Financial Ennui

I’m finding it difficult to care much about our personal finances these days, easily noted by the infrequent posting here. I actually find it very weird that I am not more engaged with our money, as I used to enjoy that so much. (Part of this is that I’m putting a lot of energy into thinking about other people’s finances for my business so there is less left for our own.) I know exactly when it started, too – last fall, when I became funemployed and we merged almost all our targeted savings accounts.


financial ennui


I have figured out a few reasons why I’m feeling this way. At least by identifying them, I can hope to change these circumstances in the future.


1) Our finances are a bit depressing.


With only one full-time income (and not even from a real job, just a postdoc), we are earning less than we ever have. That stinks. When I had my fellowship income earlier this spring we were actually in the black at the end of every month, but basically all the rest of the time we have to draw from our short-term savings to make ends meet (well… we still are saving for retirement so to some degree that is just shifting short-term money to become long-term money). I don’t like feeling like we are falling further behind each month, so I sort of want to stick my head in the stand. This has been compounded by the huge volatility in the stock market over the last few months, so it has not even been the case that our investments are increasing our net worth.


2) Our finances are different every month, making planning difficult.


I really liked offloading our irregular expenses to our targeted savings accounts. They inspired me to project our expenses and save more aggressively. I liked that every month our ‘everyday’ budget was regular and I could work to reduce those expenses if I wanted to. Now, I don’t bother planning and projecting because we can’t intentionally save for the short-term (see point 1) and everything is coming out of either checking or our general savings account, anyway. Being funemployed, doing my fellowship, and now being back in Durham and self-employed has been a lot of change in a short period of time, so it’s hard to tell what the future will be like. We don’t even really have a budget now, just habitual spending.


3) Our life will be changing soon.


I don’t want to say too much about this until it’s finalized, but… We will be moving to a new city (still TBD) in a few months. While I totally see the point of minimizing spending in advance of that move, it doesn’t seem worthwhile to invest in new money management strategies here in Durham. I’m hoping for renewed PF energy post-move.


4) We have no financial goals.


In grad school, our goal was to live below our means, which included giving and saving for the long-term, and that was very challenging and interesting to me. Now, we can’t really live within our means consistently (see point 1), and we haven’t set any new goals. We basically have a lot of short- and mid-term money with no short- or mid-term goals (no earmarks), which does not exactly inspire me to try with our money. In our case, frugality is not sustainable without a goal.


5) We’re on autopilot.


Money comes in. We run it through our percentage-based budgeting system to save, give, and pay taxes on it. We spend money, mostly on needs and reasonable wants (we rarely tell ourselves ‘no’ for special events, though, and we aren’t being creatively frugal). At the end of the month, we’re either drawing from or adding to short-term savings. We don’t have to make fresh decisions every month as we are just trusting ourselves to spend reasonably. This is not exciting or challenging.


After all that moaning and groaning, I’ll tell you what in our personal finances is engaging for me at the moment: earning money.


1) I have a side job that is my main way to bring in money.


The main way I’m earning money these days is contract work. My goal is to bring in at least $1,000 from this source every month. I’m pushing myself, though, to raise that number as high as I can while still devoting most of time to my business.


2) I’m growing a business and hoping for future income.


Right now I’m in a pitching phase of my business: I’ve sent my personal finance talks advertising flyer to all my personal contacts still at universities, asking them to pass it on to the relevant groups. (If you are a grad student or postdoc, will you consider doing this as well?) Once the responses from this phase die down, I’ll resume cold-emailing various groups at universities about possibly booking me. I’ve also finally started writing my ebook and am planning other products. This is a ton of work that is actually very engaging and interesting.


I feel bad about the personal ennui regarding our money management, but there are reasons for it, and at least I do care about earning money (for once). Again, I’m hoping in a few months that we will be setting some goals and become more energized around our personal finances again.


Have you experienced a period of ennui about your money? What do you do to energize yourself to care about your money when that is lacking?


photo by Malcolm Tredinnick


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Filed under: budgeting, goals, income, psychology · Tags: ,

31 Responses to "Financial Ennui"

  1. I’m also a person who needs goals in order to stay laser-focused on my frugality and savings rate. Your impending move sounds like an exciting transition and I imagine it might be the perfect opportunity to really crystallize some new goals. I know for us, it has been difficult in the past when we’ve felt aimless with our money. But, the very fact that you’re aware of it means you’ll be fine and you’ll regain momentum–at least that’s my humble opinion :). Best of luck to you!

