How much does it cost to be you?

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Now that I’ve installed snow tires, my car has only four things wrong with it. The passenger-side lock is misbehaving since someone tried to screwdriver it open this summer. The throttle sticks for a moment when the automatic transmission shifts to second gear. The heat takes twenty minutes to come on, and the suspension is creaking now.

I don’t know how much each will cost, but I figure if I’m lucky I can fix one item with each of my next four paychecks, if I tighten in other areas.

This is a pretty normal financial position for me. My life, the way I live it, is affordable, except when unpredictable expenses overlap. Just a little bit more income, say 10% more, would theoretically stop this from happening. But I’ve been thinking that for years, and my income is nearly double what it was seven years ago.

Parkinson’s Law is mostly responsible for this. We have an almost automatic tendency to increase our standard of living the moment our income increases. If you’re like most people, when your pay increases by another $500 a month, the first thing you decide is what additional $500-per-month thing you can now afford to enjoy, which is the same as deciding what additional $500-per-month expense you now wish to take on.

Every time that happens, your financial situation doesn’t really change, even as you climb through tax brackets. Ephemeral details of your life — what you are wearing, where you are eating, the sleekness of your furniture — do change, but the feeling of your financial situation doesn’t, and it is this feeling that determines whether your financial situation feels stretched, or ample.

That ample feeling comes, al least partly, from space. Ideally there would be space between what you earn and the cost of your lifestyle. If you have space, the thought of an unexpected expense doesn’t have the power to worry you, because normal life (for you) costs less than you have to spend on it, and so incidentals don’t put you in the red. On most of the occasions where life costs more than you expect, it still costs less than you have.

Space is an interesting asset in that it doesn’t actually cost money. It only requires that you leave a portion unspent. The returns on this zero-net-cost investment are considerable. It can make the difference between carrying a daily feeling of abundance and carrying a daily feeling of not-enough.

I’m convinced that a single middle-classer who makes $45,000 a year, and whose lifestyle costs $40,000 a year, is necessarily going to feel more day-to-day abundance than an upper-middle-classer who makes $100,000 and whose lifestyle costs every bit of that.

Even though I make a fair amount now (“fair” really meaning nothing; it’s actually quite unfair, given the global average income), even though I stay mostly debt free, even though I have no children, I do not have enough space. My lifestyle has come to cost about what I make, and that means it costs way too much.

There’s a stark difference in quality of life between walking around with a feeling of abundance, and walking around with a feeling of scarcity. As long as your basics are covered — food and shelter — either can be felt at virtually any income.

From the way people talk in my culture, I suspect most of us feel scarcity most of the time, regardless of our respective incomes. Parkinson’s Law silently inflates our expenditures to match our incomes, and so we’re always prone to feeling the pressure that builds when the two sums get too close. Expenses waver with happenstance, while salaries usually don’t. So at any given time, something can happen and expenses can balloon past your income. Living with that threat feels bad.

I’ve written about this before. If you’re middle class in a developed country, you are probably in the proverbial (and commonly demonized) “1%” in terms of income, if you take the whole world into account. So in terms of how much you have materially, almost everyone reading this is affluent. Yet I suspect most of us feel like we don’t quite have enough, most of the time. Affluence is a feeling, and having money and things does not necessarily reward you with that feeling.

If you don’t feel like you have enough income to be happy, ask yourself this non-rhetorical question: How much more do I think I need? Would another 10k per year do it? I know I’m guilty of thinking it would, and I’ve thought that even when I made 25k less than I do now.

So clearly my problem is not how much comes in but how much I believe must go out in order to meet my arbitrary, haphazard standard of living. By deciding consciously on a less costly lifestyle I could effectively give myself the substantial raise I often feel like I need, and probably become a healthier and less needy person at the same time.

My focus in 2013 is to redesign my lifestyle so that I experience affluence within my means. In other words, I will create a lifestyle where the essentials are taken care of first and fully, and which altogether costs significantly less than I earn. No more pushing at the edge of my means just because there appears to be space to do so.

Materially, most of us need far less than we imagine, if we examine our habits and give up dependencies on costly entertainment, mainstream education, commuting or other unnecessary norms. Here’s a wonderful essay by blogger Ran Prieur on how he has lived on as little as $2000 a year, and why.

