26 December 2013

Checking back in on that money thing...how much is enough?

When I started this blog Jan. 1, one of my goals was to change my relationship with money, or most specifically, my fear over not feeling financially secure in this very uncertain world. 

I wanted to see what would happen if I committed to giving away at least $3,650 at the onset of this year no matter what developed for me financially as a freelancer. I’ve been thinking about it a lot as my year comes to a close and my father’s death inadvertently shone a light on the situation.

Over the year, I’ve definitely relaxed about my spending. Not only have I given away $4,000 to charity (I gave more than $10 some days), but I also let myself spend money for great adventures, including dashing to New York to go to the Songwriters Hall of Fame with one of my best friends on 48 hours’ notice, heading to New Orleans for Jazz Fest, and renting a beach condo for two weeks. I valued experiences far more than my bank balance this year and it was a life-changing decision. I never spent more than I could afford to, but I did push my comfort level. Having said that, that is one change that I will adopt for the future. Every penny was well spent and the older I get, the more important it is for me to not put things off. On a smaller scale, I'm much quicker to pick up the tab or not worry about making sure that I'm not paying more than my fair share at dinner. 

Growing up, my family was comfortable, not only because my parents made a decent living, but because we lived well within our means. If we couldn’t afford something, we didn’t do it or we waited until we'd saved up for it. My father measured success by many factors, but one was definitely through income. He was very proud of himself when he hit certain plateaus. He was forced to retire after he had a stroke in 2001 and  as he got older and mild dementia began to set it, he became obsessed with making money. My sister and I had to be vigilant in keeping him from falling prey to certain get-rich schemes. 

I’m not faulting his thinking: his drive and his hard work enabled him and mom to move into a very nice retirement community that wasn’t cheap, but in the two weeks since he’s died, not a single person has come up to me and my sister and praised our dad for how successful he was in business. All the praise has come from how kind he was, how good he made them feel when he remembered the names of their spouses and children or how he always had a joke for them and left them with a smile. In the end, his salary had absolutely nothing to do with his worth as a human being. 

That made me realize something else. Like my dad, I’m never going to feel like I have enough money. I don’t know what amount would make me feel like I could relax and not worry about my future. Maybe $50 million? But maybe if I had $50 million, I’d move my comfort level up to $100 million. 

Instead of being dismayed at this notion, I find it liberating. If I’m never going to feel like I have enough, then it’s really not going to matter if I spend a relatively small amount to take some trips or to donate to charity or buy new furniture, as long as I have enough to cover my bills and what I consider a reasonable cushion. I haven’t looked to see what my bank balance was at the end of 2012 compared to the end of 2013 because I don’t care...and I’ve never been able to say that before. I imagine it’s got to be lower, but not once this year have I been worried that I wouldn’t have enough to meet my daily expenses.

I imagine the ideal is to run out of money just as you run out of time, but there’s no way of knowing when that will be for most of us. Instead, we have to dance a balancing act of having enough for today (and, hopefully, for a rainy day),  with potentially missing out on adventures because we’re scared we might need that money for a day that never comes. As for me, I’ll be traveling coach and cutting corners where I can, but 
from here on out, I’m going for the adventure. 

(Today’s charity pick comes courtesy of my sister. She’s written so many great blogs for me this year and I wanted her to get to choose one more charity before we end five days from now. This one is very dear to her heart given her career as a social worker.)

Click here to get “Causes and Effects” delivered every day to your email inbox (the subscription link now works) or enter your email in the top right corner.


  1. Though I get your feed Melinda - I had been busy and not read it in several weeks. I am sorry about your father's passing. You have a true gift of words, it was very touching.

  2. Dear KentF, Thank you! And thank you for being so supportive this year. Hard to believe we're at the end! Happy New Year! Melinda