One of my favorite authors is Harry Browne. A concept he often writes about is staying aligned with your true nature.
Our true nature is simply who we are as humans. Each of us is born with unique personalities and interests. Browne explains that the reason many people are dissatisfied in life is because they’re living in a way that isn’t aligned with their true nature.
People who love the outdoors find themselves in cubicles.
Introverts find themselves at bars on the weekends instead of book clubs.
People who love doing activity X are instead spending all their time on activity Y.
I think this idea applies to personal finance quite well. Namely, many people are spending hard-earned money on activities and things that aren’t aligned with their true nature.
Are You Sure You Want That?
I have this hypothesis that as we get older we have a tendency to stray further and further from our true interests and hobbies. I think this is due to a combination of marketing and societal norms. The more years we live on earth, the more marketing campaigns we’re exposed to. And these aren’t just little ads in the paper, they’re marketing schemes backed with millions of dollars by large corporations that utilize psychological hacks to convince us to spend money on stuff we don’t need.
When you mix this with the societal expectation that as we get older, we should upgrade our stuff (house, car, gadgets, etc.), the end result is living in a home bigger than we need surrounded by shit we don’t even use. You don’t use most of the stuff sitting in your room right now. Almost every item in your home goes untouched on a daily basis. Let that sink in.
Many people even rent out self-storage units to keep more stuff outside of their home. This behavior is directly reflected in the stock market. The self-storage industry has been one of the best places to invest over the last 30 years. Check out the historical stock price of Public Storage, one of the most successful self-storage REIT’s ever:
Baby Steps Now. Huge Strides Over Time.
As we transition from high school to college to 40 hour work-week environments,
it seems to get more and more difficult to even remember what our true interests are. Most of us just spend whatever money happens to be in our bank account on dinners and going out because we feel the need to “live it up” on our 2 day break until the next week starts. We’re not spending our money in ways that aligns with our true nature; we’re mindlessly spending on stuff we don’t even need or like.
People who love snowboarding aren’t out on the hills 3 months out of the year.
They’re out there 3 days out of the year.
People who don’t even like fashion have closets filled with collections of shirts and jackets.
People who grew up reading, writing, and drawing are out at Best Buy purchasing 70-inch flat-screen TV’s.
This isn’t living aligned with our true nature.
I know what you’re thinking: That’s great, Zach. But easier said than done. I have bills
to pay, I don’t have time to go snowboarding three months out of the year or spend hours each day working on my new adventure novel.
I hear you.
But you can take baby steps now and huge strides over time to align your spending with your unique nature.
I’ll give you an example. When I moved into my apartment this past month I ditched most of my clothing. I sold most of my shoes because personally I find no utility in owning a huge wardrobe. It adds no value to my life. That’s my nature. I rarely spend money on new clothing. In fact, here is a snapshot of my entire clothing collection:
I have exactly what I need and no more. It makes life simple and stress-free.
Here’s another example: I don’t like bar-hopping all that much, but unfortunately as a 23-year old most of my peer group has an obsession with it.
(I think it’s because they’ve lost touch with other interests and hobbies they’d rather be pursuing on the weekend, but that’s another blog post in itself.)
I recently suggested to my close group of friends that we all try cooking meals on the weekends and hanging out at our apartment instead of going out so often. This way we can all get better at cooking (we’re all terrible, but would like to get better – thank you to everyone who sent me recipes via email, I already have plans to try them all out.) and save some money.
Another example: I used to want a Nissan Cube so bad in high school because I thought it looked cool:
I still like the way it looks but I no longer desire one. It wouldn’t bring me enough joy for the price tag, so instead I’ll save that money and spend it later on things that do bring me joy.
These are short-term actions I’m taking to save money and align my spending with my unique nature.
Meanwhile, in the long-term I’m taking strides towards financial independence so I can spend on big-ticket items that align with my nature. I love traveling. I caught the travel bug after two study abroad trips to Japan and Costa Rica in college. I plan on having the financial means to travel the world and spend time learning new languages, work on this blog, and create financial apps.
I don’t have that financial freedom right now, but long-term I’m working towards that goal. My short-term actions help me save money, which align with my long term goals of financial independence.
Realign With Your Nature
Many people aren’t aligning their spending with their unique nature.
Do you love spending time outdoors? Then take a weekend trip to a local nature reserve instead of spending it on another night out.
Do you like painting or drawing? Sign up for a class. Sure it costs money, but where is that money going right now? Wasted on stuff you don’t need?
I recently started taking a free yoga class at the Y. Attending the class has reminded me that I just love learning new things, whether or not I’m good at them. That’s my true nature. The more I start spending in ways that align with my true nature, the more I seem to remember Oh yeah, I do like X and Y, it’s been a while since I’ve done that.
Being in a 40-hour week job has the tendency to make us a bit numb to our true nature and it’s easy to forget our true interests and hobbies. We get into a routine of working, coming home, dining out, watching TV, going to bed, and repeating for 5 days, only to go out on weekends, buy shit we don’t need, and repeat for 40 years. This leads to homes filled with stuff we don’t need, time spent doing things we don’t enjoy, and financial situations with no freedom.
Wake up. Only spend money in ways that align with your true nature. I think you’ll find that in the short-term this brings greater satisfaction and long-term it brings financial independence.
Zach is the author behind Four Pillar Freedom, a blog that teaches you how to build wealth and gain freedom in life.
Zach's favorite free financial tool he's been using since 2015 to manage his net worth is Personal Capital. Each month he uses their free Investment Checkup tool and Retirement Planner to track his investments and ensure that he's on the fast track to financial freedom.
Although the bulk of his net worth is invested in index funds, his favorite place to invest in individual stocks is M1 Finance, a site that allows you to build a custom portfolio of stocks for free.
His favorite way to save money each month on his recurring bills is by using Trim, a free financial app that negotiates lower cable, internet, and phone bills with any provider on your behalf.
His favorite micro-investing app is Acorns, a free financial app that takes just 5 minutes to set up and allows you to invest your spare change in a diversified portfolio.
His favorite place to find new personal finance articles to read is Collecting Wisdom, a site that collects the best personal finance articles floating around the web on a daily basis.
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