When is Enough…Enough?

by FI Fighter on November 27, 2012

in Thoughts

Money is the ultimate driving force in life. It makes the world go round and round. Everyone wants it. Everyone needs it. And the drive to obtain more can get someone to do just about anything. Friends, family, and even dear husband and wife will go to war with each other over money. Bonds that were once thought unbreakable can shatter once the subject of money rears its head into the discussion.

But money isn’t everything. At least, it shouldn’t be. Though it’s perfectly understandable why someone needs to spend at least some time thinking about their finances. After all, once the cash flow stops coming in, that’s when life can start to get difficult.

I Love Food… Up to a Point

As human beings, we must realize that the extent of our wants and desires are limitless. Greed knows no bounds, and it will consume us whole if we let it. The problem is that there are no alarm signals, or clear demarcation lines that allow us to know the exact moment when we now have enough.

No two people have the same appetite. Some can be satiated with as little as two meals a day, whereas others can require upwards of 5000 calories. But regardless of any discrepancies in appetite, our stomach is a sure-fire indicator that lets us know when to stop eating. No matter how much you love food, you will only eat up to the point until you can no longer consume any more. It is not possible to avoid the inevitable point of diminishing marginal utility.

Life Equation

Unfortunately, when it comes to spending, since there are no obvious indicators available to us, we must do the adult thing, and through our own analysis, try and come up with the right answer. When putting a list together, you start to realize that there are only a few important things that everyone must have:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Shelter
  • Clothing
  • Electricity, Gas, Heating
  • Exercise
  • Love
  • Friendship
Not much has really changed in the past hundreds of years, except for maybe the advent of the computer and internet. The good news is, computers are dirt cheap these days and plenty fast enough to perform most tasks. Gone are the days when you needed to upgrade your PC every four years (I still run Windows XP). And you can always get this for free at a library if you don’t want to pay for monthly internet service. Life really isn’t all that complicated, but we make it unnecessarily complicated. By honing in on just the essentials, we clearly see that life doesn’t need to be all that expensive either. Time is finite for everyone, so why volunteer to waste 40+ hours of it every week for any longer than we need to?

Root of All Evil

The problem is most everyone is out to make a quick buck off us. As a result, our thinking becomes skewed, and we become brainwashed into thinking we need so much more in order to survive:

  • Ads bombard us on a daily basis, telling us what the next great thing is, and influence us to buy.
  • Our jobs and bosses keep pushing us to develop the latest and greatest technology. They make it seem like it’s the right thing to do… but all we are doing is creating more products to replace our existing ones that are still functional. Why do we need new cellphones every year?!?
  • We somehow start believing that when something gets “old”, it needs to be discarded and replaced.
  • We stop relying on ourselves to develop skills to do things ourselves, and instead, resort to buying things to “help” us (treadmills, electric can openers, electric toothbrushes, etc.).
  • Again, we stop relying on ourselves to develop skills to do things ourselves, and instead, resort to paying someone else to help us because we are so incompetent.

By falling victim to these fallacies, you will no doubt feel like you just never have enough money.

Don’t Get Stuck in the Trap

If it isn’t the TV commercial encouraging us to consume more, then it’s the internet ads, friends, co-workers, the spouse, or someone else. Peer pressure strikes from all angles, so how do we filter out this nonsense?

I think the easiest way is to first identify what really matters to you. Focus on what’s important. What do I care most about?

  • Time is of paramount importance to me. I feel like my 20’s are quickly slipping away because I spend too much time working, and not enough time living. Because I value time so much, naturally I want to retire early so that I can stop working and start living sooner. Consequently, I know that if I get caught up in the consumer game, I’ll end up buying more things than I really need, and have less cash saved up. With less funds available in retirement, I will surely run out sooner rather than later.
  • Relationships are most important to me. I want to have time so that I can spend more precious moments with those that I care about. However, I also believe that the truly timeless moments in life don’t have to cost an arm and a leg either. When I look back at my high school and college years, I vividly remember some of the best moments in my life. Many wonderful experiences were charted during these years when I was broke as a joke. My idea of a good time? Ordering a McChicken and water at McDonald’s for $1 and chatting it up with friends, playing multiplayer videogames, or going to a bookstore with a significant other. I think it’s important to know where you’ve been because it will help guide you to where you ultimately want to go. These cherished memories lead me to believe that the best things in life really are free (or at least can be had for very cheap).
  • Health is essential. When I exercise properly, I feel indestructible. I feel like I have all the energy in the world and can accomplish anything. What comforts me is knowing that there was already a time in my life when I devoted most of my effort towards maintaining optimal health. So, I learned that it can be done for cheap. I don’t need to spend $2000 on a useless Stairmaster to get my cardio fix. Rather, I’ll climb a real mountain and get in 100x the workout.
  • Life experiences matter. I want to be a jack of all trades. I want to live a life worth retelling. In order for this to be possible, I need to invest in more new experiences. Work was fun and enjoyable at some point, but after five mundane years, the thrill is gone. Who says you have to do the same thing day in and day out everyday for 40 years to get your fix? I’d rather do one new thing each year for 40 years instead.
  • Giving back. I really do want to leave the world in a better place than I found it.

