What an oddly-titled article from this website, right? Trust me, it will make sense. Read on…
Does money drive your life? It may sound ironic hearing this from a guy who has a monetary target to achieve, firmly planted on the name of this website. But it is true. Truth be told, I put up that big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG) of $10! just so that I have some motivation to keep going at work, for the sake of my family and kid. Otherwise, there would have been no website called Ten Factorial Rocks (at least not from me), no posts on family and relationships, and I may have retired to the majestic Himalayas searching for life’s deeper ‘meaning’. Why The Himalayas? We will cover that in a future post, that’s not relevant to this article. Money does not drive my life.
An important insight I have learned in life is a large majority of people, especially those who claim that money is not important to them, either don’t have enough of it or can’t hack it in the real world. I am talking about the many people who troll the net, pass quick judgements about those who achieved financial independence, often with condescending remarks that justify their own wasteful spending and inefficient lifestyle, while dismissing a prudent person who eschews those choices as “money-minded” or frugal weirdo or worse, even a fake.
What they don’t realize is if you don’t mind your money early in life, money will always be on your mind till the end of your life.
It is unfortunate that they don’t see it that way. They replace ‘money’ with the things and experiences they want, which you anyway need money to buy. These are the people who live either at the cusp of their affordability or well beyond it – so that it is never enough for them. These are the people who don’t care whether they have enough clothes in the closet, or growing junk in their homes, and continually hanker for the ‘newness’ of things bought in from outside while the old festers idle. It is good to have a BHAG, but the BHAG should also come with an expiration date.
There is no nirvana in spending for happiness, as many wise people who walked this earth have observed. On the contrary, it keeps you perpetually trapped in the pursuit of earning more money. Because the spending becomes the ‘heroin’ that the earning ‘addict’ seeks. And a job transforms into merely a means for earning the ever-crucial paycheck. Some further leverage that paycheck to get into serious debt, thus falling victim to this Shakespearean-style quote.
GOLD IS THE MONEY OF KINGS;
SILVER IS THE MONEY OF GENTLEMEN;
BARTER IS THE MONEY OF PEASANTS
DEBT IS THE MONEY OF SLAVES
Norm Franz, Money and Wealth in the New Millennium (2001)
The rich aren’t immune from this. Many rich people also fall in the same trap because their spending is continually tuned with their growing means so there is no end in sight to how much money they need. If a rich person signs up for a $20,000/year country club membership just to show they’ve “arrived” in society, it requires $800,000 in additional new wealth to sustainably pay for it (if you apply the 4% rule). They may not have this additional pile of money initially, and thus, they get on to the hedonic treadmill of seeking more money and have their lives driven by it. By the time they acquire this additional wealth to pay for the previous indulgence (even for rich people, this may take some time), they have acquired a new spending habit or item of desire. This again increases the additional wealth requirement to sustainably pay for it. Thus, the endless pursuit of money continues.
Lifestyle creep is very sneaky – before you know it, you have it! I have seen it in my own life and in my family’s. People who grew up with no more than a few possessions are no longer happy with the abundance they have now but continually want to spend more. Those who earlier would scrounge for a few dollars to buy a modest gift for a friend’s wedding now want to give no less than $250 or some such ‘status minimum’ that you artificially bind yourself to.
When you flip the 4% rule, you get 25. So, knowing that spending an additional $1 requires $25 in permanent new assets should act as a natural deterrent in restraining spending. Or better yet, it should remind us of the transitory happiness in spending that incurs such a huge permanent cost.
So, why do I have a BHAG like $10!? Well, it is to keep a toe-hold in modern life and to adequately provide for people who depend on me, even if I fall short. It also stops me from getting totally disengaged with life to the point of actually moving to The Himalayan mountain ranges to become a monk. Maybe it will happen one day, but this is not the time for me yet. I like philosophy, especially ancient philosophy that explores the real source of happiness. It is a quiet, internal guide to navigate through this noisy, restless world.
In the modern world, the only way to seek independence from money, ironically, is to acquire enough money – but not too much or blindly pursuing ever more – and do that within a limited timeframe so that you can pursue things besides money for the rest of your life. Knowing what is “too much” is a big part of the journey towards self-discovery. We all have things we care about, but not knowing the limits is what gets us into trouble.
[tweetthis]There is no independence to be found in a life of limitless desire. [/tweetthis]
Regret minimization is an important objective in the search for financial independence. Simply put, this is what the curve from my friend Dr. POF is all about. You can make the lines cross at different points that speak to your financial and life situation, but the broad idea is the same.
[tweetthis]No unilateral search for wealth has ever resulted in enduring life satisfaction.[/tweetthis] Even the chronic spenders who ironically say “money is not important” (and yet persist with spending a lot of it) will agree with this at some level. However, many don’t see the connection that their own lifestyle and inefficient spending causes a perennial search for more wealth.
Strangely enough, financially independent people are best placed to say that they are no longer motivated by money. Financial independence is that happy state where your spending needs to keep you happy are comfortably supported by a sustainable withdrawal from what you already have. It is not about the wealth you have but the relief from seeking more money. It is an inevitable end-product of seeing sense in reasoned frugality and obvious senselessness in growing atrophy. Importantly, it is about saying “enough” on the spending front so that you no longer have to be on the earning treadmill to continually acquire more money. What does enough mean to you, anyway?
Getting to this stage doesn’t mean you have to leave a job that you like, but it means small things like pursuing a no-man’s-land project that appeals to you only because of the larger satisfaction it can provide. It means pursuing that project knowing fully well that even a success there will not give you either a promotion or a raise or even make you popular. It means working for true professional satisfaction without regard to career growth and its monetary rewards.
Interestingly, many philosophies of the world advocate the same thing. It is not money that is evil, but the blind love of money to continually feed the spending beast is evil – because it ultimately causes misery (to yourself and to those around you).
I can’t imagine being chained to a job only to acquire things and experiences that – in the ultimate analysis – either doesn’t matter or doesn’t get remembered. When people around you see you as nothing more than a walking ATM to satisfy their spending needs, then any amount of money you earn “for them” isn’t going to be enough. Even married life becomes transactional at that point.
This independence day, seek real independence from money so that it serves your life and not the other way around. This is what I will remind myself of.
Raman Venkatesh is the founder of Ten Factorial Rocks. Raman is a ‘Gen X’ corporate executive in his mid 40’s. In addition to having a Ph.D. in engineering, he has worked in almost all continents of the world. Ten Factorial Rocks (TFR) was created to chronicle his journey towards retirement while sharing his views on the absurdities and pitfalls along the way. The name was taken from the mathematical function 10! (ten factorial) which is equal to 10 x 9 x 8 x 7 x 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 3,628,800.