You Can’t Have It All

I used to think that you could have it all but after many years I started to realize that I was more content and happier leading a less busy life. In a recent post titled Health, Relationships, then Finance, I stated that these were the most important things in my life and were my first priority.  This led me to think about how much time we each have in a day.  After exercising, completing your day at work and all the things associated with those activities such as commuting, personal hygiene, etc., you probably have used up over 10 hours of a 24- hour day.  If you sleep the recommended 7 – 9 hours each night, that leaves you with 5 – 6 hours.  One then needs to take care of food preparation or eating out, both of which take additional time.  Plus, one may have other personal care errands, finances, etc. to do.  That leaves about 4 hours and you’re more than likely tired.  And I haven’t even begun to address if you have children and their activities, caring for others, social activities, planning for future events in your life along with so many other activities depending on your situation.   It seems obvious why so many of us are tired and stressed.

At this point if you are lucky, you have addressed making a living, hopefully exercised and taken care of your daily to do list.  That doesn’t take into account the time in maintaining relationships with family and friends.  One literally has very little extra time for extracurricular activities and yet most of us still try to add more activities and things into our lives.  In my opinion, it’s not a recipe for contentment.  

Peter Drucker is a well-known business management expert who wrote: “Everything in life is a trade-off.”  This really resonated with me.  Every decision we make is a trade-off.  Do we have time to exercise, develop healthy habits, spend time on relationships, and relax or do we spend our time chasing society’s idea of what is important?   I found that the more things I added to my life, the more difficult it became to make good decisions and to have the time for the most important.

A good starting point may be to use the 80/20 principle: only about 20% of your actions are productive while 80% generally aren’t. The key is to figure out what 20% is important to you.  I personally have narrowed down my extracurricular activities to hike, bike, read, write and occasional travel.  These are all easy to do no matter where I am or what my schedule is.  It doesn’t require expensive equipment or on-going fees and it is easy to take with me when I travel.  When I travel with my wife, it is generally by car with a flexible schedule.  We bring some food along so we can eat healthy along with cutting costs.  We find biking and hiking trails, visit parks, sight-see in cities with very little expense.  By narrowing down my commitments it has helped me become more proficient at each activity and enjoy them more.  I try to avoid adding the next new trend or activity unless I have given it quite a bit of thought about the time and commitment it will require.

I found when I focused on health, relationships, and finance first I felt much better about myself and the direction of my life.  I realized that for me, most aspects of my life were tradeoffs I didn’t want to make anymore.  In fact, I didn’t want it all.

Investing and Simple Living

What does simple living have to do with personal finance?  I started to make the connection years ago because I had made my life and personal finances far more complicated than they needed to be.  What really struck me though after reading the Millionaire Next Door multiple times was that the typical millionaire led a very simple life.  These people were wealthy but didn’t seem to overcomplicate things.  I would say that having wealth and living simply are not mutually exclusive.

The millionaires that are profiled in The Millionaire Next Door book seem to have the best human qualities.  They typically have good character, stay married, are frugal, humble, live far below their means, raise responsible children and contribute to society with high quality businesses and services.  They are not what people think.  They practice incredible thrift and frugality.  They typically enjoy their work and family.  They are not into material objects such as large homes, expensive cars, or other consumer goods.  They are excellent investors with their own money.  They believe financial freedom is more important than consumer purchases. They believe having financial freedom gives you choices in your vocation, your time and your life.  This to me is the ultimate in simple living.  Any preconceived notions that you have about wealth in America will probably be changed if you read this book.

I had spent most of my life on autopilot just going from one thing to another and mostly enjoyed what I did.  Whether it was career or personal I just did what I thought everyone else did.  Many years ago something changed and I started to read some books on simple living, minimalism and consumerism.  These books really struck a chord with me.  I started to think about always being busy, being tired, and being stressed.  The constant purchases, home remodeling, repairs, autos, etc. that everyone else thought of as normal.  I started to question the conventional wisdom of society.

My wife and I became fairly successful from an economic standpoint as our lives progressed.  I was very ambitious and have always enjoyed my business career.  One day while working on our personal finance and investing I realized that we had enough money for our current lifestyle.  What was more interesting to me at the time was that I realized I didn’t want anything more than I already had.  This is when it clicked for me.  I had spent many years working for things I really didn’t care about.  I am a simple guy.  Fortunately for me, my wife has agreed with me (for the most part) regarding my epiphany on simple living.

We both have made career changes that have freed up our time and made our work life simpler.  She moved out of a management position and cut back her hours and I have sold my small business.  We have been constantly selling things, giving things away and evaluating what is truly important to us since then.  Stuff isn’t.  Personal freedom is.