What’s not important?

  • Things are not important. Most consumer goods just end up as waste in a landfill anyway. Technology is always changing and it’s too expensive to try and keep up. So, why bother? I don’t care for a nice car, I just need one that is functional. If I can reach early FI, I may ditch the car altogether and rely on my bike and public transportation.
  • Competing with others is a waste of time. There will always be people who are smarter, funnier, better looking, harder working, more successful, etc. Good for them. I’ll use these people as role models to inspire me, but I won’t try to keep up with them. And I most definitely will not try to keep up with someone else’s lifestyle and possessions! Go ahead and focus all your finite time and energy trying to climb the stupid corporate ladder. I’ll use my time more productively and work on owning the freekin’ ladder!
  • Image is not something I care too much to maintain. People can think whatever they want, and I’ll still keep on being me. There was a time in my life when I got to travel first class and ride in fancy limousines. I did it for a brief period, and it got old fast. It felt pretentious and way too extravagant. I don’t care for nice clothes either, because quite frankly, I find suits and ties uncomfortable and unnecessary. Wearing flashy clothes does not make me smarter or any more productive. I’m with Mark Cuban and Mark Zuckerberg on this one — I’ll take a plain t-shirt over that dress shirt anyday of the week. I would even wear sweatpants to work if they’d let me.

Bottom Line

When I stop to think about it, I find that I don’t need much to be happy in life. Lost in all of modern society’s hustle and bustle are my true wants and desires, which cost next to nothing at all. Without filtering out all this extraneous noise, I might be misled into thinking that I actually need more money than I really do. However, by rejecting the things that already don’t matter at all to me, I’ll actually be able to buy more time so that I can focus more on the things that do matter!

Who said the simple life can’t be the most fulfilling one of them all?

 

What about you? What’s important to you? What do you absolutely need to be happy? When is it too much?

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 The StoicNo Gravatar November 28, 2012 at 2:23 am

Really great post FI Fighter!! The topics you touch on here are ones I think about often. You have learned these lessons at a much younger age than I did. Kudos. I think your life will be greatly enriched because of it.

Wish you the best…

Reply

2 FI FighterNo Gravatar November 28, 2012 at 9:52 pm

Stoic,

Thanks for the kind words. The journey to FI is different for everyone, but I’m sure we ask ourselves a lot of the same questions. Through logic and reason, I’m not surprised that a lot of us emerge on the same road. Still, it’s reassuring to know that others feel the same way. Good company is always a welcome sight.

Best wishes!

Reply

3 Financial SamuraiNo Gravatar November 28, 2012 at 9:19 am

Thankfully, we all have a natural course correcting mechanism, otherwise, we’d get huge, go bankrupt, and live miserable lives!

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4 FI FighterNo Gravatar November 28, 2012 at 9:53 pm

Sam,

I only wish that were true for all people. Sadly, though, I know quite a few folks who won’t let a trivial thing like bankruptcy stop them from spending!

Take care!

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5 Brick By Brick Investing | MarvinNo Gravatar November 28, 2012 at 10:18 am

Great article! Touches on so many points that need to learned by our young generation. As a nation we not only consume things that we don’t need we literally fight tooth and nail over there. Case in point youtube Black Friday Fights 2012. On my first deployment I learned very quickly that the only things you need to survive are food/water, shelter, and clothing. I have lived the barebones lifestyle I believe it would be a fantastic idea for young men and women do to some sort of missionary trip or volunteer work where they can see people living at the very basic level. I’m sure they’ll be amazed at how happy these people are without a tv, car, and other non sense that we cherish so much!

