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How Much Money is Enough?

Piggy Bank

How much money is enough?

It feels counter-intuitive and sort of gross to write about money on a mindfulness blog.

When I think of the word money, it conjures up all sorts of mental images of banker bros and wall street fat cats, all surrounded by conspicuous overconsumption – lavish parties, fancy things and the never-ending quest for more. Your brain might have a similar reaction to the word money. These are the messages that prevail in our culture, in the media but also in our daily lives. Keeping up with the Joneses is real and anyone living in a western society will often feel the pull, sometimes subtle, sometimes very powerful, to always need more. As a result, money, and the stuff we spend our money on, is often the cause of mindlessness.

In order to live a mindful life, we need to pay attention to how we spend our money because for most of us, money = time. And time is the most precious resource that needs to be managed for a life well lived.

As a result, I’m working on cultivating a more positive relationship with money. I want to replace the super-consumer capitalist bro money image with an image of healthy prosperity. An image of a life where I have what is truly important to me, where I have enough.

The book Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin has really helped me to crystalize my thinking on this topic. It’s both a helpful how-to guide on re-organizing your finances, but it also takes a significant step beyond the practical world of budgets and into the more philosophical side of money by introducing two key concepts:

  1. The concept of enough; and,
  2. Money = Life Energy.

Enough

The brain is hardwired to always want more. As soon as we achieve a goal or milestone, we immediately start scanning for the next mountain to climb. That’s why the feeling of success that accompanies a promotion or raise often feels so fleeting. It’s not long before we’ve spent the raise on more stuff and now feel that we need even more money to get the next prize. This is a happiness killer! And in our culture it takes a lot of practice to notice this powerful pull, and choose something different. That is why it is so important to get really clear on what enough means to you.

Enough means having your needs taken care of, like food and shelter, and being really honest with yourself about those needs.

It’s so easy to turn a need into a want without realizing it. This shows up in the form of a 5000 square foot home when a 1500 square foot home would do, or in form of $10 hot sauce (yes, this is in my fridge), when $3 hot sauce would do.

Enough is also about recognizing what wants are important to you, and making those the priority for your spending.

If you live in a western society, chances are you have enough left over (if you’re not inflating your needs too much, see above) to cover a few wants. If you are in the fortunate position to be able to afford these wants you know that they can provide some additional richness and meaning to your life if you are spending on the right wants.

For me travel is the key want that I direct my discretionary spending towards. I know that travelling to new places provides me with all sorts of benefits: I get to feel a sense of adventure and I also get to experience the personal growth that comes along with being open to new cultures, new people, new foods and new experiences. I also know that I get a greater bang for my buck spending my discretionary spending on experiences in general, on time spent with the people I care about (a personal favorite is seeing live music with friends), or on causes that are important to me.

This clarity has greatly reduced the amount of money I spend on stuff, and as a result the amount of money I actually need, because I know it simply does not bring me the joy that travel and other experiences bring me. I’m human, I still get pulled into the trap of wanting nicer things to project an image to others, but I’m working on noticing that and redirecting my energies and spending my hard-earned money what matters to me. Or better yet, not spending it at all.

Money = Life Energy

One of the most powerful messages in Your Money or Your Life is that money is something we choose to trade our life energy for.

Unless you were born with a trust fund, you likely need to go to work and trade your precious hours for a paycheque. Your Money or Your Life advises us to understand the exact value of each one of those hours. It’s not enough to understand your hourly wage – i.e. if you make $20 per hour that’s what one hour of your life is worth – but to understand all of the costs of working so you really understand what your hourly take home pay is. Once you factor in your commuting costs, your work wardrobe, taxes, etc., that $20 hourly rate can turn into $13 an hour pretty fast.

This is really powerful because you can now evaluate every spending decision in terms of the number of hours of your life you are trading in order to have that thing. This also represents the number of hours you are NOT spending with your family or friends, or the number of hours you are NOT spending doing volunteer work for a cause that is really meaningful to you, or any other more meaningful use of your time.

The trip might still be worth it, but $10 hot sauce, not so much.

At the age of 40, I’m roughly half way through my life, statistically speaking. I have about 375,000 hours left. Sounds like a lot, but when you factor in that I will spend a 3rd of that time sleeping, and potentially a 3rd of that time working, it doesn’t leave a ton of hours to explore the things that are really meaningful to me – spending time with the people I care about, helping others, and learning and growing through new experiences, like travel.

I’m trying very hard to find more meaning in the 3rd of my life that gets devoted to working which really helps with overall life satisfaction, but let’s face it those photocopies don’t make themselves. I still spend many hours at work doing tasks that are of little value to me, all because I need to make a paycheque. Therefore, being clear on the number of hours each purchase costs me really helps me to be mindful about my spending. Mindless spending could add years or decades to my working life if I’m not careful.

At the very least, being clearer on my true spending needs will allow me to make choices about what kind of work I do – allowing me to choose work because it is meaningful, and not because I need to make a larger paycheque to afford a fancy car that in reality would bring me little life joy but may project an illusion of success. Now I can chase a promotion for personal growth reasons and because the role would allow me to do something that is meaningful to me, not because I simply want or perceive that I need a bigger paycheque.

Your Money or Your Life says it’s important to do all of this with no shame and no blame.

What you identify as your “enough” will be different from anyone else’s. What you choose to trade your life energy for will also be different. That’s ok. The most important thing is to be aware and mindful of what is important to you, and to treat yourself with kindness and compassion through the process of changing your money habits.

Let’s Do This

Similar to finding your own personal reasons for doing the work you do; it’s important to be clear on your personal reasons for spending the money you spend.

Are you spending your money on needs that are truly needs, and on wants that are truly valuable and meaningful to you? Or are you unknowingly spending money on things that provide external validation, simply to project an image of what a successful life looks like?

I encourage you to read Your Money or Your Life and work through the 9 steps outlined in the book. At the very least, get started by reading this handy book summary.

There is too much consumption, too much debt and too much stress about money in our culture. Let’s practice letting go of that noise.

2 Comments

  1. […] free which is a beautiful thing in this modern capitalist world. But here’s the thing: all of these people are spending their precious life energy making these great products and services and that deserves some respect. If you like the services […]

  2. […] I’ve written previously about money, and the concept of how much money is enough, taking inspiration from the excellent book Your Money or Your Life. How much do we need to cover our needs and a few wants aligned with our values? How much of our time and life energy are we willing to trade for more money? It feels counter intuitive to write about money on a mindfulness blog, but it’s not the money itself that I’m writing about, but rather what money represents in our lives. […]

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