How Much Money Is Enough?

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

 

how do you know when you have enough money

We spend a lot of time in our society talking about money – not having enough of it, and how to get more. But I’ve realized lately that we rarely talk about what to do when we have enough – or how to even recognize when we get there. It’s become abundantly clear to me over the last couple of weeks that I struggle with knowing when to say “enough.”

Like many people, I easily get swept up in the cyclone of bigger, better, faster, more.

If 5 is good, 10 is better.

Five what? Doesn’t matter. Pounds, dollars, jobs. Photos taken, closets cleaned, articles written. If it can be measured or achieved, it can be improved upon.

But nowhere is this phenomenon more obvious than when we start talking about money.

There is no such thing as Enough.

There is only Good, Better, and Best.

More, more, more.

If 5 is good, 10 is better.

When we began planning our year of travel, we set a savings goal. We determined that we wanted to save X amount of dollars before we left for our trip so that I would only have to earn Y amount of dollars each month while we were on the road.

Good news: we saved X amount of dollars!

And it was good!

For about 30 seconds.

If 5 is good, 10 is better.

In addition to our savings goal, I planned to build a client base that would allow me to work very much part-time while earning enough money to cover half of our monthly expenses, allowing our savings to cover the other half.

Good news: I did that!

And that gave me a big sense of relief!

For about 30 seconds.

Wouldn’t it be great, I’ve been thinking, if we saved enough to cover all of our expenses for the entire trip?

And wouldn’t it be even better if I could earn enough money each month to cover all of our expenses and we still had a year’s worth of expenses in savings when we were done?

If 5 is good, and 10 is better, isn’t 15 the very, very best?

Somewhere along the way, I forgot why I set my goal at 5 in the first place. I decided months ago that 5 (or X, or whatever example we’re using here) was the number to shoot for because that number would allow me to travel full-time with my family without killing myself to support us or stressing over money.

And then I raised the bar. Again. Because that’s just what I do.

The problem is that 10, in this case, isn’t necessarily better, and 15 is miles beyond my original intent. Working harder to earn more money means I’m missing out on the parts of life that I wanted to pay for in the first damn place.

But I’m not actually killing myself. I’m not working too hard. I could probably even work a little harder if I had to.

I think there might be an entire ocean between “working too hard” and “working just enough”, and I’m wearing myself out swimming in those vast waters.

But how do I know when we have enough money?

Not just for this one trip, but in general. I’ve gotten rid of an entire houseful of possessions in an effort to minimize what I have to maintain, but I can’t seem to let go of having the resources available to maintain all of those possessions I no longer have.

I don’t need more money. I don’t need to take on another client. I don’t need to say yes to one more big project that I’m not head over heels in love with. I don’t need to put in more hours in order to make sure my family’s needs and wants are taken care of.

So what the hell am I doing?

I need to learn to stop when I have done enough.

In the same way that I decided to have just enough things in my home in order to make room in my life for more important things, I need to learn to accept having enough financial security.

But if 5 is good, 10 is better.

I’m amazed at how difficult I’m finding it to step out of that loop.

Have you ever decided how much money would be enough?

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  1. Hmmm I see what you mean. I’ve felt that way about my PLATFORM lately and the truth Is ENOUGH is never even enough. I’m constantly thinking one more email, one more submission… Then I realized I was going batshit crazy and quit two significant frrlance gigs but they weren’t for my people. They distracted from the other projects I wante to do and pulled me away from my fam. So I quit. It felt crappy then it felt amazing!

  2. Jack says:

    Money is hard because it ties into values and necessities. I find that our local public schools are severely lacking so I send my children to private school. Tuition is a bitch and every month I beat myself over the head with a bat trying to make sure that I can make the payments.

    But education is huge, it is critical and it cannot be taken away. Possessions can be lost- knowledge not so easily.

    Los Angeles doesn’t have great public transportation so we need two cars. They don’t have to be luxury but they have to be safe and they have to be reliable.

    I have to have a land line and a cell phone. Not to mention my internet connection. Probably should get rid of the television because that would allow us to save a chunk, but until we do we have satellite and that…

    The point I suppose is that I understand what you are saying. It is good to try and minimize our expenses and rely upon need instead of want. But it is hard to do and even when you try it is still very tough to keep the expenses down.

