Dear Carolyn: Over a decade, my salary has tripled (I'm quite well-paid now), my work hours and responsibilities have increased, and — because I'm so frequently tired or short on time — my "outsourcing" has increased, too. Think: frequent takeout, a dog-walker, cabs instead of buses and a whole lot of shelling out money in exchange for convenience or time.
Now my husband and I want to look toward a future where we're working less, which will also mean living on less. He wants us to prepare for that future by living on less now. I get why that's smart, but I'm having trouble in practice. I'm quite sure I'd have the energy to cook and coupon-clip if I got home from work at 4-5, but I just don't when I get home at 9. Do you have any suggestions for how to pre-downsize before we actually downsize?
— Downsizing a Life
Downsizing a Life: When does he get home? If he’s cooking, coupon-clipping and dog-walking, then the savings will confer to you as a couple just as if you were doing them.
And if he works late, too, then presumably he won’t have any trouble seeing why these preemptive “savings” might drain more from you and your earning power than they’re worth.
These expenses buy you rest, and rest is not a luxury. You are well compensated to produce good work, and you will not work as well if you’re up late stirring a pot of resentment (freeze it to dine on all week!). The big salary now is far more valuable to your downsized-later than small or even moderate savings.
Your husband’s idea isn’t an unreasonable one; it’s a financial-advisory staple for couples to structure their lives to be affordable on one of their salaries alone, to hedge against a future illness, injury, job loss, breakup or miscellaneous salary-erasing emergency.
But not everyone can do that, and some who technically can perhaps shouldn’t — again, not if it involves sacrifices that cost more than they’re worth, even to quality of life. And it’s hard to see how savings on the margins are going to pay off when they add to the workload of someone already working too much.
So here’s what I suggest: First, and everywhere, look for passive savings — meaning, you leave your lifestyle unchanged and simply pay less for it. Refinancing a mortgage is the classic example. Also check your credit cards for recurring charges you’ve forgotten about and subscriptions you’d barely miss.
Your husband, as chief downsizer, can research money-tracking apps that automatically flag those recurring charges and subscriptions for him and coupon-tracking apps that find savings automatically, no clipping or habit-changing required.
Every nickel you two save this way, divert to a savings account through payroll deductions.
Look to cut material luxuries next if needed, to keep your time and convenience luxuries intact. Better even to pay for cheaper outsourcing than to cut the outsourcing itself. Teenage dog-walker, simpler takeout.
If you’ve been there, tried these, and if in your husband’s eyes they’re insufficient, then it’s time to draw the line. You work till 9. So, no. You’ll cook, clip, ride, walk and downsize when your earning time is up.