The Importance of Determining How Much is Enough & Why

Reading Time: 4 minutes

How are you determining what is enough for you?

Most of us are probably familiar with the “rock bottom” scene from 1979’s comedy classic, “The Jerk.” If you’re not, Steve Martin’s character, Navin Johnson, has lost all of his wealth and his relationship with love interest Maria (played by Bernadette Peters) is on the rocks. In an attempt to prove that he hasn’t quite hit rock bottom, he walks out of his mansion, only taking “all I need.” As he scoots out of the house in his bathrobe, pants around his ankles, he grabs random items as he passes them. Cradling them in his arms, he bellows out that these few items are all he needs.

“The paddle game, and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches, for sure. And this. And that’s all I need. The ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, this magazine, and the chair.”

What started out as an act of defiance against the universe’s attempt to crush his spirit turns into a hilarious joke about just how dependant on petty materialism he really is. 

The joke is on us.

We laugh at this scene—partially because of its absurdity, but also because of its relevance to our own lives. Not only do we not know how much is enough, but we also don’t know how we should decide how much is enough for our lives. However, determining how much is enough and why is absolutely crucial—not only for the sake of our own contentment but also so we can understand our role as conduits for giving in the world. 

“How much is enough?” vs. “How much can I afford?”

Most of us have never taken the time to really consider what kind of stuff and how much of it is necessary for us to be content. For most of us, the question is answered by “how much can I afford?” Cheaper goods and open lines of credit have made this method of thinking immensely problematic. Suddenly, even once we no longer have enough money to keep our bills paid, we’re still allowed to feel like we don’t have enough stuff to feel satisfied. 

Really, though—how much is enough to make you “happy”?

We’ve been conditioned to always seek out more without really taking the time to assess if accumulating more material goods is really worth the sacrifices we make to attain them. We’re simply never expected to ask ourselves certain contentment-determining “how much is enough” questions. 

“How much (insert item here) is enough?” 

  • How much house is enough?
  • How much car is enough?
  • How much consumer technology is enough?
  • How much wardrobe is enough?
  • etc.

Getting to the Root with “But Why?” 

For anyone who has been in the presence of an inquisitive child, the question of “but why?” may seem annoying, if not maddening. However, asking ourselves “why?” we want anything is an effective practice in cutting away motivations that do not result in a contented spirit. 

  • Why do I need this much house? 
  • Why do I need this much car? 
  • Why do I need this much consumer technology?
  • Why do I need this much of a wardrobe?

Asking “Why?” About Your Whys

To truly chip away at weak motivations, repeatedly and honestly asking “why?” about our answers to “why?” can expose flimsy reasons for wanting certain things.

“XYZ is enough car because I want a modern SUV from a luxury brand.” 

Why?

“Well, because I want my car to reflect my success.” 

Why?

“Appearing successful, even to strangers, is important to me.”

Why?

“Because I need outward affirmation to convince myself that I am successful.” 

Not all “why” roots will be negative truths that require deeply psychological remedies. Some will be legitimate reasons, even if they seem a bit superfluous initially. Eventually, your answer to “why?” may start to become repetitive once it has begun to hit its root and may feel like a semi-compelling argument. While this is possible, it’s important to not attempt to rationalize every superfluous material desire. 

You are a conduit for others. 

Most of us have more than enough. We convince ourselves of the need to upgrade perfectly adequate items. We buy several versions of the same thing that differ slightly in ways only we could ever perceive. We purchase more of something than we could ever consume—from channels to data plans and beyond. Is this really the best use of our excess? 

There are people, believe it or not, who do not have enough. Through unfortunate events or even as a result of systemic oppression, there those who lack even the most basic of essentials. Perhaps one of the most important reasons for determining our levels of “enoughness” is so we can be activated as a conduit for blessing in their lives. By determining what is enough for you, you will be in a more comfortable position to give. Instead of buying yet another version of that thing that still works for you, perhaps consider donating to a food bank, picking up someone’s groceries, or paying the rent for someone who has lost their job.

Once you realize what is enough for you, this is an opportunity to be a blessing for others without enough.

Contentment is a choice.

Happiness is an “inside job.” If we build our joy with the approval of others as its foundation, the moment their attention shifts or wanes, this structure will collapse. That’s why it is imperative that we choose to perpetually cultivate self-sustaining happiness and do our best to avoid conditional “hits” of happiness.

Happiness through material possession is unquenchable.

Happiness through social approval is fickle. 

Happiness through accomplishment is untenable.

Happiness generated via chosen contentment within the present moment is abiding. 

The only truthful answer to “I’ll be happy when…” is “…when I decide to allow myself to be happy.”

Putting Enough Into Practice

Answer the following question about all material possessions you have or feel you need. 

  • What do you feel is enough (house, vehicle, technology, wardrobe, etc.) for you? 

 

  • Why do you feel that this is so?

