The key to wealth is being satisfied with what you already have

For the past few weeks, I’ve been making sales calls with David, my replacement at the box factory. We’re visiting existing customers to explain the transition. Most of my clients know that I’m part-owner in the family business. “Why are you leaving?” they want to know. “What are you going to do now?”

“I’m going to write,” I say.

“About what?” some of them ask.

“Personal finance,” I say, and that’s usually the end of the conversation. But this morning my answer launched a great discussion with a long-time customer named Ray.

“I was going to get into personal finance at one time,” said Ray. “Too many money guys are jerks. They’re slimeballs. They take advantage of little old ladies. I wanted to help the little old ladies. I was going to become a Certified Financial Planner. ”

Our conversation turned to the economic doom and gloom so prominent in the news media over the past few weeks. With storm clouds on the horizon, he’s been trying to get his co-workers to pay attention. “Get out of debt!” he tells them. “Spend less! Save your money!”

“I talk about money a lot,” Ray confessed. “My son is afraid to bring his friends over to the house. ‘Your dad is going to talk finances again,’ they tell him. And I do.”

“‘Do you invest in your 401(k)?’ I ask them. ‘No,’ they say. ‘Then you’re an idiot,’ I tell them. They can’t believe it. ‘Your dad just called me an idiot,’ they say to my son. ‘You are an idiot,’ he tells them.”

Ray laughed. “Some of my own friends wonder what I could possibly know about money. I live in a small house. I drive a beat-up old car. They drive new cars and live in McMansions. They don’t think I know what I’m talking about. They don’t understand that the key to wealth is being satisfied with what you already have.”

I murmured agreement as Ray continued: “‘I’ve lived in the same house for 28 years,’ I say to my friends. ‘My house is paid for. Is yours? My car is paid for. Is yours? I could retire today. Could you?’ I don’t have a boat, I don’t have an RV, and I don’t have fancy clothes,” Ray said, indicating his modest attire. “I save my money. I invest it. That’s the way to wealth.”

Normally when I visit customers, we only talk about boxes. It was exciting for me to find somebody so passionate about saving, somebody who grasped the fundamentals of personal finance. But one point stuck out especially: “The key to wealth is being satisfied with what you already have,” said Ray. He’s right.

I used to believe that “wealth” meant being able to buy whatever I wanted. I felt rich if I could buy something new, even if I were purchasing it on credit. Over the past couple years, however, I’ve learned to take pleasure in the things I already own. Why do I need more comic books when I already have a large library of them? Why do I need to own another bike? What will a new chair do for me that my existing chair does not? If anything, I want less stuff.

Like Ray, I’ve discovered that wealth doesn’t come from buying new things, but from being satisfied with what I already have.

68 comments

  1. Love this, we figured out last year, during our TMM, that for us wealth = the money we keep. I don’t think you can be wealthy, under our definition, spending money on cars and electronics, etc. Now, that doesn’t mean we took a vow of poverty but we shifted our focus from what we could buy with our $ to how much of our $ we can keep.

    1. My father is exactly like ray with regards to finance and wealth. I think though that I am becoming likehim one of these days.

      Because I am aware of his fiancial planning I am aware that my father is a Master of Financial managment and he knows money too… but sometimes I just wish I could yell it out to the world “We’re Rich” as a lot of people presume that because we live in a small house.. enough and perfectly adequate to our family size, and dont have individual cars for all of us(infact we dont need to because the most of us take public transit)..we dont have and/or know anything about money.

  2. Figuring out what “enough” was for us (what’s important, what’s not) continues to be the most important step in learning how to live within our means happily.

    I was more struck by your experience with your customer — it’s such a neat experience to unexpectedly discover people who “get it”. DH had a really great conversation with the plumber working at his mom’s house. I am so happy to encounter people who value thrift and make conscious choices about time and money.

  3. “The richest man is he whose needs are the cheapest”.

    Your customer is clear cut proof of this saying that I read somewhere.

  4. If you live in the same house for 28 years but don’t own it, is that a good thing?

    If you don’t have a car, should you be satisfied with that?

  5. He’s right when you’re happy with what you have, stress seems to decline. Getting rid of my credit card debt made me happier since I now have some money to save for a home.

