| Real Life Strategies for Building Wealth
T-Shirt design by Adam Piplica

T-Shirt design by Adam Piplica

Ha, ha! See this picture? Thanks to Adam from the Magical Penny, the UK personal finance bloggers who ‘stayed the distance’ last weekend were immortalised. Guess which one is me? (Of course, I am so much better looking in person!)

This article, however, is not about looks; it is about something I said while answering a question at the UK Blog Up. I don’t remember the question but I heard myself saying (you know I am an extrovert):

‘Life is a wonderful present and we should enjoy it! Why glorify suffering and belittle success achieved with fun?’

Even as the words were coming out, a voice from behind my left shoulder was whispering:

‘This is the theory, isn’t it? But when was the last time you had a weekend? What was the last thing you did purely for fun?’

I have a rather tempestuous relationship with this voice; it is the same one that pops up in my head at the seventeenth mile of a marathon to remind me running any further is un-natural. During a marathon, I ask it to go and…well, you know, just to leave me alone to get on with it. Last weekend I listened!

What I realised is that I have not had a weekend for at least seven months; heck, I have not had a day without working – researching, reading and writing for either my day job, or for The Money principle. It’s also been a long time since I did something simply because it is fun.

I don’t mean that all I do is boring and hard to enjoy. In fact, I quite enjoy my karate practice, love salsa dancing and running feels so good after a mile or two. On the background of my otherwise busy life, I justify doing these by their functionality – karate and salsa dancing are good exercise, and running…running has become part of my identity and will be very hard to get by without.

You may think not having enough fun is a matter of money? It isn’t. When we had the monster debt, I enjoyed life and felt alive – many changes we had to make were turned into a game.

So what is happening? Having fun and budgeting for it is an easy to forget rule of personal finance; and an easily ignored one as well.

Inertia

Most of us live most of our lives by inertia or, if you prefer, habits. On the one hand, habits are the very fabric of life; were we to be conscious about each and every action of ours, I believe life will be impossible. Just imagine, getting up in the morning and debating whether to brush your teeth or not, which hand to use to brush them, is it better to rinse the toothpaste or not. I hope, you get the message – the fact that we don’t even remember how we brushed our teeth is what leaves us with enough energy to ask worthy question and search for worthy answers.

On the other hand, habits can linger after the need for them has passed. In my case, working most of my working time was a necessity for the last three years – we had a goal and we both worked very hard to achieve it. It may be time to look at work arrangements from the point of today – we no longer have consumer debt and further building investments requires smart rather than hard work.

Action: Have a look at my working arrangements and streamline those by deciding where to channel my energy; it seems the time has come to make some difficult choices keeping in mind where we would like to be in five years time.

Our post-recession economy in a word: uncertainty

When we hear about the latest economic and financial crisis, and the on-going recession, we hear about ‘triple dips’, the banking sector being on the brink of collapse, the stock markets behaving like a yo-yo, businesses closing down and rocketing unemployment levels. When we talk about it with friends and neighbours we hear about people losing their jobs, getting in debt and struggling to make ends meet. When we look around the dinner table we see our children who have education, no jobs and little hope for a bright future.

But if I had to describe the post 2007 crisis in one word it would be ‘uncertainty’. Economic and financial volatility means that we had to surrender even the tiniest amount of safety and security. We no longer know whether and for how long we’ll have jobs; whether our pension schemes will survive, whether our shares will still be worth something in the morning.

We humans can cope with relative certainty, even when it confirms our worst fears. When the levels of uncertainty and insecurity rise our reaction is to try and reduce these.

It seems that my coping mechanism is to work most of my working hours and to store my labour (at the moment, building savings and investments).

Action: Think of other ways to cope with uncertainty.

Fun on the altar of the future

Reducing the level of uncertainty, and the corresponding insecurity, of our lives can be achieved by making sure that we create more stable conditions for the future. These may include increasing the level of our savings, reducing and eliminating debt, paying off our mortgages and making ‘solid’ investments like buying real estate and land.

In any case, the increase in cash flow is likely to come from cutting all non-essential spending out of our budgets, including the proportion for doing the things that make our hearts sing and our souls soar.

In the long run cutting out, or even dramatically reducing, the personal budget for fun is counterproductive: we perform as we feel and feel better when we enjoy our lives.

Action: Re-instate the ‘I’m so worth it’ fund and make sure to spend it every month. Also be careful to spend something on myself.

Finally…

There are many rules of personal finance and some make more sense than others. One rule we all tend to forget is ‘have fun and budget for it’. Because life is a wonderful gift and money matters only to the extent to which it flows through it.

Do you make sure you have fun and how?