Satisfied Ghost is a website for those seeking financial independence and meaning in their lives. Through a mindfulness lens, I will examine my ongoing journey to financial independence. We will examine investing, budgeting, goal-setting, and the search for meaning, happiness and contentment.
What’s a Satisfied Ghost?
This site is about feeding your Hungry Ghosts. In Buddhist tradition, Hungry Ghosts are pitiful creatures with huge stomachs and tiny mouths. They hunger and thirst for everything but can never be satisfied. They represent the human condition of always wanting more. While it may be impossible, I’m on a quest to make these little suckers satisfied. We will do that by aligning our actions to our values, and dispelling the illusions we tell ourselves about what is possible, what we “should” do and what kind of life is available to us.
While these concepts resonate with me now, they haven’t always. And while I have achieved a level of financial independence and retired from my full time job in 2016, I still struggle with the demands of our consumer culture and expectations of those I care about. I’m hardly the paragon of extreme frugality, but I’ve also managed to retire in my early 40s without any IPO pay-day, inheritance or other large windfall. Slow and steady won my race, even while living in the San Francisco Bay Area and having two children along the way. My mindfulness practice has helped me greatly throughout this journey, and it can help others.
So how did I get here?
Let’s go back to the 90s. I was working in technology in San Francisco, but I was also a writer, and didn’t like the idea of working for someone else. I remember saying, “I would quit this job if only I had $10,000.” That $10k soon became $100k, but it wasn’t enough. As soon as I achieved one goal, others popped in: home ownership, one year’s expenses in the bank, etc. It was never enough.
Soon, I read Your Money or Your Life and it forever changed my relationship to money. I didn’t have a clear idea of how much I needed to achieve financial independence, but I knew I wanted to make changes.
Over the years I still struggled to come to clarity. If someone was offering me such a “good job” shouldn’t I take it? Shouldn’t I make as much money as I could? What would my depression-surviving grandparents say about me leaving a “dream job?” Who would I “be” without my work identity? But through all of that I saved. (I spent too.) As I got raises I didn’t let my lifestyle inflate too much. I invested. I didn’t sell when the market tanked. I invested more. I paid myself first. I used tools to track my progress. I stayed in the job long enough to maximize the financial benefits without losing my drive to create what’s next.
I also made mistakes. I waited too long to buy a house. (Or bought a house at all.) I didn’t ask for raises when I should have. I kept too much in cash. I stayed in jobs too long due to fear. I limited myself through stories about what I needed or might happen to me if I really chased my dreams.
I was—and am—incredibly fortunate. I know people who truly struggle, who make trade-offs between buying food and paying the light bill. I have relatives in public housing. I’ve seen poverty first-hand. I know thinking about these choices is a luxury. But I passionately believe that, no matter who you are, waking up from the trance of “more” or “shoulds” and “everyone else is doing it” is worthwhile. In Buddhism, we are called to awaken to our true selves — from deception and trance and the lure of powerful stories. That is the path to freedom, regardless of how much or how little money you have.
My definition of financial awakening is
- questioning societal expectations and the stories we tell ourselves about money
- understanding the true value of your time and how you spend it
- and optimizing your life for what you truly value
These ideas are the bedrock of personal freedom. For those of us lucky to have choices, I say be clear-eyed and grounded in your financial (and life) choices. Awaken from trance and feed your hungry ghosts.