Saturday, January 27, 2018

Perfection of the Life

The intellect of man is forced to choose
Perfection of the life, or of the work...

So said Yeats. It's "man" rather than "person" not only because of the scansion. Perfecting the work may always end a tragic failure, says the poem: but at least you haven't been a sissy and done something so easy and trivial as perfecting your life.

Well. I suppose it's always the job you haven't taken on that looks like the easier one. It's perfection of the life that I'm aiming at here, or at least improvement of the life. The shadow world of my personal finances and domestic habits: all those things that we all supposedly have under control before we step out of the door and greet the world and present ourselves, but which are actually a shame and a shambles. 

So I hit my both my weight loss goals this month. The next two things I'm undertaking involve habits as stubbornly inwoven as overeating: the restaurant habit and the driving everywhere habit. I have eaten breakfast out every morning since I was seventeen years old; and apart from the glory days of bicycling, when I lived closer to downtown, I've been driving to work for most of my working life. Burgerville every night was a godsend to my weight loss effort, but it wasn't cheap. Not the way I reckon cheap, anyway. 

The arithmetic is simple. Daily, I save at least $10.00 by making breakfast at home; $8.50, reckoning gas and parking, by taking transit; and $6.00 by making dinner at home. In total, $154.50 per week, which comes to a shade over $8,000 per year. These habits are expensive. (And every one of those savings estimates was lowballed.)

By the standards of some people, we were already living cheap. We make well under the Oregon median income, and we've been planing along, just meeting our expenses. This has been fine, because our retirement (at this same modest level) is funded. But I'm a gloomy, conservative person in my financial posture and I've always meant to pad the margins a bit in these last few working years. The padding wasn't happening. 

So now -- flushed with victory as I am -- I mean to force the issue. Cutting $8,000 from my expenses will not only allow us to pad the margin: it changes the retirement calculus drastically. If my investments & social security have to generate $8,000 less, the capital required to fund my retirement is $200,000 less, too. (My rule of thumb is: 25 x annual expenses = required retirement capital. There are a zillion other ways to reckon this, of course.) Suddenly my financial future looks downright rosy.

Okay, but. These habits are deeply part of me. The habit of getting out into the public-but-anonymous world of the cafe to write has been essence of Dale for forty-some years. This is going to take some doing. And eating at home requires planning and tracking. It takes a lot of brainspace, especially at first: how many eggs do I have? How long do I have before the burger in the fridge goes bad? These things are not second-nature to me. They take effort. I have to make up new habits: and I already have the weight loss habits to protect.

So it's a stretch. If I end up not being able to swing it, well, I fall back to the old habits and hope I really do have enough savings already: I'm not going to let the weight loss slip away. But I'm ten days in and going strong. Here goes.