This spring, an updated version of the best-selling book Your Money or Your Life was published and I felt like I was seeing references to it everywhere I turned (admittedly, I consume a lot of personal finance content so it might have just been me).
The author, Vicki Robin, appeared on several of the podcasts I regularly listen to, and I would encourage you to check the episodes out, including:
Vicki has a very interesting life story to say the least. She teamed up with the co-author of the book, Joe Dominguez, back in the 1970s and together they worked to help others achieve financial independence until his death in 1997.
You can listen to the podcasts to learn more but I will add one thing about her story that impressed me and made the decision to buy the book an easy one: she is not a “do as I say and not as I do” kind of person. Her commitment to helping others find financial independence by living their values (while staying true to her own) is truly impressive.
The 9-Step Program
The book has nine chapters, one for each of the nine steps of a program designed to transform your relationship with money (and with the world around you, really). The steps are:
- Making peace with your past by figuring out how much you have earned up until now and then calculating your net worth to show you what you have left.
- Calculating how much your really earn when you consider time and money spent on commuting, buying professional attire, being too tired to cook when you get home, etc.
- Tracking with as much precision as possible what you spend your money on each month.
- Asking yourself questions that will help you determine your “enough.”
- Charting your monthly income vs. your monthly expenses.
- Examining your spending and questioning if how you’re spending your money is aligned with you values.
- Maximizing your income to ensure you are getting paid appropriately for the value your bring to your job.
- Saving the difference between what you spend and what you earn so that eventually you have enough invested to live off the earnings and make working optional (financial independence).
- Investing your savings wisely to ensure you are able to reach and sustain financial independence.
Working the Steps
As you can see, if you were looking for a hack among the steps that will result in you becoming a millionaire overnight, you won’t find one. That’s because boring is good when it comes to your money and, more importantly, it works.
I know this because many of the actions I have taken over the last several years that have transformed my relationship with money align with Vicki’s steps.
In May 2016, I started a three-month spending fast that eventually led to me paying off almost $60k in debt in 16 months. This work—and all I have been able to achieve—has given me the insight into how money flows in and out of my life that would result from completing steps 1-3.
I have also gotten comfortable tracking my net worth (step 5), trimming my expenses (step 6), saving money for retirement (step 8) and investing it in low-cost index funds (step 9).
There are still aspects of my relationship with my money I need to work on and for me it is with these aspects I think the book will ultimately prove most helpful. They are figuring out my “enough” (steps 4) and and identifying how paid work fits into my life (step 7).
What is Enough?
I have struggled with trying to identify my “enough” for a while now (Vicki also refers to it as that “Goldilocks ‘just rightness'” feeling).
I really want to be a purposeful spender, buying what fulfills me and only in the right quantities, but inherent to doing this is knowing my purpose and so far my crystal ball has been somewhat cloudy.
To help with this, Vicki recommends digging deep to identify “what dreams are calling” me and using these dreams as a basis for evaluating the way I spend my money. “Fulfillment is our compass and our rudder for transforming our relationship with money.”
Once identified, we can then use the following three questions to evaluate how well our actions match our values:
- Did I receive fulfillment, satisfaction, and value in proportion to the life energy spent?
- Is this expenditure of life energy in alignment with my values and life purpose?
- How might this expenditure change if I didn’t have to work for money?
My problem is I don’t yet have answers to the initial “what dreams are calling me” question and so right now find myself in a state of limbo. I have paid off my debt and am maxing out my tax advantaged account but am somewhat paralyzed with what to do with the money that remains.
This awareness isn’t a bad thing by itself because at a minimum, it prevents me from going hog-wild and buying everything in sight. But my not knowing my purpose also means I’m not going to be feeling like Goldilocks anytime soon either.
What is Your Life’s Energy Worth?
Chapter Seven’s exploration of work and income and how it relates back to the value I place on my life’s energy came at a really good time for me. Lately, I have been frustrated with my job and revisiting a decision I had made to stay with my current employer until retirement.
My brain wanted to reject Vicki’s conclusion that “there is only one purpose served by paid employment: getting paid.” But what about the satisfaction of learning new skills, working as a team, achieving goals, being recognized etc., etc.? Well, she notes, these are things “equally available in unpaid activities.” Oh.
Redefining ‘work’ as simply any productive or purposeful activity, with paid employment being just one activity among many, frees us from the false assumption that what we do to put food on the table and a roof over our heads should also provide us with our sense of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment….
Separating work from wages means all moments in your life matter, and reclaiming more moments to spend as you will, not as you must, is a worthy goal indeed.
She goes on to say that it is great if you can find a job that pays you to do something you love but if you can’t, that is okay too.
By giving up the expectation that you will be paid to do the work you are passionate about, you can do both things with more integrity. You can make money to cover your expenses, and you can follow your heart without compromise…. You can treat your paid employment years like preparation for your full-time vocation.
What this means to me is that it is good to take pride in my paid employment—it is consuming a lot of my life’s energy and since I don’t want to waste even a minute of that, I need to care about it. But that I don’t need to so identify with my job that it becomes synonymous with who I am.
My job is not the end but the means to the end. Hopefully I like it but whether I do or not doesn’t matter as much as whether if fulfills its role of my life of paying me what I am worth: I need to earn as much as I can from it so that I can also accomplish all the other things I want to accomplish during my short time here on this planet.
What I Didn’t Like
I mentioned to a friend I was reading this book and she told me she often recommends it to people just getting started with understanding and transforming their relationship with money. I found this interesting because I think if someone had given it to me back in 2016, it would have overwhelmed me, especially Step 1.
Vicki says many times throughout the book “no shame, no blame” but being confronted with how little I had to show for the money I had earned over the years would have likely made me feel like a failure, not spurred me to change.
This won’t be true for everyone, of course, but for me it would have been so I mention it here as something I didn’t like. (NOTE: the friend I was speaking to is quite a bit younger than me so maybe for someone in their 20s who hasn’t had as much time to make mistakes, it would be a great book to start with!).
What Did You Think?
Have you read Your Money or Your Life? Did it help you transform your relationship with money? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.