The idea inspires me, but I think at least for this year I’ll aim for something in between that lifestyle and my current one. Since I got home from overseas I’ve let the cost of my life balloon to 20 or 25 times (!) that amount. So if I’m going to continue to earn that much, I am going to assume a moral obligation to find a way to make sure I feel pretty damn rich, every day. Not only is more money unnecessary for living with a feeling of wealth, but it is inadequate.

***

Parkinson’s Law is one reason we can feel scarcity at any income level, but I think the main reason is cultural. In North America at least, it’s normal to believe you’re always on your way to being rich, and therefore there’s no urgent need to find a way to be happy with what you have, because it will be easy to do it later when you have more.

This is the American Dream. It creates a cultural consciousness where we take for granted that later is generally better than now. Later is fertile for happiness, now is not quite adequate. Because we feel like later is when we’re going to have our ducks in a row, we more easily overlook foolish habits that we have now, like spending on indulgences when we’re not even saving for retirement.

How much does your life cost right now? Figure out the actual number. Why does it cost that much? Maybe you can get a much better deal. Not only that, but if your earnings do put you in the evil 1% — that is, if your take-home is more than 34k USD per year — perhaps you have a moral obligation to at least feel like it.

Earlier this year, Steve Pavlina posed a question that made me uneasy:

Is it possible for you to still enjoy your life even if your financial situation stays the same or even gets worse for the rest of your life?

What a terrific question. He was talking about a time when he was six figures in debt, which was a period when he learned to be happy regardless of what he had materially. My situation is much better than that on paper, yet I still usually feel like I’m living in a temporarily compromised position — in a few years I’ll be in a place where I can finally feel like I’m lacking nothing.

I wonder how many of you feel like that too. Why isn’t now the time to be thrilled with what you have, if there is ever going to be such a time? If you don’t make enough yet, where is the income mark you need to reach? I don’t know you and I don’t know your situation, but I know I passed mine a long time ago, and I am no special case.

Have a Merry Christmas. May you be rich, and know it.

***

Photo by Luis Hernandez


Adam Botsford December 24, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Another really amazing post.

Cam December 24, 2012 at 2:15 pm

A successful Marketing Executive travels to India on Wellness Leave. He finds a Temple on a Mountain Peak and there questions the Master.

“I am accomplished,” he says. “At my job I excel, and with friends I’m fun and generous.

“I romance the most beautiful women, I’m polite, I smile all the time. I’m a role model. How can I be so miserable?”

The Master says,
“You welcome
misery, by giving it
a name.”

“But surely I’d still feel it?”

The Master says,
“Go and chop wood
for the fire.
Then put the kettle on.”

The Marketing Executive, whose name is Francis, wields the heavy axe outside in the bitter cold of the Mountain Peak, behind the Temple’s Toboggan Rental Shoppe, whose buzzing neon lights quickly agitate the non-enlightened. Francis swings the axe miscalculatedly and the head rebounds and shatters his left knee. He falls into the deep snow, wailing. Cursing the guru.

His friends were right. Spirituality is dead.

He throws the axe off the Mountain Peak and, with a weird serenity, watches it vanish into the placid mist below.

mnim December 24, 2012 at 4:54 pm

What in the hell?

Chris George December 24, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Excellent post David.

Five years ago my wife and I embarked on a journey to see just how sustainable we could make our life. We sold our slice of suburbia, sold our fast food restaurant, bought a small farm in the country and began to find out. Last December we realized that we were now a family of four living at 50% below the poverty line for our province. And yet we felt wealthy.

A very real effect.

Hannah December 24, 2012 at 8:28 pm

That is so encouraging. Thank you for sharing, Chris.

Hannah December 24, 2012 at 8:25 pm

I read this article before work today. It helped give me motivation to change my job title and lessen my hours. I will have more independent time. I don’t want to work to help fulfill someone else’s dream. I want to live out my own dream.

