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Commitment and Overcommitment: Joan’s Mid-February Financial Update

in Joan's Posts, Money Basics, Our Financial Journey, Rants

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Note: This is a post from Joan Otto, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan.

Are you committed to your financial goals?

I am… and it’s turned into a little bit of a problem this month.

You know I’m a huge fan of side hustling to make extra cash. With some major changes in our family’s financial situations in the past three to six months, in order to meet our debt-payoff goals and not eat up our savings, we’ve had to get creative.

And in great news, I’ve had the opportunity to pick up quite a bit of extra work.

And that’s where things get a little questionable…

Commitment? Or overcommitment?

In the past couple weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to pick up an incredibly lucrative freelance project. Overall, it’s requiring about 25 hours a week (and will continue to do so for the next month or so), with a payoff well above my minimum per-hour threshold.

So what’s the problem?

Well, I took this project on at the same time that I have significant other commitments to deal with.

  • We’re having a friend move in with us this week. In great news, it’ll be good for all of us financially (and should be fun). In less-great news, we’ve had a significant amount of work to do to get the space ready, including a solid 12 hours of painting this weekend.
  • We often use Coursera free online courses as a major part of our daughter Sarah’s homeschooling. They’re pretty advanced, and they really work best when Sarah and I do them together. But right now, we’ve got two courses going, each requiring several hours a week of work.
  • I’m in the middle of a major transition as it relates to my current main freelance client, which is taking a significant amount of time.
  • The owner of one of the companies I provide virtual support for was unavailable for almost two weeks, so I took on a larger-than-normal share of customer-service questions.
  • … And a couple of my regular smaller freelance clients have quarterly work that will need to be completed before March 1.

This is a case where I’ve realized that, while I can handle all of this, I probably should have asked myself more carefully:

Am I committed? Or am I overcommitted?

It’s a question of hustling (good) vs. not having my priorities in order (bad). As a long-time freelancer, I know it’s in my best interest to do a good job even on “smaller” projects, and honestly, I just want to!

And I always want to help. When someone in the business network I belong to needs a “quick fix” or has a “quick question” about their website, I tend to want to pitch in if I can. But that’s not fair, and it’s leading to things like a routine of 4 to 5 hours of sleep every night, which is OK for a day or two but not long-term sustainable.

I also underestimated (greatly) my learning curve on this temporary freelance project, which is a different type of work than I’ve done before. I think I’m doing well, but at the same time, since I’m being paid by the project and not the hour, the time I spent working slowly to get the hang of it has been extra-costly!

Lessons in not overcommitting

So what’s the “point” of all of this? Quite frankly, even if I’d thought about things more carefully, I still would have accepted this big side contract. It’s with a new company, with a significant chance for ongoing work, and it’s good pay for the time it takes.

That said, I’ve learned some lessons in not overcommitting. I’m exhausted – and I’m trying to make sure my work for my regular clients is still top-notch, AND, even more importantly, that my family isn’t suffering.

That’s why I’ve started saying no to smaller side projects. Even for MvD! (Poor Baker – he asked for my help the other day while I was at an appointment with Sarah, and normally I’d have figured out a way to make it work from my phone, but I was already shortchanging my kid enough… so I said no!)

I’ve also started asking for help more. Chris has tackled a TON of “house” stuff in the past couple of weeks that I would normally have either handled or at least helped with, and it’s been great. (Thanks, Chris!) My mom, who had been having some health issues for a bit, is now feeling much better and is cooking us a hot dinner regularly. (Thanks, Mom!) Even Sarah, who is already pretty helpful at home for a 13-year-old, has been pitching in more!

Finally, I’m simply setting some things aside for a little while. My tae kwon do practice has been on hold for a few weeks; some books I’d been midway through reading have piled up; the floors haven’t been vacuumed in… well, let’s not talk about it. Some things can wait, and this allows me to (for a SHORT time) put some extra effort into hustling to keep us from falling behind as we deal with job changes and so on!

