Savings, sacrifice, and the “why” question

Here’s another post pulled from drafts.  Don’t you hate it when you leave notes to yourself assuming you’re going to know what you’re talking about and then months pass and you’re like, you know, you could have just left a link.

This post was initially inspired by a number of other posts happening around the same time period.

The SHUbox had a post, ClubThrifty had a post, and retireby40 had a post, and I really should find them and link to them.  We will see if I am successful.  Spoiler:  I wasn’t.

In any case, my commentary:

Saving for early retirement if you don’t want to retire early and are unlikely to need to retire early is ridiculous.  If you’re worried about being unable to work, then get disability insurance.  Still, worry about job loss because of age discrimination, working in a failing industry, or being forced into management (and thus wanting to quit) is a bit harder, and is a valid reason to save for at least partial early retirement– enough to fund a career change.

The fact that there are early retirement posts about how to handle (early) retirement if you’re not enjoying it and how to emotionally prepare for not going to a job so you’re not unhappy suggests not that there’s something wrong with people in that situation, but that perhaps early retirement was not the right option for them.  One suspects that rather than trying to come up with ways to make retirement less soul destroying, it might be easier to just stay in one’s job.  (A related recent post from Leightpf.)

But early retirement is not the only reason to save.  I really liked Rosa’s comment on this post (here I did myself the favor and actually linked).

we asked people who did save to write down why.. Most people gave the same set of answers – for unexpected expenses, for my kids, for retirement.

A number of people were unable to answer because the idea of not having savings horrified them. Why save? Why breathe?

But one woman gave the very best answer. “For myself.” That’s all. You might not know what your future self will want to do with the money, but the money will be there for whatever it turns out to be.

We save so our future selves aren’t in dire straights in an emergency.  So we have time to focus the time after a job loss on finding a good job rather than the first job that will pay a paycheck.  So that we can quit a miserable work situation without having another lined up.  So that we can focus on a medical emergency and not the cost of said emergency.  So that a car crash doesn’t make us unable to get to work because we can’t afford alternate routes.  Or a slow reimbursement or delayed paycheck doesn’t max out our credit cards pushing us into forced credit counseling or bankruptcy.  Or to get into the fancy nursing home.

We save for opportunity.  So we can take a year off or invest in something or someone important to us without hurting our future selves.

It’s ok to find the early retirement community demotivating.  It’s even ok to find paying off student loans unmotivating.

You don’t actually have to be motivated to save, you just need to save first, and enough that you will be living a reasonable lifestyle in the event of an emergency or job-loss.  Auto-deductions can help you take care of your future self.  So that way your future self will have money when you need it, and maybe even some when you really really want it.

Do you save?  Why or why not?

What would you do if retired?

Back in May, Leigh talked about how when interviewing for her current job they asked her what she would do if she were retired.  She mentioned she’d considered graduate school, and they were all, you can do that now (if you take this job)!

That got us thinking about the general question– what would we do if retired?

#1:  We have enough money saved right now that we could retire to my DH’s home town if we really wanted to.  We’d rather work.  The answer is always different depending on how much money we have in these retirement scenarios.  At one amount we could retire to paradise permanently and enjoy events and hobbies and library books and so on– enough to keep us entertained.  At another amount it would be irresponsible not to be philanthropists and to use that money to make the world a better place.

When #2 was between jobs she loved it.  I have plenty of hobbies including riding horses, reading, napping, and fostering orphaned kittens.  I have friends to see and cool places to go.  I could do some traveling.  My partner was working (and supporting my lifestyle) so there was a limit to what we could do together.  I will probably never live long enough to read all the books I want to read, so I’d be happy to do that for a long, long time…. being temporarily retired is awesome!

Though making money is awesome too.

Taking someone else’s goal

There are a lot of fads in the internet community.  For goal-oriented people, there are a lot of goals out there that people can latch on to.

Things like marathon training, whole30 (#2 doesn’t even know what that is.  No no, don’t tell me.*), early retirement, minimalism, and on and on and on.

Sometimes taking one of these outside goals leads to self-improvement and happy changes.  Often they seem to lead to unhappiness for those attempting things or guilt from those who don’t attempt them but are still part of the relevant communities.

Why do you think these things gain so much traction?

