How Has Money Changed You?

I recently got a phone call out of the blue from a former coworker, someone around 8 years my junior. They’re at a point in their life where they’re trying to balance fiscal responsibilities with work that they’re proud of, passionate about, and good at.

One of the things they were curious about is how money has changed me. They don’t know the details of my personal financial situation, but I think they’re aware of how Stonemaier Games is doing. I’m definitely not rich, just comfortable, but I do have the most financial freedom now as compared to any other point in my life.

It was interesting for me to see if money has changed me–for better or worse–so I created the following list:

  • I buy nicer chocolate. I really do love chocolate, yet it wasn’t until a few years ago that I even considered buying fancy chocolate instead of whatever was on sale at the grocery store. I still like a good deal on chocolate, but when I spot it, I get it. Some of my favorites include Lake Champlain truffles, Chocolate Love salted almond butter, and Theo Chocolate salted almond.
  • My time feels much more valuable than money. This has been true for a while, but it’s even more pronounced now. I think this is both a positive and a negative. Positive because I don’t waste my time trying to save a few dollars (time has always been valuable, and it’s just easier to see now). Negative because I’m much more impatient, leading me to avoid anything that results in waiting in line. Also, I’m more likely to give away things I no longer need or want (like games I haven’t played in a while) rather than taking the time to sell them.
  • I buy meals for friends (and eat out more). I remember in my early 20s when splitting a bill with friends in the fairest possible way was really important. Now I’ve found that I genuinely enjoy covering the bill. I don’t do this every time, but I do it fairly often.
  • I stress less about health-related expenses…for my cats (and for me). Did you know that owning a pet is incredibly expensive? If I wasn’t in my current situation, it would be a source of constant stress. They have food, medicine, bills from the vet, etc. Having a little extra money has allowed me to put that stress aside and focus on my affection for Biddy and Walter.
  • The big expenses haven’t changed. I still drive a 2003 Camry and live in the same small condo I bought in 2005. In some ways, I think these are daily reminders to stay true to my roots and my principles.
  • I’m much more charitable. From a young age, my parents instilled in me the values of helping those in need. So throughout my life I’ve tried to give to charities that I’m passionate about. I think the biggest difference now is that I’m much more willing to contribute without hesitant to causes that the people for whom I care are working on.
  • I have a much bigger focus on long-term financial security. I’ve been putting money into a 401k in small doses since my first job after college, but I’ve been more aggressive about it recently. Also, I have many more types of insurance than I did when I was younger. I’m hoping I never have to use most of those insurances, but it’s reassuring to have them.

If you’re in a different financial situation than you were, say, 10 years ago, how has money changed you? If you’re comfortable sharing, that is.

12 Responses to “How Has Money Changed You?”

  1. Adrian Brown says:

    Well, I certainly am not rich, but I currently have a job that covers my bills and allows me to freelance for extra money occasionally. (I am a photographer and do color-grading and motion graphics for post-production)

    The biggest change from when I was putting off bills and never leaving my apartment in order to not spend, is that I now maintain a better level of food in my home. I always have fresh fruits and vegetables in the house, and make sure that my son gets a banana and one other fruit for breakfast every single day. I still don’t leave the apartment much (my work lets me do things remotely) but if I have anything to say about it, my kid will always have quality food for his meals. Til college, anyway.

    I also foot the bill for nights out with a buddy, but I go out so rarely that it hardly matters.

    The most charitable thing I do isn’t really very charitable, since I get something in return (hopefully). But I back Kickstarters for boardgames pretty regularly. Sometimes for games I don’t really want, but the team working on it strikes me as really passionate, and sometimes because the project is so obviously someone noticeably out of their depth, in a garage stapling pieces together, but their concept has merit. I have backed 64 projects in the past two years, and while most of them still haven’t arrived, (though Western Legends came through on schedule and that was pretty awesome) I believe in the system and am willing to back the occasional failure if it means some great ideas get realized.

