How Much is Enough?

How Much is Enough?


We start our lives with plenty of time and good health, but no money. Then we have plenty of money and good health, but no time. Eventually, we reach retirement where we have plenty of time, and if we’re lucky, good health and plenty of money.

As most people come to understand, our time and our health are the most fleeting of our resources because most can enjoy a nice life for less than they anticipated. There is a lot of truth to the “money doesn’t buy happiness”, but it doesn’t seem that way because we live in a world where we are bombarded with wants disguised as needs.

We are blasted with visions of luxury via advertisements, Instagram and Facebook posts of our friends #livingtheirbestlife, and the Jones’ always staying one step ahead of us. I even feel a twinge of guilt about books I have yet to read – how do all these other highly successful people find time to read so much?!

It’s why I believe that a successful retirement is more of an art than a science. The science would say that given a reasonable list of needs and wants, many people would find retirement success. But rarely do we approach it this way because of all the reasons noted in the paragraph above.

I think a lot about this concept because I work in an industry where more is ALWAYS considered better. “You should be bringing in more clients and more assets!!” or “If you’re not growing, you’re dying!” On and on ad nauseam it goes.

In my skeptical way of looking at the world, I like to question the majority. What if they’re looking at this all wrong? I grow more confident by the day that in many cases, more is not better. More can actually complicate things.

I am not concerned with having more; I am concerned with having enough. Enough is defined internally, not externally. When I was growing up, we didn’t have much by the world’s standards. And while my childhood wasn’t always perfect, we did have enough.

We were lucky. We had a roof over our heads. There were years we were on reduced-fare or free lunches at school so times were tight. But we never went hungry and in many cases, we shared what little we had with those less fortunate than us.

I am sure there were stressful times for my parents, but as a child, things seemed okay – even normal as nearly as I could tell. In other words, our needs were met. We had enough.

I’ll bet the financial stress was less impactful because most importantly, we had enough love. I have been extremely lucky in that I have been surrounded by people who love me for who I am for my entire life.

I am not sure if this is weird or not, but I think back to my childhood often. I think about how little it actually takes to have enough and it gives me great confidence in knowing that I am heading down the right path. I am convinced that I am correct in growing a business to be small as my friend Jeremy Walter writes.

So, how much is “enough”?  Think about this question for just a moment.  How much is enough for you? It is a question that I’m not sure gets enough attention when it comes to retirement planning. Enough is a powerful word. Because enough requires a feeling of satisfaction. Enough requires that you ignore the advertisements. Enough elicits feelings of a life well-lived.

When asking people what they’d like to do in retirement, the most popular answer I hear revolves around grandiose goals of endless travel. Yet when it comes to the end of life, people rarely talk about the trips they’ve taken.

They talk about quiet moments with their spouse or witnessing great victories in the lives of their children and grandchildren or, ironically, recalling the tougher times back before they had real wealth.

I’ve been awe-inspired by so many stories when people have shared the hard times and setbacks which eventually led to their inevitable path to success. Some stories aren’t overly romantic – but no less inspiring – in that their success was an inevitable result of a diligent habit of saving a little more each successive year. Investing pay raises and bonuses over their careers.

Most of the time, finding success and attaining enough is not flashy, but achieved through a relentless habit of living on less than you make. It’s the story of the millionaire next door.

Back to my question above – how much is enough?  Asked perhaps in a better way, what would it take for you to feel you had a fulfilling retirement?  To be clear, I’m not discouraging you from spending your hard-earned wealth (By all means, please do!), but challenging you to further define things that are important to you. 

Your “enough” does have a number attached to it and it’s unique to you.  But, as I’ve observed from watching many retirees through the years, very few of life’s greatest pleasures come with a steep price tag. 

I’ve heard it said before that the only people who know that money can’t buy happiness are all the people who have tried and failed.  You think you’ll be happy once you hit $____ in your portfolio or buy a bigger house or a nicer car or take the trip of a lifetime. 

But will you really? Enough from a worldly perspective is a moving target because there is always a bigger boat, a bigger house, a nicer car, and a more extravagant trip. 

I’m not against having nice things that’s for sure, but sitting down and crafting a vision to understand what truly makes you happy is a valuable activity. 

Brian Portnoy, author of The Geometry of Wealth, provides the best description of a successful retirement that I’ve come across. That is – funded contentment. I believe at our core, that is what we are all striving for.

When we stop and think about things that are truly fulfilling, we realize they are attending a grandchild’s ball game or school play, watching a powerful thunderstorm, a round of golf with friends, afternoon coffee with your son or daughter, serving people in your community or a date night with your spouse.

These are the building blocks of a life well-lived. These are the things that lead to a feeling of “enough.”

Mild discontent is natural in a society that is filled with advertisements everywhere we look. But don’t let that mild discontent turn into a freight train of desires. 

We are on this earth for a purpose. Finding that purpose is a lifelong journey. I am confident that whatever that purpose is has much more to do with relationships than stuff.

As the holiday season is upon us, my sole hope is that we are all surrounded by enough. Not enough in the commercialization of the holiday season, but enough love, enough relationships, enough quiet moments and enough intimate conversations. This holiday season, hug people tight and let them know you are thankful for them. Lastly, realize that you, my friend, are enough too.

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