    1. Emily says:

      I think by the time we move I’ll have decided whether I’m going to be committed to self-employment or will find a job and keep my business as a side thing. If I stay self-employed, I think the goals will be income-related but we will also have more energy around the money management stuff because there will be enough money coming in. If I become salaried, it will be goal city up in here, with all the attendant tactics detailed.

  2. I’m also kind of ennui-ish right now, and I attribute it largely to good things — being focused on other stuff, which you obviously are. I’d give yourself a break until you move, at least! BTW, it’s fun to see you showing up on Inside Higher Ed. Every time I see a post from you there I’m all “sounds interesting, finance…oh wait, I know her!”

    1. Emily says:

      The move will be coming soon enough that this ennui shouldn’t be too damaging. Kyle signed up for his 403(b) yesterday and I was like, “Why bother at this point?” It’s natural for our focus to shift around over time, though mine has been on our money management details for so long that this feels strange.

      Haha that’s cool… Leave a comment! I’m sure you had a lot to say on the subject of my last post!

  3. Alicia says:

    I hear ya. It’s hard to be excited about something when it doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere exciting really. I am excited about the impending move, and your business, etc. Also, from C’s comment up above I ended up going to Inside Higher Ed and commenting on your post. Pretty cool 🙂

    1. Emily says:

      I really should be excited that we’ve stuck with out 15% IRA savings rate through this time… but we’ve been doing it for so long the novelty has worn off!

      I’m very excited to shake up our situation finally. We’ve been emotionally preparing to leave Durham for a few years now so it feels like a long time coming (really shouldn’t have started so early!).

      Thanks for your comment! I’m trying to not respond to every comment on the IHE blog because I don’t own it, but just know I appreciate it!

  4. Fiby says:

    Of all of these reasons, I think not having a financial goal is probably the most influential. As you said frugality isn’t sustainable without a goal. Your impending move will come and pass, but you’ll still need a goal to work towards.

    And I agree, being on autopilot is boring, even if it’s probably the best thing to do with respect to personal finance. It took me a while to come to terms with that haha.

    1. Emily says:

      I actually have a hard time picturing what our next financial goals might be, even after we move. I think that’s because we’ll just keep saving for retirement but I don’t know that we’ll have any short- or mid-term goals really, except to keep paying for all our expenses. We’re not currently looking at San Diego for this move so buying a house will be pushed off for another several years.

      Somehow the autopilot we were in during grad school was more engaging than our current autopilot… Probably because I was playing chicken with our checking account every month and now we just have a bunch of money in there and we don’t do anything different if we come in over-puddle or under-puddle. I think I LIKE to fiddle with our accounts a lot, even if the big picture is automated. It keeps me paying attention, at least.

      1. Fiby says:

        Hmm I mean I don’t have any short or mid term goals either – I just stay focused on reaching financial independence by 40 (well really as soon as possible while not depriving myself of reasonable wants).

        Haha I used to play chicken with my checking account. Now I use YNAB the way it was intended (budget from last month’s income) and I always tend to have more in my checking account than I expect.

        Maybe it’d be more interesting if you switch to using something with manual entries such as YNAB? Of course that entails more effort on your part.
        Or maybe chase bank signup bonuses? XD

        1. Emily says:

          I guess what’s difficult is that we do know we’ll want a house and cars at some point, but we don’t have a timeline or price to make a proper goal. We have mid-term money that we’re wavering on how to invest until we complete this move… I guess after we settle down I will be able to do and write about that!

          Kyle refuses to do manual tracking, and I think that wouldn’t be fun for me, really. The targeted savings for me were more about making detailed stretch goals and visualizing how we will use our money, which was big motivation for saving and frugality.

          Yeah, the bank signup bonuses might be fun… I need you to teach me!

  5. Not caring about personal finances has always seemed like a goal to me. Auto-pilot FTW! So I guess I don’t want to be particularly energized about finances, though I am right now because we’re in a transition period which means I’m spending a lot of time with spreadsheets.

    We’ll be spending more than we earn next year, but that’s ok since it’s temporary and we’ve saved up for it. I won’t worry about it unless I find we’re dipping too deep into the savings.

    1. Emily says:

      Haha, good point… I think it’s nice to have the option to care or want to care, but not so much to have to care. Really, at this point, I should care a lot more than I do!

      Yes, if it’s for a limited period of time it’s not so bad. Unfortunately our period has stretched longer than we wanted it to, but the end is near!

