Life is hard. That’s nothing new or unique. Neither is wanting things to be easier. Still, this is what I’m experiencing.
A lot of my anxiety comes from money. We are blessed with good incomes, and extremely disciplined with our budgeting, but it just seems so easy to let spending get away from us. I am so afraid of financial turbulence, even though we have plenty of room to cut back if things get tough. I guess one problem with budgeting so strictly is having to figure out how we’re going to pay for unexpected things. Ordinarily that’s what savings is for, but between buying a house and floating my wife for 2 weeks while COVID kept her from working, our savings is uncomfortably thin. There are always credit cards for emergencies, but we worked so hard getting out of debt the last couple years that I really don’t want to start relying on credit cards. In any case, we would have to re-examine our budget to figure out how to pay those bills anyhow. I know most people wish they were as secure as we are, with low debt and all our needs and some wants taken care of, but for me it feels like trying to keep a sandcastle from blowing or washing away.
Then there are the challenges of homeownership, which also require money. Most notably, I need insulation and new windows. Living in the south, winter is a much cheaper time to climate control the house than summer, so I have some time. Still, windows and insulation are significant expenses. I have the cash to pay for insulation if I do the work myself. The windows will almost certainly need to be financed. We can make room in the budget for them, but debt is something we can’t cut back on if things get tough, and I get anxious thinking about taking on more of it. With those two big things weighing on my mind, I’m too overwhelmed to look at the smaller things I can do around the house. I would advise anyone else to work on the small things and rack up victories, but I feel frozen on doing all but basic home maintenance.
Speaking of maintenance, there are the cars. Car maintenance is something we’ve never budgeted for, because routine maintenance is predictable and inexpensive enough that we’re usually comfortable just taking it out of savings, but again our savings is thin right now. I bought a car that was in much worse shape than the dealership let on, and I need to put money into it just to get it into sellable condition (I won’t keep it because I will always resent it and always be waiting for something else to break). Once it’s sold, I’ll need to figure out how to pay off the balance of what I owe on it, because I almost certainly won’t be able to sell it for what I paid for it. I’ve been borrowing a friend’s car, and I thought it would be nice to change the oil and try to fix some rattles, so that’s an expense on the tally sheet. I’d love to get window tint for my wife’s truck. That can wait, but I can’t help but wonder how long? Where will that money come from? It doesn’t just magically appear. Again, I feel so overwhelmed by my car situation that I am frozen into inaction on even starting small repairs.
Then there’s work. I had my annual review last week. I “met expectations,” which is objectively good. Subjectively though, I’m drowning in boredom. I will always stand by the quality of my work, but I probably only do honest productive work about half the time. The other half, I’m taking care of personal business, reading the news, or just staring off into space. I’m glad I’m not in a sweatshop environment, but working somewhere with such low expectations is demoralizing, and that was only reinforced when my boss told me I’ve been doing a good job. I could certainly get another job, but I like my company. They pay me well, they’re respectful, and they encourage personal and professional growth. I have already expressed interest in moving up, and they were receptive to that, but career moves don’t just happen. I’m not sure what sort of situation I’d be leaving for if I left this job. Maybe the bigger issue though is I’m tired of my career. I worked really hard and overcame a lot of odds to get to where I am, and I will always be proud of that, but I feel like it’s played out. I think I’d like to do something working with my hands. I’ve always said it’s not about the money, but with a house and a couple car payments, it sort of is. Moreover, my wife will definitely be changing jobs in the next 6 months or so, and chances are good she’ll be taking a pay cut, so I think even if I could take a lower-paying job doing something else, I couldn’t do it for at least a year if I want to keep us stable.
Which then begs the question: if stability is getting harder and harder to maintain, what if we knocked the house of cards over? What if we quit our jobs, sold the house, moved somewhere cheaper, and started a new lifestyle? The lifestyle we enjoy is nice, but we both agree that the nice things are not the most important things. What’s important is that we have each other. I have had this thought for 6 months now, and I can’t shake it. I’m tired of the crowds, the traffic, the weather, and the politics here. I’m tired of my career, and my wife is tired of hers. We could run. Rationally though, I know that my demons would follow me. Problems don’t vanish with a move, they just take different forms. Our problems may go from wondering how to balance our budget to how we’ll afford housing that month, or from worrying about being bored at work to worrying about getting hurt and being unable to work. Maybe we’re forced to go from owning to renting, and forfeiting our chance to start building wealth as we pay for and work on our house. If we do buy another house, it will also need work because that’s the nature of what our budget will allow us to buy. So why trade my current problems for new ones? May as well stick with the problems I have a handle on. May as well stick with my current lifestyle, a voluntary prisoner.
I’ve spent a decade dreaming of the life I have now, working hard and diligently to attain it, and getting lucky at multiple points along the way. I am so grateful for the life I’ve built, and I feel so ungrateful for not appreciating it more. It’s a lot of responsibility though, and it’s getting exhausting. My therapist says get a hobby, which sounds good, but hobbies cost money and take time, time I feel like I don’t have, or that I ought to spend doing more productive things (like sleeping, to recharge and face the next day). Would it be enough to just do something really irresponsible to break up the monotony? Well, what goes up must come down. If we go stay in the mountains for a month to unwind, we’ll have to figure out how to pay for it afterward, which sounds even more stressful than what I’ve got going on now. I want a break from responsibility. I want out of feeling the weight of the world. I want to build pillow forts and take naps and drink hot chocolate and not worry about tomorrow.