Is it because they’re great ideas and we just never thought about them before?  Is it because of peer pressure– everyone else is doing it?  Are we trying to fill up some void in our life?  Is it something about how human beings are social and like to follow Bellwethers?  A hope for quick cash from blog revenue?  (paypal to grumpyrumblings at gmail, in case you were wondering, though we are now BOTH gainfully employed and do not need it as much as your favorite charity does)


*too late–it’s kind of like a Paleo diet that you do for 30 days.  People who do it also tend to use the word “cleanse” a lot.**

**can you tell by the dated fads listed that this was another post pulled out of ancient drafts?  I think this one was from when minimalism was going through the PF community, not its most recent iteration through lifestyle blogs.***

***had to add this footnote because Whole30 is starting to make its way through the public finance internets!  They use words like “healing”.  Everything old is new again… with a different internet community.



Anthems for working

You Better Work.

Unless you want to live in a Van by the River.

What reminds you to work?  Do you have any working anthems?

What is the path to perfection?

Sometimes it seems like people think their lives will be some sort of perfect ideal, for example, if I can run marathons or keep my house clean or organize the crap out of every minute of the day… or whatever the latest fad is.  (I guess those fads were several iterations ago… as I finish this post it’s minimalism and Frugalwoods-style frugality… can you tell we’ve been finishing up and scheduling old drafts?)

But these internet fads aren’t magic bullets.   Some people love marathon training and some people don’t.  Some people enjoy cleaning and some people don’t.  Some people need more organization than others or have situations that make compartmentalization necessary or optimal.  It’s great to try these things out, but if they don’t bring the solutions you were looking for, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with *you*.  Even if they work for someone else whose blog you read, especially someone who is trying to sell products along with that perfect lifestyle.  They are they (them?) and you are you.  Different strokes.

It’s important to realize that choices are choices and not referenda on what your values are or maps to what other people should be doing (unless that map inspires you).

Enjoy the journey, and reach for the destination, even if you never get there.  Or if you like where you are, enjoy that too!

Be who you want to be.  Find *your* bliss or just live out your life — not every life has to waste time worrying about bliss or optimization.  Make your choices your own and don’t be bound by what the patriarchy or society or your parental unit has been telling you all your life unless you want to be.

And of course, “an it hurts no-one, do what you will.”  There’s limits to freedom, even in touchy-feely posts.

Ask the grumpies: getting out of unproductive funks

First Gen American asks:

How do you suck yourself out of an unproductive funk. Do you find that allowing yourself to wallow in it for awhile is actually is more helpful than beating yourself up about being unproductive.

Yes, with the caveat that beating oneself up about being unproductive can sometimes be an important component of wallowing in it.  To get the full wallow a little self-hatred is necessary.

To get out:  Just Do IT.  Sometimes I will ask #2 to remind me about vans by rivers and request a kick in the posterior.

#2 says:  I think the how getting-out part for me has involved meeting people at coffee shops.  I haven’t done much of that recently.  Hard deadlines also make me ridiculously productive.   Unfortunately last-minute deadline blitz is unsustainable, if for no other reason than RSI.

We here at grumpy rumblings love to cross things off lovely lovely lists.  Sometimes even if I can’t be productive, I can write a list about what it would take to be productive.  Then day two I can cross one of the things off the list.  Breaking up tasks into smaller tasks is great for goal motivation.  Doing them from smallest to largest is also good for motivation, though one of us works best when she has an important goal that she doesn’t want to do hanging over her head– it makes all the other tasks on the to-do list seem so much more worthy of doing by comparison.

I guess it depends on WHY the funk.  I have anxiety which I manage with meds and awareness of it.

It’s also important to ATTEMPT to realize that it’s really not so bad once I get going.  Starting is hard! But starting is often the hardest part. Like Boice says, tell yourself to do it for 30 min– if that’s too long, then 10 min, or even 5 min. You can do almost anything for 5 min, and once you’re started it usually isn’t so bad.

What do you do, Grumpy World?

Ponderings on mindsets and intelligence

One of the things that the mindset literature is pretty clear on is that you’re not supposed to praise kids for innate characteristics, but for effort.  They have studies where they measure effort after a kid has been told, “You’re so smart” vs. “I can really see the effort you put in” or something like that.  Outcomes in the next experiment decline for the former but not for the latter.  Later studies suggest cheating goes up when innate intelligence is praised.

And so I’ve been keeping these ideas in mind when raising my kids.  With our first child we even went so far as to (frequently) request daycare and school teachers not to praise hir intelligence, but instead hir work ethic and interest.

