It’s Not What You Earn, It’s What You Spend.

The first 30 years of my life I was convinced it was the other way around. I believed that in order to be successful you had to make a lot of money, at any price, even if it meant that you hated what you did for a living. After all, what was more important than making a lot of money? However, that all changed a few years back when I all of a sudden realized that money wasn’t all that important to me. All I really needed, I decided, was enough to live comfortably – no more, no less. I looked back with disdain at all those years I spent working at jobs I didn’t even care for just for the paycheck. It was then that I decided to work for me and what I need rather than A. what others thought I needed or B. what my younger self had been telling me that I needed.

And then I took a big pay cut to strike out on my own…and nothing bad happened.

See, I had already started to adjust for making less money and had changed how I spent the money I did have. It wasn’t how much I was making, but rather how I was spending it that was dictating how much money I had to bring home on a monthly basis. As soon as I got rid of that mindset, the picture became much clearer – I should be doing what I want to do for a living. Something I enjoy. Something that benefits others in some way, shape or form. And something that still pays the bills. I mean, just how important is stockpiling cash? Is it worth trading my soul or being miserable for 40+ hours a week? No way.


You can be comfortable and “successful” on almost any salary. You may have to move to a cheaper town, buy an older car, cut off the cable TV, or get a Pay As You Go cell phone to do so, but for most people it can be done if the desire is strong enough. Those on welfare with 5 kids are a different story and not really who I am talking about in this post. (Will save that for another post in the future) I am speaking about the average Joe, The Joneses, the normal American Family or Individual. It’s not about making a ton of money – it’s about using what you do earn, wisely.

I think that if most people took the time to really reflect on how their life is going, most would prefer to be at a job they enjoy rather than one they hate, right? However, a lot of them cannot leave said job because they are unwilling to adjust their lifestyle to enable them to do so.

Are you one of them?

It took me until my 30th birthday to start understanding that what was truly important to me was way more valuable than how anyone else perceived me and my lifestyle. If I only get about 75 years on this floating blue globe, I want to enjoy it rather than toil away doing things I have no interest in doing. Don’t you?

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Comments (100)

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Hank, aliciamarie112. aliciamarie112 said: RT @mytwodollars New blog post: It's Not What You Earn, It's What You Spend. http://bit.ly/8uvVPY […]

  2. Craig says:

    You have to spend less but if you make a lower salary it will be very difficult for you to live a lifestyle you may want in an area you want regardless of your frugal spending patterns.

  3. You know I agree wholeheartedly 🙂

  4. Annie Jones says:

    I would also say that it’s not what you save, it’s what you spend. I’m not talking about saving money in the bank, because that’s important. What I’m referring to is people who use a lot of coupons or buy on clearance or find good sales, then try to justify what they spend by saying, “But I saved $10 dollars.” or “But I saved 35%.”

    Don’t get me wrong…I love a sale and I’m all for using coupons, but the true story is the bottom line…what you actually spent and not just what you saved.

  5. Daddy Paul says:

    Great read. The best advice I ever got was save your overtime and bonus money.

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  7. This was a turning point in getting myself out of my personal financial mess. For the longest time, my main focus was working on increasing my income.

    Once I realized that I could have a larger impact on my finances by focusing on my spending, did I begin to make progress in leaps and bounds.

    Fantastic post

  8. Ken says:

    I wish someone had told me sooner that you “save” to get ahead in life. I spent instead. We make mistakes when we think earn more so we can spend more. Life can be simpler if we just takej the time to make it that way. Like the DARE people say, JUST SAY NO to debt.

  9. J. Alarcon says:

    Thanks for your sincere advice on what really matters in life. It’s so easy to get the idea on one’s head that making a lot of money is the only thing that matters.

  10. […] It’s Not What You Earn, It’s What You Spend (My Two Dollars) […]

  11. […] It’s Not What You Earn, It’s What You Spend […]

  12. […] at My Two Dollars has a jewel of a post ““ It’s not what you earn, it’s what you spend. Understanding that one tiny fact is why people can retire wealthy while only making a modest […]

  13. Jerry says:

    Nothing could me more true. The only insurance to stay out of debt is to live within or preferably well below your means. We have been overwhelmed with expenses lately but we are trying to pick up extra jobs, etc. so we can cover it without going into debt. We know that getting into leads to trouble for us so we avoid it like the plague.

