The key to wealth is being satisfied with what you already have

For the past few weeks, I've been making sales calls with David, my replacement at the box factory. We're visiting existing customers to explain the transition. Most of my clients know that I'm part-owner in the family business. “Why are you leaving?” they want to know. “What are you going to do now?”

“I'm going to write,” I say.

“About what?” some of them ask.

“Personal finance,” I say, and that's usually the end of the conversation. But this morning my answer launched a great discussion with a long-time customer named Ray.

“I was going to get into personal finance at one time,” said Ray. “Too many money guys are jerks. They're slimeballs. They take advantage of little old ladies. I wanted to help the little old ladies. I was going to become a Certified Financial Planner. “

Our conversation turned to the economic doom and gloom so prominent in the news media over the past few weeks. With storm clouds on the horizon, he's been trying to get his co-workers to pay attention. “Get out of debt!” he tells them. “Spend less! Save your money!”

“I talk about money a lot,” Ray confessed. “My son is afraid to bring his friends over to the house. ‘Your dad is going to talk finances again,' they tell him. And I do.”

“‘Do you invest in your 401(k)?' I ask them. ‘No,' they say. ‘Then you're an idiot,' I tell them. They can't believe it. ‘Your dad just called me an idiot,' they say to my son. ‘You are an idiot,' he tells them.”

Ray laughed. “Some of my own friends wonder what I could possibly know about money. I live in a small house. I drive a beat-up old car. They drive new cars and live in McMansions. They don't think I know what I'm talking about. They don't understand that the key to wealth is being satisfied with what you already have.”

I murmured agreement as Ray continued: “‘I've lived in the same house for 28 years,' I say to my friends. ‘My house is paid for. Is yours? My car is paid for. Is yours? I could retire today. Could you?' I don't have a boat, I don't have an RV, and I don't have fancy clothes,” Ray said, indicating his modest attire. “I save my money. I invest it. That's the way to wealth.”

Normally when I visit customers, we only talk about boxes. It was exciting for me to find somebody so passionate about saving, somebody who grasped the fundamentals of personal finance. But one point stuck out especially: “The key to wealth is being satisfied with what you already have,” said Ray. He's right.

I used to believe that “wealth” meant being able to buy whatever I wanted. I felt rich if I could buy something new, even if I were purchasing it on credit. Over the past couple years, however, I've learned to take pleasure in the things I already own. Why do I need more comic books when I already have a large library of them? Why do I need to own another bike? What will a new chair do for me that my existing chair does not? If anything, I want less stuff.

Like Ray, I've discovered that wealth doesn't come from buying new things, but from being satisfied with what I already have.

More about...Planning

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others
guest
68 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Sam
Sam
12 years ago

Love this, we figured out last year, during our TMM, that for us wealth = the money we keep. I don’t think you can be wealthy, under our definition, spending money on cars and electronics, etc. Now, that doesn’t mean we took a vow of poverty but we shifted our focus from what we could buy with our $ to how much of our $ we can keep.

Peachy
Peachy
12 years ago

Too bad there aren’t more Rays out there that get it.

Gauri
Gauri
7 years ago
Reply to  Peachy

My father is exactly like ray with regards to finance and wealth. I think though that I am becoming likehim one of these days. Because I am aware of his fiancial planning I am aware that my father is a Master of Financial managment and he knows money too… but sometimes I just wish I could yell it out to the world “We’re Rich” as a lot of people presume that because we live in a small house.. enough and perfectly adequate to our family size, and dont have individual cars for all of us(infact we dont need to because… Read more »

TosaJen
TosaJen
12 years ago

Figuring out what “enough” was for us (what’s important, what’s not) continues to be the most important step in learning how to live within our means happily.

I was more struck by your experience with your customer — it’s such a neat experience to unexpectedly discover people who “get it”. DH had a really great conversation with the plumber working at his mom’s house. I am so happy to encounter people who value thrift and make conscious choices about time and money.

fathersez
fathersez
12 years ago

“The richest man is he whose needs are the cheapest”.

Your customer is clear cut proof of this saying that I read somewhere.

