The Homestead Reference Library: Your Money or Your Life

By , October 13, 2011

My family and I have been living frugally for a long time, longer than I sometimes realize. We’ve been at it so long, in fact, that our first sources of inspiration didn’t appear on the Internet, but in print. Our two most enduring inspirations have been Amy Dacyczyn’s The Complete Tightwad Gazette, and Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship With Money and Achieving Financial Independence by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin (ask your local independent bookstore). Both of these books have a place in our Homestead Reference Library.

My older brother recommended Your Money or Your Life for many years before I ever got around to reading it. I wish I hadn’t waited so long. The book introduces the concept of “Life Energy,” the idea that your time is money. By explaining the value of one’s time and effort beyond wages or salary, teaching how to compute one’s own life energy, and encouraging us to judge our activities in light of that value, the authors create a compelling track toward financial freedom.

The one you can’t have: my hardbound copy of Your Money or Your Life (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

This track involves computing the monetary value of one’s efforts, then using that as the yardstick for making financial decisions. The key is looking at every expenditure as trading your life energy for goods. From this perspective, acquisition becomes whittled down to essentials in a hurry! The authors then show you how to track every penny that enters and leaves your life, and tabulate this in chart form. Next, they show you how to quantify your goals, and overlay those on the chart. This provides a visual map of where you are and where you want to go. Where these two competing values intersect is where your life will change for the good.

There’s more to it than that, which is why it’s a good idea to read the book. However, the authors offer something that I particularly appreciate. In an epilogue, they lay their lessons out in outline form. The rest of the book is rationale and examples. If you learn best by examples, by all means, read the book. But if you’re like me, impatient with other people’s stories that have little bearing on how I live my life, the epilogue cuts to the heart of the matter. There’s no need to wade through stories of yuppies who marvel at the revelation that they don’t have to eat lunch in restaurants every day of the week.

I followed the full program for several years. I eventually had to give it up because Michelle grew tired of the chart that I kept on our bedroom wall. By the time I finally agreed to take it down, the precepts were in place. Not long after that, we moved to our “homestead,” which removed us so far from the common American life that the book’s lessons could hardly be fully implemented. However, the concepts continue to guide my life. I no longer have the ability to compute my life energy, as my incomes aren’t steady enough, but I certainly keep track of every penny coming in or going out. And, although modified from what the book suggests, we have, in fact, achieved the life the book’s “road map” pointed us toward.

Your Money or Your Life has been so influential in my life that I buy inexpensive copies when I find them in used bookstores and garage sales so that I can give them away to people I recommend it to.

8 Responses to “The Homestead Reference Library: Your Money or Your Life”

  1. Sherry says:

    I have both these books and re-read them regularly. I found them late in life (50’s) and wish I’d known about them when in my 20’s. They are both truly life-changing books if you follow them.

  2. Don says:

    Quick question: Are your links to Amazon tied to your account?

  3. Mark Zeiger says:

    True, but unfortunately I have yet to meet anyone in their 20s who would follow them!

  4. Mark Zeiger says:

    Yes. All of our Amazon links provide us a small advertising fee from Amazon, which does not come out of the buyer’s pocket.

    We urge everyone to support their local, independent bookstore, but for those who shop Amazon, the links provide a convenience, and a micro-income for us.

  5. Joe says:

    I’m 31, my wife is 28, and my daughter is 8. Is it realistic to think we could actually make it for the long term ‘homesteading’. It seems possible to me, but I may not be being realistic. If so, what are the major steps needed to avoid certain failure? We currently only have a tiny bit of student loan debt and the house which we would sell. Any advice is appreciated.

  6. Mark Zeiger says:

    Joe, it’s far more than age, of course, but we often wish that we could have started when we were younger. Especially, we wish that we could have started this life earlier for Aly’s sake. I’d love to have started here at 31!

    It’s more about attitude, commitment, and ability. There are no guarantees against failure; I guess the major step to avoid it would be to make sure every family member is willing to give it a try. Set your goals realistically, then do your best.

    As for our advice, the blog’s largely about. Read, enjoy, and learn from our mistakes! And, be courageous. The pay off is immense.

  7. Joe says:

    I guess my plan is to save up enough to pay off most of whatever land we bought and have a few years of money saved up. I’m sure one of us would work at first while we also tried to invent other ways to make money or do remote work. That is kind of what I meant by ideas on avoiding certain failure.

  8. Mark Zeiger says:

    You’ve definitely got the right idea. Paying off debt is most important in my opinion, and a nest egg really helps! If one or both of you can work, you should be set. I’d guess securing the land is the highest priority (after removing debt). Getting to the point where you can spend most of your time and energy on the business of living can come later. Best of luck!

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