  14. kenyantykoon says:

    i still think that having a lot of money makes life easier and truthfully speaking i want a lot of it. but the thing is that i like working and so i prefer to do something that i enjoy and not have to do it only for the cash. imagine such a combination(making a truckload of cash for something that you would very easily do for free)?

  15. Zaraditi says:

    I think that one of the biggest problems is that people usually work the job they don’t really like. People care too much what others will think about the kind of a job they do and are also afraid of taking the direction they would really want to live. This way we all end up doing what is more acceptable to our community and not to our genuine interest.

  16. Squirrelers says:

    I like this topic.

    My thoughts are that both what you spend and what you earn are part of the overall equation. Now, having said that, I think the key is to be able to live on what you need (with some wants mixed in), and not let your income dictate your spending, if possible. Take the overage, then save & invest. Don’t look at a 10% increase in take-home pay, and decide to spend 10% more. Just save that increase in income…or maybe take increase spending by 1% and save the rest:)

    What it comes down to is discipline, and learning to enjoy many of the great things life has to offer without feeling that money has to be source of happiness. It helps, but your health and quality of your relationships impact your life as well.

  17. Thanks for this post – I have been preaching this message to family and friends for years! I don’t understand why some folks will work more hours just to waste the money. I know people who work seconds jobs (and complain about it) but think they have no time to practice a little frugality.

  18. David,

    Thank you for the brilliant article. It seems so simple, yet impossible for people “to get.” You need to get this out to a more wider distribution.


  19. David says:

    Thanks, appreciate the kind words.

  20. Victorino says:

    That’s right it’s not really what we earn but it is what we spend, including all the expenses we incur for things outside of our selves (families, friends, etc.,). I can also say that uur lifestyle depends on what we spend and not on what we earn.

  21. I used to be a financial consultant and this is what I would always tell people:

    “You could make 30k a year and spend 50k, or you could make 70k and spend 90k……BROKE IS BROKE!!!”

    It is seldom that making more money is the solution. In fact, quite often making more money leads to more problems.

    You have to work on proper cash flow management before you worry about making more.



  22. Tightwad says:

    Hi – this is great advice! I linked this post to my blog today. Cheers – Tightwad

  23. John says:

    Staying within your means is something we need to learn as a society and live our lives according to what we are able to produce.

  24. Sana says:

    Hi your article really helped me a lot to take my self out of financial problem! Thanks for sharing this wonderful article!

    Good work and best of luck!

  25. MoneySolve says:

    What a refreshing way to look at the bigger picture.

    This is so true. I know people who are earning huge wages, relatively speaking, and yet who complain about tight finances. Then on the other hand I know people on comparitively tiny salaries who never seem to have a problem.

    Providing there’s a degree of sensibility, I think it’s possible to just adjust yuor living standards according to your income in order to ensure you don’t find yourself feeling the pinch month in, month out.

  26. I think in some cases it’s both.. if you make $12/hour and you are broke or struggling, you need to make more money for starters, in addition to cutting costs and paying down debt.

  27. steve says:

    Anyone in the same position would be doing themselves a favor by getting some advice here.

    MTHIRTYhas just shared a widget with you on behalf of CIBC

  28. A lot of us in the blogosphere would be inclined to disagree with the philosophy of saving a lot of money over spending it. And the frugality a lot of people express here does make a thunderdrake smile.

    Though saving fiat currency in this world of inflation isn’t something I’d do. Financially, I tell people to put their money into income producing assets. But they either hang onto paper money or spend it on a luxury or indebt themselves one way or another.

    Hopefully you’re ‘spending’ your money wisely, eh? I know I try to!

  29. The first 30 years of my life I was convinced it was the other way around. I believed that in order to be successful you had to make a lot of money, at any price, even if it meant that you hated what you did for a living. After all, what was more important than making a lot of money? However, that all changed a few years back when I all of a sudden realized that money wasn’t all that important to me. All I really needed, I decided, was enough to live comfortably – no more, no less. I looked back with disdain at all those years I spent working at jobs I didn’t even care for just for the paycheck. It was then that I decided to work for me and what I need rather than A. what others thought I needed or B. what my younger self had been telling me that I needed.

