Guests last night couldn’t wait to tell me that their son, age 31, sent along profuse thanks for the idea of “the enough point” from Your Money or Your Life. It’s been a guiding light for him and he’s almost there.
At one level, my passion for this money work is fishing people, one by one, out of the unconscious eddies of the consumer culture, liberating minds and lives from the spending and spending treadmill. I believe everyone is a genius, mostly unacknowledged, unrewarded, unrecognized and undeveloped. Many are caught in debt – which young people are in droves due to the broken promise that a college education will contribute to greater lifetime earnings and more opportunities.
Some are caught in having too much. A NYTimes reporter interviewed me at length yesterday. My answers were quite free wheeling so I’m nervous what he will pick out. His final question floored me: for people who can afford the $100 rubber boots, how can they justify buying the $20 ones at Target to teach their kids the value of money? They are trying “forced deprivation.” What did I think about that? I laughed. If you have “extra” money, it’s a joy to give it away, invest it in socially responsible businesses, help a farmer build a greenhouse, support the ACLU in the coming era of fighting – again – battles for our rights. Or save to your enough point (can you find it if you have too much?) so you can liberate your time to be the genius you were meant to be.
Money is like water. It is life giving when it flows. It breeds mosquitos (maybe zika) when it stagnates. So I decided to post the section in Your Money or Your Life about “the enough point.”
“Enough” has four components, four common qualities:
- Accountability, knowing how much money is flowing into and out of your life, is basic Financial Intelligence. Clearly, if you never know how much you have or where it’s all going, you can never have enough.
No matter how much money she made, every month Marilynn B., a cook and caterer, was anxious that her money would run out before her next paycheck. While she always had enough, she never had enough in her experience, because she didn’t know where she stood. It wasn’t until she started meticulously keeping track of her money that the fears went away.
Rich and poor alike benefit from accountability. Some people on government entitlement programs, from welfare to disability to Social Security, have enough, and others don’t. The Wall Street Journal told the story of a mother on a $750-a-month welfare income who managed to save $4,500 over four years through care, thrift and prudence. The explanation was simple. She was saving for her daughter’s college education, so she made every penny count. At the same time, an advocate for a homeless family in Los Angeles told the story of wangling $1,200 out of the system so parents and kids alike could get decent clothes and nourishing food. Instead, the father went out and bought a $1,200
stereo system. He figured everyone had been through such a bad time they deserved something nice. Many people go bankrupt and end up on the street in part because they haven’t learned basic principles of money management – especially accountability.
- An internal yardstick for fulfillment. As we pointed out earlier, you can never have enough if you are measuring by what others have or think.
- A purpose in life higher than satisfying your own wants and desires, because you can never have enough if every desire becomes a need that must be filled. Desire begets desire. That’s what the astute potato-chip company told us when it said, “Bet you can’t eat just one.” If you base your sense of having enough on your wants and desires it will be, at best, an ephemeral experience.
What is a purpose higher than getting what we want? The opposite of getting is giving – and therein lies a secret to fulfillment. Beyond the point of enough, we achieve happiness by exercising our capacity to give. If you have a purpose for your life that is higher than getting more and getting ahead, your energies will be focused on fulfilling that purpose – whether it is loving your family, serving on the school board, creating art, pruning your ego so your light can shine through or working for peace. When you are no longer defining your worth in dollars and cents you can get off the futile and endless money-go-round where your life was about trying to get ahead of the person in front of you.
- Responsibility, a sense of how your life fits with your community and with the needs of the world. If we don’t give a hoot about anyone but ourselves, we can never have enough until we have it all. Within the word “responsibility” is the key to why it’s an essential part of having enough. Break it down and you see it contains “response” and “able.” If you are going through life robotically, following patterns laid down by genetics, parents or society, you can react but not respond. To respond you must be conscious that you have a choice, that you can select your response. If you are responsible, you can choose when to stop. If you are not “response-able,” you stop only when an external barrier is put up – be it the size of your stomach, the size of your credit limit or the limit of the law. With “response-ability” we can choose our limits and maintain a sense of balance, both within ourselves and with our neighbors. Initially, responsibility is about identifying when you have enough and stopping there – for your own well-being. Ultimately responsibility is about everyone in the world having enough, and finding ways for all of us to get there – for the well-being of the earth. We become response-able to life itself.
Let’s try to imagine for a moment a world in which everyone had enough – enough for his or her survival, enough for comforts and even enough extra for those special times that represent real pleasure.
What do you have that’s part of your enough point?