The “most difficult” personal finance concept is our topic today. Read below to find out more and see if you agree.
If we do a retrospective look at all of the personal finance information out there, there are some truly daunting concepts – Some examples are: Options trading, Leveraged investing, Derivatives and the like. However, it is our belief that one of the most difficult concepts to master is the topic we are discussing today; Contentment.
If we dive further into that term, we can see that at the surface that contentment is defined as “a feeling of being happy or satisfied” – Oxford Dictionary. Let’s break this down and compare it against society and the personal finance movement itself.
If we look at the society we are in, specifically the western world mindset, there is almost an inherent programming or unwritten lifestyle set of rules or undercurrent that regards contentment or satisfaction as almost a point of weakness. As a society or culture in the western part of the world, we can see that there is an almost endless push to keep striving for more; more money, bigger house, a car (or two), better job and always more and more possessions. We see people praised and fawned over on social media for purchasing the latest fashion trends (purses, watches), driving the latest vehicle trends (Luxury SUV, Cross-Over, Electric Car, Supercar, Hypercar) and latest real estate purchases (Housing, Mansion, Cottage). There are entire industries, TV shows and social groups dedicated to driving this point forward into mainstream culture.
All the while, this consumption driven society is most often based on borrowing or indebtedness – Therefore, the Happiness felt today with getting that new possession, likely procured with debt, will cause possible sadness tomorrow when the debt burden is to be paid. We touched on this concept in our article about your Future Self – See here.
This mass consumption is not just a USA based problem either, we see the same thing within Canada as well. It would appear that our society is based on competing or competition for everything – Housing, job, social status, family, kids, etc and if we are to pause for one quick moment to savor or feel contentment, we are appearing to give up or show weakness. This competition is driving some of the largest markets or countries in the world, yet yielding unhappy citizens. Sources – 8 Causes of Modern Unhappiness, HBR – History of Happiness
The escalation of happiness built on the existing culture, but there were other contributing factors. The transition from a largely manufacturing to a white-collar economy played a role, providing more settings in which managers could see happiness as a business advantage. Consumerism was central. All sorts of advertisers (a newly distinct profession) discovered that associating products with happiness spurred sales. This is what most clearly explains why the intensified happiness culture of the mid-20th century has, in the main, persisted to the present day. We’re still supposed to be smiling.https://hbr.org/2012/01/the-history-of-happiness
Cultural “Push Back” – FIRE
If we look at FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) movement that has recently become more mainstream, the roots of this movement begin with acknowledgement that enough is enough, time is the most precious, not material goods or money. If we can summarize the FIRE movement in a quick way, it would be to hyper-focus the earning potential of our jobs or careers for a short burst in order to accumulate enough wealth to be free of the dependence of that job or career to sustain a particular lifestyle.
In short, FIRE is getting to a financial number where the net asset balance yields enough for sustaining your lifestyle. There are significant volumes of information on how to achieve FIRE, but one of the best we have read is Quit Like a Millionaire – http://www.quitlikeamillionaire.com/. This is the most productive way to fight the cultural push to consumerism as a subculture within the current western society.
Cultural “Push Back” – Minimalism
Another counter cultural movement is based around minimalism or simple living. The summary of this concept is not new, but has recently resurfaced due to the high cost of living vs the low gain in salary or wages. We can see that based on numbeo.com, the cost of living is relative across the world. Based on New York, Sidney, London, Toronto, we can see some minor deviations in the cost of living, but not major differences. Based on major urban cities, the cost of living is high regardless of where in the world the city is located.
We can see that if you are determined to live within a large city or populated area of any country, you will need to focus your efforts on what you want. To that end, you may need to prioritize paying rent or mortgage and cut back on dining out, groceries, vacation, transportation or healthcare; no easy answers.
This is where a minimalist view can assist within a high cost of living environment, focusing your efforts on what matters to you and cutting back on everything else. Basically, the minimalist view is to focus your limited time and energy on tasks and items that matter to you. Keep your lifestyle simple so you can gain maximum benefit from possessions, vacations or whatever is important to you. Some key tips for making a start in minimalism are linked in this article: Plan your Day, Organize, Say No, Fix Nagging issues, Automate, Avoid Useless Conflict.
See our article on Automating Your Finances here.
As we now take a trip into fall and Thanksgiving season within North America, it’s appropriate to stop and reflect on everything that we have and master the most difficult thing within the personal finance realm; Contentment.
Please note, we at PFE are not immune to the seductive nature of commercialism either and we must continue to fight with the desire to purchase things we don’t need and consciously focus efforts of limited financial resources on things that really matter.
So what are you happy for? What brings you contentment? Are you still in the process of setting up your lifestyle and household? Are you established and working to simplify your lifestyle through FIRE or Minimalism or something else?
We hope that this discussion has started a though processes or dialogue that will help you. Leave your thoughts below and thank you for reading.
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