Minimum Wage
Minimum Wage
12 years ago

If you live in the same house for 28 years but don’t own it, is that a good thing?

If you don’t have a car, should you be satisfied with that?

Laura
Laura
12 years ago

He’s right when you’re happy with what you have, stress seems to decline. Getting rid of my credit card debt made me happier since I now have some money to save for a home.

I wish I had a Ray tell me these things years ago.

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

@Minimum Wage

Sometimes I believe I could write your comments for you! Even while I was speaking with Ray, even as I was realizing I was going to write about our conversation, I was thinking, “Minimum Wage is going to say X.” And now you have. 🙂 (This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It forces me to think.)

I’m not saying the poor should be satisfied with their lot. You know I don’t believe that. But I do know that regardless of their income, people are happier when they’re satisfied with that they already have.

Stephen Martile
Stephen Martile
12 years ago

Hey J.D., You might consider that every box customer you speak with is an opportunity to introduce your new business. I still work full time and share my website with almost everyone I speak with. Although I’m an engineer by trade I run into a few people who are interested in my personal development website. These people translate into leads and more importantly I’ve impacted another life. Just the other day I saw one of our mechanical consultants sign up for my RSS Feed. It was a shock to me because I never thought an engineer would be interested in… Read more »

Ryan Smallegan
Ryan Smallegan
12 years ago

I have a friend alot like Ray. I always feel as though he isn’t making the most of life while he is young and can enjoy it. If you ask me, settling and/or being at peace with what you have is a great way to die young. It is the thrill of moving on to bigger and better things that keeps us young and alive!

Emily@Remodelingthislife
12 years ago

I read but have never commented here. This post drew me out because it is at the core of what I’ve found to be true for my life and I’m so thrilled to see it written this way by someone else. Thank you!

Pippin
Pippin
12 years ago

OK- the big question is how to convince/show people what living within your means is like? This won’t be an unfamiliar story, but I work with someone who has (broadly) earnt the same as me, but has nothing to show for it; she is in debt, desperate to buy a property, but still spending loads on lottery, booze, cigarettes, ebay, TV shopping, and ‘treats’ her child so regularly that the point of the gift/reward is lost. (she’s not the deadbeat it looks I’m painting- she’s a lovely person, but spends crippling amounts on rubbish) She tells me I’m lucky that… Read more »

TosaJen
TosaJen
12 years ago

@JD and @Minimum Wage: although JD put it as “being happy with what you have”, I think the issue is more about consciously determining whether what you have is OK or not. Defining “enough”, in YMOYL parlance, should be based on your life goals, not on what external factors are telling you you should want or need. If you are satisfied with what you have, and what you have fulfills your needs, and the tradeoff to acquire something nicer aren’t worth it to you, then it’s “enough”. The hard part is not allowing other people’s opinions to make you dissatisfied.… Read more »

Ben Overmyer
Ben Overmyer
12 years ago

First, @Stephen Martile: Occupation, or even hobbies, do not define people. I’ve met engineers who philosophize and artists who crunch numbers. Personal growth isn’t restricted merely to the Productivity Caste! @J.D.: I’d like to add a caveat to the Satisfaction = Savings rule: Saving money isn’t always the best road to long-term happiness. Frequently, yes, but not always. For example, let’s say I come across an opportunity to go skydiving in Peru. It’s expensive and the money I’d spend on it could be saved (at a rate of 12% in a decent enhanced-savings account) to make for a Better Retirement… Read more »

Becky@FamilyandFinances
12 years ago

Ray sounds like a really neat guy. He reminds me of “The Millionaire Next Door”. I hope (meaning I’m planning) to be that person some day!

Alya
Alya
12 years ago

Your message today is exactly what I needed. Being satisfied with what I have. I am surrounded by people who want more and more. This makes me look so poor and inadequate. Our earning capacity is the same but they look so ‘rich’ because of their 700,000K houses and big cars. Of course all are on loan, but nevertheless it gives them a false security that they have made it. And they flaunt it, not realizing is all debts. I on the other hand have a healthy bank balance, live on rented properties and save as much as possible. Being… Read more »

jessica
jessica
12 years ago

My goal is to have the same attitude Ray has. It’s just so hard to stay content with “old” stuff:) i agree that once you get over your consumerism and stick with what you need, you’ll have more money for the actually important stuff, like kid’s college or retirement. Will i care in 50 years that when i was 22 i had an IPOD that was *gasp* TWO years old? i doubt it. But if i continue to live a lifestyle of upgrading the tiny expensive things, i will probably be feeling the consequences in 50 years.