And I thought that was the right thing to do until recently.  For the past couple of years, I’ve had an extremely successful student, a young woman, for two classes who has low confidence.  She’s easily one of the best students our program has had and lots of professors agree.  But she has low confidence.  She wanted to go to graduate school.  It took a lot of pushing to get her to apply to top programs that she should have gotten into based on her testscores, perfect GPA, and research experience.

She didn’t get in to any of them.  I’m guessing her essay wasn’t any good (she was too embarrassed to show it to professors before sending!) and most likely they wanted more work experience.  Plus she was on the low end for pure math courses– a few more probably would have helped.  I also wonder if she made the right choices of letter writers.  Maybe her research supervisor wasn’t as effusive about her as the professors in my department are.

Contrast that with one of her friends who is similarly situated except has an extremely high self-confidence (even if she has far less intellectual curiosity).  This friend didn’t apply to graduate school but did get into one of the most prestigious RA positions you can get as a feeder to top graduate schools.

I met the parents of both women at graduation and got an insight into the difference in confidence.  The parents of the second girl thanked me for being a great professor and for giving their daughter opportunities and said they were really excited about her job for next year.  They had normal proud parent reactions as we went back and forth praising their daughter (and me) and discussing her future.

The second set of parents (divorced, so I got this conversation twice) was also effusive in their praise for me, but not so much in their praise for their own daughter.  “She works hard,” “she’s always worked hard,” was a constant refrain from parents, step-parents, and siblings.  But there was something about the way they said it, as if they were excusing the praise rather than accepting it.  This was fixed in my mind when her mom’s response to my praise of her daughter was, “that’s sweet of you to say.”  “No, no it wasn’t,” I said. “I’m from the midwest.  We don’t just say things unless they’re true.”

Maybe I shouldn’t be so worried about the world telling my kids that they’re smart.  They are smart.  That’s just a fact.  (And, to be honest, I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable about being told I’m smart… I mean, yes, I’m smart, but so what.  Praise my accomplishments and things I’ve done, not my innate nature.)

Growing up my family took being smart for a given.  Of course I was smart.  I’m smart but so what.  Being smart isn’t enough (wasn’t enough), it’s what I do with it.  I wasn’t allowed to let my brain atrophy.  I had to keep exercising it.  My mom always told me I needed to keep pushing myself so that I could grow more dendrites.  Working hard would make me smarter.

Early on I really did believe that I just worked harder and had more opportunities than the other kids.  And that’s definitely true– my parents sacrificed a lot to give us opportunities and focused on our academic growth.  My mom picked up a lot of good child rearing techniques while working for Head Start back in the 70s.

But in the past few years since having children, I’ve come to suspect that there’s actually a bit of nature in the equation as well.   Maybe it’s not just in utero health and stimulation as an infant and so on (though these things are obviously important).  I sometimes wonder if gifted kids were just born with a bit more curiosity than non-gifted– and it’s the energy and curiosity that causes us to explore and grow dendrites… or maybe the lower sleep need is what allows more connections to be built, who knows.  Other kids can get as smart, but it’s more of an uphill climb.

Nature cannot be everything.  At university, I see my students get smarter, quicker, and more curious over the 2-4 years that I know them.  That blossoming is amazing.  Taking kids with cruddy high school experiences and fewer family advantages and teaching them to think and aspire and question is one of the most rewarding things that I do.  People really can get smarter.

I don’t want my DCs to feel limited.  I don’t want them to think they’re not capable of great things.  Maybe it is ok to say, Yes of course you’re smart, but what matters is what you do with it.  What matters is what you love, how hard you work, what interests you, what you care about, how much you focus, how many times you try.  And luck, of course, but we can control that about as much as we can our intelligence, which is to say, we can help create our own luck with measured risks just as we can increase our intelligence by focused study*.

I don’t think those short-term lab experiments by Carol Dweck et al. exclude this idea, the idea that you can combine praise for intelligence with emphasis on hard work.  So maybe I’ll go back to doing what seems right to me and not worry so much about how people praise my kids, so long as my kids know that intelligence isn’t everything.  Maybe praising solely effort isn’t the only way to create perseverance.  Maybe a little self-knowledge won’t hurt and will allow them to reach farther so they don’t keep themselves from taking opportunities.

Where do you fall on the praise spectrum?  We know all our readers are intelligent– do you think how you were praised as kids affects your perseverance and self-confidence as adults?  (And in what way?)

*standard disclaimer about extreme situations and not blaming people in poverty or with mental disabilities


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