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In today’s post, I’d like to reflect on one of the most important aspects of being intentional with your money – the idea that we need to pay attention to the particular season of life we are in when we set our budgets and our financial goals. And even our schedules and our routines. I invite you to do more than just pay attention to your season. I invite you to embrace your season.
No matter what season of life you are living through right now – life as a graduate student, life with a small child, life working from home, life taking care of an aging relative, etc. – embracing your season rather than fighting against it is a way to show yourself grace. And it helps us be more intentional about the goals we set as well.
When we set our financial goals embracing the reality of our season rather than trying to hold ourselves to a standard that’s only possible in someone else’s life, we’re better able to move forward and actually accomplish what we intend to do.
What are different seasons?
When we think of the seasons of fall, winter, spring, and summer, one of the key aspects is that these seasons are temporary. They affect how we approach life – bundling up in the winter, kids home from school during the summer, etc. But they are temporary. We know that winter won’t last forever. We know that summer vacation will come to an end, and the kids will return to school.
Seasons of life are similar. Having a newborn is a period of life that doesn’t last forever but that undeniably has an effect on every aspect of your life. Caretaking for an elderly relative may have a similar effect.
Some seasons are shorter than others – tax season, soccer season, the holiday season. Others may be entire life stages – the college years, the newlywed stage, the empty nest years.
Often, these seasons affect not only our schedules and our living situations but also our budget and financial goals. Losing a job or going back to school can force us into a period of time in which we have to cut back our expenses and learn to live with less.
But these financial seasons can also be the product of our own goal setting, such as when we make a commitment to pay off debt or to save more aggressively for a financial goal.
I invite you to consider what season you are currently living through. What are the unique opportunities and challenges that you face during this season?
Why do seasons matter?
We tend to hold ourselves to ideals and “shoulds” for our lives. We should be saving x amount toward retirement each month. And we should be able to live debt free and stick to our budget – while still keeping a sense of work-life balance.
And if we buy into the hype, we should be able to do it all while also cooking Instagram-worthy meals with fresh, healthy ingredients, saving for Instagram-worthy vacations, and buying whatever that latest must-have item is.
Or maybe it’s not the “shoulds.” Maybe it’s the lofty goals that we have. I know that for me, I tend to dream big. Far bigger than I actually have the capacity to accomplish if I’m being realistic.
It’s of course not a bad thing in itself to dream big. And it’s natural to feel that you “should” do certain things. As long as we’re smart about it.
A problem arises though when our goals and ideals don’t acknowledge the current season we are in.
In personal finance, this problem can manifest in a couple of ways.
1 – We want to put X amount of money toward a financial goal, but because our season makes that impossible, we give up and don’t do anything. We don’t consider whether putting Y toward that goal would be good enough.
Or 2 – We may end up trying to force ourselves into reaching the goal anyway, working more, trying harder, convinced that more effort will somehow allow us to overcome our current season. But then getting burnt out in the process.
How to embrace your own season
So what are we supposed to do when we’re living through a season of life and we notice that the season is interfering with one of our financial goals?
First, take some time to name your season.
- What is the reality of your season?
- What is bothering you about this season?
- How is this season impacting your income and your spending?
Second, reflect on your values, goals, and priorities.
- What truly matters to you?
- What financial goals would you like to accomplish in the next year/5 years/10 years?
- If you have multiple goals, which ones are the most immediately pressing? Which ones are most important in the overall scope of your life?
Third, find a doable solution.
- Stop trying to do all the things if that just doesn’t work in your season. Accept it, and grieve the loss if you need to.
- Think about the underlying goal of what you are trying to accomplish. Is there another way to achieve that same goal, even if it’s not in the ideal way you envisioned?
- Consider the fact that even small progress toward that goal will pay off if made consistently.
Fourth, monitor your perspective.
- If you start resenting your season or start feeling like you’ll never be able to “get on track,” reframe those thoughts.
- Track your progress, even if it’s small.
- Remind yourself that this season is not forever.
- Look for any silver linings or fringe benefits of your season.
This topic has been on my mind a lot in the past couple of years while my husband has been studying for a career change here in Korea. He has spent the last two years studying for the real estate broker license exam, which is given only once a year.