  6. Leigh says:

    I definitely entered a period of financial ennui after buying my condo and now again after starting this new job. My systems are so well in place that I don’t need to worry about money so much. I’ve started debating eliminating my budget, but I’m not sure I could live without budgeting for the irregular expenses like property taxes and insurance that are reasonably large. It’s nice to be past that big transition (the new job) and not have to spend time setting up new systems again. Now I get to find new hobbies before grad school starts in the fall! It’s kind of fun. I’ve been working on personal coding projects, reading books, and organizing/editing the photos from our New Zealand trip. My six months of a large chunk of savings at a particular credit union are almost up and then I get to move my savings back to Ally 😀 I like actively saving money 😛

    1. Emily says:

      It sounds like you are in a really great spot! I hope you don’t have to forgo those hobbies even after you start grad school.

  7. Emily, I hope you go back to where you used to do. It feels great when you still monitor your finances and savings religiously. I think you need to bring back that spark! Hope you do well and go back to where you used to be. Good luck!

    1. Emily says:

      Thank you, Jason. I think I just need to get through the next few months. 🙂 Or EPF might become a bit more about self-employment if I commit to that.

  8. I understand the feeling. Ever since my business started taking off last year, I’ve had less and less time to devote to the management side of our finances. We’re pretty much on autopilot and doing the same habitual spending. Thankfully, nothing needs to change and we’re not in any danger, but it has put me in a funk.

    I’ve always been motivated and excited to budget and track our spending, but lately my focus is elsewhere. Writing about personal finance so much hasn’t helped, either. I think we all go through phases like this, and I’m sure it’ll pass at some point. Glad to hear you’re looking forward moving, and I hope all goes well on that front!

    1. Emily says:

      It sounds like we really are in a similar spot! I’m still very excited about PF, but that excitement is expressing itself through my business rather than in my personal life. I hope I will catch up to you wrt to income from my business soon!

  9. Mrs. PoP says:

    I wouldn’t worry too much. It’s hard to have focus when things are up in the air. I’d be very shocked if your zealousness for tracking and budgeting didn’t come back as soon as you guys embark on your next adventure.

    1. Emily says:

      I hope you are right!!

  10. I spent the first few years of my relationship with my husband having to constantly put out fires. I had to keep on top of finances, but talking about it on my blog was just depressing.

    We both have health problems, so every time we started to get ahead, something would drag us back down.

    Don’t forget that finance is part of life. If you don’t feel like talking about finance specifics, talk about your life. Frugality will find its way in there.

    And I’m sure your readers (I’m relatively new here) will want to hear about other parts of your life. My blog has been mainly about a mix of disability/health/finance/general life stuff. But I still consider it a PF blog because that’s an underlying theme.

    1. Emily says:

      Thanks for your encouragement, Abigail!

  11. […] my Eeyore post from Wednesday on the reasons I’m experiencing financial ennui, I thought it would be nice to kind of give myself a kick in the butt to try to re-energize about […]

  12. […] in retrospect I wish we had tried harder. How much we spent on this trip was really a result of our financial ennui and lack of ability to plan well while we were living apart (e.g., we waited to book our tickets […]

  13. Lisa says:

    I can totally relate. As someone who is planning a wedding, sometimes looking at my finances can be a little depressing. I am still passionate about personal finance in general, but not necessarily my own.

    1. Emily says:

      Thankfully the wedding planning (and paying) period is limited and filled with so much other joy that it easily overshadows the financial part.

  14. NZ Muse says:

    Oh gosh yes. For most of the past year. T has been in and out of work, and I haven’t been able to enjoy the raise my new job brought as a result. Plus other stuff, but his employment situation has been at the core of everything. Here’s hoping for life to settle down for all of us soon – excited to hear more about your impending move!

    1. Emily says:

      Yes, it does seem we are in a similar place, with similar effect. I agree I just want it to be settled!

  15. […] resulted in a rather difficult last year for us both personally and financially. I was funemployed for a season and then spent 3 months in DC doing a fellowship. Our most recent […]

  16. I had to look up ennui 🙂 I know the feeling. It’s hard to keep the train going sometimes, especially when the horizon is full of changes and new expectations and uncertainty. Reading your blog has been motivating and inspiring and all that good stuff, so keep it up when you can! Goal setting has been useful to me when I am in a slump, or at least feeling down for whatever reason. I like your list of goals – especially the 1k/month in contract work. I am looking forward to seeing your progress.

    1. Emily says:

      Thanks, Dylan! I think we are now on the other side of the transitions so I am coming out of my ennui. Thankfully it was only a few months, not years!

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