That’s THE THING, right? The missing piece of the happiness puzzle.
Gotta git me somma that sweet sweet chedda’.
America might have an obesity epidemic on its hands, but it’s also got money neurosis. Along with most of the developed world.
Two of the top regrets of terminally ill patients are (according to a non-scientific but I think, very poignant study), “I wish I hadn’t spent so much time working,” followed by wishing they had spent more time with family and friends.
And at the same time, there’s been an equally interesting survey showing us that people given a extra 8th day each week that nobody else got would do more work in order “to get ahead.”
It’s little wonder so many people have anxieties and fears surrounding money, when our values and our actions correspond so horribly.
How is it possible to work so damn hard and still not feel like we make enough money?
Perhaps, because we’ve never taken the time to answer the question: “How much is enough?”
We have daydream targets like having a $1 million net worth, making “6-figures” a year, or the rare and elusive but incredibly sexy $10,000 month.
But these goals almost never have any meaning attached to them. We set our sights on numbers like these because we haven’t figured out what we actually want, but numbers this high ought to cover whatever it happens to be, should we happen to figure it out.
After all, it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
No! Of course not!
If we don’t know what we want money for – and I mean in really concrete terms – then if we ever arrive at our fantasy targets we will still feel like something is missing.
And then we’ll try to fill that hole with more money.
Only it’s not a money void we need to fill, it’s a purpose one.
This is why I like Tim Ferriss’ 4 Hour Work Week: Because at the very start he gives us the “dreamline” tool, where we can calculate exactly how much cash we need to fulfill our deepest, darkest desires and fill our homes with Twilight memorabilia.
Which requires knowing what we actually want.
For instance, it doesn’t make sense for me to buy a 13th hammer if 1 through 12 are working just fine. At some point long before this the “just in case” argument lost all credibility. I mean really, are 12 of our friends going to start building new decks at the same time? Sounds dubious…
Money is a tool like any other. If we don’t know how to use it, getting any more of it isn’t going to help us out.
And searching for more of it isn’t going to fill a void in our lives any more than another new hammer will.
Which is why I use a different tool to help me know exactly how much money I need whether I’m looking at current desires or future plans. And as an added bonus it diffuses a ton of the negative emotions we tend to have surrounding money.
Yes. An income LIMIT.
Because so long as we keep feeling like we need more, more, more of something, we will never have our appetites satiated. We will develop obsessive, excessive behaviors like workoholism.
Look at any other place in our lives where we don’t set a limit on our behavior: Out of control eating and obesity. Alcoholism. Gambling problems. Pornography addiction. Drug addiction.
Setting limits on our behaviors isn’t restrictive, it’s necessary for our mental and physical well being!
And setting an income limit forces us to get real about what we want.
Instead of thinking about how to get MORE to assuage some nebulous fear or meet some generic target, we have to start thinking about what is necessary and important.
It’s moving from maximalism insatiability to minimalist simplicity.
It’s elegant. It’s neat. It’s hard.
And it works.
The magic bit, anything we earn over our income limit we set goes to a charitable cause of our choosing. So not only will we free ourselves from money anxieties, or more specifically from the societal pressures conspiring to make us all irrational consumers, we’ll help empower someone else too.
Coming up with an income limit that is liberating and empowering and not merely an additional source of stress requires a willingness to be uncomfortable – at first: This is totally opposite to how practically everyone thinks about money their entire lives.
Of course it’s going to be uncomfortable at first. It looks restrictive. But it’s not.
It’s simply demanding we clear about what we want and not wasting extra time and energy.
Think about it like boiling a pot of water. To boil water we need its temperature to reach 100 degrees (212 Fahrenheit). Making the temperature any higher isn’t going to make the water any more boiled, it’s just wasting energy we could use for something else – such as deep frying Twinkies. Or cake.
Likewise, making more money than what is necessary to do everything that matters to us is time and energy we could be using doing things that actually matter to us.
(Quick note: I include things like saving for retirement, college funds, “rainy day” funds, and the like as important/necessary. I don’t for a second mean to imply that we shouldn’t plan for the future! We should just get clear about what it is we’re doing.)
If you’ve ever felt afraid about coming up with a budget, great! This will be like that, only more challenging and more rewarding. You’re off to an excellent start just by being here – so take a moment to bask in the luminescent glow of your computer, tablet, or mobile phone screen.
Great job. Now, answer this question: When you’re eating, how do you know when you’re full?
You feel it, right? We don’t need a calculator or an expert to come and tell us we’ve had enough. Some simple introspection is all we need.
In fact, you’re so good at this that you can pretty reasonably guess how much you’ll need to eat before you’ve even started!
You need that same skill now.
You know how much you need to spend on food, clothing, and shelter to survive. Maybe not in dollars but in quantities of things – you can find the specific amounts later if need be.
Deep down, you also know which expenses are actually enriching your life and which are there because you feel it’s necessary.
By the way, I don’t own a phone. *Wink*Nod*
Let me emphasize this:
This will probably be the hardest thing you ever do. Your mind will scream 1000 obscenities and look for any way to distract you. Don’t give in.
If you have the courage, the bravery, and the determination to do this, it has the power to liberate you from your money worries. No, it’s not a cure all, but it’ll at least get you on the right path: figuring out how much is enough.
That’s the only path to true financial freedom.
And if you don’t want to do this exercise. Do it anyway. Tell yourself you’ll throw it out after.
This is not a static thing, our income limits can change as our life circumstances do. Mine went from $1,000 a month to $2,000 when I entered a relationship. It will change again as the relationship evolves along with our joint goals.
In the meantime, I don’t need more to travel the world, play guitar, love people, do parkour, write this website, learn new languages, play chess, and a ton of other enriching activities.
Your list may be completely different. You may want to buy the entire Macy’s catalog. Fine. The point is, by defining how much is enough we give ourselves permission to eventually stop. To be satisfied. To pursue other things.
I, for one, don’t know if my bank account will be full at the end of my adventures on planet Earth. But that’s okay, because I know my life will be.
And that is most definitely THE THING.