I made $22,000 a year my first job out of college. I was rich!! Or so I thought – it turns out, an annual salary of $22K – even in the mid-1990s – won’t take you very far in Washington, D.C. Relatively quickly I realized that I was not only poor, but I was BROKE.
Once I came to this realization, I always had a “magic number” in my head, that if only I made that amount of money, ALL of my financial problems would go away. Back in the $22K days, I believe that number was $35K. Then $35K became $50K … $50K became $75K … and now that I’m a bit older and wiser, that amount is in the tens of millions.
Of course, the chances of me winning the lottery tomorrow and obtaining this kind of windfall are slim to none. And let’s be clear, money does not buy happiness. However, it is nice to think about how much money I would really need to make dramatic, drastic changes in my life. Simply put, what is that magic “lump sum” I would need to drop out of the rat race, find a sense of balance and devote my time to a cause I was passionate about? I’m not talking about the millions and millions that would be needed to fly by private jet around the world should the need to travel arise, or about buying the toys and other material items that scream to everyone who sees me, “I’M RICH!”. The goal isn’t to stop working altogether – but say, I could take a minimum wage job if it was to do something I was passionate about, and I wouldn’t have to worry about paying bills or saving enough for retirement.
It’s hard to define “financial happiness” or “financial security” as it’s so different for each person. I’m not one of those people who would ever feel the need to show off wealth through big, expensive toys – I’m confident enough in the size of my manhood, thank you very much. Really, is a 25,000 square foot house necessary for two people? Is the $100,000 BMW that important for my trips to Whole Foods and a five-mile commute to the office? Do I really need to limit my clothes purchases to Neiman Marcus? For me, not so much.
I don’t really view my personal definition of “financial happiness” as that extravagant. I would live debt free, own a house (mortgage paid off) with money to cover expenses and make improvements as the need arises (and I’m not talking about some generic McMansion, just enough space to live comfortably and host the occasional guest). I would have enough savings to maintain a comfortable lifestyle until my retirement home days, a new car every couple of years, two weeks at the beach and two weeks in Europe for vacation. We would add a dog (or two) to the family and work to keep them, along with the two cats, happy and healthy. Maybe my “splurge” would be a mini-gym to call my own – a treadmill and elliptical, some weights and pilates machines. I really can’t think of anything else I would need.
But even as I list out those items above, it really does hit me how important it is to measure happiness by the little things: a sense of balance; health for me, my friends and family; time with loved ones; fulfilling experiences professionally and personally. Taking away any money-related stress would be amazing, but for now I’ll just take everything a day at a time … savings balance be damned.
However, for those of you reading this who happen to have some extra cash and nothing to do with it, drop me an email. I’ll help you out!!