Re-defining what success looks like for you is the first step on the way to maximizing your return on life. When money is the only metric we measure, we can easily become obsessed with hitting a certain financial target rather than finding satisfaction in our relationships, experiences and other goals. Each of us needs to find our level of financial “enoughness.”
This can be challenging for driven wealth creators who often live in the financially skewed bubbles of high-income, high-growth communities, such as Silicon Valley, New York, Seattle, and elsewhere. It’s easy to feel relatively middle-class in places where there is always someone with greater assets, a bigger house, a nicer car, and even an airplane, where everything is expensive (especially real estate and education) and neighbors are enjoying an every-day lavish lifestyle. You quickly become used to a certain level of spending and lifestyle creep is difficult to control. “Enough” is never quite enough when we compare our wealth to those with more than us. If you never put a boundary around your needs, the line keeps moving and financial security will always be just beyond your reach.
Christopher, the CEO of a successful start-up in Nashville, shared with me that his goal was to reach $10 million of liquid assets, in addition to his valuable home and vacation properties. He told me this was his “F-you money.” I asked him to define what he meant by that and why it was so important to him. He told me this was the “minimum” amount of money where he could literally do whatever he wanted and didn’t have to play “the game” anymore. By hitting this number in his bank account, he felt he would be immune from needing a job or to rely anyone else.
This extreme desire to separate ourselves and be self-sufficient is unhealthy and creates unnatural hoarding and accumulation drives. The need for financial security is grounded in our desire to control the uncertainty of the world around us. But we falsely believe that if we have a large enough asset base, we can mute our volatile emotions and find peace in the “safety” of amassing the biggest pile.
I encourage you to sit down and calculate what financial “enoughness” looks like for you. Either through a wealth advisor or using any number of free online tools and resources, you can create a financial plan that evaluates the sustainability of your current rate of expenses, relative to your income and savings, to determine the probability of having enough to meet your planned needs. Estimates on certain expenses are important to try to pin down, such as inflation, taxes, and investment returns, because they play a bigger role in the result. Certain expenses are also more impacted by inflation than others, such as college tuition and medical costs.
It’s best to consider this exercise as part reality and part visioning your desired future – a way to gain a more realistic picture of the asset base you will need to fund your hopes and dreams. The beauty of most financial planning software tools is that you can iterate on various assumptions, changing the variables to immediately see how it impacts the end result. This exercise is a useful tool in strategically designing your financial life to include needs, wants, and wishes. Seeing actual numbers helps build confidence and clarity.
Of course, life can change quickly and so do financial assumptions, but by revisiting these calculations at least annually, you can review your commitment to your outcomes, and see what adjustments need to be made. It can also be an opportunity to draw a circle around your lifestyle spending and look for opportunities to improve your stewardship of the resources you have, preserving the excess, and building a “more than enough” pot for contributions to people and causes you care about.
When we step back and take a good hard look, the level of abundance of any wealth creator when compared to the rest of the world is staggering, where the top 1% income level globally is about $45K. That puts wealth creators, and much of the middle class, in the stratosphere of wealth when compared to their global brethren, with no need to worry about obtaining basic necessities and plenty of opportunities to acquire anything on their list of desires.
Ironically, studies on generosity conducted by Christian Smith at Notre Dame University demonstrate that by clinging to what we have and protecting ourselves against future uncertainties and misfortunes, we become more anxious and actually more vulnerable to future misfortunes. Generosity is the secret joy creator. When we focus on making a significant difference in the lives of others, we enhance our own well-being. Smith’s research shows a consistent link between demonstrating generosity and leading a better life: generous people are happier, suffer fewer illnesses and injuries, live with a greater sense of purpose, and experience less depression.
One of the benefits of calculating your level of financial independence is gaining clarity about your gifting capacity – the resources you have over-and-above your needs, that you could give away, now or in the future. I believe many people aren’t more generous because they really don’t know what they can afford to give, so they sit on their hands.
Knowing that you can give, and how much, is empowering. This is the quantitative aspect of giving: crunching the numbers to determine your financial ability to give. The next element is qualitative in nature, derived from your personal definition of generosity. For Kelle and me, we approach generosity from a faith perspective that suggests contributing 10% of our income to church and other charity. We haven’t always reached that level of giving in the past, but our commitments are leading us in that direction.
The final element is experiential, where your heart is drawn to give through personal experiences. This is where aspiring wealth creators can experiment with giving, even small amounts like $50 or $100 to charities that interest them, and begin creating an emotional connection to a charity or cause. The amount of money is secondary to connecting your heart to what ultimately drives a very personal decision about how much to give.
Once you have a clear picture of how much money you need to achieve your life vision, you can determine how “enoughness” is defined for yourself. Additional wealth becomes surplus, and this is where the heavy lifting starts. This is where we can begin figuring out for ourselves what that money is for. Because I only have one life to live, I want my life to be the best it possibly can be, and not just financially. Life, just like wealth, is a gift, and we all desire a meaningful return on investment. What a shame it would be to live a small, minimized, underproductive, and ineffective life. When I look back, I want to have maximized my life and to have lived it to the fullest.
Excerpted from The Wealth Creator’s Playbook: A Guide to Maximizing Your Return on Life and Money. Copyright © 2019 by John Christianson. Published by Praeger.
A Guide to Maximizing Your Return on Life and Money
The Wealth Creator’s Playbook is the must-read, go-to guide for individuals who are chasing financial success and all the richness of a deeply fulfilling life.