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.
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.