  30. There is a great saying:

    Living an earning, instead of earning a living.

    The theory behind it, find something that you love to do and then live within your means. There truly is much more happiness to be found when you have a ‘free’ life. Free to make choices & changes when you find something is no longer working.

    Someone saddled in debt and a ‘slave’ to the working world will never be able to know that freedom. You are very lucky to have discovered that while still relatively young.

  31. investments says:

    It is really not only about what you spend, and how much you save, but how wise you invest what’s left (your savings). And by investing I mean also investing in yourself…

  32. investment says:

    And to add up. You can invest in yourself by improving your knowledge for example.

  33. Evan Lin says:

    This is so true. After cutting out several expensive luxuries from my life, I realized that I didn’t miss them at all. In fact, I think I am much happier now because the financial security I received in return has given me great peace of mind.


  34. what you make matters too. if you make min wage, you are not going to be able to go far with your finances. a good paying job does matter. 🙂

  35. mike says:

    I agree and I love the post! You have a great writing style. Keep it up

  36. Shaun says:

    No matter how high the earning is, it still not guaranty a financial growth unless you can manage to deal with your expenses and keep it on the limit according to what you earn.

  37. Tracy says:

    It really is not what you earn but what you spend. Its also how you spend. Its tough to know when you are young what to spend money on or what to invest into. Its decisions that we make that will live with us forever

  38. Marcel says:

    Money according to some rules the world. We cannot do the things we really wanted if we don’t have financial stability. Nowadays, it’s pretty hard to earn money that is why most people are into loan and some overused their credit card as if there’s no next time. But I believe that we can actually live comfortably even we don’t have lots of money. It is just a way of prioritizing our responsibilities and differentiating between wants and needs. I agree with your post and hope more to come something like this. Two thumbs-up for you.

  39. Jack says:

    I was in my mid thirties when I came to this realization. Exhausted and miserable from working harder and longer in a job that I hated. I was wasting my time and energy in a life and situation that I no longer wanted. More importantly I wasn’t even saving. I realized I was overspending to compensate for my misery. It can be a vicious cycle. I broke away. Downsized and found living simpler allowed me time to pursue the things I really wanted out of life. Time for myself and my family. There were a lot of adjustments that I made in my life and I had to reset expectations from myself as well as with others. I am happier for it. Glad to know that others believe the same way. It isn’t about how much you make…but how much you spend.

  40. David says:

    Great article! Unfortunately with all of the money that’s being printed for bailouts and QE2, our dollars are losing their value and prices for food and commodities are rising dramatically, which is going to cause everyone to spend much more.

  41. I think taking any sort of pay cut would be hard at first, but I think for the first step to a career transition, its necessary. But I think it helps if you get your expenses UNDER your new salary’s range, before quitting/switching jobs.

  42. you have a very good blogs and articles that really helped me….thanks

  43. Sean Hecking says:

    Paying down debt and sticking to an investment schedule even during a recession has really helped. With the economy headed in the right direction these days it makes it a little easier to see the fruits of investing and living at or under your means.

    For some folks it’s hard to not have the latest iPhone or a nice car. I personally would rather have extra time with my family than work harder for a nicer car.

  44. If I am divorced does my credit and her credit still show up on each report?

  45. Jamie says:

    Good advice mate, I agree if you spend too much it has a big impact on the overall bank balance.

  46. Great post, and you hit it right on the head. Once people start to realize how they are hemorraghing money, they usually are able to stop it. Or, their backs are put against the wall some other way (miss a mortgage payment, not pay their property taxes, etc) before they take a good hard look. Keep up the awesome articles!

  47. I agree with you. But most of the people always think that bigger salary is better.
    Thanks for sharing. Awaiting for your next experience.

  48. Larry says:

    My wife and I went from spending $9000 a month to $1800.

    Got rid of the new cars and bought a $3200 1996 cadillac (runs great).

    Sold our half million dollar home in seattle and moved to a sixty thousand dollar home in missouri (only slightly smaller than the one in Seattle).

    Eliminated all credit cards, lines of credit, etc..

