How Much Money is Enough? A Revolutionary Perspective From Laura VanderKam

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“And that’s it. That’s the only thing I need, is this. I don’t need this or this. Just this ashtray… And this paddle game, the ashtray and the paddle game and that’s all I need. And this remote control. The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that’s all I need. And these matches. The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control and the paddle ball. And this lamp….”

That, of course, is the tail-end of one of Steve Martin’s all time great movies, The Jerk. He started out poor, struck it rich, and then lost everything again. Even after going through all his ups and downs and coming out with absolutely nothing, the lead character still didn’t understand what was important to him. He still didn’t have the answer to the question, “How much money is enough?”

And you know what? To be honest, most of us have no clue either. It’s proven every day by what we buy, and therefore, what we value.

how much money is enoughHow Much Money is Enough? A Revolutionary Perspective on Money

So what do you think? How much money is enough?

According to the old Princeton University Research study, the magic number for income is $75,000 (which is probably more like $90,000 today, after adjusting for inflation).

And how about your net worth? How much money would be enough? $1 million? $3 million? $5 million?

….”Yup, $90,000 of income and $3 million in retirement”, you decide…

However, at that point of contentment, if someone were to say…

  • “I know your salary is $90,000 and you’re happy with it, but you’re doing such a great job that we want to bump that up to $100,000”, or
  • “You’re doing great with retirement and I know you’re happy, but I want to give you another million”…

Would you accept it?

Of course you would!

More is always better and we’d always rather have too much than not enough. It only makes sense. 

But, we need to make sure that this wanting for more doesn’t cloud our judgement and just lead us to following the trends of society into what everyone thinks is making them happy…

All The Money in the World

First off, if you thought you were getting sniffs of a minimalism rant, you were wrong. This post isn’t about selling all your possessions and limiting yourself to only a certain number of objects. I get the theory, and I’m all about not hoarding stuff, but for my wife and kids, the whole idea of minimalism is frankly a little ludicrous. 

However, I also don’t agree with the common views of society…

  • Buy a big house
  • Drive a sexy brand new car
  • Go out to eat more than you eat in
  • Buy the name-brand labels, both for status and for quality…

This all seems a bit ludicrous as well. 

Thankfully, I recently found the common ground. It came from a random library pick in the personal finance section (someday, by the way, I may actually find another section in the library…not yet though ;)). The book was titled, “All the Money in the World“, by Laura VanderKam.

How Much Money is Enough? – Is That Even the Right Question??

We’re constantly barraged with this question of…

  • How much money do you think you’ll need in retirement?
  • How much money do you need today to truly be happy?

But Laura challenges this line of thinking. She wonders if instead of going through the motions of life and trying to earn (and buy) as much as possible, what if we stopped doing all the things that are considered normal? What if we blatantly went against the norm and spent our money quite differently? Might we be happier?

Taking the Blinders Off – The Initial Chapter

Frankly, I loved Laura’s book. She didn’t tell me how to set up a 401k or budget like a pro. Instead, she made me question my financial actions. Just because everyone else spends their money in a certain way doesn’t make it the right way. 

how much money is enoughHere are a few of her examples from the book:

  • Spending money on an engagement ring – the typical ring is $6,000
  • Spending money on the “perfect day” — the wedding. This can easily get up into the $20,000 figures.

Many people save for years to make the above spend happen. Either that, or they just load up their credit cards… Then, they take out another monster loan to buy a house and force themselves into broke living for 30 years of their lives. And this is supposed to be our happily ever after…??

I’m paraphrasing here…Laura says, “Screw that!!” What if, instead, you:

  • Buy a non-diamond ring (that still looks beautiful) for $250
  • And have a wedding with just your closest friends and family for $5,000
  • …And then use the money that you didn’t spend on the ring or the wedding for a gift of weekly flowers and a weekly date night!

At $50 per date night, the savings of $20,750 would support…(get this)… 415 date nights!! That’s almost 8 years of regular dates with your best friend!!

Which would you rather have? One “special day” or 8 years’ worth of romance??!

I don’t know about you (call me a softy), but I choose the lasting romance! So why do so many of us blow so much cash on a ring and the wedding??

It’s time to question everything… It’s not really about how much money is enough, it’s, “Are we spending (and earning) our money in the way that’s best for us??”

Related: The Best Financial Gift I Ever Received

So What is the Life That You Love?

If you’re reading this post in the privacy of your own home and on your very own laptop computer, I dare say that you already have the resources to create the life you love. Sure, you don’t make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and you probably don’t have millions in savings, but do you really need that in order to create a better life? One that’s filled with lasting memories and happy moments?

Think about it. 

If you could have a “perfect weekend”, what would you do?

I asked my wife this question on our last date night. Her response was about as simple as you could get:

  • “I’d have a night hanging out with you – probably at a restaurant just chatting. And…
  • I’d probably have a night hanging out with my best friend at her place.”

That’s it!

Guess how much money this would cost her? 

At most…$40 for a baby sitter, $50 for a date-night meal, and $10 for a bottle of wine for my wife and her friend to share. Call it an even $100.