    And of course when you consider possibilities you try to plan for emergencies so you start to bump up the amount you need… It turns into a vicious circle.

    • Miss Britt says:

      I’m not necessarily suggesting that we cut our expenses to just the necessities. Rather, I’m wondering if we could sit down and figure out what we need, want, and have to save for, and actually quantify how much would be enough to do all that – and then… relax. Think about something else.

  3. I was just talking about that idea with my sister today! Both my husband and I have always worked as teachers and we had more than enough – we lived on one salary and saved the other. We never really thought about doing it any other way.

    But now – we’ve taken a couple years off to travel the world and we have “enough” income coming in that we can manage. No – we don’t have a lot. No – we can’t live high on the hog. But we can live more or less comfortably.

    The funny thing is that it’s uncomfortable for us -we’re so used to having a decent cushion should something happen that to not have it is stressful. What if? What if something happens to the house – how will we afford to pay for it? What if whatever??

    Now we’re struggling with the idea of where we draw that line. How much do we really need vs how much do we think we need? It’s a hard line to draw.

    • Miss Britt says:

      It’s nice to know it’s not just me. :)

      I have to have a cushion. I think that’s smart. But how much of a cushion is enough?

      • Exactly – we need to have a cushion and can’t bear living paycheck to paycheck, but how much? One month’s salary? One year’s salary? Five year’s salary? That’s the part we’re facing now.

        • Miss Britt says:

          There’s a popular philosophy that says “3 to 6 months of expenses.”

          But then again – what do I count as expenses? Food, housing and utilities? Coffee?

          • Yup. And then we own three houses that are rented out. How much do we plan for the possibility of something happening to one of them and we need a bunch of cash to fix it? $1000 for a new fridge? $15,000 for a new septic tank?

  4. Nyt says:

    I’m not sure that the “enough money” thing ever really goes away, probably because there is no way to plan for absolutely every contingency. And even if you do plan, circumstances change.

    Recently, on a regular trip to the Great Southwest, the Eggroll required a trip to the ER. Totally aware of our ER deductible and our excellent insurance we set off to the local ER. We registered with the front desk, provided all of our information, made it through Triage, and were waiting in the actual ER to see a doc when a young man appeared with a clipboard and a question…”How do you intend to pay for your visit today?” I replied that I had already given the insurance info during registration. “No ma’am” he replied, “How will you be paying for your deductible today? If you’re unable to pay this now, you’ll need to set up a plan with the financial office BEFORE you see a doctor”

    Now, the payment thing wasn’t a problem, but, it was totally an unexpected expense. Basically, it sucked up 25% of my “out of town operating budget” and my OTOB is usually pretty heavy. It’s my kid and I’m not going to “shop” for a better deal. (she’s fine btw) I’ve had it happen with auto repairs, mysteriously disappearing reservations, insta-flights, and the like. The point of all of this? There’s no planning for this stuff. And if you can’t plan for it, you can’t relieve the “money” anxiety. So you do the best you can… and you hope for the best…

    • Miss Britt says:

      Glad to hear she’s ok!

      And yeah, it’s all of these what it’s that keep me going.

      But I need to find a balance, I think. Because what if I die and the only thing I’ve left my kids is a savings account?

      • Nyt says:

        The idea of balance is difficult. Perhaps you are balancing and are unaware of it. Ponder this.. The reality is, the cost of your road trip has increased by a minimum of 30%. I’m not going to do the politics thing, I’m just stating that the cost of life is rising at an extremely rapid pace. With the minimalist life, there is no hoard or stash of anything. You will pay the going rate for everything from food to underwear and beyond. Perhaps somewhere in the back of your mind you’re cognizant of this. Perhaps you take on more to keep the dream alive…

  5. Kristin says:

    So true so true! A cushion is good, but what about a plethora of cushions? But like someone else said up there, you can’t plan for everything. Cushions are great for falling off the house, but what if the wind blew you into your neighbor’s yard…no cushions.

