Balancing Frugality

“You shouldn’t tell people that!” “But, it’s the truth.” “Yes, but while telling them the sad truth you obscure the other more important truth.” Ain’t that the truth.
“I’m impressed with how you’re able to stay upbeat with everything you’re going through. How do you do it?” “What else can I do?” Really, being upbeat is as good an option as any.
Those are the paraphrased versions of a pair of conversations that happened after Wednesday’s post. They weren’t the only ones. I’m in the midst of a balancing act, and my friends help by pointing out my pessimisms and optimisms. I’m also in a balancing act because I’m chronicling my journey publicly via this blog, while also running a consultancy and applying for jobs. As if balancing a finances with a declining net worth wasn’t enough, I have to balance emotions and be aware of perceptions.

Wednesday’s blog was about how many folks are crossing their fingers, toes, arms, and legs (but not eyes and not while driving) for me as I pursue Plans A, B, C, D, et al. Friends and family are sweet. One friend even made that literal by buying some of my art and then tipping me with an entire flourless (gluten-free) chocolate (good anti-oxidants) cake (dessert!). It took me two weeks to finish it. Going through my financial turmoil would be much tougher without everyone’s help.

Many of my friends are coaches, counselors, consultants, advisors, or independently successful. Many of them are also active in social service charities supplying help to those who need food, shelter, health care, clothing, child care, or emotional support. And of course there is overlap.

Conventional wisdom is that to be successful I must act successful. One of favorite authors, Sun Tzu, in his book, The Art Of War says, “When you are small, appear large.” I believe a variation on that is “Fake it until you make it.” Success breeds success. If I am putting myself out there as a consultant who helps others towards success, then I should emphasize my successes. That makes a lot of sense. In terms of the nine-step program championed by New Road Map, and in the book Your Money Or Your Life, my financial turmoil is largely restricted to step nine. I understand all of the steps well enough to help others through them. (I was Board Secretary of New Road Map, am a case study in Your Money Or Your Life, and wrote my own book that is the basis of this blog, Dream. Invest. Live.) I sincerely think that my step nine hiccup is largely monstrous bad luck. To emphasize my success I should be writing about the earlier steps. I should also spend more time on this blog passing along the testimonials of this first wave of clients. I’ll work on that. It goes against upbringing, but I understand the power of public positivism.

My passion is for people and ideas. Writing, photography, teaching, speaking, and consulting are the tools for following my passion. I am also an extreme independent moderate because I enjoy being in the middle. It’s easier to see each extreme that way instead of just one. It also means I know many people who are apparently successful, and people who aren’t meeting basic needs. Despite grand programs and strategies, it is too easy to underestimate the power of luck. The successes become public anecdotes and can readily take credit for their situation. The unlucky become statistics and are more likely to withdraw from sight and sound.

From what I hear, it turns out that I am helping give voice to some of the unlucky. None are going through exactly what I am going through because none of us lead identical lives. That’s amazing considering 7,000,000,000 people. But many are glad I am providing at least one example. It is too easy for misfortune to convince someone that it’s their fault. They must have done something wrong with career, family, health, attitude, emotion, or even spirit in this or previous lives. If nothing is going right, then are they doing everything wrong? Others with the same job, family, diet, social skills, philosophy or religion are successful, so what did they do wrong? Mistakes do happen, and introspection and retrospection are worthwhile. Bad luck happens too. Someone who wins the lottery and writes a book about how they did it will sell copies. Someone who loses the lottery and writes a book about it better make the book a comedy.

I’ve chronicled my financial life by blogging for almost four years now (anniversary next November 5th). I’ve gone from a net worth that was rising dramatically with the possibility of rising further, which prompted the comment, “I didn’t want to read that you’ve made more money.” In the last eighteen months that net worth has declined over 95% from historically poor portfolio performance and attrition. Now I hear the opposite. Well, this blog is about balancing life and money, so money will be a topic. Being honest about the fall has been painful to read for some of my friends, both because they are empathic and because they feel it isn’t a good business tactic.

My life is a balancing act. Whose life isn’t? This blog is a balancing act. I can see why most writers stick to the “strong declarative statement”. An unequivocal declaration or emotional expression is easier to present and can be much more concise. It works for politicians and pundits and sound bites. Businesses and organizations use it for branding. I am more familiar with balancing. My job at Boeing was essentially understanding how to balance the forces acting on the airplane. My studies in karate require intuitive and continual awareness of balance. My financial lifestyle has been a continual effort to balance risk and reward. Yet, airplanes, bodies, and money can fall out of balance.

I live frugally. Frugality isn’t living cheap, though that may be a consequence. Frugality is living my life according to my values while respecting my resources. Money, time, energy, emotion, community, and the universe are all resources. I stay upbeat because I am frugal. I’ve been able to persist through an over 14 month job search because of my frugality. Frugality has meant that I live my life according to my values. I’ve done so for years. As the money tightened I’ve cut back on many things, but fundamentally every day is spent living a life similar to the one I led when I was a millionaire. Frugality is also why I believe I can re-attain a thriving, sustainable lifestyle yet again. It doesn’t take much money to dramatically improve my life. This weekend’s clients have had an enormous effect. (I particularly liked that two of my recent clients have insisted on paying more than I charged. I guess they like what I did for them.)

My frugality, my respect for people, including myself, is why I chronicle the good days and the bad days. We all have good times and bad times. From what I can tell, many who have had similar financial downdrafts like mine don’t tell anyone about the details until after they are successful again. It is hard to be honest when things are going poorly. I write throughout to guard against selective amnesia.

I look forward to reinvigorated finances for the obvious reasons. The writer in me looks forward to writing about the upside that follows the downside. There’s a lot of good material there. And as another friend put it (paraphrased of course),
“The best person to ask about relationships is someone that’s had heartbreaks and found love. The best person to ask about recovering health is someone who got sick and got well. Maybe the best person to listen to about money is someone who’s lost a lot and got it back. The priest, the perpetually fit, and the heir may have useful things to say but they can only talk about half of life. Someone who’s seen more can also talk about more of life. Maybe you’ll be that person.”

Balance is hard to achieve from only one side or from out at an extreme. Frugality taught me that. Money isn’t everything, but it also isn’t nothing. Time is everything, but it can’t be spent only doing one thing. Every day my life exercises that balance. Stay tuned. It’s the only way to know if I’ve balanced it well enough.

About Tom Trimbath

real estate broker / consultant / entrepreneur / writer / photographer / speaker / aerospace engineer / semi-semi-retired More info at: and at my amazon author page:
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