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How Do You Know When You Have Enough?

Do you have “enough”? Are you working extra hard to buy extra stuff that you don’t actually need? How many hours of your working day go towards unnecessary expenses? Could you work less hours if you required less stuff? Wanted less stuff? Had less stuff?

These are questions I continually ask myself as I get a little older. When I was in my 20′s, I wanted everything – a new car every few years, nice electronics, drinks and dinners out all week long, every new CD that came out, etc – and I had the credit card debt to show for it. Thus, I had to stay at jobs I might not have liked very much; I had no choice in the matter. Someone had to pay for that lifestyle I was trying to live! But over the years, I have slowly changed my way of thinking from “gotta get more” to “I think I may have enough”…and it has allowed me to make quite the drastic change in my relationship with money. I went from working 50-60 hours a week for someone else to working 25 hours a week for myself…with no change in my quality of life.

I am a big fan of reading books about simple living and putting the advice they give into action. One of my all-time favorite books is Your Money Or Your Life, which really changed my thoughts about how much we all have to work just to pay for the “extras” in life that we could, in fact, do without. As I get older, I am realizing that I don’t like working that much to pay for stuff I don’t need – so I stopped doing it. I “need” less, thus I can work less. It’s really a simple equation. We all create our own lifestyle, we all get ourselves into debt, and we all can choose just how much time we are willing to trade for “stuff”. I am doing my best to get off that train.

But another book I am almost finished with now is called Radical Simplicity, which I mentioned the other day. In this book, there is a section that references Your Money Or Your Life, and points out 4 qualities and 6 realities of “Enoughness” as follows…

Four Qualities of Enoughness

1. Purpose – Less distracted by things, our higher purpose can rise above the background noise of society.
2. Accountability to Earth, society, our family, and ourselves – We can decide not to let consumer addiction ruin our life, our marriage, or the planet.
3. An internal yardstick – This means that we nurture a profound understanding of how much is enough, independent of our country of origin and aligned with our values of what is fair and sustainable.
4. Financial Integrity – Being responsible for the implications of the money that flows through our life; our spending is aligned with our values.

These above 4 qualities, according to the author, can lead to the …

Six Realities of Enoughness

1. Peace of Mind – With your financial house in order, fear and anxiety of not having enough fades. You can explore your personal path, with space to grow.
2. Out of Debt – And never to return.
3. Savings – With savings, you will feel secure that you can handle any emergency that arises.
4. Skills – With extra time and savings, you will have time to develop new skills and hobbies.
5. Community – With more of yourself available, you get involved.
6. Income – Having located an “enoughness” point independent of societal pressures, obtaining sufficient income now becomes, in the words of Thoreau, “a pastime, not a hardship”.

Whether you choose to follow it or not, there are some important lessons in these two books. In real life, there are only a few things that any of us actually need – shelter, food, clothes, and some sort of transportation. Everything else is extra. I am not saying that we need to do without if we don’t want to, I am just saying that thinking about how much that “extra” stuff costs me in working hours changed the way I looked at earning and spending money. We still go out to eat, we still do some traveling, we still spend some money on entertainment. But we could be spending a lot more on those things and much, much more – but I refuse to trade that much more work just to pay for things I don’t really need or want anymore. If I had to swtich my life around and again spend 60 hours a week at a job, away from my family, just to pay for extra toys or expensive things that didn’t bring that much value to my life, I just couldn’t do it. It’s not the way I do things anymore, as I now value any and all free time I have to go hiking, biking, do some work in the yard, complete some woodworking, or take a nap in the middle of the day on a Tuesday. My time is more valuable to me than “stuff” – and that’s how I know I have enough. As they say, you cannot take it with you!

So…how do you (or did you) know when you have enough?

photo on homepage by Sarah Jane

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Comments (24)

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  1. I love it!

    I’ve not read the book Radical Simplicity, yet. It is on my amazon wishlist, as I can’t find it for free/trade/borrow anywhere. (I saw it suggested below your article)

    My wife and I have been really trying to focus on lowering our standards on what is enough. The more we are able to do this, the more vibrant it seems our life becomes.

    Great post!

  2. Miranda says:

    One of the biggest eye openers for me was this last time we moved. I saw how much stuff we has accumulated, and I realized how much of it we didn’t actually use — or even think about. We’re getting rid of a lot of it, and I stop and think about stuff before we buy it. Do I really want it? How much will I use it? Will it really improve my quality of life? Amazing how often the answer to all three questions is no.

  3. Tyler says:

    I’m single, working full-time, and I’ve got a new car, new HDTV, new gaming PC, and a one-bedroom apartment that is neither barren nor cluttered. For my current status, I think I am now balanced in use and possession of consumer items.

  4. Patrick says:

    My time is more valuable to me than “stuff” – and that’s how I know I have enough.

    Best quote from the article. My time is more valuable than stuff, and I know that will be reinforced when my wife and I have children. I take pleasure in the things we have, but I try not to add too much more to the pile. Sometimes, less is more.

  5. david says:

    Thanks Patrick, glad you liked. And I agree – sometimes, less is more.

  6. Like Miranda, I think we realized we had way too much stuff when we moved. At the time we got rid of a ton of stuff, simplified and lived with less.

    I’ve noticed it starts to creep back in though if you’re not careful. You start buying things you don’t need and the shelves start filling up again.

