Real Investment

For my birthday this weekend my husband and I went to a fancy French restaurant in a nearby historic town. We noshed on decadent food and pretended to live an indulgent life. It was a blast. However, nothing could be further from the truth. We are both graduate students living off University stipends. We rent a small apartment near campus, have hot pockets in our freezer, and wear thrift store finds– quintessential signs of eternal students. In fact, we live such an inexpensive life that I am often embarrassed when a birthday, anniversary, Valentine’s Day, or graduation day rolls around and we have to tell others about the elaborate things we do because most people I know do not invest very much into these holidays.

You see, my theory is to invest more in the things I can’t live without than in the things I can. For example, if my education, career, car, housing, or possessions were suddenly gone it would be difficult, but I would get by. However, if all of a sudden my health, spouse, friends, family, or sex life were gone it would be devastating. It would fundamentally change me. Awhile ago I realized that I was spending most of my time, money, energy, and empathy on the former things rather than the latter. Why was it easier to justify investing in an academic conference rather than an anniversary? Cutting back on presents for each other in order to get that new gadget? Taking the time to listen to experts in my field but being impatient with my kids? Budgeting time for church but not for sex? Focusing on others but not myself?

Real investment is my family’s approach to spending time, money energy, and empathy on the things that matter most. Some basic approaches to this plan are:

  • Viewing birthdays as a time to test your connection with another person, i.e. Do you really know what they want? Have you been listening? Watching? What are you willing to invest into that relationship? Usually investing more time, energy, and empathy on a birthday makes a bigger impact than just investing more money.
  • Seeing Valentine’s Day as a time to show other’s how much they mean to you. Often real investment isn’t so much about what you do, but rather how the other person feels. It feels nice to be doted on, taken care of, and shown concern. It feels special to take precedence over work, budget, kids, and church duties. It feels fantastic to take the time to focus on the people you love and figure out ways to communicate that.
  • Using anniversaries as a time to evaluate and work on your sex life. How often do you have open and honest communication and make needed changes to your sex life? Is one day out of 365 too much to ask for such an important part of your lives?
  • Looking at graduations or promotions as a time to celebrate all of the hard work and sacrifice this accomplishment has meant. Rewards are not just kid stuff.
  • Realizing that your health and self-perspective influence every aspect of your life and relationships with others. Are you investing enough time and energy on yourself? It is important to figure out what you need to feel good and then asking for those things. Most of the time people are willing to invest the real things but they just don’t know how or they need to be asked.

I’ve found that during the lowest points in my life or the times when we argue the most I have failed to invest in the real things. Real investment has been a really great way for our family to show that we cherish each other above everything else. That French restaurant was a big portion of our budget this month. Sure it could have gone toward something more practical, but it made me feel like I was important and worth the sacrifice it would take to stay on track for the rest of the month.

What do you invest in? Where does most of your time, money, energy, and empathy go? Have you ever tried to invest in the more important things? What was your experience?

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10 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    I love this post, Whoa-man. You’ve given me a lot to think about in terms of putting time and money into the things that truly matter.

    One variation of this real investment that you speak of is to put your money into experiences, rather than things. Apparently studies have shown that happiness temporarily spikes when a new object is purchased, but that happiness stays up much longer when money goes to a wonderful experience: a trip, a concert, a great evening at a restaurant, etc.

  2. CatherineWO says:

    This is a loaded post–loaded with lots of great ideas. Thank you.
    We just returned last night from a weekend visiting family for a baby blessing. One thing we decided when we became grandparents was that we would be there for the important events in our grandchildren’s lives–births, blessings, baptisms, graduations, school programs, weddings, etc. I hadn’t thought about this as an investment, but I see that it is. Most of our children live a day or two’s drive from us, so it is definitely an investment of time, money and energy to be with them. The return on our investment, however, is so great. I can’t imagine any “thing” that would bring us more pleasure, and I hope we’re creating lasting memories for our children and grandchildren as well.

  3. Jesse says:

    Yes! Yes! Yes!

