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Your Latte or Your Life: Making Money Work for Your Family Sabbatical

Matt Scherr November 26, 2012

We’ve been addressing in greater detail the major fears or objections that keep people from taking a family sabbatical. In one form or another, money works its way into the top of that list. But our excuses typically just represent our surrender to our pursuit of money for its own sake. Planning a family sabbatical can be the first step in taking back control of your life from money (including debt).

By switching to a new game, which in this case involves vagabonding, time becomes the only possession and everyone is equally rich in it by biological inheritance. Money, of course, is still needed to survive, but time is what you nee to live. So, save what little money you possess to meet basic survival requirements, but spend you time lavishly in order to create the life values that make the fire worth the candle. Dig?
– Ed Buryn, Vagabonding in Europe and North Africa

Your Latte or Your Life: Making Money Work for Your Family Sabbatical

I traded my life for this?

We’re all familiar with the North American Treadmill, on which we’re always chasing money to buy time but having to spend all our time to do it. We all know that money is necessary to survive today. But where is that point where we are spending the money on the things that really matter to us, rather than spending our time just making money?

I had an economics professor in college who thought he was cool (despite clearly being an economics professor). He’d always arrive minutes before class on his Harley Davidson, close enough to class so that we could hear it, and walk to the front of the class before taking off his leather jacket and mirror glasses.

One day he arrived a moment after the beginning of class, walking badassedly up the center aisle of the lecture hall, carrying a boombox. Without shedding the jacket or glasses and without saying a word, he placed the boombox on a stool at the center of the stage, pushed play, and went to sit down by the podium to read something while Pink Floyd’s Money boomed from the box and dozens of eyes rolled. Welcome, class, to the topic of money.

What an entrance. And what a shame that he followed Pink Floyd’s pointed cultural critique with merely a two dimensional textbook blah diddy blah on the role of money in economics. Instead it was years later that I learned that it is not in fact money that is the root of all evil, as paraphrased in the song, but rather the love of money. And it was years later still that I understood the profound difference.

It is that profound difference that a body should recognize before ever planting their excuse flag in the ground of “not enough money” or “too much debt” and abandoning their sabbatical dreams. As my brother-in-law once told me when I lamented not having enough money to buy real-estate in a newly booming area of downtown Denver in the 90s, “You have enough money, you just spend it on the wrong things.”

We all know that, too. We know that if we just made lots more different little choices (the $4 eggnog holiday latte), we could possibly have greater personal freedom and control over our lives. But just this one little latte won’t make that much of a difference. Nope. But the problem isn’t the latte, it’s your choice that makes the big difference. If in your fiscal plan you have room to make that choice, you will make it. Don’t have a fiscal plan? Then Starbucks has already made a plan for you with their luscious-smelling, hand-warming, cheery holiday cup encasing, donating a penny to some charity you’ve never heard of, devil beverage straight from hell.

So before you dismiss a family sabbatical dream out of hand for lack of money or too much debt, realize that you are making the same excuse for anything else you may ever want to do with your life that is outside the treadmill plan that Starbucks and other agents of Satan and deliciousness have made for you. Think your three weeks off every year is your reward for your hard work and time away from your family? Think again. That’s just where the money you earned is returned to the corporate coffers: Holiday resort packages, with spa for mommy, golf for daddy, movie time for the kiddies, and, oh look, Honey, a Starbucks!

I’ll say again what you’ve heard here before, that your family sabbatical is really just an excuse to discover and do loads of important things that you don’t need a family sabbatical to discover and do. In this case, getting a proper perspective on money so that it works for you, rather than the other way ’round. (Not a bad excuse, though, eh?) To take a family sabbatical requires setting very specific goals and objectives to achieve a very specific outcome. It’s no different from living our whole lives that way, it’s just easier to do with something more concrete, immediate, and exciting as a reward. So before ever taking your sabbatical, stepping outside your hectic life to see it objectively, and having epihanys about money and time and what really matters in life, you’ll have already made meaningful and important changes in your life.

Money, though—unless you’re going to throw on saffron robes, shave your head, and move to a park bench in Berkley—will always play a role in your life. Getting to a place where money works for you is not so much a state of enlightenment as it is awareness, planning, and discipline.