    I wish I had a Ray tell me these things years ago.

  6. @Minimum Wage

    Sometimes I believe I could write your comments for you! Even while I was speaking with Ray, even as I was realizing I was going to write about our conversation, I was thinking, “Minimum Wage is going to say X.” And now you have. 🙂 (This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It forces me to think.)

    I’m not saying the poor should be satisfied with their lot. You know I don’t believe that. But I do know that regardless of their income, people are happier when they’re satisfied with that they already have.

  7. Hey J.D.,

    You might consider that every box customer you speak with is an opportunity to introduce your new business.

    I still work full time and share my website with almost everyone I speak with. Although I’m an engineer by trade I run into a few people who are interested in my personal development website. These people translate into leads and more importantly I’ve impacted another life.

    Just the other day I saw one of our mechanical consultants sign up for my RSS Feed. It was a shock to me because I never thought an engineer would be interested in personal growth…. I’m so glad I was wrong.

    To making a difference,

    Stephen Martile
    Personal Development Made Simple
    http://www.stephenmartile.com

  8. I have a friend alot like Ray. I always feel as though he isn’t making the most of life while he is young and can enjoy it. If you ask me, settling and/or being at peace with what you have is a great way to die young. It is the thrill of moving on to bigger and better things that keeps us young and alive!

  9. I read but have never commented here. This post drew me out because it is at the core of what I’ve found to be true for my life and I’m so thrilled to see it written this way by someone else. Thank you!

  10. OK- the big question is how to convince/show people what living within your means is like? This won’t be an unfamiliar story, but I work with someone who has (broadly) earnt the same as me, but has nothing to show for it; she is in debt, desperate to buy a property, but still spending loads on lottery, booze, cigarettes, ebay, TV shopping, and ‘treats’ her child so regularly that the point of the gift/reward is lost. (she’s not the deadbeat it looks I’m painting- she’s a lovely person, but spends crippling amounts on rubbish) She tells me I’m lucky that at 33, my mortgage on my second property is within 5 weeks of being paid off, and doesn’t see that the difference is that I tend to buy only what I need, eg, buying only a flat when I could have ‘afforded’ a house, and -knowing that the point of the shopping channel is to make you want stuff you didn’t know you needed, that the trick is to not watch it.

  11. @JD and @Minimum Wage: although JD put it as “being happy with what you have”, I think the issue is more about consciously determining whether what you have is OK or not. Defining “enough”, in YMOYL parlance, should be based on your life goals, not on what external factors are telling you you should want or need.

    If you are satisfied with what you have, and what you have fulfills your needs, and the tradeoff to acquire something nicer aren’t worth it to you, then it’s “enough”. The hard part is not allowing other people’s opinions to make you dissatisfied.

    On the other hand, sometimes what you have is not what you fundamentally want or need. Sometimes you find that you made a bad choice, and something needs to change. Perhaps a country house turns out to be a bad fit, and you need to save up for a house in the city to improve the quality of your life. Perhaps you have child #3, and need to buy a bigger car to cart the family around. Depending on your needs, even buying a new computer is not a waste of money. Sometimes you figure out that owning a home at all is not right for you, and renting would be the better option.

    Is it always the best choice to keep what you have? Of course not — sometimes it isn’t even the smartest financial move! As with everything, it’s a balance.

  12. First, @Stephen Martile:

    Occupation, or even hobbies, do not define people. I’ve met engineers who philosophize and artists who crunch numbers. Personal growth isn’t restricted merely to the Productivity Caste!

    @J.D.:

    I’d like to add a caveat to the Satisfaction = Savings rule: Saving money isn’t always the best road to long-term happiness. Frequently, yes, but not always.

    For example, let’s say I come across an opportunity to go skydiving in Peru. It’s expensive and the money I’d spend on it could be saved (at a rate of 12% in a decent enhanced-savings account) to make for a Better Retirement later.

    However, by doing so, I miss out on an exciting opportunity to enrich my life during the years when I’m best able to experience it.

    Is the saving of that money worth the cost in experience?

