At a party given by a billionaire hedge fund manager, Kurt Vonnegut informed his friend, Joseph Heller, that their host made more money in a single day then Heller had earned from his popular novel, Catch-22, over his entire lifetime. Heller responded, “Yes, but I have something he will never have………enough.”
This story opens the introduction to the book, Enough, by John Bogel, the founder and former CEO of the Vanguard Mutual Fund Group. It’s my favorite part of the book, because it perfectly summarizes what I have observed as a financial advisor over my entire career.
When we were first married, and very poor, my husband would tease me when he could tell I was getting stressed over our finances with his quip, “Let’s go buy something to cheer ourselves up!” The sad thing is, many people use acquiring things as a way make themselves happy, and then are disappointed when the good feeling quickly wears off. Years go by and they are never quite able to accumulate what they need to stop working. Our consumer society has helped fuel the growth of manufacturing countries like China, increased the trade deficit, and caused storage facilities to pop up all over the suburbs to help alleviate the overcrowding in our homes.
If there is anything good to come from the Great Recession we have experienced over the last two years, I hope it encourages people to stop and give real thought to what ‘enough’ means to them.
I have been fortunate to observe and learn from the collective experiences of our clients over the past 21 years. People who are conscious spenders, those who know what they are acquiring and why, have been much more successful and able to handle the financial ups and downs that life has handed them. This doesn’t mean they live as paupers, they simply decide early on what is important to them and what isn’t, and then prioritize their spending to enhance the areas of their lives that have meaning to them, versus blindly upgrading and expanding their possessions. This accomplishes two things. The money they spend truly does enhance their lives and adds to their long-term happiness versus giving them a temporary boost, and they have funds left over to save so they don’t have to work until they die.
I realize I may sound like a critical parent lecturing on spending, but it’s much more than that. I’m suggesting that we, as a society, do a lot of mindless acquiring that is damaging to our financial security, and at the risk of sounding dramatic, to our souls. Unlike the bumper sticker, I do not believe that “He who dies with the most toys, wins.”