Embarking on this journey towards financial independence has allowed me to start to see aspects of American culture that were previously so normal they were basically invisible. I can now see invisible things; it’s pretty much a super power. One of those things is how we can struggle with and misunderstand the relationship between material things and happiness. We think having nice things will make us happier. In actuality this is only sometimes true. The relationship is actually parabolic rather than linear. Starting with nothing, no clothes, no food, no shelter, more stuff is definitely going to make us happier and help us survive. As we get our basic needs met, we want a little more stuff to make life more comfortable and this adds to our happiness as well.
At some point we have everything we need and some luxuries too. After that point though, adding more stuff doesn’t actually make us any happier or more fulfilled. At this point it actually decreases happiness. We start to feel as if the stuff in our lives is holding us back. We can feel like our stuff owns us instead of the other way around. This is overconsumption, clutter, and often it’s accompanied by debt. “Your Money or Your Life” calls this relationship between stuff and happiness the “Fulfillment Curve”.
When we first moved into our house, it was quite the fixer upper. It was a pretty challenging time, my job was really demanding and when I wasn’t working, we were rushing to whip the house into shape. We were spending a lot on the mortgage, and on top of that our DIY renovations were burning through our savings. We definitely weren’t in the classic over-consumption situation: out-of-control spending on unneeded luxuries. Actually we were living a pretty bare bones lifestyle in terms of luxury (we were sleeping on a mattress on top the baseboards for the first month), yet I had the same stresses as if we were over-consuming. Instead I think we were over-spending on the house and over-committing to too many responsibilities. This time was a major eye opener for me. It helped me realize how important it is to balance your consumption and your commitments.
Everyone has a slightly different version of what “enough” looks like and it can be an ongoing conversation with yourself and your family to find that balance. But this conversation is powerful. It can mean the difference between a life of over-consumption and a life with room for appreciation of the great things you do have (home, family, health, and freedom). These days we hardly buy any “things” and we are happier than we’ve ever been. Your Money or Your Life is really about the choice, that most people don’t realize they are making, between over-consumption and financial freedom.
It’s another one of those invisible aspects of our culture. People think the only way out of their financial trouble is to make more money. But personal finances are about a balance between our earning and our spending. If you don’t look at your spending, you’re more than likely going to be a victim of it and of hedonic adaptation. Actually if you’re making at least $32,400 per year, you’re already in the global 1% in terms of income. I’m not discounting that people struggle to earn enough in the US and that real hardship and poverty exists- this is definitely true. However it is also true that a lot of people are far wealthier than they know. Most people don’t realize how much power they have to make their own lives better. Once we know that the choice exists we can make the choice to buy our own freedom.