Changing My Ways

Dennis Friedman

I’M ONE OF THE 30 writers who contributed an essay to My Money Journey. As the book’s publication drew closer, I found myself worrying about how readers would react to my story.

Will they see me as someone who saved a lot of money because I was thrifty—or because I was cheap? As I mention in the book, I was embarrassed about my spartan lifestyle, including the crummy apartments I lived in and the cars I drove.

In fact, when my boss gave me a generous raise, he asked me, “What are you going to do with the extra money? Buy a new car?” He knew that, at the time, I drove an old Toyota. But I didn’t buy a new car. I invested the money, like I always did when I received a pay raise.

I knew at a young age that people like me, who didn’t earn a lot of money, had to save a larger portion of their income to reach financial independence. As you read my story, you might think I went too far and denied myself some of life’s comforts.

I’ll admit I probably would have enjoyed life more if I hadn’t been so tightfisted. Saving and spending is a balancing act that can sometimes get out of whack.

In My Money Journey, you’ll read what path 29 other writers traveled on their journey to financial independence. That’s what’s so fascinating about the book—each of us has our own unique journey.

Now that I’m retired, you might wonder if I’m still living that same frugal lifestyle. I’m not. I wrote an article about how I was spending money left and right. At the time, I didn’t know what came over me. Why was I suddenly spending so freely? I initially thought it was because I was getting older and I was more willing to spend down my savings to have a comfortable retirement.

But now I truly know why. It’s because of my wife. No, she isn’t a reckless spender. No, she’s not encouraging me to spend money. She, too, has led a fairly frugal life.

Instead, what I realized is that I needed someone in my life to spend money on. I wasn’t going to spend it on myself. I’ve never done that. For me, it was okay to do without what many see as “necessities.” But I didn’t want my wife to live like that, and that made me more open to spending money. For instance, we remodeled our house to improve our quality of life by updating the home to some of the latest features.

I married late in life. Although we were together for a while, we didn’t get married until 2020, during the pandemic. We were supposed to be married at the Orange County courthouse. A few days before our wedding date, we were informed that the courthouse was closed because of the surge in COVID-19 cases and that we should report instead to the Honda Center. That’s where the Anaheim Ducks play their ice hockey games.

Once we arrived, I received a text message for us to report to customer service window No. 1. This is the window where you buy tickets to the arena’s events. Behind that window was a lady young enough to be my granddaughter. She went through all the formalities, and then said to me, “You can remove your mask and kiss the bride.” It was surreal. But I’d never been happier.

I’ve learned an important lesson during my financial journey: Money can buy happiness—but it can often buy more happiness when you spend it on others. There are many ways to do this.

For instance, in the comments section of some HumbleDollar articles, I read about people in their 70s donating to charitable organizations using a qualified charitable distribution from their IRA. Those in their 70s and older are allowed to donate up to $100,000 each year to one or more of their favorite charities. No taxes are owed on the distribution and the sum counts toward their annual required minimum distribution.

I also read about folks funding 529 college savings plans for their grandchildren’s education, and about parents giving money to their children by taking advantage of the gift-tax exclusion. I’m sure this is all done out of the goodness of their heart. But I also believe such gifts bring the givers much joy, as they watch their money help those they care about most.

Dennis Friedman retired from Boeing Satellite Systems after a 30-year career in manufacturing. Born in Ohio, Dennis is a California transplant with a bachelor’s degree in history and an MBA. A self-described “humble investor,” he likes reading historical novels and about personal finance. Check out his earlier articles and follow him on Twitter @DMFrie.

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