As a part of our ongoing efforts to lead a happy and environmentally friendly life, we have been actively working to both reduce our spending (get frugal) as well as focus more closely on the objects in life that truly bring us pleasure (go simple living).
As a result, our income is lower than it has ever been, our environmental footprint drastically reduced, yet we have more money in our savings account than I ever had working on Wall Street! *
My personal decision a ways back to live my life less materialistically, sans shopping and dropping — dancing to the beat of a drummer whose rhythm was not dictated in dollar signs — was influenced both by the inspirational people in my world and the inspirational books I’ve read. A recent blog post on NatureMoms blog reminded me of some of the inspirations that have brought me where I am. I thought I’d share them with you!
* (Yes, it’s true, I worked as a computer programmer on Wall Street pre-9/11! Crazy!).
Why Do You Buy?
One of the most influential books I’ve read in this lifetime is the book Your Money or Your Life (aff). It’s a classic that’s been recently revised and updated to keep up with its ongoing audience. I got my copy in the 90’s, but the message remains vital! Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin were instrumental in the emergence of the Voluntary Simplicity movement, and Your Money or Your Life became popular as a clear easy-access argument for the personal benefits of living to your own values. It also includes a specific set of tools to change your habits in that direction, of course!
Though I don’t currently follow the method that they outline, I used their method when I initially read the book, and it taught me so many things about how I thought about money, not to mention my attitudes toward career and the way I invested my time.
One of my favorite chapters is their chapter entitled “The Money Trap, the Old Road Map for Money.” In it they feature a few graphs that truly hit their message home for me. Their primary graph is called “The Fulfillment Curve” and it details the level of fulfillment that we get from spending money.
- Essentially, the premise is that we all begin by fulfilling basic universal human needs, like shelter and food and basic security and safety. These would be at the point labeled (2) on the chart above.
- We then move to achieving the kind of things that bring us comforts, such as a bicycle, a larger wardrobe, toys, tickets to a show, etc. We’re spending more money and we’re increasing our level of comfort in our lives, as in point (3) on the chart above.
- However, at some point, the additional money we’re spending reaches a peak (4), and suddenly we’re investing more and more time and money while our comfort and satisfaction diminishes rapidly (5,6,7!).
The authors point out that historically and culturally speaking, we are all duped into thinking that the fulfillment curve just goes up and up and up.
Spend more money, get happier, right? Wrong!
Why do we believe this to be the case? Because in the early days of industrialization, this was actually true, and that truth, “more equals better” became entrenched in our entire cultural worldview.
By now we believed that money equals fulfillment, so we barely noticed that the curve had started to level out. On we went into life. House. Job. Family responsibilities. More money brought more worry. More time and energy commitments as we rose up the corporate ladder. More time away from the family. More to lose if we were robbed, so more worry about being robbed…
We hit a fulfillment ceiling and never recognized that the formula of money - fulfillment not only had stopped working but had started to work against us. No matter how much we bought, the Fulfillment Curve kept heading down.
The authors go on to say that our personal goal as individuals should be to determine where the sweet spot is for us. On the graph above, it’s point number (4). At this point, we have, essentially, “Enough.” They offer up a very precise set of exercises and tools you can use to explore your own personal values, so that you put your money where it serves you best.
Approaching money this way has transformed my world, although I’m still learning every day. Part of the reason I enjoyed the approach in this book is that the emphasis is always on the enjoyment that you get from your investment of time and money, rather than on denying yourself things. Of course many of us have found that using this approach does lead to spending less and buying less (not to mention conserving the earth’s vital resources), as the things we spend money on tend naturally become more focused and “people-centered.”
Your Money or Your Life was the first money philosophy I encountered that built assessment into the system — assessing the value of how you spend your money. Rather than focusing on creating a budget, it focuses on awareness, and looking at what you spend after you’ve spent it!
If you truly enjoy something, it should be a vital highlight in your world, but it’s so easy to spend money on things that call out to us at the store, only to realize later that we don’t notice them or use them as much as we imagined, or worse, that they don’t really have anything to do with our interests or values!