  13. Your message today is exactly what I needed. Being satisfied with what I have. I am surrounded by people who want more and more. This makes me look so poor and inadequate. Our earning capacity is the same but they look so ‘rich’ because of their 700,000K houses and big cars. Of course all are on loan, but nevertheless it gives them a false security that they have made it. And they flaunt it, not realizing is all debts. I on the other hand have a healthy bank balance, live on rented properties and save as much as possible. Being resistant to all of them was easy until lately. The spending bug is biting me and sometimes I have to force myself to look the other way. It is easier said than done. It is difficult not to spend when you are constantly hit with many ways (friends, fancy restaurants, billboards, advertisements etc). The more I walk in shopping complexes the more I find ways to spend money. Am I depriving myself or am I saving? Is this healthy in the long run? Will I go crazy one fine day and buy a pair of shoes for 500 because I feel so denied? Am I emotionally forcing myself to want less stuff and is that healthy for me?

  14. My goal is to have the same attitude Ray has. It’s just so hard to stay content with “old” stuff:) i agree that once you get over your consumerism and stick with what you need, you’ll have more money for the actually important stuff, like kid’s college or retirement. Will i care in 50 years that when i was 22 i had an IPOD that was *gasp* TWO years old? i doubt it. But if i continue to live a lifestyle of upgrading the tiny expensive things, i will probably be feeling the consequences in 50 years.

  15. Could not agree with your sentiments more. Not only is key to wealth being satisfied with what you already have it can be the key to happiness too!

  16. Amen brother! Less is more and more is less. Although I may have some unusual “bizarro world” psychosis, I always find myself feeling more fulfilled and content when getting rid of stuff rather than buying new things. To live a minimalist life free of excess, clutter and junk is true happiness to me.

  17. Great article. Hang on to that guy to keep in your loop. I’ve just recently gotten serious about my finances, I get excited about it, try to talk to friends about better ways I’ve discovered to save money. I’ve just found that not many people listen and definitely don’t take action. They may tell you how they’re drowning in debt, but they keep spending. Flatscreens, bar tabs and credit card debt keep mounding up. It would be nice to have someone like that around for encouragement. But then again, if I had that, I wouldn’t spend as much time connecting with folks through blogs like this 😉

  18. This is a very good lesson that most people miss out on. It seems like the people I know that are always buying new things are never happy. They can never get enough. And the people I know that are simple and don’t need all the new clothes and gadgets always seem to be happy and satisfied with life. I find myself somewhere in between but I’m trying to get myself to the more satisfied with less side.

  19. My husband was given a plaque that says “Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have” I think that goes along with your quote nicely.

  20. I think what you are talking about comes down to prioritization. Ray prioritizes savings over debt. Another way to look at it is that he is prioritizing the future over the present.

    That is not to say that somebody who prioritizes debt over savings, or their present wants over their future productivity is worse. After all, they could die tomorrow.

    It comes down to life being a gamble. Most of us here are gambling that we will be around for a long long time, and are planning accordingly. That is not the only ‘correct’ way to live, but if its ‘correct’ for *you*, then that should be good enough.

    Does that make sense?

  21. That is how my husband and I live. My husband is in the military so all of his coworkers make the same money he does. It is amazing how they are all deeply in debt and we have a nice fat savings account while raising a young family and me staying at home. I think the key to us is being able to splurge a bit on our hobbies but being willing to do things like shop around to find a great deal on a used car. We are quite content and I am not worried that we will die young because we have “missed out” on things that we are told are more exciting.

  22. Happiness is a function of two variables: Success and Expectations. It is directly proportional to the former and inversely proprtional to the latter, i.e. H = S / E

    This article is about reducing your denominator (Expectations) which raises your overall happiness. To be really happy, one must work on her success which inveritably contributes to the well-being of others. As Franklin Roosevelt said, “Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.”

    The problem with reducing your expectations is that it is finite. You can only reduce your expectations so much, to the point of, say, living in a barrel. Although a great place to reflect on Self, I wouldn’t recommend it as a permenant residence.

    Success, on the other hand, has no bounds and sky is no limit. It touches, inspires and leads many people to find their own talents. It start an avalanche of purpose.

    Incidently, when one embarks on talent discovery and works hard on his success, expectations tend to fade away and disappear.

