Simplifying Your Life Requires Balancing Time and Money

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There was a time in the not-so-distant past when I was completely and utterly enamored with the idea of true simple living – living simply and self-sufficiently.  I poured over Helen and Scott Nearing’s book The Good Life, and I studied edible landscaping and permaculture.

Self-sufficiency seemed like an incredibly important goal, and as a result, I taught myself how to knit and practiced sewing.  I was also very keen on gardening.  Many, many gardening books later, I had a good little garden going.  Then I pursued my interest in medicinal herbs all the way through a certificate program in herbal medicine.  It was fascinating, challenging, and the polar opposite of my “day job” as a financial planner.

During this phase, I envisioned the day when we would have transformed our lives from suburbanites to homesteaders.  I would be able to cut back or retire from my day job and live the good life.  But things shifted.

The shift

In 2007, two things happened – one, seemingly innocuous, and the other categorically epic.  The epic event was that I found myself pregnant at age 38.  Greg and I had only begun discussions about maybe starting a family at the start of that year.  And the odds were slim given my “advanced maternal age.”  During my pregnancy, I was finishing herb school and working, so I was extremely busy.  Between schoolwork, my day job, gardening, and reading up on how to have a baby and be a parent, every moment of my day was consumed.

Our garden was puny that year, but it wasn’t through neglect.  I studied and examined all the possible reasons why it was suddenly underperforming.  The following spring was even worse, so I had an expert diagnose the issue.  The proximity of a black walnut tree was the likely culprit, and the expert suggested moving the entire garden.

The idea hit me like a ton of bricks.  I was very pregnant by that spring, and I was not prepared to take on the back-breaking work of starting a garden over from scratch.  The only other location for the garden that made any sense didn’t receive enough sunshine.   It was discouraging.

At the same time, I was consumed with impending motherhood, so I let the garden slide.  I decided tailgate market produce would be fine for now, and I’d return to gardening in due time.

Learning hard truths

During the transitional years, when I transformed from being a wannabe-homesteader to a working, homeschooling mother, I learned some hard truths about myself and about life.  One truth was that while I enjoyed gardening and herbal medicine, it didn’t mean I was adept at them or that I found them easy to do.  Despite all my studying and serious efforts, I just wasn’t that good at gardening and herbal medicine.  I enjoyed it all immensely, but it was a struggle from start to finish.

But there were things I WAS good at, and still am: working as a financial planner, teaching, homeschooling, and being a kick-ass mom.

It’s a difficult decision to let go of cherished occupations or avocations, especially when you have created an entire persona around them.  Self-reflection is important, and sometimes that internal dialogue points us to some hard truths.

Simplicity for me today

That long prelude provides some framework for where I find myself today.  When you enter discussions about minimalism and simplicity with bloggers, writers, and simplicity groups, you learn that everyone’s definition of minimalism and simplicity is different.  It took me a while to understand that.

Initially, my attraction to the ideals of the simple life led me down a path that seemed straight and narrow:  pare down your belongings, enjoy simple pleasures, be self-sufficient.

Now I realize the first two – paring down and enjoying simple pleasures — were in my wheelhouse, pursuing self-sufficiency was not.  I could double-down and get back to gardening and self-sufficiency.  But what would I have to sacrifice, since there are, after all, only 24 hours in a day?

And that is the moral of the story:  Time is money, and money is time.  I was trying to use more time to achieve the simple life I craved.  While the work towards self-sufficiency was rewarding, it was also time-consuming and exhausting.  I realized if I applied myself to growing my financial planning career instead, I could trade less time for more money.  That money then gave me the freedom to “buy time” to pursue the other aspects of my life that I not only enjoyed, but at which I excelled – mothering and homeschooling.

I cannot over-emphasize the fact that everyone’s minimalism or simple living journey is unique to them.   I remind myself of that very truth all the time.  Guilt sets in when I buy grocery produce or seldom mend my own clothes.  I pay someone to help keep our house clean, so that I have extra hours in the month to write and be with my daughter.

For me, simple living is spending as much time as possible with my husband Greg and daughter Rowan.  That gift of time allows us to have great travel experiences, meaningful homeschooling with Rowan, the ability to enjoy the simple pleasures life has to offer, and the pursuit of moderation as a consumer.  That means I spend some money to “buy” time.

Time is money.  Money is time.  If you are interested in having a simpler life, it is critical to strike the balance between time and money that is right for you and your family.  Don’t be afraid to embrace what works for you.  It may not be your original vision of the simple life but what matters is living a life simply in a way that is satisfying to YOU.


How do you live simply?  In what areas of your life have you traded time for money, or money for time?  Share your thoughts below.  Or if you want some like-minded friends, join the free SimpleMoney Community on Facebook to share your retirement wins or woes.


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Photo credit: Greg Starks, Sunset over Blue Ridge Mountains, © 2018


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