Money Motto — This Is Why Your Family Needs One

Having a money motto, or family philosophy, can bring clarity and guide major life decisions

Note from Mr. SR: I teased this post in this week’s money motto discussion, but I’m excited to share the full post from my friend Levi Balling. I love talking with Levi and learning about his family’s goals because he is a fellow aspiring semi-retiree! In today’s post, Levi shares about his family’s motto. Their philosophy applies more broadly than just financial decisions — but because money is part of their wider view of life, it still effects their choices about money.

Levi shares about a financially counterintuitive career decision that they were able to make, without regret, thanks to their money motto.


Our money motto

Our family philosophy provides direction and purpose toward reaching our goals. With any ambitious goal, having a unified objective can help tremendously. Our family goal is to “maximize our time together as a family”. FIRE is great for this, but with a good single family income and 2 children what level of sacrifices do you make with your family to achieve FIRE.

We could focus 100% toward FIRE for 15 years, and retire at age 47 and miss the most valuable years with our children. Or we could semi-retire at age 40 when our oldest turns 13 years old, and work 20 hours per week with summers off available with family to do anything.

Our driving motto is:

You can’t be extraordinary by being ordinary

It applies to our whole life, but it has brought us significant clarity as a money motto to guide our financial decisions.

What is ordinary?

When you think of ordinary, terms like: mainstream, common, normal, status quo, or herd mentality may come to mind.

To me, ordinary is doing what everyone else seems to be doing. Some examples include working in a career you love till you are 65, or purchasing a new trampoline for your kids since all of your neighbors are doing it, or driving everywhere even when your destination is walking-distance away.

Being ordinary, to me, is doing something a certain way because you think everyone else is doing it that way or because you’ve never considered that there’s an alternative. 

What is extraordinary?

When you think of extraordinary, you may think of terms like: amazing, wonderful, stunning, unusual, rare, strange, or uncommon. I believe that everyone is extraordinary in his/her own way. Everyone has something marvelous to offer the world.

But, when it comes to family finances it is clear from the very nature of the term ‘ordinary’ that many people -most people- will be ordinary and only a few will be truly extraordinary.

You can’t be extraordinary by being ordinary

We love this motto. It is one that we return to again and again as we weigh decisions in our lives. However, we were once on the well-beaten path toward ordinary. 

Before the move

There was a point in our lives when we were on par with the common, ordinary lifestyle in our area. My sweet wife and I both had cars and jobs. I was going to school full time, and part time employed. My wife was working full time teaching little 4th graders (whom she loved dearly!) We owned a wonderful little home with a view of an orchard, a train, and the mountains. We thought life was pretty great! 

We even felt that we were skillful at thrift and frugality. Our finances were in a pretty good state. With our 2 little cars we had no car payments, and with 30 MPG we “only” had to fill up our cars once a week (I now laugh at this thought).

When we purchased our first home, we bought a formerly foreclosed home. With 2 baths, 3 bedrooms, and an unfinished basement it was perfect for us to set up roots for the next 30 years of our lives. It was right at the tail of the great recession in 2011.

money motto house
Our first home and mortgage were big moments for us — they changed how we view money!

Our first mortgage payment

I will never forget the first mortgage payment. It was an unforgettable experience — one that made me feel like someone else owned me. Seeing the principle at about $250 was depressing compared to $850 in interest and escrow. I had only paid off 0.15% of my loan. If I was to just repay the loan with $250 for every month it would take me 56 YEARS!!!

While I know that I wouldn’t be paying only $250 toward the loan every month for the whole 30 years, it was nevertheless overwhelming, defeating, and depressing. With $850 not going into equity, it was a debate whether it would have been better to stay in our previous, moth-infested apartment. Living above a yelling Russian hoarder for $600 a month didn’t seem too bad anymore.

Then there’s school

With the longer 45 min drive to full time school, working a required 20 hrs per week for my part time job. Things were pretty stressful at the time. Working on an engineering degree, I would often be working into the wee hours of the night.

