“I Want Very Little”
I recently finished listening to an interview on zerototravel.com with Anita Dhake, author of the blog thepowerofthrift.com. Anita retired in her early thirties and has been traveling the world ever since. The entire interview can be found here.
At one point during the interview Anita discusses how she manages to keep her expenses reasonably low while traveling and she said something that made me hit the pause button:
“I buy whatever I want, whenever I want. The trick is that I want very little.”
When I heard this I couldn’t help but think how those simple words encompassed an entire philosophy on life.
I think that deep down we all simply want happiness in one form or another. This is a shared desire by everyone on this planet. It’s also a desire that dictates almost all of the actions we take on day to day basis.
But outside of happiness, the wants and desires from one person to the next may vary greatly.
Consider Person A who wants a large house, several luxury sports cars, a full wardrobe of clothing for each season, new jewelry every month, and whatever other consumer items may be out there. Then consider Person B who simply wants fulfilling relationships and freedom to do work they feel strongly about without the desire to purchase excessive consumer luxury items.
Neither Person A nor Person B is inherently wrong for having their unique wants, but the difference is that Person B needs to spend a lot less money to fulfill his wants. As a result, Person B has a much higher likelihood of reaching financial independence sooner than Person A since their expenses are much lower.
Spending Isn’t Inherently Bad…
One of the hottest topics within the personal finance and early retirement community is the topic of minimizing spending. In fact, it’s almost taboo to suggest that you should spend money on anything you don’t absolutely need.
I agree almost entirely with this train of thought, but I think it’s also important to remember that the ultimate goal in life is not to optimize your finances, it’s to optimize your happiness and fulfillment.
With that said, I sometimes find myself getting into the mindset of feeling guilty if I go out to eat too often with a group of friends or spend more than $5 on a movie ticket. My expenses are much lower than the average person my age, but yet I still have a hard time spending money on things I don’t absolutely need.
This is one flaw I’m working on fixing as I journey along slowly towards financial independence. I am beginning to realize that it’s OK to spend money as long as that money is bringing me a ton of joy.
I go to Chipotle several times per month with both my family and friends, but if I tried hard enough I could easily cut this expense out of my life. But the real question is not can I cut this expense out of my life, but rather: will cutting this expense out of my life result in greater net happiness?
In this particular situation the answer is a resounding no. I love eating Chipotle almost more than any other food and the time I get to spend with family and friends during our meal brings me a ton of joy.
…As Long As It Makes Your Life Awesome
On the other hand, over the past couple years I have greatly reduced my shoe purchasing habit. I used to get a new pair of gym shoes roughly every 2-3 months simply because I felt a need to have the latest and greatest sneaker to add to my shoe collection.
After stumbling upon the early retirement community I immediately cut the shoe spending habit out of my life and I have not experienced less fulfillment or happiness because of it.
This brings us to an important point: Don’t just cut down on your expenses for the sake of spending less. Find out what expenditures enhance your life and also what expenditures are wasteful and unnecessary.
When you learn to cut out spending that doesn’t enhance your life, you give yourself the power to be OK with spending on things that do add value to your life. It allows you to not feel guilty about spending on certain things.
If a person finds tremendous value in buying new clothes on a weekly basis then there is nothing wrong with that. But if that person is completely honest with themselves and actually critically questions whether or not those purchases are bringing them joy and happiness I’d be willing to bet that the answer is no.
But it doesn’t matter what I think the right answer is, all that matters is whether or not the person purchasing the clothes finds tremendous joy and fulfillment in those purchases.
Buy Whatever You Want
It’s vitally important to understand what brings you happiness in life and then exclusively limit your purchases to those things that make you happy. So when Anita said “I buy whatever I want, whenever I want. The trick is that I want very little.” that’s a pretty good indication that she has found what does and does not bring her happiness and fulfillment and she spends her money accordingly.
One of the greatest benefits of actually being honest with yourself about what makes you happy is that you’ll likely find you need very little. One way to implement this in your life is to cut out a certain expenditure for a couple weeks and see if your life is noticeably worse because of it. If your life is worse, just bring that spending back.
I think you’ll be greatly surprised at what you actually miss when you cut out certain spending. When you learn to optimize your spending to meet your desire for happiness, you’ll begin to spend less on what doesn’t matter and more on what does.
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