Gateway to Simple Living
Your Money or Your Life was a “gateway book” for me. It opened me up to discovering the Voluntary Simplicity movement. As I’ve gradually made progress (sometimes one step back, sometimes two steps forward) a couple of additional resources have also been real highlights for me.
The Simple Living Network’s website features articles by Duane Elgin, grandfather of the Voluntary Simplicity movement. Reading these truly struck a chord with me as he explained in clear terms what Simple Living is all about, and how it can be unique for each person. The Simple Living Network is also a great hub for all things Simple Living on the net.
When we checked this book out of the library it immediately became my husband’s favorite Simple Living book. It’s short and sweet, and focuses on both your inner attitude toward happiness and how you can apply that to simplifying the things you do and the money you spend.
A Short Wish List
I’m always running into recommendations for books that perk my eye. My inspiration for this post, as I mentioned, was actually a book review by Tiffany at NatureMoms blog.
Frugal Luxuries: Simple Pleasures to Enhance Your Life and Comfort Your Soul (aff)
What intrigued me about Tiffany’s review of this book is the way it focuses not just on decreasing your spending but on ways to spend less on the aesthetic luxuries of life. Missing in my life lately has been an homage to my artistic past (I received my undergraduate at the San Francisco Art Institute and studied as a classical soprano for several years). I like the idea of a book that inspires me to find ways to keep things pretty while keeping simple! Of course, there’s always Etsy for that when I want to invite someone else’s creative talents into the house!
Like Your Money or Your Life, it seems that Frugal Luxuries is also focused on exploring and giving credence to your own personal values and pleasures. Tiffany tells a great little story that relates very closely to the Dominguez/Robin “Fulfillment Curve” concept:
This reminds me of that story of you often see posted on the Internet of the Mexican fisherman who fishes just enough to feed and support his family so he can spend the majority of his time sleeping late, playing with his children, taking siestas with his wife, going to the village to see his friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs. To him that is a full life. Then he meets and American who tells him that he should invest in more boats, put in more hours, expand his business, incorporate, and rake in lots of money. When the fisherman asks why he would want to do all that, the response is so that he could have enough money to be able to retire and sleep late, play with his grandchildren, take siestas with his wife, go to the village to see his friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs. He already had everything he wanted but some people have to do things the hard way.
Voluntary Simplicity (aff)
The original Simple Living book, and I can’t believe I haven’t read it yet! I always love to get back to the origins of a concept to get at the initial spark behind it.
I’m most anxious to read about the philosophical origins of Voluntary Simplicity, which are detailed in this book from a Christian, Eastern, early Greek, Puritan, Transcendental, and Quaker perspective. Fun, fun! Elgin’s writing style is both educated and easily approachable, and I’ve heard that this book, though weighty in its topic, is actually a pretty simple read, as it were!
This is a book I’m interested in as a companion to Living the Simple Life. Although I don’t usually like “100 ways to…” books, I was so impressed by Elaine St. James’ ability to sum up big concepts in few words that I think a book of tips written in her style would probably be a great “bathroom book” for keeping us on track and providing little nuggets of wisdom to incorporate without too much forethought.
Fruits of Voluntary Simplicity
Over the last decade or so, as I’ve gradually succeeded in giving up some of my more materialistic dreams for ones rooted in my values, I’ve realized that it’s become easier to see the personal things that stand in the way of inner satisfaction for me. Why? Because clearing away all the clutter of concerns over money and job status peels back the layers so you can truly begin to appreciate what makes you tick.
Am I forever happy? Whoah there, Nellie! Frugality and simplicity have given me the opportunity to center more on myself, but I have a long way to go… many pages to turn, many more truths and falsehoods to uncover.
On the plus side, life seems an ongoing journey of awakenings that bring me ever more satisfied and content with the skin that I’m in. And I can say one thing: I didn’t stop worrying about money until I stopped chasing it. I didn’t start having a surplus until I didn’t really care to spend the money I had! Fascinating!
These are some of the forces that shaped me. I’m sure you have yours too! Any inspirational books or people that shaped you in your relationship with money? Please share!