My dad was a hog farmer. Mom worked at Eveready Battery. We weren’t poor. But, anyone who’s been in the livestock business knows that it’s “feast or famine”. And working 2nd shift on an assembly line wasn’t a fast-track for wealth.
Don’t get me wrong. My sister and I never went to bed hungry. And no matter how tough things were, Mom & Dad always managed to take us all out to eat on Friday nights. There were always gifts at birthdays and Christmas….even if they had to do without to make it happen.
You know how it is if you’re parent.
Still, when I was old enough to notice that some people lived very differently than we did, I dreamed of what it would be like to be wealthy. I imagined what it would be like to fly in an airplane to some exotic place. Or live in a great, big house.
Heck, I just wanted to know what it was like to pull up to a gas station and fill up my car instead of going inside to tell the cashier that I was “getting $5 worth”….
So I worked two jobs during high school. And I saved money. And I spent money. And I never managed to have enough.
So I’d work some more. And I’d earn more but I’d spend more. It was a cycle that never seemed to end.
It wasn’t until years later that I experienced what it was like to have hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in the bank.
Please don’t think I’m saying that to brag. I’m not. I’ve made a lot of money…but I’ve blown a lot of money. And here’s what I can tell you….
I don’t believe in “living poor” to optimize your savings. I believe you can live a rich life while you grow your wealth.
I’ll give you an example. Remember when John Travolta made massive hits like Grease and Saturday Night Fever, then he seemed to vanish? He went over 10 years without earning very much money or getting very good roles. And yet, it seemed not to affect his lifestyle at all.
Quentin Tarantino asked him about it. “Did you get royalties and stuff from Grease and Saturday Night Fever? You’re like the millionaire who lives like a billionaire!”
Travolta said, “Oh, no, I wish. No, you see, it’s all about choices. Rather than own a house in LA where I CAN’T afford it, I have a house in Connecticut where I CAN afford it. Instead of having the latest Gulfstream jet…..I have an older jet that costs 1/10th as much. But it still gets me to Hawaii in the same 6 hours.”
This is a key part of money-management: You don’t have to spend all your money to live well.
I’ll give you an example from my own life….
For most of our marriage, Jessica and I have only had one car. We just didn’t need two cars. We both work at home and we tend to spend lots of time together. Anytime we both need to run errands, we’ll usually just round up the kids and we’ll all go grab a bite to eat while we’re out. So we have one vehicle — a late-model Mercedes SUV — that we enjoy.
A few years ago, Jessica and I founded a non-profit organization for our community’s youth. And so, now, her schedule is busier than it used to be and sometimes we’re going in different directions during the day. So, it was time to get a second vehicle so I went car-hunting.
Guess what I bought? I bought a Mercedes S-500 sedan…..that was 6 years old.
One of my friends acted disappointed. “Six years old? Really? Man, you could have gotten the new one. That thing is awesome!”
He’s right . The new one is awesome. But, I didn’t see the point in spending $150,000 on a car that I’m only going to drive a few times a week and Jessica needed the SUV for theater work. So, my basic questions about the car were:
Does it still get me from Point A to Point B? Yes.
Does it still drive great and feel good? Yes.
Do I enjoy it? Yes.
Isn’t that all I need a car for? Yes.
There are a lot of people online who wouldn’t admit something like that. They’d rather you think that they’re living like a rap star…
You can’t spend other people’s money. Who cares what someone’s earning or what they’re spending? Why does it matter to anyone outside my house what kind of car I bought? It doesn’t. What’s important is whether YOU are reaching YOUR goals.
It’s very difficult to acquire wealth if you increase your spending every time your income goes up.
The truth is that there’s very little relationship between how much you spend on houses, cars, vacations and toys…..and the enjoyment you get from using them.
For instance, I like owning a Rolex watch. I have three: a Daytona, a Submariner and an Explorer II. But the truth is that, if I want to know what time it is, I usually just look at my iPhone. The only reason I have three Rolexes is because I thought it would be cool to give one to each of my sons when they’re older. (Hopefully they’re not reading my blog and I’ve spoiled the surprise.)
I like nice clothes. But, right now, while I’m sitting here writing this to you, I’m wearing a pair of Converse sneakers, some Levi jeans and my favorite shirt (which I bought at American Eagle for $25.)
So, today, my perspective on money is much different than it was year ago: discover your own, less expensive way to live a rich life. And, by “rich life”, I’m talking about a life that makes YOU happy, and a life that’s free from financial stress.
By a “rich life,” I mean a life free from financial stress, but also filled with things that give you pleasure. Stop thinking that you have to impress anyone. Buy things because YOU like them….and because it makes sense to YOU.
William B. Irvine’s wonderful book, A Guide To The Good Life offers a great perspective on this. In it, Irvine suggests the following thought experiment (paraphrased):
Imagine that you woke up tomorrow and everyone was gone. The whole world is still running. Planes are still flying. Stores are still open. But you’re the only person on the planet. You can literally have anything you want, do anything you want, live anywhere you want and go anywhere you want.
You can walk into a Bugatti dealership and pick any car you want and drive away. You can go to any store in the world and walk out with the finest clothes and the finest purse. You can eat in the finest restaurants and fly first-class wherever you want to go. Money is, quite literally, no object.
Chances are good that you’d indulge yourself for a short while before finally settling into a way of life that involves having things that are useful, enjoyable and durable rather than having frivolous things that exist solely for propping oup our own egos and insecurities.
Isn’t that fascinating? Try that exercise for yourself and see you imagine for yourself.
Plus, keep in mind that you can enjoy the world’s finest things — things that make life luxurious — for a fraction of what today’s hottest celebrities pay.
• You don’t have to buy a $140,000 Hastens Vividus mattress to have a luxurious night’s rest. You’ll sleep just as well on a $3,000 Stearns & Foster Silver Dream mattress. Or a $1,600 Tempur-Pedic.
• You can shell out $4,000 for a bottle of Opus One. Or you can get a Lewis 2016 for only $90. It scored a 95 on Wine Spectator and will taste nearly as good.
• You could have all the glamor of eating a $200-per-person meal at Nobu Miami. But you can get an even more luxurious experience by hiring a private chef to cook whatever you feel like for you and your friends for $35 per hour.
• You could lay out $180,300 on a brand-new Bentley. Or you could spend $50,000 on a used BMW E-series that, in my opinion, is just as beautiful and which you’ll enjoy just as much.
• Some people dream a few $24,600 nights in The Apartment at Connaught Hotel in London. But I guarantee you’ll feel just as good, as cozy and as “rich” staying in a $300-per-night suite at the Intercontinental or at a luxurious bed and breakfast.
• Your family can be just as happy in a house that costs $100,000 or $200,000 as opposed to one that costs $10 million or $20 million.
• Be careful about brand names. They eat wealth faster than anything. If you buy a brand-name luxury item, make sure it’s because you genuinely believe that it’s a better quality item than its counterpart. (For instance, this is why I carry a $1.10 Pentel Energel Deluxe every day and couldn’t tell you the last time I used my Mont-Blanc. You can buy off-brand items that work well and that you’re happy with and save tens-of-thousands of dollars while losing none of the prestige.)
I’ll say it again: it’s very hard to accumulate wealth if you increase your spending every time your income goes up.
Start making smart spending decisions and ignore people online who think they need to show off their “bling”. Stop thinking that because you’re earning more money, you should be spending more.
Your future wealth depends on how much you save and invest, not on how much you spend.