Placing a lot of faith in the Universe. The thing is — I believe that when I follow my gut instincts as opposed to the “safe” patterns I’ve been stuck in for so long, all becomes as it should be :) I’m both excited and terrified to follow my heart. The first two decades of my life I blindly accepted what society claimed as truth, and now I’m realizing that a liberating and fulfilling life exists outside of those boundaries.

I hope this makes sense. Sometimes I’m not sure if the thoughts in my head make any sense at all.

Gent U. December 25, 2012 at 5:54 am

Great post David! Embracing a minimalist lifestyle really helped me find my own happiness in life. Now I only try to spend money on experiences and things that I can remember for years to come. Failures, successes, real-life stories to tell when I’m old. That’s life for me. And it makes me happy to pursue something that makes me who I am.

And I’m in constant search of it all. I want to be surprised by life. I want to experience it as much as I can. And when the end comes I want to say:”I don’t regret anything”.

Keep writing David and Happy Holidays!

E. March 2, 2013 at 12:42 pm

I can connect to what you are saying. Thank you for the inspiration. Every day I have been confronted by my own demons…letting life get in the way, stress, children’s issues, money issues, mounting debt…and loose sight of the blessings. I am inspired to embrace simplicity and enjoy the moment.

Maia December 25, 2012 at 6:54 am

Hi David, you’re so right. It’s true not matter how much more you have, you always think you’ll need more to make you happy the cycle is never ending. Even mega rich people compete about who has 3 holiday homes and where and they also want more.
I found this to be true in my own life too. For a while I was lucky to live in a place where I didn’t have to pay any rent and I still had no money left at the end of the month, which was the same when I had to pay quite a large rent.
Your means always shrink and expand to meet your circumstances. I bought expensive clothes, food and holidays when I paid no rent and when I paid rent I bought almost no clothes, ate out less and didn’t go on holidays, but my quality of life was still the same.
What I found helpful in my own life is saving at least 20 – 30 percent of my income every month, and not touching it, basically pretending that my salary is what’s left in my account. When it runs out I don’t dip into savings but just pretend I have no more money left and live like that until the next pay cheque, you still feel like you have no money, but you actually do have your money in the savings account and you feel better that should anything happen you’ve got that financial cushion to back you up – hopefully to be used for something worthwhile.
In an ideal world you should have savings to cover at least 6 months of your lifestyle.
Good luck with your resolution to have a wealthier life with the same money. I’ll be attempting the same next year, as I go back to uni and work only part time as opposed to full time.
Merry Christmas and happy New Year!

Fabian | The Friendly Anarchist December 25, 2012 at 6:55 am

Good read, David. You’ll already know I was nodding to a lot of it. To quickly add my 2 cents: The problem you describe is something I see all around Central Europe and the US, but only seldom in Latin America. I’m not entirely sure if this is a question of place/mentality/culture, or simply because I hang out with a lot of poor people in LA. What looks counterintuitive at first seems to be in line with what Pavlina experienced: If you have less, you might actually get to the point where you worry less, too, and appreciate more whatever it is that you have.

One other remark: I have been living very happily on a $200/month budget in the Caribbean. Here in Germany, I spend 3 to 4 times as much and it’s pretty tough. Wouldn’t be able to do that without a lot of non-monetary support from others. So we can make things easier for ourselves by a) choosing wisely where we live and b) learning that money isn’t generally the most important asset we have.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year for you and all Raptitude readers!

D von Wilt December 25, 2012 at 7:24 am

Downsizing in Europe and America is a must.

I question myself when people are going to realize – collectively – like you and I already have – that it’s impossible to fill the hole in our souls with matter, social status, luxury and money. But rather with staying in the present moment, working on the bonds with the people you love and being concerned with the planet, animals and people.

I have been living in Berlin, Germany, for the past 2,5 years and have come in contact with a whole different culture, what seems to be a mix of capitalism and socialism. Most people here are happy with having enough to live, instead of accumulating wealth. Of course there’s all extremes, but most people live modestly, for european and american standards.

Gentrification is also a reality in Berlin right now – mostly promoted by foreign investors that do not live here.

Let’s see whether Berlin will turn into London and Paris or whether it will have the strength to resist.

Nancy December 25, 2012 at 11:05 am

What a great message to begin a new year.

