My wife and I have been doing a lot of work lately around money.
For most of our adult lives we thought that being abundant meant having the ability to buy and have the things you wanted.
Now I’m realizing that this “abundant” mindset was really just another form of consumerism disguised in new age clothing. I’m sure it’s different for some people, but that’s certainly what it was for me.
Growing up in a low income family, we often had to scrimp and scrounge to get by (though it seemed we always had enough money for soda somehow). I was taught that there was never enough money, and that most of the things I wanted we couldn’t afford.
As I grew up I wanted to prove to myself that I could have what I wanted. But because I didn’t yet know that true abundance is control of your time and having enough of what you need, I spent money frivolously on things I didn’t really need.
I learned some hard lessons in my early twenties by spending all my money at bars and getting massive overdraft fees. This woke me up a little and kept me from living so recklessly, but I still felt at my core that I needed to prove that I was “abundant” by eating out whenever I wanted and buying gadgets.
One of the worst instances of this was when I bought a height-adjustable Geekdesk for $800 on credit. Even though I couldn’t yet afford paying for it in cash, I “needed” to have it. I was tired of using step stool as a makeshift standing desk and I “deserved” to not have to go through the hassle of moving the stool around when I wanted to change heights.
If I would have waited a few months I could have easily saved for it, paid in cash and avoided credit card interest fees.
Being a person with an addictive personality, it’s very easy for me to rationalize things. I’m a King Rationalizer, Lord of Justifications. (For years I would reward myself for not smoking with smoking a cigarette!)
Now, my wife and I have never really lived much beyond our means. The most credit card debt we’ve had is $1,500, and we’ve only had one car on loan, which we sold back to the dealer after a year when we realized it was a ripoff.
But we’ve still always stayed close to spending all our income each month, forcing us into short-term thinking.
You might think that being self-employed and location independent is the ultimate freedom. That’s what I believed for a long time too.
But it’s not real freedom if you’re still required to work 50 hours a week because you’re spending 98% or more of your income.
What I’m realizing now is that freedom is really about mobility (mobility = more ability). It’s about having the ability to make choices.
As of right now, if I wanted to I couldn’t stop working for the next six months (not yet).
There are two ways for me to influence that freedom to work or not work:
A) Earn more money
B) Spend less money
The old me would have tried to solve all my problems with earning more. “Need a new computer? No problem, I’ll just make more money.” “Workshop I really want to go to I can’t afford? No problem, I just need one more client.”
This type of thinking can be useful and don’t get me wrong, the ability to hustle to generate cash is a great asset to have. I know how to make money when I need to thanks to the internet, being able to give good value and understanding how to make good offers.
But problems start to happen when you easily justify expenses. They tend to creep until you have little to no margin. Operating at the maximum of your income or revenue puts you in a position of weakness, always looking at the short term. You’re stuck trying to figure out how to hit your target next month, rather than thinking about the long term health and prosperity of your business.
I’ve realized it’s much easier instead of earning more, to want less. It’s better for my personal stress, it puts me in a greater position of strength (more f-you money), and it’s better for the planet as well.
In the process of wanting less I thought I’d feel deprived, but exactly the opposite has happened. I feel richer than ever!
The truth is that my lifestyle, even on the $2,600/mo. we’ve pared down to is pretty fucking extravagant compared to the rest of the world. If you make over $30k a year, you’re already in the top 1% of the world!
So, when it comes down to it, it’s all a matter of perspective.
It doesn’t have to be about stuff either. I bought very little things, but spent all my money on bars and restaurants. Justifying each purchase $10 at a time because “I deserve it.” The justification becomes really easy when it’s just $5, $10 or $20 here and there — but at the end of the month, or year, what do you have left?
In hindsight I’d rather have had the increased freedom and absence of stress knowing that I’m not living paycheck to paycheck and having “f-you money.”
If it helps you, see every dollar you spend as a piece of your life energy. You have to exchange time and your personal energy for that latte, lunch or car. How much of your life energy is that thing really worth? (If you calculate your hourly wage, you can actually figure this out, dollar for dollar.)
Many of us may be “abundant” in stuff but we’re really poor in time and mobility.
That to me is not real freedom or wealth. It’s renting out your time to spend money on things that you don’t really need.
Mr. Thoreau had it right when he said “A man’s wealth is directly proportional to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”
Purchasing your freedom is actually pretty easy. All you have to do is start wanting less.