    Life is better than it’s been in a long while (life was only this good, when my wife and I were struggling financially when we were newlyweds 20 years ago.)

    It can be done! You are only getting rid of your anxiety and frustration over your bills.

  49. Lada says:

    It’s good to make a lot of money early in life but often impossible. Thanks for the great advise on how to save!

  50. Kayla says:

    Interesting perspective. Never looked at it that way before!

  51. suraj says:

    Thats good thinking after a year. Money is not everything. So everything thing is in limit is good. So give time to your family also.

  52. Paul says:

    Your most scarcest resource is time. So use your time for the job or any other activities that you enjoy doing. However, make sure that what you enjoy doing is mostly productive activities.

    Let’s use our spending habits as an example. Fact is different spending habits result in a contrasting financial situation. Impulsive, consumptive spending behaviors may lead to vicious circle of debts. But frugal, productive lifestyle makes you retire with a healthy bank account.

    Many people dream of retiring rich but few people actually achieve it. This is largely due to a lack of discipline in building up their retirement fund and poor spending habits.

    So the keywords here are productive and discipline. If you want to retire rich use the two keywords during the process of achieving the goal.

    While building a retirement fund requires time, you can accelerate the process by making incremental but positive changes in your spending habits and are enjoying the improvement of your life while achieving the goal.

  53. It is true. You have to do what you like, as you will be competing against people who like what you do.

    It is not an excuse but you did not mentioned any responsibilities. It is a bit harder to make that step when you have people depending on you.

  54. Mark Fuller says:

    I believe that as people’s income goes up and tey expect more, the millionaire next door really has it right. I see it all the time with my (recently graduated) friends. They spend money because they expet to be making it soon. Also they feel they have to spend this money to maintain status. High speed internet, cars, night life are the latest “necessities.”

  55. Emily says:

    DH is a computer programmer, making a very low six figures a yr, bringing home maybe $75K. I recently figured out that we are living on about $38K a yr, in a (paid-for) middle class neighborhood with a low crime rate.

    And we don’t feel “deprived.” We simply are content with the basics.

  56. Emily says:

    I meant to say “in a nice paid-for house in a middle class neighborhood.”

  57. Great post. I am trying to convince myself this is the way I should think…

  58. mbcbank says:

    david you looked up and then posted great man hats off

  59. All these while I too have been thinking the other way round. I used to think that how much you earn matters but now after reading your article, I feel that how much we spend matters. We must keep a check on our expenses. Thanks for changing my perspective.

  60. Great post, David, and I couldn’t agree more! We used to live in England, married couple, two good salaries, no kids. All the mod cons laid on. Then we got bitten by the “green” bug and moved to Spain to live on a little homestead learning about self-sufficiency. Boy! There were days when we only had 30 cents in our wallet, but life was great! Ok, we missed the mod cons and went back to earn a bit of money again, but moderately. It is true, we don’t need much anymore now by way of money! Thanks for sharing!

  61. Mike says:

    I think this is true, to a degree. I know I could live on a third of my salary and meet my basic needs. You are right. The earlier you learn what matters in life, the better off you will be. “Things” don’t matter. As Suze Orman says — People first — then money — then things.

  62. True…saving is really important. Fortunately for me I don’t spend a lot. But I think earning more, is important too because you can only save what is left of your salary after spending on the things you HAVE to purchase.

  63. Without a regular income I find it is very difficult to save if I just get a few $$$ here and there. But this sure teaches you how little you really, really need. Most of our needs are imagined and many sums of money people think they need are caused by getting into debt!

    No debts, no problems I say and we’ve walked our talk now for over 10 years. Less worries and more freedom, too!

    Great blog and great discussion here, David!

  64. It’s a bit of both I guess? Lol You’ve got to earn some money to keep it, and I think you can spend more as your income increases. Course, that’s just basic economics, but I think the real point here is that people get so caught up in the material wealth of things/goods.

    I’ve had to find my own balance, in what I NEED and what is comfortable for my lifestyle. As I’ve gotten older, thats become less and less.

  65. This concept is especially important for those who haven’t fully prepared for retirement. Much retirement planning is based on accumulating MILLIONS of dollars to support the lifestyle you left. Many people are still in the world, and are despairing of ever being able to retire with it, so they don’t try.

