How much money money is enough? I asked around:
- Enough to meet my needs and a few luxuries.
- Enough to be safe.
- Enough to be happy.
- $10 million (I hear this number frequently in Silicon Valley circles).
- Enough never to work again.
- Enough to leave a legacy for my family.
These answers illustrate the “squishiness” of money, as it’s very difficult to put a number on safety or happiness. It’s amazing how money and work dominate our time, yet we have very vague ideas about how much is enough. It’s like running a race without a finish line. How do we know when to stop or when to speed up?
In my experience, most people either have 1. no idea how much they really need or 2. a number that keeps climbing. This is because we all have hungry ghosts inside of us who demand to be fed. The hungry ghosts tell you it will never be enough, you will never be safe, you will never be happy. Or even more insidiously your hungry ghosts may say you will be happy/safe/content if only you have (what you have) + (some amount more than you have). But unfortunately, the variables in the equation keep changing. A recent New York Times article shows how squishy our idea of enough can be:
When I used the word “affluent” in an email to a stay-at-home mom with a $2.5 million household income, a house in the Hamptons and a child in private school, she almost canceled the interview, she told me later. Real affluence, she said, belonged to her friends who traveled on a private plane.
This may be an extreme example, but if you compare even a lower-middle-class American’s spending to someone in the developing world, it’s just as ridiculous. Context matters.
The bottom line is if we use someone else’s definition of “enough,” It will just keep getting bigger and bigger — unless we clarify our values.
Define your values
To clarify your values, start with an exercise like this. My top values are authenticity, connection, achievement, harmony, creativity and wisdom. To live a life with integrity and alignment with these values, I had to make a major change and quit my full-time job. My values weren’t tied to status or wealth and so, once I figured out how much I needed, I needed to make the change. Making decisions from your core values will feed those hungry ghosts and lead to true contentment.
If your true values are wealth and status, or leaving a legacy for your children or a cause, then $10m might be your number. At least in my corner of the FI world, no judgement! Just be honest and live in integrity with your values, not someone else’s. Our culture’s default values are wealth and status, but are they truly a fountain of contentment for you?
Define a concrete goal
Values without concrete understanding and awareness won’t get you very far. Analyze how much you spend now and ideally how much you could spend if you designed and lived your life intentionally. Use the 4 percent rule to come up with your number: your expenses times 25 (or 30 if you’re more conservative.) So if your spending is $100k a year, that’s $2.5m. If $50k a year, that’s $1.25m. My conservative nature says to err on the side of a larger number, given the uncertainties in future healthcare spending in the US.
Once you have awareness of your number and your values, take action to live the life you want.
This may be saving more aggressively. This may be changing jobs. This may be giving more to worthy causes. This may be doing nothing differently.
I quit my job and now am actively cultivating the life I want: more creativity and authenticity since I don’t work for someone else. I still do some paid work, but it’s in alignment with my values. Achievement can and will always be important to me, so taking paid work, or working on writing for instance, is a big part of my life. But so is harmony and connection with my family and friends. This is how I’m navigating the road to my essential self, even though it sounds much easier than it is.
Great yourself with compassion
The meditation teacher Tara Brach published a short article on hungry ghost syndrome last week. She says, “When met with compassion, the hungry ghost begins to lose its power. When we notice and understand the triggers behind the addictive looping, we become more conscious and can make different choices about how we respond.”
So no matter what, be compassionate to yourself. Saying you have “enough” is an enormously brave and optimistic act. Actively leaving stable employment goes against mainstream cultural expectations. Forgoing lifestyle upgrades run counter to social demands, too. Meet yourself — and your ghosts — with compassion and clarity, and you may find out how much is truly and authentically enough.
How much is your “enough? How did you come up with it?