Alex Moore
Alex Moore
12 years ago

Could not agree with your sentiments more. Not only is key to wealth being satisfied with what you already have it can be the key to happiness too!

Peter Pittman
Peter Pittman
12 years ago

Amen brother! Less is more and more is less. Although I may have some unusual “bizarro world” psychosis, I always find myself feeling more fulfilled and content when getting rid of stuff rather than buying new things. To live a minimalist life free of excess, clutter and junk is true happiness to me.

Minimal.Mammal
Minimal.Mammal
12 years ago

Great article. Hang on to that guy to keep in your loop. I’ve just recently gotten serious about my finances, I get excited about it, try to talk to friends about better ways I’ve discovered to save money. I’ve just found that not many people listen and definitely don’t take action. They may tell you how they’re drowning in debt, but they keep spending. Flatscreens, bar tabs and credit card debt keep mounding up. It would be nice to have someone like that around for encouragement. But then again, if I had that, I wouldn’t spend as much time connecting… Read more »

Dennis
Dennis
12 years ago

This is a very good lesson that most people miss out on. It seems like the people I know that are always buying new things are never happy. They can never get enough. And the people I know that are simple and don’t need all the new clothes and gadgets always seem to be happy and satisfied with life. I find myself somewhere in between but I’m trying to get myself to the more satisfied with less side.

Jennifer
Jennifer
12 years ago

My husband was given a plaque that says “Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have” I think that goes along with your quote nicely.

icup
icup
12 years ago

I think what you are talking about comes down to prioritization. Ray prioritizes savings over debt. Another way to look at it is that he is prioritizing the future over the present. That is not to say that somebody who prioritizes debt over savings, or their present wants over their future productivity is worse. After all, they could die tomorrow. It comes down to life being a gamble. Most of us here are gambling that we will be around for a long long time, and are planning accordingly. That is not the only ‘correct’ way to live, but if its… Read more »

Awesome Mom
Awesome Mom
12 years ago

That is how my husband and I live. My husband is in the military so all of his coworkers make the same money he does. It is amazing how they are all deeply in debt and we have a nice fat savings account while raising a young family and me staying at home. I think the key to us is being able to splurge a bit on our hobbies but being willing to do things like shop around to find a great deal on a used car. We are quite content and I am not worried that we will die… Read more »

AquaQuant
AquaQuant
12 years ago

Happiness is a function of two variables: Success and Expectations. It is directly proportional to the former and inversely proprtional to the latter, i.e. H = S / E This article is about reducing your denominator (Expectations) which raises your overall happiness. To be really happy, one must work on her success which inveritably contributes to the well-being of others. As Franklin Roosevelt said, “Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.” The problem with reducing your expectations is that it is finite. You can only reduce your expectations so much, to the point of,… Read more »

Dave
Dave
12 years ago

Beautiful post, sir.

I think the key to this is when a person no longer seeks to find themselves in “stuff.”

How many things do we all buy only for psychological value? If everyond lived in a mansion, had BMW’s, and wore designer labels, those items would lose their value. Seriously, if it weren’t for “the eyes of others” how much stuff would we really want? I mean, remember how in the Road Warrior, Mel Gibson wore those same black leather pants everyday? Not a lot of “the eyes of others” out in the wastelands. 😉

Richard
Richard
12 years ago

For years my wife and I were living just above our means because some luxuries (like cell phones and drycleaning) became necessities. That forced us to become more financially discipline and start to budget. Now when ever there is a windfall or pay increase, the first thing it goes to is any outstanding debt or retirement.

Chase Roper
Chase Roper
12 years ago

This post has significantly changed my perspective. Thank you!

Chris
Chris
12 years ago

Reminds me of a song by Crosby, Stills and Nash. . .