 

  • Could the resources you’ve invested in this item or service be better utilized for others while leaving you feeling like you have enough? How? 

The Greatest Piece of Financial Advice I’ve Ever Received

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So many of us struggle to live within our means. Part of the reason for this is that our checking account balance is lying to us. No, you actually do have that amount in your account, but many of us forget how or more specifically when it got there. 

I used to wonder why I was so slammed up against the wall as I neared the end of a pay period. I would find myself at the grocery store the day before payday, wondering whether or not I should use my credit card or move money from savings into my checking account. 

 How the heck did this happen? Well, it turns out that I was misreading my checking account balance. This was causing me to spend beyond my means quite comfortably the first week or so after being paid—a false assurance. It wasn’t until I received one tip from a financial advisor through my Native American tribe that helped me look at my checking account differently, to live within my means, and start putting savings away. 

The first thing you should do when you get paid is to move everything that had existed in your checking account before payday into savings and act as though it never existed. That will force you to truly live on your salary and not feel like you have more because of what remained from your last pay cycle. 

She was right—I hadn’t been seeing a realistic picture of my means due to the remnants of my last paycheck artificially inflating my checking account balance.

Her advice sounds ridiculously simple, but it worked. If my paycheck hit my account on top of, say, $300 that was in there before, that $300 got thrown into savings. Now, every time I look at my checking account, the only info looking back at me is only what my most recent paycheck had left and the spending since then. This little behavior has forced me to more diligently stick to my budget but also to truly live within my means. No matter how much is left over, it goes to savings. As far as I’m concerned, that money is stowed behind a rock on the moon.

Anyway, I hope this helps someone as much as it helped me. 

Money Fasting: Resisting the Hunger to Buy Stuff

Reading Time: 7 minutes

It just doesn’t make sense.

For being loaded with health benefits, fasting seems completely counterintuitive. You mean to tell me that by not eating for a duration of time, your body actually thrives? Well, yeah. Fasting within healthy limits has been shown to help with everything ranging from how your body controls blood sugar levels, manages blood pressure, all the way to help regulate your metabolism and decreasing the likelihood of neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. For these reasons, many have sought out fasting from food or drink for its incredible benefits since the dawn of history…and it’s back. 

What if we applied these feelings about the consumption of food the way we think about how we consume with our hard-earned dollars?

Like Fasting, Budgeting Sucks

According to a survey conducted by Debt.com in 2019, despite 93% of participants claiming that everyone should have a budget, only 67% of these same people reported actually having one. Where’s the disconnect? The participants’ reasons for not having a budget ranged from feeling that they either had too little or too much income to justify a budget to thinking that budgeting is only necessary during certain times of year — like holidays. Others said they had tried budgeting, but that it didn’t make any difference. 

Among the answers, the answer of 22% of these was by far the most ambiguous: “…budgeting is too time-consuming to do.” It takes too long? Take a second to think about how long it would take you to subtract your expenses, savings, and investments from your income, determining where those amounts should be, and then developing a plan for staying within those amounts. Even if you did this once a month, how long would this take? 15 minutes? 30 minutes, tops? So, in less time than one episode of Breaking Bad, you could have your budget drawn up. 

Let’s be honest — the real answer to this selection should be that, while making a budget is relatively simple, sticking to that budget sucks. It means a whole lot of saying “no” when we want to say “yes.” In this sense, sticking to a budget is almost like sticking to a fast; despite having incredible, life-enhancing benefits, they both drastically suck while you’re in the middle of them. 

Still, we’re likely more apt to be successful with a fast than a budget. Why is this so? Fasts have weight.

Treating Money Fasts Like Physical Fasts

When engaging in a fast, few people are “just trying” to fast. They go into the process fully cocked, knowing how hard it is going to be. They realize that their stomachs will growl like grizzly bears, that their energy will seem sapped, and even a sleeve of saltine crackers will suddenly look like it was prepared by Gordon Ramsey himself. 

Well, why don’t they just eat, then? Because they know that this is mostly a spike in the Ghrelin hormone in their brain and not actual hunger. 

  • They know they’re not going to die. 
  • They know that if they stay the course, then they will experience the benefits of the fast. 
  • They know that if they give up too early, all of those awkward abdominal ramblings in the morning meeting will have been in vain. 
  • They believe in the power of delayed gratification. 

We can do this as well with money fasts. 

Saying “no” to that better pair of headphones or that new laptop can be hard. After all, your headphones, despite still working as well as they did when you bought them, have paint starting to chip from the ear cups and the top head cushioning is starting to form a tear. Your laptop is still ok, but takes a bit longer to load up and only has a specific resolution display. Nevertheless, you know that buying either of these new products would reduce the amount you can save and even potentially make things tight before payday. In a worst-case scenario, these items may exacerbate your debt. However, if you see your money fast like a physical fast, you will know that this hunger for non-essential items is just that — temporary, no more significant than missing breakfast. 