    I think moderation is key. It’s ok to have some things you enjoy, but when the things become more important than other things, you probably have a focus that needs to be readjusted.

  7. Dana says:

    Good thought for the holidays. During times like these with family and loved ones, I think about what it is that’s really important, and the intangible stuff rarely make the list. I think we have enough when it gives us the freedom to do what we really want to do, and with the people that we really want to be with. Easier said than done, most of us get lost in that process of accumulation and have difficulties extricating ourselves.

  8. It is a good thought, and I agree with the sentiment. Sadly, the only “thing” that I want is a college education for my kids — and although that’s not in the nature of a clutter-causing possession, it DOES require me to work many, many more hours than are optimal. I wish my taxes went to education instead of the banks!

  9. David says:

    Thrifty – there are always student loans/grants/scholarships available, so keep that in mind. There is nothing wrong with kids helping to pay their way for college!

  10. David:

    I don’t disagree with you — the LAST thing I want to do (okay, the “second to last thing”) is to create three overly entitled brats who take six years to party through college and major in underwater basket weaving on my dime. We certainly will expect that they take an appropriate portion of the educational burden on themselves — i.e., working during the summer (and a reasonable amount during the school year). What I don’t want is for them to have the experience I had: working up to 40 hours a week, underperforming academically because of a heavy work schedule, and still ending up in a significant amount of debt. But school is so darned expensive now that even providing for “half” or “most” or a “reasonable portion” of college is just huge, even though we live very modestly and our kids are still young.

  11. david says:

    I agree with you there – I wouldnt want my kids to have to pay for the full load either, and would pay for as much as I could comfortably pay for. Parents often forget that you can borrow for education, but that you cannot borrow for retirement. So if I had to choose between the 2, I would choose retirement to save for.

  12. MoneyEnergy says:

    Well, there are times when I think that I wish I could have been you in my twenties buying even ONE new car – but going through graduate school takes time and deprives you of earning power – I’ve been doing it for the education, but it sure is tempting to break down and just get a hack job so I can make as much as some other 9-5 salaries do! So as for “enough,” I’m still at a point where I do need more – I don’t even have an iPod! I’m living pretty frugally, I think:)

  13. Pinyo says:

    Great article David. It’s really true how much pain and suffering is caused by not comprehending the word enough and not reaching that state of mind.

  14. Melaniesd says:

    Great article. Good food for thought.

    I work for a bank in Canada. It amazes me looking at client profiles at the debt load people feel is reasonable to carry.
    How many toys and vacations down south do people really think they NEED?
    Sure, I’d LOVE to travel and have a bigger swankier home, but I don’t want the stress that comes along with it. I will have lots of time to travel as my son gets older and my little piece of paradise is just fine for me.

    As for helping to fund our childrens education, I think it’s wonderful to try to help as much as you can, but we do a huge diservice to ourselves to neglect our retirement & emergency savings for the safe of the kids educations. We can always help them pay the student loans, but like David, said we can’t borrow to finance our retirements.
    It truly breaks my heart when I speak to clients who are living on $1000/month and have $700+ in expenses each month and are looking for credit. I can’t lend to them, because they can’t afford the debt, but the can’t afford much of anything on their monthly incomes. I think we need to do more to help our families and communities. No one should have to live so poorly in their old ages….

  15. Jerry says:

    I keep hearing about this “Your money or Your Life” book and I think it’s the universe telling me I need to buy it. “Things” will never satisfy. In fact, to get out of debt we ended up selling many of our things. Having a sense of purpose and is insurance for happiness. Life is too short to spend it on junk that, as you pointed, you can’t take with you.

  16. Yo Prinzel says:

    What a great idea to quantify your time working with your consumer habits. I never really understood the trade off until I started working for myself.

  17. Ken says:

    I agree with you about the book Your Money or Your Life being a great one. This post hits me at the core. Is what I’m doing worth the expense. What do I sacrifice to support the “stuff” in my life. Good post!

  18. Rosa says:

    In my twenties, i kept my needs low so I could work fewer hours. But I’ve found in my thirties I can not find a job that pays for health insurance that is not full time. Right now I’m on my partner’s health insurance, but it’s maddening – I don’t need the hours or the cash, I just need benefits.

  19. I am happy when I know I can pay myself first out of every paycheck. This is definitely enough for me.

  20. dlm says:

    Your Money Or Your Life “Revised and Updated for the 21st Century” by Vicki Robin is just out. I’m lucky enough to be the first borrower from the library.

  21. hustler says:

    I also read Your money or your life about a year ago. I’m glad I did. Since then I’ve saved a good chunk of money. It’s meant for a house down payment, but when I’m at work feeling frustrated and undervalued, I know that I could walk out that door at any time and have the money to pay my bills for a good while. That’s a great feeling. And more rewarding than any thing I could buy.

  22. oneadvice says:

    I have just ‘Tip’d’ this article because I found it so thought-provoking and want to get the word out there.
    Thanks for making me think that little bit deeper about finances and materialism.

  23. Time is way more important than stuff. I didn’t realise it until I was in my twenties, working 50 hours a week and up to my neck in debt… Now I just need to get my financial house in order and then I intend to make the most of my time.

  24. This is a great post. I used to think that people (or at least myself) could never have enough money. But now that I am older and more stable I definitely think that enough money means living comfortably and debt free. Having enough money to do what you want in life and not have to worry about getting in debt, that’s the definition of having enough money for me.

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