My husband originally planned to pass the exam after one year of studying, but he had to do his own “season embracing” after we welcomed our son into our family. All the extra demands of having a tiny human to care for ended up pushing his timeline back a year.
During this time, my tutoring business has been the sole financial support for our family, even though we’ve always intended to be a dual-income family. This season has also included an international move (long story – you can read about it here). With plane tickets for three, an apartment to set up, and a $12,000 loan for the apartment deposit to pay off, this move was not cheap.
It’s been tempting to get frustrated that we haven’t been able to afford all the things we have wanted during this time. We haven’t been able to be as aggressive as I’d like in saving for retirement.
And because my husband’s studying time is an important investment in our family’s future, I’ve had to navigate needing my business to provide for our family with needing my business to take as little time as possible out of my day so that I can watch our son during the hours my husband studies.
As much as I try to optimize our numbers and our schedules, eventually we reach a limit. That means that it’s just not possible right now for us to pay back that apartment deposit loan AND max out my Solo 401k AND save for a trip back to the US AND hire a full-time nanny. If I tried, I’d just feel frustrated with myself for not living up to my goals.
Embracing my season
So what does it mean to embrace this season of life that I am in, instead of fighting against it?
Naming my season
First, I had to realize that in this season of life, we are going to have to focus on some goals and not on others. Does it bother me that we don’t have the disposable income right now to do all the things? Sure. But it’s a season, and it will pass.
Reflecting on values and goals
Second, we needed to revisit our priorities and rename our goals.
Living debt-free is an important priority for us. Our apartment deposit loan had a pretty high interest rate, so we wanted to pay it off as soon as possible.
It’s also important to me to be on track for early retirement. Currently, my husband doesn’t seem to mind the idea of working until a traditional retirement age, but I personally would like to retire early. I’m currently on target for retiring at 62, but I’d like to get that number down significantly if possible.
Family is also important to us, so we do want to save for a trip back to the US. We want to give our son as many opportunities as possible to see his grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins.
Our careers are also very important to us, so we want to make sure the financial decisions we make don’t have an adverse effect on our careers. During this season, this really came down to managing our schedules, but it also had a financial component because we have to weigh whether or not to send our son to daycare or to hire a nanny.
Finding a doable solution
And so third, embracing our season meant coming up with a feasible way to prioritize certain goals over others, all the while taking smaller steps toward other goals if possible.
And so, we decided to aggressively work to pay off that high interest apartment deposit loan first.
For my retirement savings, we decided to just keep up with our minimum savings rate toward retirement. We’ll get more aggressive about it once we’re out of this season.
As for a trip back to the US to visit family, we decided that with the pandemic still lingering, we could wait until 2022 to visit again. That meant we could slowly save toward this goal.
And we also decided to postpone paying for childcare until we were closer to the time my husband found a job. In the meantime, we worked out a schedule that gave me time for my business and gave my husband time to study. Was it perfect? Definitely not. But it worked.
Monitoring my perspective
Fourth, as we progressed through 2021, I tried to keep tabs on how we were doing with these financial priorities. After we paid off the apartment deposit loan in July, we started a savings goal toward our next move a few years out. (We’re expecting our next apartment deposit to be roughly $50k, so this isn’t a minor goal!)
Some aspects of this season have been tough, to be honest. Juggling work/study schedules so that we can avoid childcare costs has been the biggest challenge, but the decision not to visit the US was tough as well. I will admit to counting down the days to my husband’s real estate license exam.
Now that my husband can start his job search soon, we’re so much closer to the end of this season. That makes it easier, of course. But I also want to remind myself that we’ll have challenges in our next season as well. And we’ll face those challenges the same way.
If you’ve read this far, chances are there is something frustrating you about the current season you are finding yourself in. I invite you to go through the reflection process outlined above so that you can embrace your season:
- Name your season.
- Reflect on your values, goals, and priorities.
- Find a doable solution.
- Monitor your perspective.
PS. Here’s a book recommendation. It’s not finance related, but it has definitely been an inspiration for me during this season: The Lazy Genius Way, by Kendra Adachi (check out Principle #4)