We don’t need as much

“Hmm, it says here that we need…just a little bit more than we have.”
Painting by Marinus van Reymerswaele [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“We don’t need as much money as we have. Hardly any of us need as much money as we have. It’s true what they say about the best things in life being free.”Donald Miller

Miller’s words may sound controversial or oversimplified, but the more I think about them, the more I agree.  I think one of the great secrets to a full and happy life is to live beneath our means.  And because the best things in life really are free, I think living beneath our means is almost always possible, if we have at least a small (minimum-wage) income.  I have known many people who have done it successfully for years.

I am thinking of a family who chose to share one car among five people, and a woman who heated her home only with a wood stove, and several people who refuse to this day to get a cell phone or internet service.  All of these things are in the category most of us think of as “necessities” but none of these people who went without them ever complained; in fact, they seemed happy with their decisions.  For them, these were (and are) conscious choices that left them feeling more empowered rather than less.

The interesting thing is, in almost every case, there were some of us who tried to pressure them to get what we thought they REALLY needed.  The family with one car actually had people offer to donate a car to them.  The few folks still without cell phones are frequently looked at as aliens from another planet when they tell people they have no mobile phone.  (I know, because I used to be one of them.)  And internet access is something I’m guilty of trying to talk people into on a regular basis.  For me, the internet is up there with indoor plumbing, but not everyone sees it that way, and when I think about it I say: hats off to them.

If you examine your own life, I know you will find that there are things — maybe many things — that you happily do without, that your friends seem to find essential.  The trick to living beneath one’s means is learning to think that way about other things as well, things that seem desirable to us, but aren’t really necessary.

It’s not that I think there’s anything wrong with spending money on clothes or restaurants or entertainment.  We all do it.  But most of us don’t NEED to do it to the extent that we have become accustomed.  Jeff and I have a predictable little dialogue that we go through seemingly every time we discuss a potential purchase:

Me: Should we get a (fill in the blank)?

Jeff:  Do we need it?

Me:  Jeff, we don’t NEED anything!

OK, so maybe we do need groceries (but not overpriced processed foods) and electricity (but not a thermostat set at 70 in the summer) and transportation (but not a huge gas guzzling vehicle to run to the store that’s a mile from our home).  I’ve found that it becomes fairly painless to “just say no” to unnecessary spending, because doing so has given us a lot of freedom, in direct and indirect ways.

There’s a quote I’ve kept on my refrigerator for years: “He who knows he has enough is rich.” (The quote is variously attributed, so I’m not sure who said it first.)  That’s the heart of the matter, really.  There is no freedom quite like the freedom from financial worries.

That freedom often comes after years of career advancement, and having saved enough to have a cushion against unexpected expenses.  But it almost always starts with recognizing that money can never do what we may think it can do: add happiness or peace to our lives.  More is never enough, and most of us have, right now, all that we need to be happy and content.

Today, let’s celebrate our freedom from needing more money.  Let’s focus on those best things that are free.  Take a walk and enjoy the trees, grass and flowers, breathing deeply to take in all that oxygen they make for us.  Contact a friend or two for a quick hello, just to let them know how much you appreciate them.  Go shopping and enjoy exploring the aisles knowing you do not need to buy a thing.  Look through some old photographs, or tune in your radio or portable device (if you have one) to a station that plays music you like.  Go to the library and browse among the books, magazines, newspapers, DVDs and CDs, most of which are available to check out at no cost.  Chill some water and drink it when you are hot and thirsty — it’s incredible how wonderful cold water tastes when we are really thirsty.  Sing. Pray. Exercise. Nap. Laugh.

I could go on, but I probably don’t need to.  I’m sure you can think of quite a few things that are not for sale, or that you already have, to enjoy today.  Share some of them with us by describing them in the comments.  And here’s a bonus: I’ll happily send you a FREE tea bag (specify the type and flavor you prefer) or a blank note card for your personal use, or a copy of a poem chosen just for you, or a link to an upbeat song or a funny video.  Just send me your postal or email address (as always, I will not publish it online or use it in any other way), let me know which of these little items you prefer, and look for a surprise to come in your electronic or old-fashioned traditional mail box.

If finances are an area of deep concern for you, I’m hoping that you will find new ways to understand that money (or a lack of it) will never define who we are. But all of us, whether we have a lot or a little, struggle with buying into the continual messages telling us it does. Just for today, let’s make an effort to ignore those messages, and drink in (literally or figuratively) those best free things.

49 Comments

  1. I love sharing seeds and surplus plants… and one of my favourite things is when the neighbours leave us a bag of grass clippings for our compost heap… free fertility!!
    I feel very lucky that we are at a stage in our lives where we own our own house and therefore have no rent or mortgage to pay. The people who I know who struggle financially are often those living in rented accommodation… and it can be hard for them to leave below their means.