It was such a simple answer, and one that was really inexpensive if you think about it! And, I bet your response isn’t all that different. Most of us just want to spend time with the people we love, and make a bunch of memories in the process!

One more question though…How often does Liz have her perfect weekend?

Mmmm, maybe once a year…

But why so infrequently? 

Because life just gets in the way! 

  • My full-time job
  • My blogging habit (oops!)
  • Her photography
  • The kids
  • Family functions
  • Church events

We just find ourselves going through the motions, doing what everyone else is doing. After reading Laura’s book, I realize that we just need to take a few minutes out of each week and ask ourselves, “Are we really doing what we want to be doing?” And if not, what is it that we need to shift so we have a better life?

Related: 10 Things I Learned From a Dying Man

Let’s Hear From Laura!!

After reading this wonderful book (again, you should really order it for yourself — “All the Money in the World“. Or pick it up from your local library like I did!), I just couldn’t help but reach out to the author, Laura VanderKam. I wanted to know so many things…

  • What inspired her to write a book like this?
  • What is her perspective on earning vs. spending time with family – ie. the work/life balance?
  • and…What is it that we (the typical readers of this blog) should be doing with our money and our time?

Below are her responses.

1) This book is quite a bit different from the typical personal finance books I pick up. What inspired you to write it? What gave you the idea?

I generally write about time, but there are a lot of parallels with money — they’re both limited resources, and both can be optimized to build a good life. So I decided to tackle that topic. In general, I hoped to write for people who were struggling with bigger questions. They know that credit card debt is a bad thing; they’re also bored with advice to cut coupons. How can we use money as a tool to build the lives we want? 

2) Of all your financial advice (or…musings maybe) – which is your favorite? Which is the one that you most like to speak about? 

I think one of the biggest aha moments is that money is completely fungible — a dollar can easily be switched from one category to another, and by questioning what you “have” to spend on larger categories, you can be quite profligate in others.

So, for example, in the first chapter, I ask the question of “What else can that ring buy?” Most couples (in the US at least) buy diamond engagement rings, but why? Some couples have elected to spend quite reasonable amounts on (huge!) other stones, and then devote those thousands of dollars to things that create memories and a good marriage.

Likewise, choosing to spend a little less on housing means you can buy all the lattes you want and still save for retirement. People have ideas about what is “appropriate” to spend in various categories, but these are just stories. People are free to tell different ones. 

3) What do you think about the side hustle life today? There’s a stat out there that states roughly 30% of people today have a side hustle. Are you a fan? Or do you think this mentality is stripping people of their precious time?

I don’t see a problem with side hustles, if they’re handled right. They’re done best when they’re an opportunity to explore a passion that isn’t necessarily suited to a day job. If you resent the time you devote to a side hustle, you’ll be unhappy, even if you’re making more money. But if you choose something you’re intrinsically motivated to do, the money can be a very sweet bonus. 

4) My readers are mostly 30-somethings that earn ~$100,000 and are starting families. What would be your message to them?

Starting a family is very exciting. The good news is that earning a good salary can make a lot of the challenges of young family life easier.

Many new parents feel crunched for time, but if you’ve got your finances in order, you can afford to do little things that buy you time, like getting groceries delivered, or getting the house cleaned, so you don’t have to spend weekend time doing this. I’d also add that childcare is an investment in both parents’ long-term earning potential, not an expense. A lot of personal finance blogs seem to miss that point.

How Much Money is Enough? In Conclusion…

How much money is enough? I think you realize by now that there is no perfect answer. It all depends on who you are, where you live, and what your goals are in life!

If you just…

  • wander through life and work like everyone else,
  • buy things like everyone else, and
  • never set goals (like everyone else)…

…you’ll never know how much money is enough for you.

On the other hand, if you stop, take the time to think about what’s important to you, and then have written goals in place to measure against, you’ll often times land right where you were hoping to be in the long run. You might not have the dream job you thought you wanted, and you might not earn $200,000 a year, but you still might have everything crossed off your list, which makes you smile each and every day. 

For me, my job income is enough. I love what I do, my kids will be able to get a private school education, and I get plenty of time to take them out on excursions or simply play some random wrestling game with them on the living room floor.

How much money is enough? Chances are, you’re already making enough. You’ve just got to shift your spending priorities so you can do the things that really matter in your life.

What about you? Have you ever pondered this question? Do you believe you make enough?

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Battle of the Mind Grow Rich Money

Derek

AUTHOR Derek

My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.

2 Comments

  1. I realized I had put money in its correct place when a year after my slightly early retirement a headhunter offered me an annual wage of three times what I made in my previous best year of work. Seven figures to go back to a 9 to 5! And I paused for about 15 seconds and then told her, “No way, I’ve got enough money.” And the wedding rings my wife and I exchanged 41 years ago were just simple gold bands, less than $100.

    • Hi Steveark – that’s an AWESOME story!! I have to be honest…I would have been realllly tempted to go back to work for that kind of money.

      But you know what? We don’t exist in this world to earn as much money as possible. At some point each of us has to realize that we’ve got enough and no greater amount will make us any happier!

      You definitely made the right call. Good for you. I hope I can be strong enough to do the same someday.


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