    (Apologies for misspelling, English is my third language).

  23. Beautiful post, sir.

    I think the key to this is when a person no longer seeks to find themselves in “stuff.”

    How many things do we all buy only for psychological value? If everyond lived in a mansion, had BMW’s, and wore designer labels, those items would lose their value. Seriously, if it weren’t for “the eyes of others” how much stuff would we really want? I mean, remember how in the Road Warrior, Mel Gibson wore those same black leather pants everyday? Not a lot of “the eyes of others” out in the wastelands. 😉

  24. For years my wife and I were living just above our means because some luxuries (like cell phones and drycleaning) became necessities. That forced us to become more financially discipline and start to budget. Now when ever there is a windfall or pay increase, the first thing it goes to is any outstanding debt or retirement.

  25. Reminds me of a song by Crosby, Stills and Nash. . .

    “And if you can’t be with the one you love, honey
    Love the one you’re with”

  26. I couldn’t disagree with icup more, “That is not to say that somebody who prioritizes debt over savings, or their present wants over their future productivity is worse.”

    What happens when that person is 58 and suffers a debilitating heart attack or some other medical ailment that keeps them from working? We all end up supporting them in one way (taxes) or another (support from family and friends).

    Not saving weakens our economy and our country. This in turn makes it more likely your/our children will have to move, maybe even overseas, to get the good jobs. It also means that our country can be held hostage by our foreign creditors.

    Not saving also creates inflation by artificially increasing demand until the inflection point is reached. Just ask anyone who bought a house in the last few years. Those houses weren’t really worth the price paid.

    Isn’t the U.S. credited with winning the Cold War by bankrupting the Soviet Union. What world country is starting to look bankrupt now?

    Yes, the person who goes into debt and does not save is worse as a person.

  27. The more that we long for what we don’t have, the less we appreciate that of which we do.

    Longing for wealth is not any different.

    We forget that being wealthy and looking wealthy are not always one in the same.

  28. J.D.

    Ray is a great example for people to follow. Even so, I would be careful about using the term “wealth” too broadly. Wealth is defined as “a great quantity or store of money, valuable possessions, property, or other riches”. Wealth does not mean the same thing as happiness or well-being. I would prefer Ray’s quote if the word “wealth” were replaced with “happiness”. This may be nit-picking, but the idealized over-used expression of wealth as something profoundly great is really untrue. The drive to achieve great wealth is one of the things that has decreased the quality of life for so many people. The pursuit of happiness is a different story. Let’s not confuse wealth and happiness. They are two entirely different things.

  29. I agree wholeheartdely with the premise about being happy with what you have as long as you have the basics in life. It’s hard to be happy when you have food for breakfast but not for dinner.

    I’m someone who will occasionally suffer from feeling envious of what others have. When we bought this house we paid about 650,000 less than what the mortgage company said we could afford. Of course, I know they inflate numbers…but when I recently went to my sister-in-laws beautiful new house, I admit, I came home and cried a little. My kitchen floors weren’t put down properly by the first owner so they slide, my laundry room isn’t finished…blah, blah, blah. And we’ve made great strides in fixing this place up, we pay cash for improvements so we have to save before we do.

    Of course, I can’t avoid my sister-in-law like not going shopping or turning off the TV, but I can remind myself that if offered to me I wouldn’t trade because we have a low mortage, no consumer debt and I can stay home with the boys…that’s truly enough for me. S

  30. A conversation I had with my boyfriend over your blog this morning:

    ———————–
    me: this is a good money pick-me-up for us 🙂

    me: http://feeds.feedburner.com/~r/getrichslowly/~3/242702876/

    me: hahahaha bacon salt

    me: http://feeds.feedburner.com/~r/getrichslowly/~3/242498357/

    Sam: just read this first one: Awesome 😀

    me: it is awesome 🙂
    I like this guy

    Sam: Bacon Salt? Bacon Muffins? I think you’ve found the perfect blog 😉

    me: 😀
    I think I have!
    ——————

    In summary, thanks for all the good advice, keep it up!

  31. This is a stupid question, but do you really work at a box factory? Or is that just a euphemism for your family business/subtle reference to Lost?

