For a long time, I was one of those people who finished crappy books. It took until just a couple of years ago to figure out that I don’t have an obligation to finish them. I don’t have an obligation to listen to people who are imposing on my time. I don’t have an obligation to keep up with those around me in terms of stuff and money.
Living below your means sounds good but it’s hard to do if you’ve been a spendthrift for years. Not keeping up with other people’s expectations of you and what you should do and have is easier said than done. It’s worth it though. It took me until my 30’s to figure most of this out. It all sounded good but I didn’t internalize it until then.
We have finally gotten to the point where we feel like we have everything we need. Part of it is that we have a bunch of stuff, but part of it is that we finally figured out our definition of enough. That’s a huge deal. We have figured out a level at which we can live happily and have decided that we don’t need more. We don’t need more house. We don’t need more stuff to fill our house. About the only things we buy these days are groceries, movies, and books, and I’m trying to stick to a book fast until I read some of the ones on my shelves right now.
Enough is a slippery concept. You don’t really know what it is until one day you realize that you’re there. If asked what was enough before a couple of years ago, I would have said, “More than we have now.” Enough was always something out beyond wherever we were. But one day I opened my eyes, thought about it, and realized that I’m happy right where we are. Our house is a good size to hold all of us and our stuff, my husband makes enough money for us to live on quite well.
Maybe that’s why it never seemed like enough – we were paying so much on our debts that we would always run short of money for what we wanted to do. Then we’d resort to credit, just adding to what we had to pay off. It was tight while we were paying everything off, but now we are freed up and have more money every check to actually use how we want to use it. Now that we’re not drowning in debt, we have enough and just a little bit more. We are able to pay our bills, have some fun, and save some. If that’s not the definition of enough, I don’t know what is.
Look around you and honestly assess how much you need. Pay your bills, give yourself some money to spend during the month – not a lot, but enough to get by – put the rest toward debt. Once you are out of debt, you might find (like we did) that you already have enough. If not, you’ll have a better idea of what enough might look like realistically. And, you’ll be better able to figure out how to get there.
Just remember that your definition of enough has to depend on you, not on what others may think of you. Our house is in a very blue collar neighborhood. No sidewalks, houses from the 1950’s, and an HVAC repairman, some military people, and a policeman live on our block. Our house is not the biggest, nor is it the smallest on the block, but our yard is a bit scraggly and our siding is in need of replacement. We have gone to the houses of my sons’ friends and seen gorgeous homes in neighborhoods much more fancy than ours. I will admit to some housing envy, but then I remember that we’ve dug in to our home. We’ve made it our own over the last 10 years and it’s served us well. I remember that, if we had one of those large houses, we’d need to keep the whole thing clean and heated and that’d take a lot more time and money than we currently spend. We have enough. I don’t need a showplace, I want a home that everyone feels comfortable in (where we can feel free to leave books laying around). I used to want a huge home that was decorated by a professional, for which we’d have maids, and several nice cars, and all the trappings of conspicuous consumption. Going green and thrifty has changed my perspective. I don’t need all that, I just need enough.
If you still feel like you need all of those things, big homes, fancy cars, and all the trappings, ask yourself why? Is it so that you can show people how successful you are? Is it because it’s what’s expected of you? If so, why do you care? Is it worth being in debt up to your eyeballs, house-poor, constantly unsatisfied, and always searching for the next thing you need? I decided it wasn’t. It took me 35 years, but I finally decided that I needed to not allow myself to be imposed upon. I needed to change how I behaved. I wasn’t going to finish crappy books anymore, I wasn’t going to sit in a restaurant that had a menu that I didn’t care for – just because I’d walked in and been seated didn’t mean I couldn’t leave -, and I wasn’t going to bow to other people’s opinions of who and what I should be. How great would it be if everyone got to this place at some time early in their lives? IT takes some doing, but it’s worth it.