Reply

6 FI FighterNo Gravatar November 28, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Marvin,

The whole Black Friday craze is really getting out of hand. I remember going to a Fry’s Electronics a few years back, and other customers would literally run you over with their shopping carts to beat you to the product, or even attempt to steal your shopping cart at the checkout line just to get the “hot items”. Total insanity, and anything goes mentality.

Your life experiences have given you a much better perspective and appreciation for life than most. You’re right, that is a fantastic idea, and I fully agree that everyone needs to see firsthand what life is really like in other parts of the world. Once we see with our own eyes, it should be next to impossible to to go back to being a spoiled, self-righteous brat. Most Americans are so lucky, and they don’t realize how good they really have it.

Best wishes!

Reply

7 JC @ PassiveIncomePursuitNo Gravatar November 28, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Indeed. I got at it a little late but luckily I was never one to go and just spend money on things. I more just lacked the focus and hadn’t come to the realization that I don’t want to be working for most of my life. I’m with you about working on 1 thing each year for 40 years, you learn so much more and meet so many other people. The question that I always seem to be asking myself is what would I rather be doing? I for one would love to be able to take a road trip for a month or two, getting the chance to see lots of the wonderful things nature has bestowed upon this country. As of now I don’t have the opportunity to take that time off but I dream of the day when I can. Another thing I really want to learn more about is photography and while I can learn some where I work it’s just not the same when I’m stuck in the same location for several weeks at a time with nothing really changing.

Reply

8 FI FighterNo Gravatar November 29, 2012 at 7:58 am

JC,

You know, I had that exact same thought of taking a road trip across country shortly after graduating college. I never did it b/c everyone around me had the same thought, “we don’t have the cash”. These days, even if you have funds to do it, the hardest part is getting the time off. I hope you find the time to do this someday, and this is one of the first things I’ll be looking to do once I reach early FI.

Photography is great hobby. It just involves a lot of time and patience. I tried it briefly, but found that post-processing photos just took too much time. Now, I just take photos and use them mostly as is. Another great venture for the future!

Best wishes!

Reply

9 Dividend MantraNo Gravatar November 28, 2012 at 6:23 pm

Great post. Spot on.

I realized a few years ago that the chase for “bigger and better and newer” only leads one down a path of unsustainable adaptation. As you adapt to that new car, bigger house or giant raise…you then adapt and want even more. Hedonic adaptation…gotta love it. The faster you go, the faster the treadmill moves.

When you look around yourself and truly see that you’re blessed to have air conditioning, hot food, running water, electricity, the internet, modern medicine…all of the sudden the thought of chasing a home with more bedrooms than occupants seems really stupid.

I no longer adapt to more. I adapt to less. And I’m happier than ever for it.

Best wishes!

Reply

10 FI FighterNo Gravatar November 29, 2012 at 8:03 am

DM,

Precisely! Human beings have the wonderful gift/curse of being so adaptable. If you give someone the bare minimum, they will find a way to survive. However, if you spoil someone rotten with only the finest things, they will grow only accustomed to that.

An even bigger problem is most people are just present day hedonists. The phrase “you only live once”, or “carpe diem” get thrown around too often. The herd mentality becomes to spend, spend, spend b/c everyone feels life is too short.

But b/c life is so short, we need to find a way to beat the system, so we can actually live. And it shouldn’t be so complicated since we really only require a few basic necessities.

Right on! Adapt to less, not more. More is not always better.

Cheers!

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11 DavidNo Gravatar November 28, 2012 at 7:32 pm

If you have or make enough–either by work or investing–to pay your bills and enjoy a decent life, you are far ahead of most people on this earth, even perhaps in this country, so I always count my blessings on that regard. Of course it helps if you have good health as well. Good thought provoking article.

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12 FI FighterNo Gravatar November 29, 2012 at 8:06 am

David,

That’s a great way to look at life, and a good topic for another article. If you always look at it from the angle that you are blessed (and really, most of us are to be able live in this great country), then most things just don’t seem so bad anymore. Focus on the big picture, don’t sweat the small stuff, and you will be infinitely more happy and better off in your life.

Best wishes!

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