photo by Lee Coursey
These days there are a lot of arguments being waged on the benefits of paying down debt, buying used cars, paying off mortgages early, and building savings. All of these are noble financial goals, and generally receive positive reinforcement from financial planners in the media. However, there is an element that disagrees with this logic, and they are quick to point out where the mathematics don’t support these life-simplifying steps. This post is aimed primarily at that audience, and for the rest of you, perhaps it will provide some comfort when dealing with these types.
Excess Material Possessions + Excess Financial Worries = Stress
Since I know how much you “financial nerds” love formulas, I’ve provided one for you to chew on. I once wrote a post about homeowners paying off their mortgage early, and it was generally well-received. However, I received a number of emails from “financial experts” out there who disagreed with the idea. They were all-too-eager to tell me about the various ways that same money could be earning more in the markets. Maybe so. But their fancy formulas didn’t account for the one variable most important to me at this stage in my life–simplicity.
How to Live More Simply
That stress I referred to in the equation above is the result of constant worry over reconciling balances, watching payment schedules, and fretting over the never-ending accumulation of interest, which has a way of cheapening future earnings at a rate faster than inflation. Add to this financial stress the worry of excess things and their storage, protection and maintenance, and you can easily see how too much stuff and too many accounts can lead to an ulcer. So how does one prevent such complication in their lives?
- Learn to be content. Contentment is a powerful ally of the frugal-minded individual. When we are truly content we have very little that we desire, in terms of material possessions. This contentment keeps us away from stores, catalogs and advertisements.
- Stop trying to impress other people. Millions of dollars are wasted each year by those trying to play up to the ideals of others. Those who incorrectly believe that material possessions are a symbol of true wealth are on a never-ending quest for something bigger and better, and more expensive. They constantly upgrade their cars, homes, jewelry and clothing in an effort to impress strangers at a red light, many whom they will never meet again, and are likely trying equally hard to impress them.
- Rid yourself of things acquired merely for status. So you’ve made a decision to live more simply, but what about that Jaguar in the driveway and the “his and hers” Rolex in your sock drawer that are contradicting your new way of life? Get rid of them. I don’t care how you do it. Sell them, give them away as gifts, or donate them to a charity. Just get rid of them. You will be amazed how freeing the experience can be. While I’ve never had a Jag or Rolex to give away, I’ve eliminated some “extras” from my own life and feel much better for it.
- Consolidate your lifestyle. Do you have six Roth IRA accounts with five different brokerages? Are your insurance policies scattered around three or four different carriers? While there is some benefit in diversification, by going overboard you are adding stress to your life just from the effort required to manage all the various accounts and policies. Consolidate a couple of those accounts, and move your insurance policies to the same provider (assuming you have researched the provider and are confident in their stability). As an added benefit you may find discounts waiting for having multiple policies with the same carrier.
- Recognize the difference in stockpiling and hoarding. It is prudent to stockpile necessities, particularly when you find a good deal, or receive a discount when buying bulk quantities. However, too much of a good thing becomes problematic when you have to spend time, money and energy just to store the items. After I returned home from school to live with my grandfather we stored a bunch of our stuff for $50-$60 per month in a storage unit. After several months went by it occurred to us that we had not used anything from the storage facility. We saved $600 a year by simply getting rid of the stuff. One less bill and a lot less worry!
Excess Material Possessions – Ego = Simplicity
Much has been written about wars with our own egos–I know I’ve lost my share of battles. But when I stop and think about the real reason why I want something I often find that I am simply feeding my own ego. I want others to know that I am successful. I don’t want others to think I am struggling. I fall into the “I work hard, so I deserve it” line of thinking that is a recipe for financial disaster. However, once you are aware of this condition you can begin to take steps to resist the urge to give into your egotistical desires. Try to find the same joy that you once found in things in other areas of your life. Learn to appreciate the beauty that surrounds us and is freely available to anyone willing to look. Go for a walk in the woods, or a barefoot walk in your own backyard. Read a great book. Spend time playing with your children. Volunteer your time to a cause you believe in. Seek out some of life’s many other simple pleasures. All of these things will fill your life in ways things used to, and they can all be done for next to nothing.
A challenge: Find one thing you’ve been holding on to because it is a status symbol, or a luxury item that you don’t really need. Give it away to a loved one, or a complete stranger, and enjoy the freedom of a simpler life.