    We get some looks and comments, too.

    We don’t go for the big celebration days, but:

    *My family of four has a garage full of three pairs of snow shoes, six bicycles, one bicycle trailer, one hitch-behind bike, one sit-on-the-back-of-the-bicycle toddler seat, one toddler-carrying hiking backpack, three scooters, two jump ropes, every kind of ball imaginable, sidewalk chalk, gardening supplies, an old-school rotary lawn mower, two snow shovels, (the two sleds got left at my aunt’s house last winter), two rakes (we really need four), and one car. My husband takes the city bus to work/school.
    *Last year, we used our tax refund to take our two young children to visit their grandfather in Athens, Greece. We stopped in London en route.
    *For our anniversary, my husband and I went on a long bike ride.
    *Our T.V. broke and we didn’t replace it.
    *But, when our blender broke, we bought a much nicer one (we all LOVE smoothies).

    Why would we spend our money on a second car, a snow blower, a gas powered lawn mower, dinner and a movie, or a T.V.? Our kids ask to go on family bike rides. They love looking at the pictures of themselves with their grandpa. My husband and I have to sneak in raking time when the kids aren’t looking because they want to rake…and shovel snow…and mow the lawn…and pick the tomatoes off of their very own plants.

    We consciously try to to invest our time, money and energy in activities that encourage us to interact with each other, get outside, and work together.

  4. Jessawhy says:

    What an awesome post! I think seeing a marriage counselor (or sex therapist?) is a good way to celebrate an anniversary as a means of investing in the relationship.
    Mark and I like to do marital “check-ups” and we find that they help a lot. On our first visit to our first therapist she said, “Most couples come in here 5 years too late.” I was shocked. I think that reinforces the point of your post to invest in relationships while they’re good, so that things won’t get bad.

    I also like that you put education and career into the not necessary category. I’m pretty envious of you and others with advanced degrees and careers, so I probably would have put it in the other group if I wrote the post. But, you’re right that it is something replaceable and not as important as relationships.

    Wonderful post, especially considering I had lunch with my sister today for her birthday. It was nice to hang out with her.

  5. spunky says:

    Because my husband and I don’t have children, we do have additional time to invest in our relationship. Now that we aren’t trying to have a family anymore, we also have additional finances to go out for meals occassionally, but I am a frugal person, so we still live on the thrifty side of life. But the big thing for us is– we still have FHE.

    We take turns– one person does a fun dessert (even if it is a lame thing we learned at summer camp, or a coupon for a free ice cream that we would not otherwise try, it is something fun and different). The other person does a lesson– which is usually a talk or a church lesson that we personally got something big from. Its sounds simple, but some of those personaly revelations are grander when you share them with your partner in a time set aside just for each other. We challenge each other to gain or share our testimony of the things we are discussing.

    We also do a weekly planning meeting, and always, always, schedule in a date night, even if the date includes a visit to a salvation army just to giggle and look through things we used to own/had as kids/remembered from grandparents’ houses, etc. At our poorest and still now, some of our date nights were random service projects– i.e. once we went to a scout camp and cleaned up garbage, another time, we went to a cafe after a busy lunch and cleaned up all of the outside tables where people had left used paper plates, cups, etc., just noting to the cafe owners that we wanted to do a service for “good karma”. The experience of doing and talking about our good or awkward service feelings is priceless… we usually end up laughing really hard at something or another as well. I love that. It makes life magic.

  6. Wow. This hits the nail on the head, and has been something I have had rolling around in my own so often lately. Thank you for your candor and your tips on reevaluating.

  7. Hydrangea says:

    I love your post! Those moments where you throw caution to the wind (or throw money at a french restaurant) and just follow your heart make for some of lifes sweetest memories.
    A few years ago my husband and I just up and went to Moscow, Russia, leaving our kid behind at grandmas. It has been one of the best things we’ve ever done for our marriage! For some reason it is easier to overlook your husbands faults when you have wonderful memories to fall back on.

