One of the things that happens when you get older, living in an affluent area of a rich country, is that the concept of gigantic amounts of money becomes commonplace. There are wealthy people sprinkled all over the Boulder County of Colorado where I live, and to a certain extent, this wealth is contagious.
People with high incomes and consumer habits will gladly fork over great sums of money for luxury products and services, enriching the owners of landscaping companies or car dealerships or salon/massage/spa outlets. Entrepreneur-minded wealthy people and companies will fork over top dollar to hire talented people to work for them, in hopes of growing their own businesses, creating even more wealthy people in the process. And wealthy families will dump buckets of cash this way and that in the hope of ensuring successful upbringings for their children and grandchildren.
Living in such an area, and being retired from what I consider to be the cushy field of software engineering work, Mrs. Money Mustache and I have occasionally had brushes with the opportunity to amass one to two additional shitloads of money for what sounded like not very much work.
Several years after she quit her job, her company called her back, eagerly suggesting that she return to a position several levels up the ladder that would have paid twice her previous salary. It was a very exciting and tempting offer, but she was still able to quickly decline it. When I quit my own job, I gave up an estimated $900,000 of salary and stock option proceeds over the next five years. Since then, I’ve passed up job opportunities that would have paid even more. Even now, the autotuned pop song of the Extreme Cash Goblin is playing in the background, with fantasies of million-dollar-real estate deals, or hell, why not, blogging empire proceeds that would blow away all past earnings.
I’m not going to lie to you. My name is Mr. Money Mustache, so you can tell that I find the topic of money to be pretty interesting. So whenever one of the opportunities comes up, I get a little fidgety and excited, and my heart beats faster. “Ohmigod! I could be a super-multi-millionaire! I could earn and save so much more if I took this job, that I’d have a WAY higher retirement income for the rest of my life after I finished it. I’d have so much money that I would… ummm..”
Do absolutely nothing differently.
Strangely enough, even though the money sounds exciting in my fantasies, they always end up back in the same place – with me tucking away all the extra cash somewhere useful and then going right back to exactly the lifestyle the MMM family is currently enjoying.
In the olden days, I would have had a much better answer for you. There would have been seaside compounds in Hawaii, fleets of Teslas plugged in to the 26-car garages in my mansions in all of the world’s hotspots. Air travel via the Gulfstream G650, Playboy Mansion Grotto areas beside every pool, and whatever else money could buy. The fantasies were fun to indulge in.
So when I noticed over the past few years that my fantasies had disappeared, and now I couldn’t even rake up the desire for a 2010 Prius in response to my imaginary millions, I felt a little bit empty and cheated. “What good is several more shitloads of money, if you don’t even have any desire to spend it?”, I found myself asking.
The answer was of course that when it comes to buying additional treats for myself, the extra money is in fact no good at all. And that was a very liberating thing to figure out. I have completely lost the desire for any more of the things money can buy than I already have, which means I have completely lost any form of envy, any sense of deprivation, or any sense of missing out on anything – no matter how many rap videos I watch or over-the-top houses I visit.
Some people would question this assertion. “Sure, Mr. Money Mustache claims to be happy living on $2000 a month, but that’s just because he’s good at fooling himself. He doesn’t even go out to restaurants several times a week! If this guy could see my new Jeep Wrangler Unlimited and cruise the beach strip a few times, I could shake him out of it. I think it takes WAY MORE MONEY to be truly happy.”
But after punching that guy in the face, I’d question his questioning. As one form of proof, I’d offer the fact that I actually do have way more money than the amount required to sustain our lifestyle while never running out, and I’m still perfectly happy not spending it on myself. We actually want to find ways to need even less over time, just because it feels like the right thing to do, and the happier thing to do.
What could be the explanation for this unusual lack of wanting? How is it possible that almost everyone in this country, even people much wealthier than me, wants more money, but a small minority of us are more than content with what we have?
I think it’s a combination of two things.
Logic: I put a lot of effort into figuring out how to have the maximum possible amount of fun in any given day and week. The availability of time is always the limiting factor, not the number of amazing activities to choose between. Spending more money can only broaden my list of options even further, without giving me more time. It would be like adding another fifty pages to the menu at the Cheesecake Factory restaurant. There are already more choices than you can even read before the waiter grows impatient with you. Just pick something and start eating already.
Practice: in order to attain early retirement in the first place, you need to spend much less than you earn. This process, far from being a temporary deprivation, actually cures your want for many things, so that even when you can afford them, the needy want is no longer there.
The ideas above will sound cuckoo-bird to the most junior Mustachians, and “well, duh” to the most advanced ones. And really, that’s as it should be, because this article is a bit of a test for you.
If your goals for the extra money involve simply paying off the rest of your debts and living the financially independent life you were already planning before I gave you this extra $5-$10 million, then you’ve passed the test – you’ll do well in the uncharted and very adult world of complete freedom.
On the other hand, if you started adding just a few niceties, like a second house up by the ski resorts for those family gatherings, and maybe just one new SUV to get back and forth to it, and oh, maybe just a bit more four-star-resort international travel, because hey, with $10 million, you could easily afford those things… I’d say you’re not completely free yet.
Your personal freedom grows with each material desire that you grow out of.
If this sounds a little bit too bleak and Buddhist to you, don’t worry, there is still hope. Even after you lose your material desires, there’s still plenty of fun to be had with money, in the form of trying to do some good. I’m a real beginner in this area, with little fantasies of fixing up my own neighborhood, helping the school, buying up the crappy vacant lots in the middle of the city and turning them into public orchards, and things like that. Over time, hopefully this can grow to something bigger in scope.
There’s always work to be done, so never fear that all the energy you’re putting into your day job will go to waste if you decide you no longer need the earnings it provides.
But for now, just keep note of your desires and see if you can detect them fading away over time. It may sound strange, but they really will start to slip away from you.. and you won’t miss them when they’re gone.
Further Reading: coincidentally, a blogging friend named G.E. Miller happened to post this alternate take on the concept at almost exactly the same time as this article came out: http://20somethingfinance.com/mega-millions/