There are a number of great resources to help you take control of your fiscal life (and therefore the rest of your life). They will have lots of persuasive background, detailed instructions, and thorough rationale for what they advise. I highly recommend you find one that works for you (some recommendations below), but you can and should start today. (Strategies for savings or debt reduction and essentially the same, by the way; it’s just a matter of directing money to a savings account or a debt account. Get rid of debt first!) Here are the basic elements you need to know to get started (that any resource you use will have):

  1. Understand your situation
  2. Make a plan
  3. Be disciplined

The foundation of understanding your fiscal situation is having a budget. If you don’t have one, make one. As a former boss once told me as I was being put in charge of the books, “If you don’t understand the budget, you don’t understand the business.” Not only is this why so many small businesses fail, it’s why so many families are trapped in a life of happy holiday cups and boozy “vacations”.

And don’t stop with a budget. If you’ve got no system to report your actual expenditures against that budget, you’ve got a map to a place you’re never going to visit.

Many will say that you must know your values and have goals as well before making a budget, and I agree. But if you are making your first household budget, I recommend doing the budget first. You are already spending money, so your first budget can just be finding all your actual spending from the past and making a budget for the future. Once you have that as a template, you should drill into your values and goals and then adjust your budget to match.

Revising your budget is the first step in making a plan. But the greater thing we have to plan for is not what we think we should spend our money on, but how we allow ourselves to spend money. If you don’t know you’re over budget till all bills are paid after the end of a month, you’re probably three weeks away from catching back up again. And that can be enough discouragement to knock you off track before you were ever really on it. Much of planning is creating your strategies for spending money.

One example of spending controls is the envelope strategy. It’s a cash system where you take all the cash you have for the major line items in your budget and put the budgeted amount for the week or month in labeled envelopes. No cash in the envelope? No spendy money for you.

The good ol’ direct deposit from a paycheck is also a great planning strategy. Make a budget amount and have that amount automatically deducted from your paycheck. Better than paying taxes, even if it works the same way.

Finally, if you ain’t disciplined, you ain’t goin’ nowhere (literally or figuratively). You will not be as disciplined as you need to be when you begin your fiscal management process. Don’t sweat it. When your discipline fails, recognize the failure, acknowledge it, share the failure with someone if possible (to create accountability), forgive yourself, then figure out a way to avoid that same failure.

Money is actually pretty easy once you start measuring and planning, and having a family sabbatical as the big reward for your success in money management is about the best reason you can have for taking control of the most controlling element in your life.

RESOURCES:
Whether your challenge is debt or just plain control of your money, the classic Your Money or Your Life is a simple and compelling guide to the whole process. They obviously have more steps (really just more detail for the above three steps) and put cutting expenses before creating more income (I recommend thinking of new income strategies first and in parallel with the rest of their process), but anyone will get out of it what they need to.
Adam Baker combines a great everyman story with great strategies for his own success in money management and then life management. The Man vs. Debt website is an ongoing demonstration of what’s possible when you get it together.

[Ed. Note: Matt Scherr is the editor and founder of Radical Family Sabbatical. He confesses he just bought a peppermint latte the other day when he could have just bought a small coffee to use their wifi.]

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About Author

Matt Scherr

The founder and editor at Radical Family Sabbatical, Matt came to this high place via a tortuous route. With a psychology degree from the University of Colorado, Matt was clearly destined for…telecommunications. In this frenetic corporate world he learned the value of work over productivity, the value of appearance over performance, and the value of security over happiness.When that bubble burst, Matt was flung by the impact into the arms of a girl in the mountains of Colorado. Happiness ensued, magic happened, and two more little people appeared. In the meantime, Matt discovered a passion for community working at the Vail Leadership Institute. He later bridled that passion as the director of the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability, growing that organization five-fold in as many years.Matt and Diana (the girl) then decided, inexplicably, to leave their professional lives for the time being and take their kids to Ecuador for a spell. They hoped this "family sabbatical" would help their children to become better global citizens (time will tell).At home again (for a while), Matt is avoiding a job by freelance writing and offering business & travel consulting. He runs Radical Family Sabbatical to encourage families to live adventurous, unconventional, and fulfilling lives (yes, please do). View all posts by Matt Scherr →

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