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.
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:
- Electricity, Gas, Heating
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.
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?