  32. I admire Ray’s frugality and his effort to be happy with what he has.

    But to me, his words sound prideful. Whether you’re talking about frugality or consumption, comparing yourself to others will get you in trouble.

    I think Ben and icup provide a necessary counterpoint to this post. Aspiring to finish with the least stuff and the biggest pile of cash is just as bad as aspirig to the garage with the most toys. Either way, it’s a competition.

    I only have these few quotes to go on, but Ray seems to enjoy seeing himself as the ant and his friends as the grasshoppers.

  33. Wonderful post, really enjoyed it. It’s always nice to find another member of the “personal finance” club. Keep up the good work JD.

  34. I’ve been working on being satisfied with what I have and reducing stuff in my life for the last couple years with great success.

    I live with my Brother and we have a regular policy that when the lottery goes above $100 million, we split a ticket. We figure it’s a $1 license to dream about what we’d do with the money for a couple days.

    Last week, when the lottery was $270 million, we got our ticket. But I discovered that I was having real trouble with the dreaming part. Everything I used to imagine just constituted more stuff. I finally settled on dreaming about travel.

    Which is a long-winded way of saying that all my work is really paying off. I seem to have changed my philosophy at a very deep level. It was strangely satisfying.

  35. Another great article JD. To me this is what life is all about – being satisfied. I’m lucky, I’m a professional and my husband is a doctor – we have a very nice income. But we still live in a townhouse (that cost less than our combined incomes last year) and we have paid for, fairly simple cars (mine is 8 years old, my last car was 16 yrs old). But I’m happy, very content with this life. My home is small and easy to clean and maintain, as is the yard. The cars are dependable and safe.

    I have friends who have 3 homes (with 3 mortgages) and lots of toys – boats, new cars, RVs, etc. They are doctors and probably can afford them, but they spend so much of their free time maintaining and trying to enjoy these toys. It may work for them, but it isn’t for me. I like my free time too much. But as long as they are happy and I’m happy – that’s all that matters.

    One more thing I’d like to share – there is nothing more important in life than you health. As my parents have aged I’ve watched friends of theirs die young or have debilitating illnesses. My parents have become a lot more “loose” with their money cause they’ve seen this, too. If you don’t have your health and happiness nothing else in life really matters.

  36. drhands makes a great point — you could get rid of all your possessions and then have a bigger ego than most millionaires. If you take away one kind of identification, the ego will quickly find another, some other mental position to make yourself right and others wrong. This is why the ancient teachers of wisdom taught that the secret of life is to “die before you die.” Eckhart Tolle says it this way:

    “The ultimate truth of who you are is not I am this or I am that, but I Am.”

  37. I’ve started to realize this over the last year. In fact, I think it’s so subtle how people get enamoured with *stuff* and they forget about who’s out there- even now I catch myself hoarding *things* at the expense of people.

    And isn’t that the real source of wealth-your connection to people? You can purchase that for life with a retirement account, or you can live a rich life of connecting with people who can help each other in small, day to day ways and maybe even with some of the big stuff.

    zach
    Pennywise-poundfoolish.typepad.com

  38. Last October our home was destroyed in the California fires. Many people think that we should have been devastated – we lost all of our possessions along with the home we planned to live in the rest of our lives. However we quickly realized that all that really mattered was our family. Even more, having all of your possessions destroyed can be quite liberating. We discovered that the less stuff we have, the more mobile we are. We now have the option to consider moving to a different state (or country) for 3-6 months just to try it out (I am a consultant and work remotely, so location is not an issue).

    I bring this up because I have learned a lesson from it. I think that too many possessions can act as an anchor that just slows us down and reduces our freedom. We would have never thought about doing a 3-6 month trip with all the stuff we had before. Like KC said above, I think a lot of stuff causes a lot of extra work. At this point we are actively avoiding buying things because it seems each item we get is an extra item that we will need to worry about if we travel/move. And, not only do we have our insurance settlement going into investments, we have increased our contributions to our savings since all this since we have less to maintain.

    One parting comment – insurance is good but only if your coverage is adequate. Many of our neighbors lost their homes. Not very many were properly insured. People typically get a policy when they buy their home then rarely update it. Because of the real estate bubble many people were woefully underinsured (ie. 40% of the value of their home, etc). Check your homeowners policy with your agent on an annual basis!