    Now, 18 years ago, I was one of those @$$#0les in a colored jacket screaming into a phone on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, making rich d-bags more rich, and my christmas bonus was 18k with a 2k gift card. I wanted for nothing and got to live in the greatest city in the world with a fantastic apartment and went boozing and schmoozing clients twice a week with a company card that had a 50k limit (I was a junior associate, the big guys got the 150k cards).

    But the thing was, I really just bought movies on DVD and kept up on the latest videogames. I didn’t go crazy and move into a penthouse, or start drinking Cristal in the backrooms of clubs while tossin dolla dolla bills. I just had a nice apartment and bought a really nice bed and mattress, then a TV and sound system. The rest of the money I spent on vet bills for friends, parking tickets for my ex-girlfriend and dinner for friends. I never really wanted a yacht.

    Then some dbags flew some planes into buildings and I gave it all up to join the army. But that’s another story.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Adrian: Thanks for sharing this! I like the idea that being comfortable has led to healthier eating for you and your family. Kind of the opposite of my chocolate example. 🙂

      I can relate to the Kickstarter aspect too, and for me it often does genuinely feel like I’m helping someone else (an offshoot of charity).

      It’s also interesting that you’ve seen wealth from so many different angles so far in your life. Would you say you’re the happiest now, and is that related to your current level of wealth?

  2. Sara says:

    My mother passed away in 2009 leaving me my childhood home and leaving my brother the cash equivalent (well, almost – I had to buy him out 17%). Thankfully there was enough life insurance to pay off what was left of the mortgage and do some remodeling. So I’m cash comfortable with the rest of the money invested plus my full time job making about $60k a year. The thing is, I’m in the middle of Silicon Valley – about 2 miles from the Apple Spaceship campus. This 1300 sf house on 1/10 acre was purchased for $29k. Two homes across the street on the same size lot, but built out to the setbacks, sold for over $2.25M in the last two years. First of their kind in this neighborhood – and they’re still only single story. I could probably get $1.8M without doing any upgrades besides paint and floors. Move to Montana – buy a 6000sf, 3-story log mansion on a lake or river for a song… some days it’s tempting, but I’m not done with my life here yet. Maybe never will be. Aside from the weather, I am really spoiled by the produce, the internet service, the multitude of choices that exist for medical care… I hope never to need Stanford or UCSF for anything, but they’re an hour or less away. So is Santa Cruz beach… 5 hour drive to Tahoe… I spent my entire childhood here – and all my summers in Montana.

    I’ve always been on the generous side, but now I buy more meals out for friends, attend concerts on occasion, and donate to charity much more often simply because I can. I also do more self-care with getting regular massages, buying better shoes/clothes, getting pedicures… that sort of thing. I’m not going overboard – I did buy a new Corolla in 2015 on 0% interest because now my credit is good enough to get that kind of financing. It’ll be paid off in a couple more payments, and I’m looking forward to getting to keep that payment for myself or spend on something else.

    I have a large, but specific list of things I would do were I to hit the powerball – all related to charity/grants/services of some kind for both people and animals. Alas, I’m not nearly wealthy enough to be able to finance those dreams.

    Without Proposition 13 protecting my property tax rates, I couldn’t afford to live here by myself. With my husband and I working full time, we could cover it OK. He takes care of most of the repairs and grounds keeping, which saves us thousands sometimes.

    Hopefully I haven’t overshared too much. I don’t think I’m too spendy, and I’m definitely not living in glamour or fashion. Just a comfy life where we can take cool trips on occasion.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Sara: This is fascinating! I like the minor luxuries like self-care and cool trips, and it’s really interesting to hear that you could potentially sell your house/property for quite a bit of money, but that there are other benefits to your current location that are more valuable to you. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Kyle Mueller says:

    I would echo most of your points above, but the single biggest is emphasizing the value of time. Doubly so as I’m self-employed like yourself. I work in a fairly high demand profession, and I could functionally always work more in order to make more money. Nowadays I measure everything against my hourly billable rate (after expenses and taxes etc).