So what did all of this do for us this month?

Our Very Next Steps

We hit one of our “V.N.S.” or very next step goals this month, and in good news, the hard work this month, along with some positive news about our taxes, should allow us to make some significant dents in the debt in the coming month or two!

  • Citi Mastercard: Our goal had been to get this under $15,000, and this month, its balance dropped to $14,930.66. Next, we’ll aim for under $14,000! 

Don’t forget that we keep track of all of these debts in summary (complete with V.N.S.) on my “Joan’s Finances” page – so you can see how we’re doing at a glance. Here, I just hit the updates each month.

So what do you think? Is there such a thing as “overcommitted” to your financial goals?

If so, what do you do when you’re at that point?

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Jason Burk February 10, 2014 at 10:56 AM

You sound like me when it comes to taking on side work for architectural design. I have learned a few things.

One is to be personally OK with saying “no” from time to time. The fact is, opportunities will come around again, and when you’re less stressed and over-committed, you’ll be able to say “yes.”

Another is, don’t say “yes” just because the money is good. Sometimes, the project isn’t worth the extra money. Quickly evaluate what potential opportunities might come of any given job, decide your course of action, and remain committed to it.

Don’t worry about the “buyer’s remorse” feelings that come with telling someone “no.” It’s not a permanent feeling…it will likely very quickly be supplanted by the feeling of accomplishment that washes over you as you complete a course with your daughter, or finish that workout you wouldn’t have had time for otherwise.

Lastly, consider that you might be able to “hire” someone whose work quality you know well to help you out. Often I will take a job for $35 / hour and pay one of my colleagues $20 / hour to do some of the busy work tasks that would otherwise have me bogged down for an extra 4 – 6 hours. That allows me to still get a decent side paycheck while considering up front on which portions of the job I want to concentrate. It’s a win-win for everyone.

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Joan Otto February 10, 2014 at 2:18 PM

Jason, those are definitely good points! I have definitely used that last one to my advantage in the right kind of work in the past (and been on the receiving end of extra work in the same way!)

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Donna Reynolds February 10, 2014 at 11:46 AM

I worked a very physically demanding job, outside, with the phone company for 34 years. Maybe 25 of that I worked 12-15 hours a day, mostly 7 days, some times 6 days a week. Often there were 36 hour shifts. It is a bit difficult to have sympathy because you got short changed on sleep for a few days. I commend you for being willing to do this in order to reach your goals. You talk about the help you have gotten from your family as if they are doing you a favor. In this case your goals are their goals and they need to take on this extra work ,not as a favor to you, but as one more way to achive the families goal of being debt free. People are often surprised what they can do when they are working toward a goal and acheiving it.

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Joan Otto February 10, 2014 at 2:16 PM

Donna, that’s very true… and of course there is more to the story than what I’m able to share here, as my family members are all contributing in other ways as well! These are areas that are normally “my share” of the work, that they are taking on over and beyond “their share,” as it were.

Very true about physical jobs, too. I am very grateful that all of my work is indoors, and definitely the 16-hour workday for me seven days a week is by far not the same as the one you’re describing, I recognize that! It’s still a lot of work, though, under ANY conditions, and I definitely don’t think that’s sustainable long-term without significant tradeoffs for anyone!

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Den February 12, 2014 at 10:35 AM

I think you’re doing fine. You know this crazy busy time is for a short period and everyone is pitching in….as long as you balance it with some “normal” busy times to catch your breath. And how wonderful will it feel when you can send a bit more to your debt payments!!!!

Wouldn’t life be boring if it were always the same? Hang in there!

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Bilgefisher February 12, 2014 at 11:55 AM

Joan,

I think you missed a big milestone. Your BOA card is no longer your largest debt. Congrats.

Jason

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Chris February 13, 2014 at 3:03 PM

Situations like these force you to drop/limit the less important stuff and force you to focus on what really matters!

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