Saw the tax man last night.  I’m torn whether or not to continue to go to him or not.  He’s a very nice guy, but also charges me and Teresa $250 per year to go through him.  That’s probably about 2x what it would cost to do myself.  I really dislike taxes and feel like it’s easy enough to mess it up that using a professional service is worthwhile.  I’ll have to consider it more next year.

Regardless of that decision, we had a “good” tax year in that we’re getting a refund.  There are no “good” or “bad” years of course.  It’s only a positive way to look at the government having your money for longer than they should.  However–cash is cash and we were waiting this year to decide if a vacation was in the cards.  With Tempo on the way and many other bills to pay for, we were iffy on a trip.

This may contrast somewhat with some of my previous goal of financial independence stated–trips are expensive.  I feel like I should lay out a quick philosophy on this one.

Growing up, my family did not have a lot of money.  Neither did Teresa’s.  We are of the same financial ilk, growing up to blue collar type families with multiple children.  We often speak about similar stories of being excited to go out to Pizza Hut or go on road trips for vacations.  We did not have a lot, but we had plenty for living a good life in the rural areas of Minnesota.  Our lives are much more decadent now:  we can go out to eat any time we want, we can afford cable television (though we don’t buy it), we could shop at designer stores for clothes (but we don’t often), we have a lot more discretionary income than our families did growing up.

But we are still in debt from student loans and have a mortgage.  And Tempo on the way set for arrival in May (beyond excited for this btw).  Neither of us has ever owned a new car.  We eat out sparingly, and when we do it’s at lower cost establishments.  We put away a large amount of our income into retirement accounts and the rest is mostly attributed to student loans.  In short, we live like we do not have a lot of money, because we really don’t.  If you have loans, a mortgage, car payments, credit card debt or other liabilities–they have to take precedent over other discretions.

I read a good amount about personal finance today.  Here are a few blogs which keep me honest:  Mr. Money Moustache, Get Rich Slowly, 20 Something Finance, Josh Kennon.   Before grad school, I thought very rarely about finance.  With a family and responsibilities thereof, it changes quickly.

Lots of folks go hard in the paint on personal finance.  They live their lives obsessed with saving every penny.  I think there has to be a balance.  You could get hit by a bus tomorrow, after all.  Growing up, we didn’t have a lot, but we still had fun and enjoyed life.  There is no reason it can’t be the same now.  I focus on paying down larger debt, saving for retirement and still enjoying the fruits of labor.

How do we enjoy them?   I’m not big into material stuff.  Nice cars, fancy clothes, expensive dinners–for the birds mostly.  I do appreciate all those things, but they will not truly make you happier.  They are a temporary high, which needs to be repeated continually–and after a time they become commonplace.

The things I do feel good about spending money on are plentiful.  Normally they are value focused, and by that I mean the money you put into them is long lasting and worthwhile.  Travel is high on the list.  The biggest reason is that seeing new places and making memories lasts a life time.  And provides new perspectives on other culture.  Knowledge is the best gift you can give yourself, and I mean that.  It sounds cheesy, but it’s true.  Enlightenment is happiness and travel is a great way to learn new things.

Our house is another.  I have no qualms about spending money on our house as it’s something we use every day and is normally an appreciating asset.  The money aspect of a house removed–I take pride in having a nice place to live for the family.  Plus it’s fun to make things better over time.

Smaller discretionary expenses include new music (soundtrack to your life!) and other types of art, going out for good food (Pizza Luce, Chipotle), and outdoor activities.  You’d be surprised what you can do without spending much money too, some of our favorite things to do cost nothing at all.  Hiking, biking, going to the park, etc.

So at the end of they day, yes we want to be financially independent, but we still want to enjoy the small fun parts of life simultaneously.  You can be frugal and still have fun.  Now–where are we going next month?  :-)  Enjoy your weekend.