop of $40,000.
Why Have I Been Saving, Anyway?
It suddenly dawned on me: What’s the point of saving so aggressively if not to have flexibility? Sure, I save for long-term goals like retirement and just to hit well-known net worth milestones—but why?
In a word: options. It’s to know that I have enough money to walk away from a steady paycheck and indulge in the cliché of betting on myself. It’s the comfort of having more than one year of living expenses easily accessible without needing to tap into retirement savings.
This by no means implies I’m endorsing some sort of #YOLO mentality about money, but I guess it is a bit of #FOMO. I do fear I’ll miss out on building something on my own because I got too scared to invest in myself and worried it might take a bit longer to hit my money goals.
Being in a position to say, “Yes, I can walk away from my job and I’ll be able to cover my day-to-day living expenses for a year without making a penny” means I do in fact have enough, at least for me.
While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner.