Finding a Way to Live the Dream

Everybody wants to retire early, right?

This is my dream: that we’ll be financially independent by 55, allowing us to work as much or as little as we want, to volunteer, to travel, and to spend our spare time playing outdoors.

I get really excited to think about this and often wonder if and how we can get there sooner.

In my mind, this is what retirement looks like. It's my happy place.
In my mind, this is what semi-retirement looks like. It’s my happy place.

The Quest for Financial Freedom

One of my favorite books is Your Money or Your Life. It’s basically a how-to-guide for financial independence, but instead of focusing on investments and retirement accounts, it emphasizes aligning your money to your values.  But until now, I’d never actually done any of the activities from the book—I’d just read them and thought: hey that seems like a good idea; maybe I should do that someday. 

So now, several years after buying the book, I finally did one of the activities.  And although it’s not even the first activity in the book, I calculated my real living wage. The real living wage is the hourly rate you earn at work, but with all the extra time and money associated with work removed, like commuting or a really bad coffee-and-pastry habit.

Here’s what the process looks like if I use numbers from my life around 2008.


So even though my gross pay rate was nearly $17 per hour, all the expenses (time and money) associated with work brought that number down to a much less exciting $7.85. And that doesn’t even include taxes, which seem like they should also be in there somewhere, but aren’t one of the adjustments in the book.

Bleh! You and Your Math are So Boring!!

So what? Well, the actual wage is a springboard for all sorts of thoughts, like:

  • Oh shit, I’m only making that much?!?! Happily, 2014 looks a lot better than 2007 because of a better salary and a shorter commute, but my “actual” wage still turns out to be only about 60% of my gross pay.
  • I work at least one hour every month just for coffee!?!? Yes, yes I do. It’s funny to think that one Tuesday a month, I’m spending 2-3 pm working just so that I can drink coffee. That’s probably not likely to change anytime soon, but at least I can be conscious about it and change things that are really out of whack.
  • How do I make that number better?  Yay—more math! But this is where math get’s interesting: when I cut my commute in half in 2008, it was like I got a $5,600 raise because I got 10 hours and a pile of cash back every week.

And that’s the point: Maybe you don’t love financial math as much as I do, but if you’ve read this far, I bet you value of your time more than money.

What do you think is the best way to align your money with your values?


4 thoughts on “Finding a Way to Live the Dream

  1. Maria, that’s an excellent question to which I have no answer. There’s the issue of reality in there somewhere, and there’s the issue of how much is enough. But as for a succinct answer, I don’t know. Will think on that one. Great question.

    1. Whoa– yeah, I guess that I did ask a big, hairy question! Well, I guess one thing that I’ve done that helps a lot is that I pretty much quit shopping. I really try not to buy stuff because I do realize that I have enough. I really only go to the grocery store if I can help it. I even toiletries there often because even though it might cost a dollar or two more for a tube or toothpaste or whatever, it will keep me out of the other stores. There are probably other things that seem less dorky (donate to awesome charities! buy local!), but for me it’s mostly a lot of different things I do so that I buy less stuff.

  2. The best way for me to align my money with my values, is to focus on the values only. The money has to be there too, of course, but I need it only to give me the freedom to focus on my values.


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