“And if you can’t be with the one you love, honey
Love the one you’re with”

H_Roarke
H_Roarke
12 years ago

I couldn’t disagree with icup more, “That is not to say that somebody who prioritizes debt over savings, or their present wants over their future productivity is worse.” What happens when that person is 58 and suffers a debilitating heart attack or some other medical ailment that keeps them from working? We all end up supporting them in one way (taxes) or another (support from family and friends). Not saving weakens our economy and our country. This in turn makes it more likely your/our children will have to move, maybe even overseas, to get the good jobs. It also means… Read more »

fauxpaw
fauxpaw
12 years ago

This conjured up images from “The Office.” Great sales calls!

Colonel Cash
Colonel Cash
12 years ago

The more that we long for what we don’t have, the less we appreciate that of which we do.

Longing for wealth is not any different.

We forget that being wealthy and looking wealthy are not always one in the same.

Dave
Dave
12 years ago

Well said! I love this post. Really hits home. I also can appreciate the Crosby, Stills, and Nash comment!

Moneymonk
Moneymonk
12 years ago

the key is becoming satisied with what you have. It’s not easy for most

DC Portland
DC Portland
12 years ago

J.D. Ray is a great example for people to follow. Even so, I would be careful about using the term “wealth” too broadly. Wealth is defined as “a great quantity or store of money, valuable possessions, property, or other riches”. Wealth does not mean the same thing as happiness or well-being. I would prefer Ray’s quote if the word “wealth” were replaced with “happiness”. This may be nit-picking, but the idealized over-used expression of wealth as something profoundly great is really untrue. The drive to achieve great wealth is one of the things that has decreased the quality of life… Read more »

Sharon
Sharon
12 years ago

I agree wholeheartdely with the premise about being happy with what you have as long as you have the basics in life. It’s hard to be happy when you have food for breakfast but not for dinner. I’m someone who will occasionally suffer from feeling envious of what others have. When we bought this house we paid about 650,000 less than what the mortgage company said we could afford. Of course, I know they inflate numbers…but when I recently went to my sister-in-laws beautiful new house, I admit, I came home and cried a little. My kitchen floors weren’t put… Read more »

Christine
Christine
12 years ago

A conversation I had with my boyfriend over your blog this morning:

———————–
me: this is a good money pick-me-up for us 🙂

me: http://feeds.feedburner.com/~r/getrichslowly/~3/242702876/

me: hahahaha bacon salt

me: http://feeds.feedburner.com/~r/getrichslowly/~3/242498357/

Sam: just read this first one: Awesome 😀

me: it is awesome 🙂
I like this guy

Sam: Bacon Salt? Bacon Muffins? I think you’ve found the perfect blog 😉

me: 😀
I think I have!
——————

In summary, thanks for all the good advice, keep it up!

partgypsy
partgypsy
12 years ago

This is a stupid question, but do you really work at a box factory? Or is that just a euphemism for your family business/subtle reference to Lost?

drhands
drhands
12 years ago

I admire Ray’s frugality and his effort to be happy with what he has. But to me, his words sound prideful. Whether you’re talking about frugality or consumption, comparing yourself to others will get you in trouble. I think Ben and icup provide a necessary counterpoint to this post. Aspiring to finish with the least stuff and the biggest pile of cash is just as bad as aspirig to the garage with the most toys. Either way, it’s a competition. I only have these few quotes to go on, but Ray seems to enjoy seeing himself as the ant and… Read more »

KellyB
KellyB
12 years ago

Wonderful post, really enjoyed it. It’s always nice to find another member of the “personal finance” club. Keep up the good work JD.

