If you looked at my life from the outside, you might think it was pretty fancy stuff:

  • I’ve traveled all over the world: France, Costa Rica, India, Thailand, Uganda, Tahiti… the list goes on.
  • I live in a neighborhood with lots of million dollar homes.
  • If it’s a hot summer afternoon, I love to take a dip in my pool.
  • My daughter goes to one of the best high schools in our state.
  • I have a beautiful, modern, sunlight-filled office.
  • My closet is full of designer clothes.

However, looks can be deceiving.

Yes, everything above is true, but my superpowers include bargain hunting, cheap travel, living below my means, and stretching a dollar within an inch of its life:

  • I’ve traveled around the world by staying in youth hostels, backpacking, endlessly trolling airfare web sites (I’m a Google Flights ninja), traveling off-season, volunteer travel, and obsessively collecting and consolidating credit card points.
  • I live in a very upscale neighborhood. Or, more accurately, I live across the street from a very upscale neighborhood, in a two bedroom, one bath condo. I’m in a tiny pocket of affordability in a tremendously expensive area. Every single day, I dream of owning a home with two bathrooms. It’s a humble dream, but it’s mine.
  • Oh, and my condo community has a really great pool, surrounded by trees and just steps from my front door.
  • What did I do last Saturday night? I replaced the Flush Valve Seal and O Ring on my (only) toilet. JEALOUS MUCH!? Such a glamorous evening. I saved around $125 by not calling a plumber.
  • My daughter attends a fabulous public school. Huge tradeoffs — we have to stay in our expensive neighborhood in order for her to stay at that school (note two bathroom dream, above). It’s a real Slums of Beverly Hills type of situation. But I am so grateful for our school, which is not only academically excellent, but very diverse, with families from different socioeconomic strata, different countries, etc.
  • My beautiful, sunlight-filled office is a co-working space. Pretty surroundings, free coffee and snacks and wifi, comfy furniture, a meditation room, a great location… I love it! And, as per the aforementioned small condo, it’s nice to work somewhere other than a corner of my bedroom.
  • Those designer clothes? Thrift store shopping! Remember when I said bargain hunting was one of my superpowers? Designer jeans (Citizens of Humanity, Seven for All Mankind): $8. Skirt (BCBG): $8. Leather Jacket (DKNY): $12. Handbag (Coach): $20. I also am a packrat and keep clothes and accessories forever. FOREVER. Like, from high school.

I recently told a friend that if I ever wrote a book it would be called: Champagne Life on a Beer Budget.

The truth is: I live below my means. I probably could afford a (somewhat) bigger home, or at least a place with that second bathroom! And maybe even a home office or a patio or something. But I would be “house poor,” lacking the security of a savings account and emergency cash. As a self-employed person, and as the sole breadwinner for my family, I sleep at night knowing that I have savings in the bank in case of a rainy day. I don’t have a lot of disposable income to throw around, but I know that if there’s an emergency, I’ll be able to keep a roof over our heads, and I’ll be able to cover emergency expenses, at least for a while. The tradeoff is a smaller home, but it’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make.

My jealousy is real.

VERY real. I have lots of friends with big homes, friends who go on amazing vacations, friends who seemingly don’t have to worry too much about paying for their kids’ college tuition or their own retirements. Scrolling Facebook during the summer can really awaken the green (jealousy) monster: Am I the only person I know who is NOT vacationing in Greece!? Who is not complaining about lost luggage en route to their fabulous European vacation? Am I the only person I know who didn’t install a fire pit and string Edison lights throughout their expansive, tree-filled backyard?

Jealousy is something I have to recognize and work on every single day. I constantly have to stop, observe my jealousy, and give myself a few reminders:

First: I don’t know what my friends are struggling with, financially or otherwise. People have vastly different comfort levels when it comes to spending and saving. The curated, public personas we see online are not always true to life. What am I really jealous of?

Second: When I recognize I’m tumbling down the jealousy rabbit hole, I have to remind myself of everything that I DO have. The life experiences I’ve accumulated (and I’ll choose Experiences over Things just about every time). The beauty of my home. The love and joy and laughs from my incredible circle of friends and family. The privilege of running a value-based, constantly-interesting consulting practice for more than 18 years. Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude.

Finally: I have to remember to pat myself on the back for everything I’ve experienced and created on my own, without a spouse or an inheritance underwriting my dreams. I’ve figured it out. I’ve made it work. I’ve planned and saved and found shortcuts, and I’ve gotten to experience some things that others only dream about. I hope that I’ve been a good example of hard work and ingenuity for my daughter. As a white, healthy, well-educated woman from a middle class family, I already am starting way ahead of the game compared to lots of other folks in our country. I 100% recognize that part of my success is due to the luck of being born into my family.

Even when I feel jealous, I have to remember that I’ve got so much to be proud of and grateful for. What an incredible life… so far! With lots more to come.

How do I live a champagne life on a beer budget? The biggest trick is to remember that champagne is in the eye of the beholder.


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