My husband and I too have experienced the feeling of lacking and of abundance – all in our same home! We made the decision about 10 yrs. ago to pay and then rip up all the credit cards. If we didn’t have it, we didn’t need it. Little by little, this attitude has radically changed our lives. Our bank accounts have soared, we meed all our needs and then some. The feeling of abundance is HUGE. We are able to be so generous to one another and all our money fights are gone.

Of course, it was more than ripping the credit cards. It was truly a day to day re-shifting of our conciousness and the way we handled our marriage and growing family and how the money (or what at first felt lack of $$) swirled around us. It hurt at first. Then it begin to feel good not to worry. Materials things begun to seem so inconsequential compared to our peace of mind. I LOVE going to bed and not worrying about money problems like we used to. I want to always stay present to this feeling of gratefulness.

Many blessings to you and here’s to your new beginnings!

Sheldon December 25, 2012 at 11:28 am

Ever notice how many similar ideas hit you at once. What do you suppose that is all about? The cosmos telling you something perhaps.

This morning I discovered the “living off the grid” page on Facebook and thought about my grandparents who really did live off the grid, coal oil lamps, outhouse and all and then I saw your article. Yeah… Parkinson’s Law. No kidding. Seems like we get hooked on “stuff”… and I am not sure we are that better off. Our grandparents knew how to entertain and be entertained without smart phones, cable television and so on.

They also saved everything in little jars and fixed their own things thereby saving money and reducing their garbage output. No heat until the engine warms up… all cars are like that. Let the engine run a little on cold days or put a piece of cardboard in your grill to let it heat faster.

I think we are just sucked into our lifestyles. I mean there is no law you have to work 40 hours a week. I think we would all benefit from examining our priorities. I know when my children were young I didn’t work a 40 hour week. It was tough financially but Parkinson’s Law ensures this is always the case. I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.

So many things we could do to live cheaper, healthier and less wasteful. Walk, bike, public transport or carpool more. Avoid consumerism. Live simpler.

Anyway… thanks for the great read.

elizabeth keith December 25, 2012 at 11:46 am

wow, we have been talking about this for a year now. readjusting. a single income augmented by a small disability other income, large needs, no savings, no faith in money in the bank.. lots of faith in God getting us through.. 2013 here i come..
thank you for this..

Tom K December 25, 2012 at 1:15 pm

“Ten percent of all you earn is yours to keep.” The Richest Man in Babylon. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Richest_Man_in_Babylon_(book))

Also know as “Pay yourself first”.

Zs. December 25, 2012 at 5:26 pm

Awesome read, thanks. And so true… I knew I need to change many things for a while, since I am in that 1% still constantly desiring more and feel not enough what I get. Great inspiration!

Nitya December 25, 2012 at 6:34 pm

A man who earns a pound a week, but spends 19 shillings and sixpence is rich , while he who earns a pound a week but spends one pound and sixpence is poor. So the old English saying goes.

I have noticed a distinct lack of correlation to income and expenditure in my own circle. Spending that exceeds income results in a feeling of anxiety, whilst spending below income leads to a feeling of security and comfort. In the long term the small savings really mount up.

Personally, I don’t like living on the edge as it makes me feel anxious , however , not all people are me. If spending to the limits of one’s income makes you feel happy then it’s your choice. Whatever results in a personal feeling of contentment.

Tobi December 25, 2012 at 10:24 pm

Amazing post! Although, I have visited Steve Pavlina’s blog before and actually got to talk to him. He was rude and very sarcastic when my only question was about my confusion on what his blog was about. Before you all go clicking on the links to all these references, keep in mind this steve is not a friendly person.

steph in berkeley December 26, 2012 at 12:59 am

zerowastehome.com inspired me about a year and a half ago, to start living differently…and as i changed my habits, i began to see the world of consumption in a new and much less desirable way. now, anything i need, i first attempt to buy free of packaging, and preferably 2nd hand. and i find i need less, want ever less, and feel richer indeed.

great thoughts on a worthy point. thanks!