Bill
Bill
12 years ago

I’ve been working on being satisfied with what I have and reducing stuff in my life for the last couple years with great success. I live with my Brother and we have a regular policy that when the lottery goes above $100 million, we split a ticket. We figure it’s a $1 license to dream about what we’d do with the money for a couple days. Last week, when the lottery was $270 million, we got our ticket. But I discovered that I was having real trouble with the dreaming part. Everything I used to imagine just constituted more stuff.… Read more »

KC
KC
12 years ago

Another great article JD. To me this is what life is all about – being satisfied. I’m lucky, I’m a professional and my husband is a doctor – we have a very nice income. But we still live in a townhouse (that cost less than our combined incomes last year) and we have paid for, fairly simple cars (mine is 8 years old, my last car was 16 yrs old). But I’m happy, very content with this life. My home is small and easy to clean and maintain, as is the yard. The cars are dependable and safe. I have… Read more »

Dave
Dave
12 years ago

drhands makes a great point — you could get rid of all your possessions and then have a bigger ego than most millionaires. If you take away one kind of identification, the ego will quickly find another, some other mental position to make yourself right and others wrong. This is why the ancient teachers of wisdom taught that the secret of life is to “die before you die.” Eckhart Tolle says it this way:

“The ultimate truth of who you are is not I am this or I am that, but I Am.”

zach
zach
12 years ago

I’ve started to realize this over the last year. In fact, I think it’s so subtle how people get enamoured with *stuff* and they forget about who’s out there- even now I catch myself hoarding *things* at the expense of people. And isn’t that the real source of wealth-your connection to people? You can purchase that for life with a retirement account, or you can live a rich life of connecting with people who can help each other in small, day to day ways and maybe even with some of the big stuff. zach Pennywise-poundfoolish.typepad.com

jz
jz
12 years ago

Last October our home was destroyed in the California fires. Many people think that we should have been devastated – we lost all of our possessions along with the home we planned to live in the rest of our lives. However we quickly realized that all that really mattered was our family. Even more, having all of your possessions destroyed can be quite liberating. We discovered that the less stuff we have, the more mobile we are. We now have the option to consider moving to a different state (or country) for 3-6 months just to try it out (I… Read more »

ABog
ABog
12 years ago

“Be satisfied with what you already have” That’s a line that hits home, because when I was younger, I got a lot of financial advice that I thankfully didn’t follow: “You should buy lots of tech stocks!” – right before the internet bubble burst. “You shouldn’t save into a mutual fund now because investing is what you do with extra money” “Don’t pay off your house and live in it, you should move up, and NEVER BE SATISFIED WITH WHAT YOU HAVE” Wow. Some of the worst advice from people who sounded so experienced with money. In the end, they… Read more »

JenK
JenK
12 years ago

To quote TosaJen in #12, Defining “enough”, in YMOYL parlance, should be based on your life goals, not on what external factors are telling you you should want or need. In other words, making conscious choices. JD’s customer values a paid-off house and savings over a new house or new car or what-have-you. This is shown by his choices. My friends who have problems with money are very unconscious. They don’t keep track of their spending, they forget (or lose) bills, they don’t think about the long-term. It’s like they don’t value money because they assume there will always be… Read more »

zach
zach
12 years ago

Sharon, you are doing a good thing by consistently bringing yourself down to earth, but you could also take a lesson from my first car. I had beautiful, gas guzzling 71 Impala that I spent two summers restoring the body. I was out there every sunny day sanding (by hand, mind you! No power tools here!) and blistering from the sun. I put my heart and soul into that car and when somebody with a nice new sportscar would come up next to me, I simply didn’t envy that person. They had $500 of extra payments every month and I… Read more »

Danny
Danny
12 years ago

The other lesson to learn is that being rich/wealthy means having money, not having stuff.
Like right after I buy something that is somewhat expensive ($4k on a used car) a friend might comment that I must be rich. Well, actually I am $4k poorer than yesterday. And now I need to save that $4k again in order to be where I was. The only reason I could afford to buy it outright is because I saved and didn’t buy other stuff.

Breeni Books
Breeni Books
12 years ago

Ray has excellent advice. Being content with what I have is something I’m working towards every day.

JenK
JenK
12 years ago

@Danny (#48) – Oh yeah. Saving for a house or retirement has to be more important to you than more space or stuff.

(One can go overboard the other way, too, and skip necessities to save money. One woman was worried she couldn’t afford insurance for her new car ($2000 down, $300/mo) on another board. That seems pretty wrongheaded to me – if you can’t afford the insurance you need a cheaper car you can insure!)

shares