  39. “Be satisfied with what you already have”

    That’s a line that hits home, because when I was younger, I got a lot of financial advice that I thankfully didn’t follow:

    “You should buy lots of tech stocks!” – right before the internet bubble burst.

    “You shouldn’t save into a mutual fund now because investing is what you do with extra money”

    “Don’t pay off your house and live in it, you should move up, and NEVER BE SATISFIED WITH WHAT YOU HAVE”

    Wow. Some of the worst advice from people who sounded so experienced with money. In the end, they were (and are) horrified that my wife and I live debt free, No credit cards, no more mortgage, and most of all, we live frugally and save a high percentage of our salary. We just completed a bathroom remodel, but we waited almost a year while we saved up, and got lots of exhortations to “live for the now” and pay on credit. So many people feel if you live life within your means, it’s as if you’re “poor”. Yet the feeling we get when we think about our lack of debt is true wealth.

    Great post, JD.

  40. To quote TosaJen in #12, Defining “enough”, in YMOYL parlance, should be based on your life goals, not on what external factors are telling you you should want or need.

    In other words, making conscious choices. JD’s customer values a paid-off house and savings over a new house or new car or what-have-you. This is shown by his choices.

    My friends who have problems with money are very unconscious. They don’t keep track of their spending, they forget (or lose) bills, they don’t think about the long-term. It’s like they don’t value money because they assume there will always be more… somewhere…

    And they don’t always invest a lot of thought in what they buy, either.

    Please don’t think I’m discounting the overall premise of your post, JD. I agree with the broad strokes. I just also think a key to being satisfied with what you have is to consciously choose what you have so that it fits your values and goals. I doubt Ray would be happy with that house if was 200 sq ft, or 20,000 sq ft, or if the roof had caved in due to lack of maintenance. I think part of why he’s satisfied with what he has is that he’s invested the time, money and thought necessary to accumulate things that work well for him – plus he’s taken care of what he has! There’s a lot of life and financial skills in making that happen! 🙂

  41. Sharon,

    you are doing a good thing by consistently bringing yourself down to earth, but you could also take a lesson from my first car.

    I had beautiful, gas guzzling 71 Impala that I spent two summers restoring the body. I was out there every sunny day sanding (by hand, mind you! No power tools here!) and blistering from the sun. I put my heart and soul into that car and when somebody with a nice new sportscar would come up next to me, I simply didn’t envy that person. They had $500 of extra payments every month and I owned mine outright at 17.

    When a red-light running pickup slammed into me as I was going through an intersection, I was protected by the HUGE metal body. The car was totalled, but I had real memories with that car. Nobody *buying* a new car and *buying* all their improvements has that kind of attachement. Yet with all that attachement, totalling the car didn’t hurt at all because I still had the memories.

    This was right before the gas prices began to skyrocket so I ended up winning out in the long run anyways!

    The point is that at the end of your 20 years of that tiny house, you and your family will have sweated, struggled, and rejoiced together in that house, and each replaced floorboard and newly-finished room represents a memory that you’ve shined up for yourself. That’s something that a flipped house can’t offer it’s owners.

    /soapbox

    pennywise-poundfoolish.typepad.com

  42. The other lesson to learn is that being rich/wealthy means having money, not having stuff.
    Like right after I buy something that is somewhat expensive ($4k on a used car) a friend might comment that I must be rich. Well, actually I am $4k poorer than yesterday. And now I need to save that $4k again in order to be where I was. The only reason I could afford to buy it outright is because I saved and didn’t buy other stuff.

  43. @Danny (#48) – Oh yeah. Saving for a house or retirement has to be more important to you than more space or stuff.

    (One can go overboard the other way, too, and skip necessities to save money. One woman was worried she couldn’t afford insurance for her new car ($2000 down, $300/mo) on another board. That seems pretty wrongheaded to me – if you can’t afford the insurance you need a cheaper car you can insure!)

  44. I have the same question as partgypsy.

    Whenever you mention the “box factory” I think of the Simpsons episode where all the kids take a field trip to the box factory to learn about boxes. It always gives me a laugh.