    As for working extra to get a bigger cushion for this coming year, I think you should reconcile with that. You are about to have ONE YEAR of straight up memories with little interference. As long as you haven’t ignored your kids completely for the past couple months, working extra to plan for this isn’t a bad thing. PLUS, your kids are old enough to know why you’re working more and especially when they look back on this later in life, they’re going to associate hard work with something fabulous….so kudos to you, ma’am!

    • Miss Britt says:

      I’m actually not worried about how much I’m working now (like you said, short term before taking off for an incredible experience!) – I’m more concerned with how much I’m setting myself up to be working on the road. AND how much pressure I’m putting on myself to reach these ever-increasing goals.

  6. Robin obryant says:

    And wow. The spelling on my comment. I swear I wasn’t drunk. Just typing on my phone!

  7. mel says:

    I have this exact same problem. I work towards a goal, usually money/savings related and then raise the bar. I think that you already being at your goal, is awesome. If you save a bit more, even better. I think this whole trip is going to open up even more opportunities along the way. Being able to write about it and document your travels with photos is absolutely priceless. You are working towards your dreams and goals and motivating all your readers along the way.

  8. cagey says:

    Not having enough money is definitely about security. I have seen some whackadoo situations the last few years that do make me antsy about saving more money.

    • Miss Britt says:

      But we can’t plan for everything, right? At some point we have to say “OK, this is good, now I’m going to let go and have a little faith” – don’t you think?

  9. [...] lately if I want more clients and the additional work that comes with them, even if that means more money. I don’t know that I [...]

  10. i love this post. when is enough actually enough? for most of us, the more we earn, the more we spend. but the fact that you are conscious of your priorities will help. especially after you get on the road. (right now you *think* you know what to expect, but never having lived on the road you aren’t quite certain. as your family falls into its road rhythm i have a feeling your desire to take that extra job that you don’t totally love will never even be present. then again, you might wanna get away from everyone for a while so you will use work to have a little time to you and earn extra funds. point is, it will all work itself out. and also that i am so far away from the point of the post. sheesh. sorry.)

    i love that you are so cognizant about things i never think of. i go through life thinking “i earn x so i need to not spend more than that.” i am just not one who tries to figure out ways to earn more. laziness has its benefits?

    • Miss Britt says:

      Lazy and not being overly ambitious are not the same things!

      And you’re right; I don’t know what it’s going to be like on the road. Maybe it’s that uncertainty that has me feeling all twisty lately.

  11. Allyson says:

    I hear ya. Pete and I are hoping to be debt free with a significant savings by January 2013. When I made the comment that we should plan for a trip to Italy in June 2013, he was all, “Well, we might not have enough money…” and when I pointed out our planned savings by then, he replied, “Well, yeah, but I was hoping to take half of that and invest it in the market, or something, and leave the rest as our emergency fund. So maybe the following year when we have saved that half again?” I got frustrated with him trying to plan for June 2014, and ended the conversation. But the point was, I thought X dollars were enough, and he was thinking X.5 was more on target. And of course so many years into the future, who knows what the world economy will look like by then! Some days, I feel like I’ll be saving and scrimping for “someday” forever, and never get back to the impulse buying that used to make me so happy.

    (Other days, I sit in amazement at how quickly the numbers are going up in our ING account, and I get excited think about the kind of life we’ll be able to afford by the time our kids are in middle school.)

  12. Becky says:

    I don’t think there is ever a magic number that is ‘enough’. I think you learn to live within the boundaries you set for yourself.
    Brian’s parents won the lottery. Several million dollars. You always hear people say “If I had a million dollars (or 5 or 10) I’d be set for life.” Except I’ve seen 5 million dollars…sometimes it’s not enough. Eventually? That money runs out, but the lifestyle you’ve grown accustomed to? It still needs to be financed…or you have to change it.

  13. the muskrat says:

    Nope. It’s too much of a moving target to ever decide that ____ is “enough.”
    We probably should, though. I get tired of being tired.

  14. Megan says:

    A $100 million lottery win. Take the lump sum and that’s about half, $50,000,000. Put that in a “high-yield” savings account earning a whopping 1.5% these days (honestly) and that is a about $750,000 a year. I could travel on that and not have to worry about much. Hell, I could just retire on that, fix up my current house and coast.