    But a lower cost lifestyle means 1) less money will be needed to retire, and 2) more income (from less spending) is available to be saved. It’s a real chance for those who are coming late to the retirement planning party!

  66. Mary says:

    I believe when you are more careful about what goes out, more tends to come in as well.

    Great article!

  67. David says:

    It’s true. And a lower salary will free you from the clutter of a bunch of useless products you don’t need.

  68. This post is so true. I work more than full time for three months of the year. The rest of the time I am a student with a job that is only 12 hours a week.

    I never thought it would work but I am continually amazed to find that I am able to meet my grocery bills, my gas necessities, cell phone bill, my rent, etc. I am even able to afford a few luxuries here and there. Best of all I can save a little and invest a little.

    I am optimistic of the future and excited for future earnings, but am content with where I am. Do not let others dictate your worth because of the kind of job you do.

    Work with pride even if it is a dirty job. Take satisfaction that you are able to do what you do, and become the best at it.

  69. You are wise to figure that out by age 30! Many never realize it. The cool thing about being frugal is that you see more and more what is really important to you. Then you can put your money towards that instead of what others think is important. Ditch the Joneses!

  70. I once read an article at WSJ where a high school grad could out save a college grad by saving the same percentage of income.

    Spending should be the first place to look, but I like to look for ways to make money as well.

  71. Pam says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head! It’s so true that it’s really not about how much you earn but how much of your earnings you actually spend that’s key. Also, I agree that life is so much more than just about making money. Unfortunately, too many of us realize this way too late in life. Thanks for sharing!

  72. Jonathan says:

    Generally I would agree with your views on this and I totally agree that getting control of your spending is essential, but there has to be a balance, after all you can only cut back to a certain extent, before you then need sufficient income to manage. I think it’s an excellent principle though

  73. Jonny Debt says:

    Spending control is always a huge barrier to managing income, because generally we all live to our means and spend close to what we earn. I completely agree that appropriate management of spending can bring huge savings, which can reduce the likelihood of needing a second or more lucrative income

  74. Bill Swan says:

    There’s a whole industry geared towards this vary problem. As long as people think there is a quick solution to their problems, the problems will never go away.

  75. And at times, patience is another virtue when it comes to spending or not spending money. I was limping along with a low mobile connection, but couldn’t spend more money to make it faster. So I just carried on and now I have satellite internet thanks to a subsidy of the Spanish government for deprived (me) rural areas! The installation would have cost 600 Euros, I only paid 30 Euros.

    We don’t always need to have everything AT ONCE. Patience can often save us money!

  76. This is so true. My brother and sister-in-law make more than my wife and I, but we live well below our means and are doing much better than them financially.

  77. susie says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. My husband and I both came to these same conclusions when we were first starting out together, which meant we were very poor at first. But time flies when you’re having fun, and now things feel more secure. And we have now both built businesses doing what we love.

  78. jefferson says:

    great read.. and i know in my heart of heart that you are correct.

    i have seen my salary double in the past 10 years, but i find myself having a hard a time as ever spending less than i make. why is it such a struggle for me admit that my spending is a problem? i don’t live a crazy luxurious life..

  79. Usiere says:

    Spot on. It takes courage to follow your dreams rather than work for money, trading chunks of your time on this planet doing what you barely tolerate in exchange for money. You may take a huge pay cut at the beginning following your passion, but when you stick with it, soon you will earn beyond your wildest imagination

  80. I really like the point you make about doing whatever it is you love to do. I’ve noticed that people who do what they love (and see it as a career/lifestyle and not a j-o-b)tend to do VERY well financially

  81. Hemant Ravi says:

    That’s true! Last month I transferred a tidy sum through SBI online and the major slice of what i got vanished within just a few days. I must have been a little bit of frugal!

  82. Judy PlayBlue says:

    Love the gist of this you will only ever make serious money doing something you love otherwise why bother

  83. Ian says:

    While I agree with what you say up to a point I don’t fully. I certainly think the vast majority of people could downsize their lives. Living in a smaller place with fewer things is a good idea. However, there are certain basic costs with living in different places.

