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LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: Put your money where your life is

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Reconnecting my values to money and savings.

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“You were our biggest expense last year,” I tell Hilda. We are sitting on the lovely couch I bought for $35 off the side of Carolina Beach Road. Horace is on perimeter patrol, earning his keep on a chilly February evening. “OK, not our biggest expense, but our most worthwhile and unexpected,” I amend. Horace barks to be let in and I throw another log on the fire on my way to the back door.   

WHAT’S IT WORTH?: Gwenyfar revisits financial independence lessons in the book ‘Your Money or Your Life.’ Courtesy photo.

WHAT’S IT WORTH? Gwenyfar revisits financial independence lessons in the book ‘Your Money or Your Life.’ Courtesy photo.

I have been reworking the steps Joe Dominguez and Viki Robin’s book “Your Money or Your Life.” Originally published in 1992, I discovered it in ‘96 or ‘97 and have at various points in my life done better with applying the book’s principles. At its core, “Your Money or Your Life” is asking us to look at decisions we make with money and question why: Do I really need a way of life just to show off to neighbors? Am I happy with the job I have to support that?

Through a series of steps and processes, Robin and Dominguez advocate getting to a point of financial independence (FI) wherein one’s investment supports them and allows for different life decisions than just going to a corporate job he or she might hate.

A few years back I re-evaluated both my personal and the bookstore’s financial track using “Your Money or Your Life.” It is pretty much impossible to disentangle my financial worldview from the bookstore, so it only made sense to look at them together. It has been a while, and last year saw one of the biggest changes to my financial picture possible. I finally realized last month I was still thinking about money from where I had been. I hadn’t made the leap into the realization that I needed to actually talk about some sort of future planning (for the first time ever).    

In “Your Money or Your Life,” the steps to FI include tabulating all expenses and income, figuring out a real hourly wage (or what’s actually made per hour once expenses are deducted, like commuting and or clothing for jobs). Once the real hourly wage is calculated, apply that to how much time is put into the money spent. For example, if a real hourly wage turns out to be $4 per hour, then a $1 Coke is equivalent to spending 15 minutes of life energy.

Next, the book breaks down expenses and asks if said expenses have brought fulfillment. It asks the reader to question if it’s in alignment with personal values. Basically, if I didn’t have to work for a living, how would that expense change?

Now, Jock and I are a little odd as far as people go who do this exercise, because we already live about as close to the grain as it gets (our major splurges are dinners out and Cinematique movies). As far as simple living with no frills, we are there. In addition, even though we both work very hard and long hours, we already do what “Your Money or Your Life” is aimed at: chasing dreams on our own terms. For him it’s Full Belly Project—inventing and saving a small corner of the world. For me it’s Old Books and continuing to work on my writing dream—however that comes together. So neither of us are really waiting for a crossover point where we leave a corporate job for a simpler life and try to make our dreams happen. We do, however, need to do a little bit of a check-in to keep on track with what we are trying to accomplish.

What I found surprising: I knew we finally hit some major milestones in debt reduction—which we have been working toward for a long time—but not only do we each regularly put in 12-to-14-hour days, seven days a week, the bookstore runs payroll for 83 hours of work (by people other than me) in an average week. We spent almost $200 on different annual licenses, and on top of that, the bookstore spent over $9,000 on taxes last year—not real estate property taxes (which I also pay), but just taxes associated with the business. That’s about $766 a month for licenses and taxes. That’s a lot of paperbacks.

So this poses an interesting question: Do I get fulfilment from this expenditure? Is it in line with my values? Well, obviously, everyone would prefer to pay less in taxes, but I do get fulfilment from the city, county and state services I use daily. Certainly my values include the collective good of our community, so that’s a tough one. Frankly, it falls into the dilemma posed by the proposed Municipal Service District downtown: Would I get fulfillment from that additional money spent? And would that expenditure actually be in line with my values? Would it in fact benefit the collective good?

It’s easier to answer these questions in other categories:

Printing: All of our printing is done at Dock Street Printing downtown and not only do we get value for money spent and fulfillment from utilizing their services, but supporting another small downtown business is completely aligned with Live Local, no questions there.

Food: When we have out-of-town guests for bookstore events, we usually feed them. Several of our bigger events necessitate providing refreshments. Noting that spending is going to The Scoop, The Basics and The Harp—all small, locally owned businesses—was not surprising but it was reassuring.

Fulfillment. Check.

Alignment. Check. 

Fees/charges: Things like bank-service charges and credit-card processing fees—well, there’s not much I can do to lower them. They are going to be there and are part of costs of doing business. Do I wish they were lower? Yes. Do I get fulfillment from paying them? No. Would It be more in line with my values to spend that money elsewhere? Yes, though we do bank with First Citizens, which is a North Carolina-owned bank.

Expenses: Significant expenses last year (and this year) include ongoing renovation projects. I actually would have shown a profit (or at least broken even) last year at the bookstore had I not begun renovations on the second-floor apartment space.   This is a category so bizarrely emotional it is hard to answer the questions about fulfilment and alignment. On one hand, caring for the bookstore property and enhancing it is absolutely important. Creating an additional revenue stream that will allow me to market the business to a different population segment is highly desirable—and the hope is additional revenue stream will offset bookstore utilities and taxes. 

But the upfront costs of money, time and energy are exhausting. I’m so far into this right now, it is hard to think it will ever be ready to open to the public. (That’s exhaustion talking.) In the long term, yes, it probably will be fulfilling—but not right now. So, in the long term, it is certainly in alignment with values. However, at the moment, it would be more rewarding to take a short vacation with Jock and the dogs.

That short-term versus long-term thinking can be a real danger in decision making. That’s part of what the check-ins are about: getting back on track with a bigger picture and realizing what we want long-term. For us it keeps coming back to living in this wonderful community, getting up everyday and getting to work on our dreams. There aren’t a lot of couples who can say they do that. Though I tease Hilda about how expensive she is to maintain, neither of us regret a dime spent on the dogs: They are complete fulfillment and aligned in every way.

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