What does a life of wealth look like to you? Does it include a lot of material possessions? If you watch a bunch of television, you probably equate wealth with material possessions. After all, most of the shows on TV about the rich show this glamorous lifestyle with high end clothing, cars and huge houses.
When I was younger, I was into material possessions. I wanted everything that money could buy. When I dreamt of what my future adult life looked like, it included a mansion. But not just any mansion, my mansion would have:
- An indoor AND an outdoor basketball court
- A go-kart track
- An indoor pool
- An outdoor pool and hot tub (the pool would have a tall rocky stone wall on one side with small caves that would lead to a second hidden hot tub)
- A heated 5+ car garage
- A movie theater
- A gym
- A secret room (think of Scooby-Doo turning the wall sconce to open a secret passage in the fireplace)
Of course, it didn’t end there. I also would have a handful of high end cars too, which included a Porsche, Ferrari, and a Lamborghini just to name a few.
And while that sounded like a lot, it wasn’t to me. I wanted to have a few vacation homes as well. Note the key word there, “few” – a mountain home, a beach home and one more in the Caribbean.
To me, money equaled things. Money allowed me to buy a lot of stuff. But as I got older, I realized something that had me question my dreams.
Money Equals Freedom
As cool as it would be to have a go-kart track in my backyard, along with the other things I mentioned, they all would cost me money. Not only upfront costs, but ongoing costs as well.
- I would have to pay for the concrete for the track and buy the go karts
- I would have ongoing maintenance costs of the track and the go karts
- I would have to pay homeowners insurance on all of this stuff
- I would have to pay real estate taxes on my home every year I own it
- I would have to pay car insurance on all of my cars
- I would have to pay storage fees for the cars if I kept them off-site
- I would have to pay utilities on the vacation homes even when I wasn’t using them
In other words, it’s not like I would need a few million, buy this stuff and live happily ever after. I would still need to earn a ton of money every year going forward to keep paying for all of this stuff. I’d be working so hard just to pay the maintenance bills each year that I’d never get to truly enjoy them.
It made me question things again and really think about life. What was my ultimate goal? To just have a ton of cool stuff or was it something else?
After thinking long and hard, I realized it was something else. What was it? It was freedom. I wanted freedom, not stuff. I wanted the freedom to retire at 55 (or earlier). I wanted the freedom to take nice vacations. I wanted the freedom to choose to do what I wanted at the end of the day.
A post by J$ over at Budgets Are Sexy sums it up perfectly:
The end goal is freedom, not millions of dollars. Sometimes (often times) you need millions of dollars, but it’s not about piling it up just to see how high you can get it. It’s about living a life on your own terms and using money to buy you TIME. Time for your family, time for your passions, and most importantly time for yourself. That’s the point of paying attention to it all – financial freedom.
To me, money means freedom. It allows me to have choices in life.
- I can take an awesome vacation if I want to
- I can work a job that I love and pays me less but gives me flexibility in terms of when I come in or when I leave for the day
How To Be Free To Live A Life Of Wealth
Once I realized this, I set out on a path to make this dream a reality. I started to pay off my debt. I also started to invest as much as I could every single month. Getting out of and staying out of debt is key. None of my money – aside from my mortgage goes towards debt. It either goes towards living expenses or long term savings.
I was lucky enough to meet an amazing woman who shares the same money values as I do. We do everything in our power to keep our monthly expenses low and save as much as we can. We save about 40% of our monthly income, which comes to basically all of my income.
That’s it. It really is that simple. Spend less, save more, enjoy life. Of course, you will have to figure out what you value most in life too.
Figuring Out What Makes You Happy
Doing all of this has allowed me to pursue a path in life that I never even dreamed of – working for myself. The freedom I have from this is incredible. Just the other day it was beautiful. After a cold winter, we had above average temperatures for March. I took the opportunity to play golf. It was just a quick round but it felt great.
As I walked the course, I took the time to really take in the beautiful day. Would it have been fun to invite my friends over to my house all of the time to have go-kart races, play basketball and swim? Sure it would.
But then I think of the stress that comes along with having to keep bringing in money to afford to pay for the maintenance and taxes going forward. (FYI, where I live, having a place like this would easily cost me $25,000 a year in real estate taxes alone.)
When I factor in the added cost of just keeping the house running – electric, water, heat, etc. – I have to work a good paying job just to pay the bills! Talk about being a slave to your home and belongings!
When it comes to vacation homes, I can spend $5,000 and take an amazing vacation to the Caribbean and pay no more. If I owned the house in the Caribbean, I would have to shell out the cash to buy it and then pay money every month for as long as I had it just to keep it in decent shape so I could enjoy it the few weeks every year I would be there.
Over the long run, by just going on vacation I am saving a ton of money and I get just as much happiness from renting a place for a week as I would from owning a place outright.
The same idea applies to the cars. Sure it would be cool to have them, but I can’t drive them all at once. And there is no way I am driving them in the rain or snow. That limits the time I can actually drive them(and don’t get me started on being too paranoid about them getting a dent or paint chipped when I would take them out). And even though I don’t drive them, I still have to pay insurance on them and I still have to pay the registration fees. Talk about throwing money away!
I urge you to sit down and really think about what money means to you. I bet it doesn’t mean “things” when you really think about it. After all, if you have to work 40 hours a week just to afford that stuff, it doesn’t leave you much time to enjoy it all. You’ll be spending most of your time working just trying to make the next monthly payment and keep the lights running. And for many of you, that is just taking you further away from what your real dream probably is – to not have to get up to an alarm and go to work every day.
Money is Important, But Shouldn’t Be The End Goal
Don’t get me wrong, money is important. Even today, I know that I need money to experience all that I want to experience. But I also know that I need a lot less money to experience what really makes me happy than I would otherwise need if I were trying to buy happiness through houses, cars and boats.
I want you to take time and think about what really makes you happy and the feelings you get when you think about being really happy. Most likely the things that make you happiest are not material possessions. It is more along the lines of playing with your kids, reading a book at the beach, or spending a quiet night with your spouse.
Realize that to be happiest, you do not need a lot of money. You need money (a lot of money) to buy and keep the typical symbols of wealth – the cars, houses, and boats. But even if you have all of that, you won’t be as happy as you could be. By doing the things that make you feel rich, like playing golf with your Dad, you can live an extremely wealthy life.
Your first step towards living a life of wealth is to do a quick calculation to see how much money you need for retirement. Once you know this, you can begin to get your finances in order by creating a budget, opening up an investment account, and working to improve your net worth.
Your challenge is to find what makes you feel wealthy. My bet is that if you are truly honest with yourself you will find out that most of the things that make you happiest aren’t things at all. Stop concerning yourself with making enough money to control the world. You only need enough to make you happy and it’s probably a lot less than you think.