Cameron December 27, 2012 at 2:09 am

Money can buy you comfort, not happiness. I’ve always lived in the 1% of the world. I’ve never gone cold or hungry. I’ve been broke living two paycheques ago to two paycheques ago with bill collectors at the door. Quadrupling my income in one year didn’t make me happier, just more comfortable. After five years of being “rich” I find myself just about at paycheque to paycheque. Thanks David, 2013 is also my year to change.

DiscoveredJoys December 27, 2012 at 4:10 am

Another great post. The only thing I would add is how perceptions about the future play into ‘not enough’ too.

If you live in a part of the world where good healthcare costs the individual a great deal do you perceive a need to ‘fund’ that risk in advance by insurance or savings or specific employment? The same perceptions of risk apply to raising children, protection against crime, securing your home against extreme weather etc. If you see the answer to these perceived risks to be oodles of insurance schemes and living in gated communities then that will push up how much money is ‘enough’.

You may even keep chasing more money so that when you die your children will inherit a ‘start in life’.

I think we need to think through those perceptions so that the risks of the unknown future don’t drag us into needless acquisition.

Rob December 27, 2012 at 2:19 pm

A study shows a benefit to rising wages up to $75,000 but not beyond that:

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2019628,00.html

Wes February 4, 2013 at 11:07 pm
larry elford December 27, 2012 at 7:53 pm

“I’m convinced that a middle-classer who makes $45,000 a year, and whose lifestyle costs $40,000 a year, is necessarily going to feel more day-to-day abundance than an upper-classer who makes $100,000 and whose lifestyle costs every bit of that.”

You are quite correct on the above.It is not at all how much you make that matters, but how much you save. (experience from an old guy who had a glimpse inside a few thousands people’s investment accounts over the years)

One lesson from life: “If you wish to be richer……act poorer. If, on the other hand, you wish to be poorer, simply act richer”. Works every time.

Finally, richness is a state of mind, not a number.
Thanks for the great writing.

(Oh, and RUN fast away from anyone who calls themselves an investment “advisor”.) http://www.investoradvocates.ca

Darren December 28, 2012 at 2:11 am

This was an ironically hilarious post, considering your last one regarding your trip to ikea.

It Calls Me Onanon December 28, 2012 at 5:04 am

I don’t think this trend is attributed to an “American Dream” so much as the correlation between consumerism and materialism and marketing that suggests that people are defined by what brand or kind of item they buy.

It seems that the American Dream is the acceptance that living in America necessarily means success or greatness or prosperity. Anti-American sentiment is the notion that Americans don’t suffer and are fat and entitled. Poverty exists largely in education and cultural disparity here in the US specifically, though. When a European thinks of an American, what do they typically think of? From my experience it’s corporatism, materialism and marketing, though those things aren’t exclusive to just the US (it’s a bias a society has to not recognize its own workings). I think we’d find a direct correlation between materialism and the disparity people of any part of the world feel once they think can afford more.

If materialism was to be deconstructed, there’d probably be a pattern of people living vicariously through the things they buy; emboldened by consumerism and the way it’s advertised into the fabric of society. It might all come down to the individual and how they’ve learned to interact with life and circumvent their insecurities/inadequacies. I suspect that the sentiment that materialism offers is really just a by-product that was derived from the trend of a human’s habit of circumvention in the first place, too, and it serves the notion that an item (or anything else other than your own actions) can provide some sort of salvation of one’s disparities. If you interpret “living vicariously” as experiencing feeling, thoughts, or stimulation in general through something else, then when people live vicariously through their products, music, brands, other people, the past (etc.) it’s because they don’t actually live fulfilled by their own actions and pursuits and people that don’t do that are probably more prone to authoritarian societies for example, as they are something external that offers a sense of safety and comfort. Americans tend to live vicariously through their community and get the most reciprocation of their values out of the notion of its unity while the average European seems to be more isolated and individualistic. I think that might also be an attributing factor to the social pressures and resulting need to possess more as a sign of status among the group.

After all, when your salary goes up, couldn’t you say that you’d already been living vicariously through your possessions (be honest, even if it’s just a little!)? Affording more just means that you can bolster or refine what you perceive you’re getting from things –hard thing to ignore if you’re trying to feel good through items in the circumvention of a sedentary life. There’s promise and security in one’s perception and what they desire or look for, even if momentarily or subjective, but where’s the security in one’s self and actions?

