The Real Value of Money

Lately, I’ve noticed an interesting change in my attitude towards money. 

 And it’s not so much because I have less, but mostly because I have come to understand the real value of money. And as so often, I learn this lesson through things not going my way...

I’ve never been a big spender. I’ve never been someone who cared much about designer clothes, fancy cars or exotic holidays. I generally spend money on three things: The gear I need for my hobbies and activities, the fuel to get me to the beach and other places I want to visit and food (because I'm usually either being 'good' eating free-range and organic food or because I'm being 'bad' and just eat a lot, haha :) ). Other than that, I really don’t spend a lot. 

But if I'm being honest, I also have to say that I've never been someone who thought much about money. I've never been rich and my family isn't, but I've also never really had to worry about money either. I always had enough to buy everything I needed – and a lot more. I never really thought twice about going out for dinner, spending $5 on flat whites or filling up my car to go on adventures.

Even when I scaled back at work and moved into my van 18 months ago, my attitude towards money didn't really change.

Yes, I was spending less, but that wasn't really because I tried, but merely a by-product of the lifestyle. I was still working and earning enough to cover all my cost so I still had my savings as a backup and I always felt like I could earn more if I needed to. As a result, I didn’t really live on a tight budget. I would still buy my coffees whenever I wanted, I would still fill up the tank and drive 300+ km in a day just cause I wanted to get somewhere and I’d still buy a new sweater if I saw one I liked – all without really thinking much about it. 

Right now, I’m earning more than I have in a long time and thanks to having housesitting jobs for all of winter, I'm saving heaps on rent. So technically, I have decent spending money at the moment. And yet I am, for maybe the first time in my life, on a really tight budget. Not because I have to, but because I want to.

For the first time that I can remember, I really think twice about almost all the money I spend.

I think twice about going out for dinner or breakfast. I think twice about driving somewhere because of the fuel cost (though the current out of control fuel prices in NZ might have something to do with that as well…). I don't have a warm wetsuit for winter right now, and when you spend as much time in the ocean as I do, that's an essential piece of equipment. And yet, I'm hesitating to invest the money.

And don't get me wrong. I do go out for dinner when I want to, and I do drive an hour to the beach for good surf or wind when I want to. And I will buy myself a new wetsuit for winter. But I think about it differently. I'm much more aware of the money I'm spending and the real price I pay – because it turns out that, for me, that real price is not money, it's freedom.  

Funnily enough, this is something that the incredibly frustrating situation with my van has taught me (why is always the tough times that teach us the most valuable lessons?). It is still not resolved, and there is a chance that insurance will cover some of the cost. But there is also a good chance that they won't. That means, there is a risk that I will either lose the van or that I will have to pay a lot of money to get it fixed. As someone who needs financial security to feel comfortable, facing that kind of expense, for the first time ever, put me in a position where I was seriously worried about money - though it wasn't really about the money. 

Initially, I thought that if I have to carry the full financial burden of the van issue, I would be in a situation financially where I wouldn’t have enough in my saving account to feel comfortable. But what I have since realised is that it’s not so much about feeling comfortable but about feeling free to live life the way I want. For the past 18 months, working more was always optional. Suddenly I felt like it wasn’t. 

It’s this experience that made me realise the real value of money for me. 

It’s not about money. It’s not about being able to buy things. It’s about being able to live life the way I want.

It’s about having enough in the bank to know that If I don’t enjoy a work project anymore, I can walk away. It's knowing that if I have another idea for a book, I can afford to take time off work to write it. It's knowing that I can allow myself to work only part-time and spend the rest of my time on things that are more inspiring and make me happy.

So that is why I am on a self-imposed tight budget at the moment. That is why I think twice about every dollar I spend. Because by the end of winter, I want to feel free again. By the end of winter, I want to be back in a situation where I can live the life I want without having to worry about money – regardless of the outcome of the whole van situation. 

Life has been a bit more challenging these past few weeks. I’ve struggled with being back in the city and spending so much time working at the computer. But when I remember why I’m doing it, when I remind myself of the freedom it will give me in a few months, I know it’s worth it. 

And I find it's actually been really good to think more about the money I spend and how much I really value something. When I see something now that I want to buy, I don't ask myself "can I afford it?". Instead, I ask myself "Do I want/need this more than freedom? Or at least enough to delay freedom?" If I would just think about whether I can afford something, I would end up buying a lot of things I don't really need and often wouldn't value much anymore after a short time. But now that I know that the real price is not money but freedom, the things that I do spend money on are usually those I really need or really value. 

It’s pretty great to have this clarity.

And it also shows again that sometimes bad things have to happen so we can learn valuable lessons (funny how life works that way…).