The demand on me between schooling and work didn’t leave much time to help build my relationship with my Dearest Wife who had a wonderful and very demanding job.

There were many nights, as I worked late on the computer in the living room that she didn’t want to be alone in bed. She would come into the living room where I studied, and fall asleep on the couch behind me or on the floor next to me. Some days she would try to get my attention by practicing yoga in my peripheral view. She was extremely effective in those efforts. Still, I could tell that she felt alone, and that we were drifting apart.

After 5.5 rigorous years of full-time school (during which all courses were required for my supposedly 4-year degree) I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Engineering. I had paid some of life’s dues. Life was now going to get better, right?

How our money motto effected the decision

Shortly before graduating, I was interviewing with several companies to determine the best place to work. We wanted to be near family, and we were currently less than 15 mins away from both of our families.

I interviewed for a full-time position where I was currently employed. They were offering others in my same place jobs paying around $75,000 to $80,000. On top of that, they were covering my tuition for the previous year on condition that I would stay after graduating — meaning that to leave my current job would cost $7,500. The job was great, my sweetheart had a great job teaching that paid $35,000 allowing us a potential $115,000 income. 

money motto dog
Our first dog Trey. He loved to jump up, put his paws on your shoulders, and literally hug you.

I also interviewed with a smaller company 1 hour drive north of where we lived. The pay was $65,000. We would have to sell our home, give away our huggable dog Trey (causing my wife. to weep and weep), quit my wife’s job mid school-year leaving her beloved class (and weep and weep), leave our amazing community, pay back the formerly-covered $7,500 in tuition and move to a place where my wife had always said she never wanted to live (and weep and weep some more).

When you look at the numbers it seems like an obvious decision:

1.) +$50,000 ($15,000 pay cut plus the wife’s current $35,000 job) is a lot of money — choose the first job

2.) +$7,500 is a chunk of money too — choose the first job.

3.) All the weeping should seal the deal to stay where you and where you already have so much! — choose the first job.

So, which job did we take? We took the second job, the $65,000 job. I’m an engineer for Pete’s sake — I make rational decisions. 

 “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

-Robert Frost

At this point you might be asking, “What were you thinking? You moron! That’s $50,000 per year!!!”

My answer is this: Though we both saw the obvious and dramatic economic differences between the jobs, at this critical juncture we chose not to make MONEY our guide. It was very clear to both of us that taking the second job would give us more TIME together.

We chose time with each other and our children over money — a substantial amount of money.

This was, and still is, our single most extraordinary life choice. Looking back 7 years later, after all the highs and lows of the decision, it was, and still is, the single greatest choice we have ever made. We are part of one extremely happy family — due in large part to this crazy, important, extraordinary decision. All because our money motto empowered us to not let salary be our only deciding factor.

The results

We now have lived in our current home for 7 years. It is comparable to our first, beloved home.

We have a lovely view of the mountains, 3 bedrooms and 2 baths in a friendly and endearing cul-de-sac. We are walking distance to a park and the library. I have a 2 mile, 12 minute, commute to work by bike. I eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner with my family everyday. I now have a 15 year mortgage which will save us more than $100,000 in interest over the life of the loan. Our house payment is the same for this house as it was for our first home. However, this time our very first payment put 2/3’s toward principal. 

We are saving 40%-50% of our income. While we aren’t working straight toward FI. We are on a solid track to maximizing our time together as a family.

Family is our focus and we’re letting our love for our family play a main role in our financial decision-making. It’s not the ordinary thing to do. It’s extraordinary.

When you wake up in the morning and walk into the bathroom, you should look at yourself in the mirror and say, “There is someone extraordinary!” We think you may wish to add “Financial Gladiator” to your personal list of extraordinary traits.

We believe that if you can look at your finances and say, “Wow, what I’m doing isn’t ordinary,” you are probably on the right track.

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