It Calls Me Onanon December 29, 2012 at 5:23 pm

The section titled “Relating Without Neediness” on that Steve Pavlina page you linked to relates directly to what I mean.

“Even if I didn’t feel much social love coming back to me from others, I could still be very loving, and that would be enough to enjoy a sense of abundance.”

That’s being secure in one’s self and finding fulfillment through one’s actions instead of looking externally to everything else. When people live vicariously through their stuff it’s a means of circumventing their insecurities/inadequacies.

It Calls Me Onanon December 29, 2012 at 5:44 pm

Haha, actually, as I read more of Pavlina’s stuff I realize that I should probably thank you for linking to his blog. It’s great and it totally relates to the stuff I’m always on about. Thanks David!

K from India. January 1, 2013 at 10:36 am

Hello David,

I want to thank you for writing and writing all so well. Your blog works on me better then any self help book. Your every article has so much of meaning to it and adds the same to my life. This blog particularly has just changed the way I have been luking at things. You wont believe I have entered with a completely different mindset in 2013. I have calculated how much I earn to what I spend. I am glad I am doing so well in life. I have suddenly stopped sulking, cribbing about things. There is a sudden sense of satisfaction in life. Not that I have never calculated my Earnings-Expenditure. But you just have this convincing and positive thing in your articles. That jus make me do things. Makes me bring those changes to my life.To how I think.

You are one person sitting miles away, but your blog helps me bring certain changes to my life. very very neccessary changes on which I have always tried to work or even some on which I never thought are good things to adopt to. I love technology for this reason.

I want to thank You for influencing me in 2012.

Greetings for 2013!!! Have a very Happy and Prosperous year ahead. May you always draw on the wisdom to write so well. Keep up the good work.

“I’m David and Raptitude is a street-level look at the human experience — what makes human beings do what they do, and what that means in real life. I write about how to make sense of the earth’s most ridiculous animal, how to get better at being one of them, and how only those two things can change the life you live and the world you live in.”

You truly justify every word mentioned in your introducory text.

Freedom | Rethinking the Dream January 2, 2013 at 10:39 am

We did a bit of a Parkinson’s law reset last year. We sold our house and moved into a rental apartment. We had a lot of reasons for doing this, but the main reason was our “must have” expenses were too high, and giving up the house in favor or a rental allowed us to get our monthly must have expenses to 50% of our income. That freed up money for wants and savings.

Phillip January 10, 2013 at 11:53 am

Nice article. Though since when is $100K “upper class”? :) You could make the same point with a million and it’d still be true.

Simply Rich Life January 18, 2013 at 12:52 pm

Great post! For a while we’ve been working on reversing things, keeping a fixed level of spending as income goes up. There were a few missteps at first but it’s going well now and it feels great to know that half our income could disappear and it wouldn’t make a noticeable difference.

Kathy @ SMART Living 365 January 18, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Hi David…I just found your this post on Reddit and thought it was a good one. I particularly appreciated hearing about “Parkinson’s Law” for a better grasp of why scarcity is so prevalent in our culture. That was new to me and certainly makes sense. And while I’m sure our culture has a huge influence on why we think we might eventually all become wealthy so why worry about it now–I suspect that the biggest problem is most of us don’t really “think” to begin with. We chase after dreams, jobs, money, and stuff because our culture (friends, family, the media, schooling, etc) all tell us that is what we are “supposed” to want and do. So a large percentage of people do that without thinking at all. Blogs like yours (and yes a blog like mine too) help people to become more aware of their thinking and offer solutions for ways out of the trap. In fact, my latest blog post is about “Rightsizing your finances–A SMART way to manage money.” You can read it here: http://smartliving365.com if anyone wants more info. Thanks again for your post and I look forward to reading more if your ideas in the future. –Kathy

Nathan February 13, 2013 at 8:45 pm

It’s one thing to budget yourself into a lower standard of living, it’s another to internalize it to the point of feeling abundance. As a military officer, I make good money and have excellent benefits. I save a good portion of my income. Because my mother lived paycheck-to-paycheck, I’m very aware of the need to save and live below my means, so I budget to spend less than I earn. But perhaps because of this experience, perhaps because I track things carefully, there’s still some stress. Certainly less than if I was spending too much. But I don’t think the real feeling of abundance will come until reduced spending becomes so natural that I don’t have to track it anymore. Something to aspire to.

grace b February 15, 2013 at 2:43 pm

I feel incredibly conflicted about this type of issue–the feeling of “having enough”.

