Why You Should Not Stress About Money
The expression, “time is money” is indeed a timeless one; it is meant to imply that time is a scarce resource, and therefore a form of money. It follows that it is best to do many things as quickly as possible, so as to reduce the amount of time spent on getting them done.
However, this isn’t the only interpretation. Since it takes time to make money, the expression can also be interpreted to mean that goods acquired through money can also be thought of as costing a certain amount of time.
Either way, the implied linkage between money and time remains. And since time is the currency of life, and we often spend far too much of it trying to make more money, many of us are actually spending too much of our lives – in the form of time and energy – simply trying to make more money.
Is this really such a great idea? Is it possible to enjoy the limited time we have in this life more while still making enough money? Is it possible to arrive at a better balance between time spent on earning money and time well spent on enjoying life? How much is “enough” money? Let’s take a closer look.
The Importance of Savings
Unfortunately, we live among a debt-laden culture and debt-fueled consumer economy, yet true financial freedom derives from having adequate savings. It is true that credit cards and loans often allow for access to goods and services sooner than otherwise can be afforded by a borrower (we know this is a bad idea already), but this greater access provides only an illusion of freedom.
The reality is actually the opposite, as once debt balances become established, the individual becomes imprisoned by a recurring cycle of monthly payments that don’t end until balances are paid off. And the prison goes beyond debt balances – it begins to impact the range of available choices.
When debt levels persist in the absence of savings, it becomes far more difficult to switch from a job you may hate, for example, or to take time off to look for a different one.
An emergency fund that covers a minimum of three months of necessary expenses – and ideally six months or more – provides a measure of freedom, security and mobility that all the debt-fueled purchases in the world could never provide.
Can Money Buy Happiness?
The long held belief is that money doesn’t buy happiness. Yet we live in a consumerist culture that repeatedly sends the message that “more is better.” So, which is it? Well, the basic truth is that if you’re struggling to survive – to pay the rent and eat right – then yes, more money will remove stress and make day-to-day life better.
However, once basic survival needs are met, the incremental improvement in quality of life that results from significantly more money just doesn’t add up. Novelty wears off quickly following the purchase of new, material goods – it doesn’t matter whether it’s a new Tesla, the latest HDTV, or the latest set of noise-cancelling headphones – whatever the “shiny new toy,” it’s only a brief matter of time before we as human beings adjust to the new standard of living and that it becomes the new “normal.”
The thrill wears off and, emotionally, we’re back where we started. Not only that, too much “stuff” and pretty soon we start cluttering up our lives – our space gets too crowded, our time seems shorter, our energy gets taxed quicker. More, in fact, isn’t better, most of the time.
What is ``Enough?``
How do we know when we’ve reached “enough?” That’s a great question. The writer Joseph Heller, was once informed at a party that his host, a young, wealthy hedge fund manager, often made more money in a single day than Heller made over the course of decades worth of royalties generated from his bestselling novel, Catch-22. The venerable Mr. Heller responded simply, “Ahh, but I’ve got something that he’ll never have.
Enough.” And this was undoubtedly true. The concept of enough is in the eye of the beholder, but if we were to attempt to define it, a good place to start would be when all basic needs are taken care of, (along with the basic needs of those who may depend upon you), against a backdrop of minimal to no stress related to survival, there’s at least a year’s worth of expenses tucked away in the savings account, and maybe you’ve got a few favorite extra comforts or luxuries that you enjoy.
Once there, you’ve possibly reached the point where more truly isn’t better. When you reach the point that more equals clutter – more aggravation, more to think about, more bills to pay. – then what exactly is the point of “more?”
Look for Internal Balance
All too often, many of us look for something on the outside to help make us feel better when we’re missing something on the inside. In her book, Your Money or Your Life, Vicki Robin states, “We have learned to seek external solutions to signals from the mind, heart or soul that something is out of balance.
We try to satisfy essentially psychological and spiritual needs with consumption at a physical level.” So, how can we do less of this? After all, it takes time and energy to make money in the first place that we then all-too-often wrongly allocate on things that don’t improve our happiness and in fact can detract from it by leading to clutter.
What’s the better way? The trick is to know your values. These are the ideas and principles that we deem important, and often they have something to do with what’s “right” and “wrong.” This is certainly a good place to start, and then within a sound ethical foundation, it becomes important to ask “what is right and wrong for me?“
What are Your Values?
We need our own internal barometer to judge what is good or bad for us, completely independent of any external approval. We need to ask ourselves what is going to make us happy, and then pursue it.
This is often quite different from what other people may pursue for their own happiness, and it is also often quite different from what other people (parents, relatives, and marketers) want us to believe will make us happy!
Therefore, it becomes imperative to know our own values, and we develop an understanding of them through life experience and reflection. We learn to recognize what we enjoy and what we would rather avoid. We learn to reconnect with the dreams we had when we were younger and to avoid doing work we simply do not like. We learn to recognize what feels good and what doesn’t.
When we cultivate this awareness, we become more internally directed and far less likely to become swayed by external influences. However, lacking awareness of and adherence to our values, it becomes all too easy to get swept up in materialism, short-term pleasures or approval from others as decidedly wrong approaches to fulfillment.
About The Author: Steven Brachman
Steven Brachman is the lead content provider for UnitedSettlement.com. A graduate of the University of Michigan with a B.A. in Economics, Steven spent several years as a registered representative in the securities industry before moving on to equity research and trading. He is also an experienced test-prep professional and admissions consultant to aspiring graduate business school students. In his spare time, Steven enjoys writing, reading, travel, music and fantasy sports.
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