    As a result, I now contract out basically everything I can (such as housekeeping) if it costs less than I could make while working. I’m much happier, and also more productive because I’m not wasting so much of my in time doing things inefficiently to save a few dollars.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      “Nowadays I measure everything against my hourly billable rate.” I can absolutely relate to that, even though I don’t have a billable rate.

      There is one weird caveat I’ve found: haircuts. That’s a normal thing to contract out to someone else, right? You go to a barber and pay them to cut your hair. However, I’ve found that I can cut my own hair in about 15-20 minutes, which is a third of the time it takes me to dive to the barber and have them cut my hair.

      • Adrian Brown says:

        I started shaving my head a year ago, and it has been fantastic. Not only do I save the cash (40+tip) but now I never have to worry that I look like a crazy person when I answer the door. Well…that my hair looks crazy.

    • Adrian Brown says:

      THIS. A thousand times THIS. Self-employment is every inch about knowing precisely what your time is worth and how it should be spent.

  4. Joe Pilkus says:

    About 10 years ago I got divorced and it allowed me to focus on the things most important to me, namely my daughter, my health, and my relationships. As a federal employee, I’m not rich, even though Turbo Tax puts me in the top 7% of the country, but I live comfortably which allows me to pursue my passion projects as a game designer and developer.

    Because of level in the government, I have an abundance of leave which I take with great frequency to visit friends, family, and girlfriend in Philly, along with overseas trips. As far as how money has changed me, I maintain focus on the following:

    – Travel: I plan a trip for every three months; not necessarily an exotic destination, but a place I’ve either not-yet-been or somewhere which makes me happy. There have been numerous documented studies on the health benefits associated with planning vacations.

    – Maintenance: If you’re looking for ideas, I’m your guy…if you’re looking for a handyman to keep the house running smoothly, look elsewhere. Money has given me the freedom on those things which make me happy, or ‘spark joy” as Ms. Kondo would say. I have a maid service for my townhouse, a lawn care company for the yard/bushes, and I have a leased vehicle for which oil changes are my only responsibility.

    – Charity: Like you, Jamey, I have found that the power of giving is very powerful. As part of the Methodist church to which I belong, we have a service called the Shower Ministry in which homeless folks can take a shower, enjoy a small meal, and engage in conversation. It’s a critical need to which I lend my time and offer financial assistance.

    Money, as they say, cannot buy happiness…but, it certainly does allow one to enjoy what the world has to offer beyond the work-a-day weeks within which we toil for so long.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Joe: Travel, maintenance, and charity–I like those three categories, and I can imagine that they’re very fulfilling.

  5. I’m still relatively young, but my husband and I are the only two of our friend group that both went to college and have 9-5 (ish) jobs. It becomes really apparent when we sit down to play D&D weekly that we are more comfortably living than our friends that are closest to us. It has made us more focused on how we can help them have good experiences. For instance, our best friend came to Gencon with us last year, right after getting laid off. We payed for his hotel, food and ticket costs. This same friend hasn’t been able to afford a new car or a new window for his car, which has one busted out. We live in Chicago winters and he lives a hour away from my house, where we play D&D every week. We drive him every week to and from our house. I also cook dinner or we buy take out for our friends each week so they know they have at least one good meal a week.

    It also means I focus more on doing things that make us happy and give experiences. We used to focus on buying things that would last forever with our disposable income. Now we focus more on trips that will give us new experiences and memories. It’s been a big shift from having a lot of things, to having things that give us memories. I think having more money to spend has made us feel less worried about spending it on things that are more temporary, in the moment enjoyments.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      I really like a lot of this–I started to quote my favorite lines from your comment, but there are too many! It’s awesome that you help your friends in that way and that having a little extra money has allowed you add temporary expenses that give you lifelong memories.

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