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Yesterday, I had the following conversations with Mr. FAF:
Me: We are going to have dinner with my friends on Friday night.
Mr. FAF: Ok. What time and where?
Me: I will check with them, but we can decide.
Mr. FAF: Ok.
Mr. FAF’s answer took me by surprise. I don’t know if he noticed, but I started the conversation by letting him know that I had made a plan for both of us, and that I expected him to come with me, to which he agreed.
Usually, the conversations would go something like this:
Me: Do you want to hang out with my friends this Friday?
Mr. FAF: You can go by yourself. I will stay at home with our son.
Me: Why don’t you want to come? It will be fun.
Mr. FAF: You can go. I’m busy.
In this conversation, I gave Mr. FAF a choice to say yes or no to the invitation, which he immediately declined.
Mr. FAF is a shy man and is not so enthusiastic about meeting new people.
Those are the friends I just made through a Meetup group event.
They invited Mr. FAF and me to dinner.
Mr. FAF had never met them and thus would have no desire to do so.
Mr. FAF’s reaction got me thinking about the benefits of limited options. Going out to meet other people is definitely good for him.
He can make more friends and improve his social skills, which I believe will be beneficial to his current job and future career.
When Mr. FAF has only one option of coming with me, he complied and started to plan ahead by asking about the time and location.
However, when given two choices, he would go with what he’s more comfortable with (staying at home), even when that choice does him no good.
In many cases, we don’t have a lot of options due to factors beyond our control.
For example, when Mr. FAF and I were poor students, we couldn’t afford expensive trips. Out best option back then was going on road trips or going somewhere for free (i.e. museums, state parks). When we make a low income, our options are limited.
In this post, I will talk about the financial benefits of the limitations we create for ourselves or for our loved ones because we know it works in our best interests.
1. Maxing out 401(k) accounts
Having followed personal finance, especially financial independence early retirement (FIRE) blogs, for a while, I have seen time and time again bloggers stressing the importance of contributing and even maxing out our 401(k).
However, it wasn’t until Mr. FAF started his new job that we began to consider this option. After being poor for years, we loved the idea of having more disposable income. We wouldn’t have to pinch pennies anymore.
We didn’t suffer lifestyle inflation. But the thought of being able to breathe without any financial worries was liberating. The disposable income was ours to spend, save, and invest.
After I saw how maxing out 401(k) can make Mr. FAF and me millionaires at 60 and 55 respectively, however, I tried to convince Mr. FAF that we should max out our retirement accounts.
Mr. FAF didn’t take the news so well. He liked to have more options with his new income. Mr. FAF didn’t make any extravagant purchases right off the bat. But he started sharing with me his dreams about buying a $500 entertainment device. Mr. FAF also wanted to save money for our trips to Asia and many other plans that involve money.
After a heated debate, Mr. FAF grudgingly agreed to max out his 401(k). His monthly paycheck would then go down by $1,000 each month, something he wasn’t happy about.
Mr. FAF wasn’t thinking about his retirement which seems to be 100 years from now. He was more interested in having more options with his money. I was the one who limited his choices by squaring away a fair amount for investment, something I’m sure he will thank me for in the future.
2. Not eating out often
Mr. FAF and I love eating out. I like the idea of picking something from a menu, having someone make it, me eating it, and someone else cleaning up everything.
But such convenience comes at a cost. While it can cost us $40 to eat out somewhere, we can spend $80 groceries to feed our family of four for the whole week.
Realizing the big dent that eating out can make to our budget, Mr. FAF and I pack our lunch to work almost every day. We narrow down our eating options to eating at home, packing lunch to work, and eating out every once in a while.
I want to limit our restaurant budget to $0. But I have to admit that it’s not easy given that both of us like trying delicious Asian dishes we can’t make well at home. Also, sometimes we get just lazy and don’t want to roll into the kitchen.
Homemade food also gets boring after awhile because of our limited cooking skills. The bottom line is both of us love eating out.
However, we have to limit our eating out frequency to once or twice a week to not blow up our food budget. Our food options might be limited, but they are good for our long-term financial and physical health.
3. Weight loss
When I was overweight due to my pregnancy, I just ate anything I could lay my hands on. My thought at that time was: “I’m already overweight. Eating another piece of cake or another plate of meat and pasta won’t do anything to my body.”
However, seeing how much my body had ballooned and wanting to get my skinny self back, I went one a restricted diet. I cut out virtually all meat from my diet, ate more veggies and fruit, and reduced the portion of my meals.
I restricted my food options so much that sometimes I got tired of the whole process and just wanted to get out of it. Yet, I chose to stick with it.
After dropping 40 lbs, I can now eat pretty much anything I want in moderation. My body has adjusted to the new diet and will signal to me if I consume more food than needed.
4. Pay off debt
Debt is not anyone’s cup of tea. It’s a drain on our budget and a constant reminder that we don’t own 100% of the money that we have.
Some people choose to look the other way and ignore their debt. Some take a level-headed approach to paying off the debt gradually. Some get anxious and aggressive at getting rid of all the debts that they have.
For those who decide to pay off their consumer debt and mortgage, like us, they make conscious decisions to put away a certain amount of their budget to pay off all the balances that they have.
When part of our money is put towards debt, our disposable income also decreases and leaves us with less freedom to purchase the things we like. However, the limitations we create for ourselves in order to get rid of debt will liberate us in the future.
We limit our options now to get rid of debt but will have even more choices when that debt is paid off.
We all know and can agree on the importance of staying faithful to our spouse. However, life is not a fairy tale, and not all couples can live happily ever after.
Extramarital affairs is a leading cause of divorces. Yes, people cheat. And they do that for various reasons whether it’s seeking new thrills, being dissatisfied with their spouse, losing the sparks in the marriage, or simply not wanting to stay committed to a person anymore.
Many people let loose and widen their options by seeking adventures outside of their marriage. Some end up finding their true love. And some have to pay the high price of losing their family and having their finances ruined due to legal fees, child support, and emotional distress.
When we stay within the boundaries of a marriage (i.e. being faithful to our spouse), life can seem to get boring at some points. However, by limiting our choice to staying with one person and building a family with them, we can predict a more stable financial outlook.
I understand that not all of us are lucky in finding our true love the first time we get married. But when we do find the right person, seeking more options to meet our short-term needs might lead to disastrous financial and emotional outcomes that we currently can’t expect.
I once found myself so trapped at home with housework and our baby that it made me feel depressed about life. From a free person, I went to being a mother and a wife who always stays at home and takes care of household chores when I’m not working.
In a way, I felt guilty to even complain about it since I had longed for our family reunion for years. However, thanks to the feedback from the readers, I had an honest conversation with Mr. FAF. He has since taken on more duties around the house and given me more free time to hang out with friends on the weekends.
We still stay as a family, and I’m still married. However, Mr. FAF and I found have ways to create more breathing room in our relationship in order to be happier as a couple.
There are many things in life that we can choose to limit our choices for such as a diet or an investment. However, we can always find room for more freedom with the options that we have.
For me, having limited options is only bad if it tends to lead to negative outcomes. When we conforms to the rules that we set for ourselves either temporarily or permanently, we will find ourselves to have even more options in the future.