I have two children, 3 and 6, and am actively pursuing the path to financial independence.
I even blog about FI and to many I may seem determined (or at least obsessional). In reality, I often wonder if I am doing the right thing.
The paradox is that wanting to spend more time with my children is one of my main motivations for saving and investing.
I want to have enough passive income from investments so that I can take the leap to working more flexible part time hours. My dream is that I can balance work with family life and be able to join any non-work event that’s important to me and my children.
This week my daughter’s class sang in a remembrance service and I didn’t volunteer to help because I was working. She asked why I wasn’t there, because lots of other parents were. I felt I had let her down, and it’s just one recent example of times I’ve felt I haven’t been there for her.
To be honest, the issue isn’t just that it’s hard to get enough time off work to go to everything, but it’s also not having the mental headspace to read every email and plan how I’m going to join everything.
So I feel rubbish about this and sometimes it spurs me on to do more so I can gain this freedom to focus more on my family. Work harder at work, take extra courses, develop business ideas, save and invest everything I can…
But of course all of this extra work takes time away from my family right now, when my children are young and want to spend time with me.
If we go full throttle, I think we can pay off our mortgage in about 5 years and reach our FI number four years later. They will be 12 and 15. They will still be young and will still need me, but not the way they do now.
Right now, I’m less available and present for them because of this FI project, so I’m left wondering if I’m doing it all wrong.
If I cut down on hours at work now I could spend more time with them right now – and if we didn’t save so much we could make our life less stressful, go on holidays, get more help around the house…
But building options for the future is so important to me. It gives me a sense of hope and control – two feelings that help with the stress of parenting.
So I’m not going to give up, but I do need a mental reset and a better approach.
Here’s what I’m doing now – I hope it helps others in a similar situation.
1 – Make lines in the sand
Saving for tomorrow, at the expense of living for today, has taken its toll recently. We’ve been cutting back on things that help with feelings of overwhelm, like getting help with cleaning. I’ve also been throwing myself at work and not engaging fully in my children’s school life, meaning I’m out of the loop when things are happening or haven’t planned properly to join them.
These things are making me feel terrible so I’ve drawn some lines in the sand. This is where I set some basic standards that need to be met, regardless of the cost or impact on anybody outside the family.
I like to phrase these as “not worth it if…” e.g. “it’s not worth being able to overpay my mortgage if it means living in a pigsty all of the time”. Or, “it’s not worth getting a promotion if it means I’m never around for my kids.”
If this means throwing less time or money to my goals, so be it.
2 – Huge focus on physical and mental health
I know that a lot of the feelings of doubt and overwhelm come from feeling tired and not prioritising my physical and mental health.
I also know that there’s no better way to live for – and in – the moment than focussing on healthy habits. I find if I’m doing yoga or going for a walk in nature, I feel like I’m seizing that freedom I’m looking for right now. Doing these activities in a future dream life wouldn’t feel any different than it does now. So it makes me realise that I’m not, and don’t have to, live for the future. It also recharges and relaxes me so I can face my next challenges with a more positive attitude.
It’s even better if we can get the kids involved. When cabin fever struck today we took the kids for laps around the estate we live on. We rolled a dice before we left, pledging to walk the number of laps it landed on. We got out, it lifted our moods a bit, and we didn’t have the stress of driving somewhere.
3 – Early nights, early wake ups
They say “go to bed when they do” when you have newborns, but it took me years to finally get it. Since having kids I’ve gone to bed earlier but in the last few months I’ve been trying to sleep between 9 and 10, and when I do this it makes a huge difference (especially if it’s before 9.30).
The magic to it is that I can either get more sleep, or wake up earlier and have a wonderful extra hour or two when everybody else is sleeping to spend on my own goals.
I recently joined a membership community who have a 5am club session every weekday with a different topic each day for 30 minutes and then a coworking session. It’s such an inspiring and fun way to start the day – the secret is “just” going to bed early. I don’t manage as often as I’d like, but every day is a new chance.
4 – Do “high value” things with your time
It’s so easy, when I am feeling tired and overwhelmed, to spend massive amounts of time doing things that don’t really benefit me. This could be, scrolling social media, tearing through series on Netflix that aren’t going anywhere, or low value side hustles.
I even have a screenshot on my phone that says “if you don’t have time for what matters, stop doing things that do” but I don’t always obey it.
Spending time with my kids, working on projects that interest me and making time for real relaxation do matter. So from this week onwards I will be using my kitchen cleaning time to watch my show (that I do enjoy) but then instead of watching a few more episodes in the living room I will head to bed earlier to read.
5 – Choose one priority at a time
It’s hard not to want to do everything at once, but it was leaving me spread too thin and struggling to be present.
So now I am giving myself one personal development priority at a time, and at the moment it’s preparing for an exam in December that will be useful for my career.
When I feel on track for that, and have used up all of my studying energy, then I can spend time on other projects afterwards, like writing this blog post.
A couple of mindset shifts have helped me deal with my doubts recently.
One, is remembering that I am making a choice, and it’s one that I am very privileged to be able to make. Every day I can choose where to focus my time and energy, how much I’m going to prioritise my future goals in relation to what I need to do in this season of life.
The second is to be kind to myself. I can be very focussed and beat myself up for “falling off the wagon” but I’m coming to appreciate that what’s important is how to recover from a setback. I don’t want to fall into the trap of suggesting that making “good financial choices” is morally superior. What I do feel bad about is when I feel I haven’t been present for my children – those are the setbacks that I want to come back from.
I hope sharing some of this has helped anybody else in a similar boat. Feel free to reach out to me privately or posting a comment below.