I’ve always been careful with money (following in the footsteps of two frugal parents). However, I only started becoming really interested in personal finance and how I could build wealth when on maternity leave with my second child.
I was on statutory maternity pay and the main breadwinner in the family so we really struggled to cover our costs that year, which made me very focussed on sticking to our budget and trying to make any extra money I could through selling maternity and baby things I no longer needed on Gumtree and trying to protect and grow any savings we had through investing.
The hours I spent feeding my baby during the day were also spent listening to financial independence podcasts, reading “seminal texts” like Vicki Robin’s Your Money or Your Life and scrolling through personal finance blogs. I tried to find ways that I could make part-time working work and planning how to overpay the mortgage to free up money in the future.
There are so many different approaches to personal finance out there which raised doubts about my plans when I decided to go back to work full time. Was I building a good financial future by going back to work and making the most of any surplus income, or was I missing the point entirely by giving up this time with my children?
When I returned to work this consumed me and I countered those anxieties by looking for ways to feel that I was progressing and succeeding. I’d check my balances, move money from savings to investment accounts and watch endless You Tube videos about side hustles and passive income. It became a bit of a mental tic, and to be honest even now, sometimes as I rock my baby to sleep I’ll think about whether to shorten my mortgage term or keep the flexibility to make overpayments!
I do think learning and thinking about my family’s finances is a good use of time, but when I feel this investment of time is giving diminishing returns here are the things I do to get the balance back:
- Automate as many habits or decisions as possible. For example, when I get paid I put money into sinking funds (such as for holidays), make a mortgage overpayment (if we can) and put aside some money for investing which I will transfer to my account at the end of the month if we haven’t needed to spend it.
- Think of money as a tool – I loved this blogpost from CityFrugal which says money is like a hammer to build a house. The point is the kind of house you are building, not how many hammers you have. He also suggests focussing on relationships, your skills and the value you bring rather than the money you can accumulate. So, I’ll remind myself of what my other goals are. If I’m hankering after something to monitor I’ll set myself a goal for new words to learn in a foreign language or think about how to work on skills that will help with my career.
- I see my main financial goal as having the ability to spend in line with my values. I may not buy the cheapest food or other items, but I buy zero or low waste where possible and am ok with spending more if it’s the most practical way to have a lower impact.
- I set aside set times to listen to finance podcasts or You Tube, like when I clean the kitchen, on the basis that this is my only time for this.
- I try to turn thinking into action as much as possible. If I catch myself thinking about money, I’ll come up with a few easy actions to get out of the endless spiral of planning and self doubt. For example, putting up a Gumtree listing or finding an ISA with a better rate.
So, this is very much a work in progress. I know I don’t have the best balance right now, but I also understand the aggravating factors involved. Life with small children is very tiring and working full time brings its own strains.
At the same time, I’m diving head first into new ways to build a better future for my family with the backdrop of increasingly daunting political and environmental developments. I may not have it all figured out but I’m learning a lot – not just about money but about myself and the kind of life I want to live.