    In real life, I don’t know. Enough that I don’t hyperventilate when the car needs to be fixed. Enough so we could redo the bathroom without going into debt.

    I honestly have no idea because I’m sure I could always come up with something else. You know how they say “work expands to fill the time allotted”? I think our spending, our needs, expand to fill our earnings.

    • Sheila says:

      “I think our spending, our needs, expand to fill our earnings.” This? Is the most true and correct statement regarding money EVER.

      No matter how much you have, you’ll find a way to spend it.

    • Miss Britt says:

      Heh. And yet you, more than anyone I know, do a great job of saying “nope, this is good. I’ve earned enough for the day and now I’m going to go do something else.”

      • Megan says:

        Because I know my limits. Because I am pulled in many different directions. Because I hate getting overwhelmed. I still find it hard to turn down assignments.

  15. Darla says:

    Yup. I know that isn’t much of a response but totally, yup.

  16. Kathy says:

    Ahhh yes. How much of anything is enough?

    Right now, we’re going through a situation that is scary and overwhelming and frustrating. When my Medical Leave that I took when my (then) 27 year old husband had a stroke in November is up, I will be laid off from my job. I’ve been working on building my virtual assistant side business for a while and it’s growing. In addition, I’ve become a partner with a photographer, but that won’t bring in funds for several months as they pay off debt. Our disability payments don’t start for a month after my leave is done.

    Somehow, I’m going to have to make money come out of nowhere and it’s scary. But the good part of it? I know how much is needed. The amount of money for each month that will be “enough”. Sure, more of it would be good. But when you strip things down to necessities and being able to eat and have a roof over your head and figure out what pleasures will help keep you from going crazy you have “enough”. Anything else is a bonus and would be great.

    • Miss Britt says:

      “But the good part of it? I know how much is needed.”

      When I read this in my email, I was overwhelmed by your strength and courage and ability to even say this.

      • Kathy says:

        Thank you. It’s been rough to get to this point…but I have more important things to worry about. The pressure in my chest and stress of life right now are enough without worrying about not being able to buy the latest clothes or going to fancy dinners. But, ask me that question again after I get my last set paycheck…..

  17. Sheila says:

    We will be living so below our means when we move that I don’t even worry very much about money and savings accounts and all that. Obviously we have our emergency fund set up because duh, we’d be absolutely idiotic to not have something set aside – but day to day living expenses? I don’t worry about.

    Medical bills? That’s why we pay extra for the really bad ass, covers everything but the nominal co-pay insurance plan. A major appliance goes out and Mike or one of our friends cant fix it? Homeowners insurance.

    If anything happens to Mike and/or I and either of us dies, we both have life insurance policies and trusts set up for the kids. If anything happens to Mike and he’s unable to work, we have an insurance policy that will pay off our house and a long term disability policy that will cover our expenses while I (::sigh::) re-enter the work force, if necessary.

    Basically, I’m covering my ass with insurance policies and living a frugal lifestyle so that I don’t feel pressured to reach some goal that I’m only going to keep pushing higher because if I don’t just suck it up, quit and figure it out later, I’m never going to do it and I’ll always be miserable :)

  18. Haley says:

    I have been struggling with the same thing lately. Lemme know if you figure it out!

  19. Hi Britt
    I actually laughed out loud to myself at the beginning of this post. Because I can absolutely relate to it. I did exactly the same thing when I was saving to leave my full time job. When I finally left work, I had saved a lot more money than I expected and I was happy….like you said… for about 30 seconds. Then I was all ‘why didn’t I save more. I should have done more.’
    It can be hard to break out of that loop, I know I’m struggling with it. Maybe that is the whole point? Maybe the struggling is meant to keep us on our toes and thinking about what is really important in our lives?
    Cheers
    Thea

    • Miss Britt says:

      “Maybe that is the whole point? Maybe the struggling is meant to keep us on our toes and thinking about what is really important in our lives?”

      I think you’re right. I definitely don’t think we ever come up with The Answer, but maybe we get a little closer to understanding how much is Enough For Now.

  20. Jared says:

    I know it’s hard because you need to pay the bills, but I think if you are working to improve yourself and your chosen career not your bank account it will work itself out. Of course living within your means should be a given.

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