  8. Whoa-man says:

    Caroline, what a great summation of what I was trying to say. In fact, I have a heritage of privileging experiences over money. My grandparents didn’t want to leave their kids with an inheritance when they died because they believed that memories lasted far longer than money. So they took all their kids to Europe while they were still alive and as adults they all traveled around for 3 weeks. I think this idea just really rang true to me and I’ve been trying to do that ever since!

    CatherineWO, you bring up a point that I forgot to mention. When we moved back East we knew that the trade-off would be that we wouldn’t be able to attend all the little family events- events that helped us both have such close and lasting friendships with our extended families. Before we moved my husband and I both committed that we would make the investment (and it is a HUGE investment on our salary) to go home at least twice a year. We have tried to do this every year and while it is difficult sometimes we feel like we get the benefit of both worlds- we’re really close to our families but we have our space and our close relationships with friends out here. Hopefully, my kids will realize how important family and come to appreciate them by the investment we make each year. Here’s hoping?

    Jesse, I love your family! It sounds like you’ve really created an environment where everyone likes being and working together.

    Jessawhy, I completely agree with you! I wish I would have said this. I have known SO many couples that just need a little communication help, sex help, time management help, etc. (including myself!) Their year could be 100x better if they only invested one day or a couple hours in the things that they seem to stumble over every day! Why don’t we seek help more regularly in healthy marriages or marriages that want to be healthy? Why the stigma? We give our cars annual check-ups and the state even forces us to maintain a certain standard for our vehicles, and cars come and go throughout our lives. Why don’t we do annual check-ups and (even forced if necessary) yearly assessments when relationships are SO MUCH MORE important than cars? This is kind of a lame analogy, but I love your idea of “check-ups” and I think we could all benefit from them,

    Spunky, you remind me of a time when my husband and I would do FHE more regularly. We used to sing the hymns just the two of us in Spanish and it turned out pretty hilarious because he’s not the most confident singer and I’m not the best Spanish speaker! We were just lamenting that we don’t do FHE more often and both reminiscing fondly about our silly hymns. You’ve inspired me to start it up again! Thank you.

    Joanna Taylor, thanks!

  9. Corktree says:

    I’ve been thinking about this concept all day. I think I’ve always recognized the inherent value in spending time and resources on memories instead of objects, but where I think I disagree (at least for me and my family) is the idea of placing emphasis and expectation on arbitrary days. I hate being forced, but that’s probably just my contrary side rearing it’s ugly head.

    I’m also a bit of a humbug when it comes to commercialization and while I like to use birthdays as a time to do something special for family members, I dislike having unrealistic expectations of others – mostly because I don’t like feeling let down when they are unmet. But for me this is related to the fact that one of my love languages is gifts 😉 and my husband has had trouble figuring this out over the years. I hate feeling so petty and materialistic, so I just try to get away from the whole concept and simplify as much as possible. I do like what you say about birthday gifts though – that the effort and attention to personal interest is much more important than the expense. Totally true, but hard for many people to follow through with.

    In any case, I think this concept is very powerful and has the potential to strengthen our connections so much more by focusing on being in the moment with people. I was just remarking to my mom and sister how difficult it was to travel to visit them recently, and yet how worth it at the same time. When I focus on what I will remember from these experiences down the road, the stress of the moment becomes less impactful. Thanks for the reminder to do this all a bit more mindfully.

  10. Rebecca says:

    I’m someone who gets really passionate and focused on whatever has my attention at the moment, often to the detriment of other things. It’s good to be reminded to take stock and make sure I’m spending time on the important stuff. I recently made a list of my relationships – wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend. It’s a good way to notice where you’ve been neglecting something.

    I am a believer that most of the best things in life are free. Thanks for the reminder. A focus on people, rather than things tends to make us happiest. I’m not any happier now that I have three bathrooms, than when I lived in an apartment with only one, and a blanket in front of the fireplace is still a great date night. Most truly joyful times come from my relationships with people I love.

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