  45. J.D.,

    This is a fantastic article. Ray sounds like a brilliant man with a good head on his shoulders. I love the “your an idiot” if you do not participate in your 401(k) plan, and the overall point of the story – be satisfied with what you have – that’s wealth.

    Thanks for that!

  46. Hubby and I almost lost our most precious possession (other than our sons) – our marriage, a few years ago. We survived & overcame our problem – but it really taught us what to value in life. Stuff can be replaced, more money can be earned, but when relationships are lost – their gone forever!

  47. I work with a lot of people with quite a bit of money (no time, but lots of money). My boss is wonderful to me, and for my birthday, often gets me a pretty good sized gift certificate, usually to Nordstrom. He doesn’t realize that I HATE Nordstrom. I usually purchase something there, then return it for cash. I don’t understand why anyone would pay what they want for items in their stores.

    I’m not interested in the lifestyle that most of my coworkers live. I’d much rather be home at night, doing my own thing and working toward my own goals, than earning more money. There’s never an end to the hedonic treadmill if you allow yourself to get sucked in.

  48. He’s right when you’re happy with what you have, stress seems to decline. Getting rid of my credit card debt made me happier since I now have some money to save for a home.

    Wait a minute, isn’t the idea here to be satisfied with your credit card debt?

  49. I have to say it’s most refreshing to hear that there are still folks left out there with some common sense when it comes to personal finance. I am personally so very tired of people who measure themselves by their possessions.

    I had my own personal epiphany a couple years back when I took a year’s layoff for our family business in order to help us through a rough spot. Being in tech sales and used to living a “comfortable” life, I was in a mode where I just assumed that my six-figure income was a given. Turns out that taking a big financial hit was the best thing that ever could have happened to me. It reinforced for me the difference between “wants” and “needs” in life, and also taught me how to streamline my lifestyle by cutting back on the little unnecessary things, i.e. an overly-inflated cable package that I never used, canceling my land-line phone that I never used, etc. for starters. Being able to afford nice luxuries in life (certain cars, motorcycles, nice trips, etc.)simply got old for me, since those luxuries never defined me as a person. Once you know what these things are like to experience, they’re not that big of a deal anymore.

    The main thing I wish more people could see is that no matter what new toy, house, car one purchases, their will ALWAYS be something “nicer” out there. Why break your neck financially to stay engrossed in such an empty pursuit? The more “stuff” we acquire, the more complicated we make our lives. Why not live lean and mean with the occasional (rather than constant)self-reward?

    Bottom line: My relatively new minimalist lifestyle = peace of mind = happiness

  50. Hi JD,

    Just saw this and wanted to let you and your readers know– it’s the perfect confluence of saving money and getting fit! In May, health clubs around the nation let people use the facilities for free to educate people on the benefits of exercise:
    http://www.getactiveamerica.com/

  51. “Minimum Wage Says:
    February 28th, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    He’s right when you’re happy with what you have, stress seems to decline. Getting rid of my credit card debt made me happier since I now have some money to save for a home.

    Wait a minute, isn’t the idea here to be satisfied with your credit card debt?”

    Uh, what? If you are happy with what you have, then you have no credit card debt. Go ahead and re-read the article. The whole point was that J.D. wasn’t happy with what he had, which is why he had credit card debt. Once he got to be “happy with what he had” he got out of debt. It seems like you are trying to be a smart ass, but you really just come off as not understanding the article.

  52. My only complaint when I read articles like that is the comment “I could retire now” well why not! I think his kids friends would listen alot more if he said, “yeah I hated my job so I told the boss to stick it where the sun don’t shine”

    That they can relate to!

  53. Actually for technology I have found a different path, shop smart and shop often. three years ago I bought an HP laptop for 299 it was a great deal at the time but now it only has a P4 processor. I just now got a C2D processor for 399 and am selling my P4 for 200 to my niece. a good deal for a kid just heading to college. I find that in some cases shopping often to the maximum resale of an item can factor into the decision of when to spend and not to spend. If I use it too long there is no resale value and it becomes a bookstop

  54. Wow–several amazing stories here. I love what Ray had to say, but jz’s story really took my breath away. Talk about being given lemons and making lemonade…it sounds like your family is coping with a big, unexpected change in the most graceful way possible. Best wishes as you all move forward.