    If you really don’t care about where you live then you can live on almost nothing. However, I think most people care a great deal about where they live. For example, I live in London (UK) and it is very expensive place to live. After having lived in many other places I would not choose to live anywhere else. I would work a job I disliked (fortunately not the case) because I want to live here.

    As you say, we only “… get about 75 years on this floating blue globe” so why waste it living in a place you don’t want to live. Being frugal will only take you so far in major cities.

  84. Deacon says:

    I totally agree that it is not how much you earn but how much you spend. We have a spending problem in America, not a debt problem. I had an Uncle who never made more than $18,000 per year but he had close to a $1 Million net worth when he passed. He understood this principle.

  85. Discerning wants from needs is a big part of this. If one learns to live on what’s needed and not give in to societal expectations of what we should have, many people could keep expenses low.

    Then, being accustomed to a life of reasonable (low) spending, there isn’t the pressure to work 70 hour weeks and have a low quality of life.

    Now, we do need to make money to survive. But keeping the expenses under control and not getting carried away with “wants” can go a long way to making our lives better and less stresful.

  86. PPI says:

    A few years ago, I only made half of what I make today, but I was able to get by even though it was a bit difficult. Now I make a whole lot more but still I am barely making it. I would have thought I’d be unburdened but all of a sudden things I would not have thought of buying before (because I could not afford them) I felt I “needed” now. So, perhaps, I do need them but I could still make it without them as evidenced a few years back. Now I feel that I have had enough fun and should start saving more now before I get into deep trouble. So my take away, it’s not what you make, it’s how much you spend, what you spend it on, and save that makes a difference.

  87. You are absolutely right! I learnt it in my 20’s. More money you save – more security you have in the future! And in fact, when I turned 40 years old, I have never been more financially stable. Thanks for your great article!

  88. vadim revin says:

    I definitely agree that it is not how much you earn but how much you spend. We have a spending problem in United States of America, not a debt problem. I had an Aunt who never made more than $18,000 per year but he had close to a $1 Million net worth when he passed. He understood this principle rather well

  89. Learning how to spend wisely allows most families to live as though they were making double their current income.

    Don’t wish for more; wish and work to spend better.

  90. I’ve always believed that wealth is one part spending, one part income. I have heard the argument, so many times, around the blogosphere that making money is more important than cutting your budget but I don’t agree with that sentiment. If Bill Gates spent all of his money, he wouldn’t be a billionaire.

  91. Gordon says:

    When I’m 30, I’ll be 250 in debt from med school. At that point, I think some serious earning is the only thing that can pull be out from underwater, with frugal living and cautious spending habits of course. I agree with you on this article though.

  92. I agree that it is important to make sure you are enjoying your life and not just focusing on money. It took me a while to learn that lesson, too.

  93. This is so true. Like you, I use to think the other way around. However, there is an exception to what you are talking about. For people that are living at or below the poverty level, it’s what they earn that’s important because the money they get is not enough to meet their essential living. They don’t have money left over to spend. But for the rest of us, it is what we spend not what we earn.

  94. I agree, as long as your rent/mortgage is low enough that you can easily pay it with your salary without having a roommate. If your budget requires a roommate, you should rethink your spending.

  95. adurl says:

    The best advice I ever read, thank for this useful post

  96. This is one of the most important concepts for anyone interested in their long term financial health. It is the real cornerstone for financial success. Great post.

  97. Amy says:

    Nice piece and very popular. This is a universal statement that is underestimated. People are capable of spending any amount of money. There are full of stories about penniless lottery winners. They come from modest backgrounds and manage to spend a fortune

  98. This is a real corner stone for someone looking for a long term financial health. I will focus on spending less rather than earning more to live a happy financial life.

  99. I would also say that it’s not what you save, it’s what you spend. I’m not talking about saving money in the bank, because that’s important. What I’m referring to is people who use a lot of coupons or buy on clearance or find good sales, then try to justify what they spend by saying, “But I saved $10 dollars.” or “But I saved 35%.”

  100. Thomas says:

    Thanks for your honest guidance on what really issues in lifestyle. It’s so simple to get the concept on someone’s go that creating a lot of cash is the only factor that issues. Thanks for sharing.