And there’s even better news…

Like Dietary Fasts, Money Fasts Get Easier With Time

Whether you’ve been on a dietary fast before or you know someone who has, one thing becomes evident: they get more comfortable with time. I remember the first few hours of my first Yom Kippur fast were pretty bad. Because I had never fasted before, my next meal felt like it was a week away. Just three or so hours into the fast, my stomach started to scream at me. Fast forward to the final hour leading up to the completion of the fast, food wasn’t really on my mind so much anymore. In fact, eating felt downright optional, and my energy levels felt surprisingly reasonable. 

I’ve never done a fast lasting longer than 24 hours, but my wife had this to report:

“The longest time I’ve ever fasted was three days. The first day was like a normal fast — pretty average. The second day was rough…by the third day, my hunger subsided even more so than day one. When I finally broke my fast, I didn’t even taste the first two bites. They felt awkward in my mouth.” 

Many have reported this surprising lack of hunger once their bodies knew that eating was off the table (no pun intended). This is largely because, for most of us, the hunger we experience daily between meals isn’t really hunger at all. Instead, these desires to eat are merely Grehlin hormones poking the “eat something, stupid” button on our brains. Like a cat that realizes that playing in the recycling bin no longer gets your attention, it mostly gives up. This isn’t to say that it goes away for good, but it dials down the intensity until not eating starts to become dangerous. 

Just like a physical fast, a money fast also gets more comfortable with time. For most of us, the non-essential items we buy weren’t purchased because we actually needed or even wanted them, but because we wanted the feeling that purchasing the item could provide. The increased instant access to goods today has wired our brains to more closely tie together the rush of good emotions with a neat purchase and the item itself. Online retailers like Amazon know this, which is why two-day or even next-day shipping has become increasingly available. They know that if you have to wait a week or so to receive the object you purchased, the thrill of the purchase begins to wear off. Have you ever had to wait a month or longer to obtain some obscure item? It almost feels like someone else purchased it by the time you receive it. The thrill is almost completely gone. 

When we take the purchasing of non-essential items off the table with a money fast, the hunger to buy grows less intense with time. The impulse/hunger to buy non-essential items, even seemingly insignificant objects, will begin to fade.

Tips For Maintaining a Money Fast

Making Purchasing a Pain

Retailers have made it easier than ever to buy stuff. Via an application on your phone, you can buy a sauna with the ease of sending a text message. To combat this, create some friction in your buying process. Remove apps like Amazon and eBay from your phone. Sign out of these services when not in use. Don’t save your credit card information or shipping address on online retail websites.

Replace the Pleasure

Trying to break a bad habit is much easier if you have a good habit to take its place. This good habit also needs to be similarly pleasurable. One way to replace buying a cool new widget with not buying it is by gamifying the experience. Using a daily routine app like Roubit, you can create a daily routine of being on a money fast. For every day you don’t buy a non-essential item, you get to tick the box for that daily task/routine. After a few weeks, you can look at the calendar feature in Roubit to take pride in your non-spending streak. For more, you can consult the piece I wrote about forming new routines with a routine generator app.

Put It Off

What if I told you that there was a way to make procrastination work for you? Well, now you can! Whenever you find an item that looks cool, instead of impulse-buying it, list it on your chosen calendar a month out. When that day comes up, truly determine if the item still appeals to you. There’s a high likelihood that it won’t. If it does and you know you want it, then budget money to pay for it.

Appreciate What You Have

I recently saw a GQ video with acclaimed climber Alex Honnold. Honnold is most well known for free solo climbing (climbing with no ropes or other safety equipment) the El Capitan granite rock face in Yosemite National Park — some 3,000+ feet. The video, however, was entitled “10 Things Alex Honnold Can’t Live Without.” From a materialistic standpoint, it was one of the most boring videos ever. His wallet was an everyday brown, leather dad wallet. This MacBook Air was from 2012. His laptop bag a decade-old hand-me-down, saying “Maybe someday, I’ll replace this. For now, it still works.” His headphones aren’t wireless. His iPhone SE was over 3 years old with a broken case. Despite being endorsed by North Face, his North Face backpack was several years old with severe cosmetic tears and holes from being dragged up rock walls all over the world. Despite the wear, he said, “this will last me at least another 5 years.” If he wanted, Alex could have North Face ship him a dozen replacement bags, but he feels that he has a perfectly good bag. For most of us, even without physically demanding jobs or endorsement deals, we always want more — new stuff for the sake of new stuff. We likely also have multiple versions of the same thing. Before you purchase a flashy new widget, ask yourself, “Is what I have good enough?” 

Don’t Confuse Want & Need

There are few things we truly need to the point where the definition of the word is misused and misunderstood. 

“…people confuse wants and needs. What we need is air, water, health, and a roof over our heads. Pretty much everything else is a want. And if we’re privileged enough, we decide that those other things we want are actually needs.” – Seth Godin, This is Marketing


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