    I *love* Ray’s attitude and have preached it here, too.

    I couldn’t help but be struck by Ryan’s comment back at #9: If you ask me, settling and/or being at peace with what you have is a great way to die young. It is the thrill of moving on to bigger and better things that keeps us young and alive!

    It’s funny you should focus on that. My husband and I choose to live modestly, “below our means”. Lately we have found that those choices, and the financial cushion it has allowed us to accumulate, mean that we have way, way more flexibility to seize opportunities for “bigger and better things”.

    A hardnosed dollars-and-cents example: In late January, mortgage rates took a brief, sharp dip. We were able to jump on that opportunity, refinance our mortgage for 1.25% less than we’d been paying, and pay closing costs out of pocket. Our mortgage payment will be $200/month less, so we’ll make up those out-of-pocket costs in a little over a year. But those savings will last for the 28+ years beyond that. Also, our monthly outlay for the house now is low enough that it’s in line with what we could get renting it out. So when we’re ready to move on to our next place–with a fresh down payment, augmented by our extra $2400/year– we can keep this one as a rental, and someone *else* can pay our mortgage. 😉

    Or, a rather more fun example: we’re coming up on our 10th wedding anniversary, and we’re going to celebrate with a long-dreamed-of trip to Alaska, *without* the kids! We will easily be able to finance it out of pocket and won’t have worry about the bills haunting us long after we’re back.

    So–“settling” versus “bigger and better”? I think it’s possible to strike good balance and win both ways!

  55. It’s hard to be the 66th commenter because we’re talking about several different things at once but here it goes.

    First off “the key to wealth is being satisfied with what you already have” isn’t exactly right.

    I think it’s more that the key to building wealth is being able to be satisfied with how you live while you work toward your goal. Let me explain. To accumulate wealth you have to save and invest. To do that you have to live “within” your means. If you can’t be satisfied living within your means you’re going to be miserable and probably won’t achieve your goal.

    Secondly if you put together a plan which dictates how much you will save, then if you have extra money you can go skydiving in Peru with no guilt.

    Thirdly we’re talking about “stuff vs happiness”. If you need stuff to make you happy you have a problem. If you have the consumer addiction of always buying more, bigger, newer stuff you’re heading for trouble.

    Another thing about stuff, and money and investments is that you can lose them. It might make more sense to keep your wealth inside your head and in the network of friends and family that makes your life worth living.

    #16 jessica mentioned how she would feel 50 years later about the ipod she had when she was 22. Please read about The $128,000 Plasma TV http://123moneybasics.com/wordpress/grow-your-savings/

  56. Hmm. I think a better way to look at it is “Happy with the things you care about.”

    Back during the dot-com boom, I worked as a consultant and one of my projects was research on what self-made high-net-worth (over $2MM in non-housing assets) individuals spent on.

    The answer came back loud and clear – they spent on the things they personally cared about, and didn’t on things that were of little interest to them.

    Many drove older cars and lived in modest homes, and invested, but they wouldn’t hesitate to upgrade their stereo, or travel to Asia if that was their passion. Did they spend extravagantly? No. But they did spend.

    “Be happy with what you have” can be interpreted as a very ascetic philosophy. I think that there needs to be a balance between saving for tomorrow and living (within reason) for today.

  57. what struck out for me the most was jenk’s comment (#46)

    “we don’t value money because we assume there will always be more…somewhere”

    i think this is the way most people live. they take it for granted that the money will always be there to make. yet personal things that happen to us in life, decisions we must make to choose one thing over another because of x,y or z, or the economy can very well put a tremendous chink to this thinking.

  58. From a senior who’s retiring early with lots of resources: One key point is to recognize what your possessions provide (or don’t provide). The key function of a car is reliable, safe transportation. A used car, or a new Corolla or Civic, might do just fine.
    I can spend lots of money on shoes, for example, and not get lots of extra functional value. Jewelry gives no functional value.
    The choice doesn’t have to be between sacrificing on everything or buying lots of unnecessary status symbols. You decide what’s important (and useful) for you and what you can easily forego.

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