Last year my boyfriend and I did a great purge of our belongings (in April) and it was an incredibly taxing venture: we sorted, debated, and donated a lot of items. Things that would could have gotten a good chunk of money for were given away. In the middle of our cross-country move in August our van broke down and we had to junk it for $200. Some of our belongings did not fit in our new rental SUV and therefore had to be given away (at a KOA of all places!). In the first few months of living in our new apartment we purchased new (to us) items and ended up selling some things too.

I like having less things. I like organizing our belongings. I like not having a car (we take the bus), a microwave, cable tv, and being creative with our furniture (my boyfriend built me a bookcase out of old wood). But does it make me HAPPY? No. I decided this year to invest more in experiences than in items. Does it mean that I don’t have a wishlist of 5 – 10 items that I would love to add to my life? Of course not. I add to that list frequently. But I’d rather spend my time with my boyfriend, with friends, eating a good meal, or exploring our city.

So I definitely think that you’re right to remind us of Parkinson’s law. I’m currently unemployed but I’ve been very careful to not idealize my future job as a “cure-all” for my life. Hopefully it means I can pay down some of my debts.

Our society is not a culture of living within your means and that is definitely challenging. No one is giving awards to the people with less (whether that is their choice or their circumstance).

Mike February 19, 2013 at 1:21 am

Maybe I’m finding posts like this more as I build my own awareness, but I encourage people to check out Mr money moustache (not providing the url so as not to trigger filters but Google it). Along the lines of this post but with a bunch of very practical advice on how to get there.

Great post. Thanks!

David February 19, 2013 at 8:43 pm

I love Mr Money Moustache. I didn’t know about him until a month or two ago when he found Raptitude and liked it. I don’t think I’ve ever found a more valuable website than his. I am already thousands of dollars richer.

Caine March 3, 2013 at 10:56 am

There is a site I like better than MMM. It’s Early Retirement Extreme (ERE). Not active anymore, but there is plenty in the archives to keep you busy for a while. ERE just seems more of a purist, it’s who he is at the very core.

E. March 2, 2013 at 1:02 pm

I know that my first post was a vague and general comment–although, this was my first time on a blog. I do not open up easily or trust. Yes I have issues. I am ready to make a change, although it is not easy for me after being a single mom of many kids for over 16 years, and healing still from the results of cancer and other experiences. Because I never took time to ‘stop’ and ‘feel’ I went through life avoiding and just getting through the day staying emotionally closed. The material things, which I thought would help me and my family do not mean anything to me now. I find myself frustrated, angry and now ready to get out of the drift I am in. If I would give examples and stories of my life, it would become a novel. I want to leave my stories behind. Maybe one day I will publish my book. For now, I want to salute you David–you who seem very young still, with an ‘old wise soul’ and I want to acknowledge you for your meaningful blogs. I just wanted to share the fact that I just stumbled across this site of yours, and I was impressed with your authenticity.

Grace August 3, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Hmm…I thought Parkinson’s Law was when work expands to fill the time needed for its completion, meaning the more time you have to complete a task the more work is needed to finish it. I’m sorry, but I fail to find your analogy on how Parkinson’s Law applies to money and financial situations.

On the other hand, I like your idea of “space” and how people who spend below their means find it more fulfilling than those who spend everything they earn, regardless of their income.

I also believe it is very important to know what kind of lifestyle you want before spending on lifestyles you THINK you want. Once you find out how much income you need to make in order to sustain the lifestyle you want, it is important to not spend over this amount.

I also like Steve’s quote: “Is it possible for you to still enjoy your life even if your financial situation stays the same or even gets worse for the rest of your life?” This gets me into thinking…then is it possible that finances are merely just a way of thinking? So does that mean happiness is independent of financial situations?

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