    • That’s a very good point. It’s hard to live below a level that keeps moving in the wrong direction. We hated that about renting. I know there are advantages to renting and to owning, but for me, those rent increases are just too hard to take. I would be willing to forgo a lot of things in order to own our home. We too feel very fortunate to be able to say we have owned a home now for over 11 years, a record for us after so many moves during Jeff’s career.

      Don’t you just love composting? I wish we lived closer. We could keep you in grass clippings (mixed with dead leaves in autumn) nearly year round, and you could share seeds and plants with me. We have more clippings than we’ll ever need, but I am always on the lookout for plants. I think it’s wonderful that you and your neighbors are sharing resources. I’m excited that we have a community garden plot near our York home that I hope in the future to rent a space in, to try growing some veggies, since we have way too many critters and shade on our lot to make it practical to grow our own food.

      • I think composting is magic… turning waste into food is just such a joy to me!

        • I agree totally! We used to laugh at our mother for composting — “Why do y’all save your garbage?” a friend once asked of the big pan of coffee grounds, egg shells and banana peels sitting on our counter — this was in the 1960’s, long before it was a cool thing to do in mainstream America. But time has vindicated my mother’s hippie streak. Once when she was fussing at my younger brother he said “I’m just going to go outside and sit in the compost and rot!” 😀

        • I agree!

  2. Good morning, Julia! You’ve got it! The more stuff you have, the more stuff you have to dust around!
    And no one needs 70 degree indoor summer weather (although men think that they do 🙂 ) http://www.today.com/health/office-air-conditioning-cold-women-science-reveals-why-t36476
    I would love a funny video, please! I’ve enjoyed the ones with Grady and with your dog.
    Have a simply beautiful day!

    • Wow, thanks for that great link, Susan! I just tweeted it. I always thought it was ironic during the years when men would wear suits and ties to church and women would wear sleeveless cotton dresses and then FREEZE when the auditorium felt like a refrigerator inside.

      I’m going to email you some funny Grady videos, but meanwhile I couldn’t resist sharing one of my favorite Weird Al videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9qYF9DZPdw. I just love his parodies.

      The one about Yoda is also hilarious, as is Party in the CIA. Hope these will bring you a smile today!

      • Ann

        Please post some Grady videos, maybe on Grady’s page.

        • Ann, you have just said the magical words that any Grandmother would love to hear! Just the excuse I need to bore people with post some new videos to Grady’s page! I need to start a new page for 2015 videos, and add a few to the 2014 page too. Time flies! And he is changing so fast. Check back in a day or two and see if I have anything new there. Thanks for asking. 🙂

  3. Ann

    Julia, we are big believers in living below our means AND saving. Now that we are retired, we are used to this lifestyle (no need to downsize) and have the funds to travel.

    You might like the book, the Millionaire Next Door.

    Ann

    • Ann, I seem to remember reading that book years ago (or maybe just an except of it) because I remember thinking I knew a family that it described to a T. I need to go back and read it again since I don’t remember that much about it, except that it seemed so true. I’m happy you are able to travel! I still dream of being able to do that with Jeff after he retires, and I’m praying that dream comes true for us. Have a great weekend!

  4. Michael

    Well said. Peer pressure is such a powerful shaper of our wants and dreams. Since all my friends have Teslas it is only natural that I have to get one too. Way above my means. But what can I do?

    • Michael, I hope you’re kidding about the Tesla — or maybe you run in much wealthier circles than I do! Just remember, I save WAY more fuel walking to many of the places I go, and it doesn’t cost me anything. 🙂 Plus it helps me enjoy eating some nice inexpensive treats without adding unwanted pounds. The day they can come out with a car that runs on NO fuel and burns calories to boot, I might be in, even with a high sticker price. But for now I’m sticking with what’s free!

      • What’s a Tesla? I’m serious. I, at one time, had several friends with Rolices on their wrists.

  5. Jack

    A famous economist (and to a lesser degree psychologist) says there are two kinds of people with regard to money. First, those who consider it to be a store of value, to be saved, even hallowed as a source of security; the others who consider it to be a medium of exchange, the means by which “stuff” is attained. I’m an SoV guy, my wife’s a MoE gal, a saver v. a spender, the source of much conflict over the years. Of course, I for years thought that my orientation was the more wise; she said why pile up money without doing something useful with it? The debate continues but with considerably less heat.

    How odd that we find our joy, our value, our significance as little bytes on a microchip on some server in some nondescript place, either to hoard or squander? “My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it”, so says Brennan Manning. There, and only there, is my worth.

    • Jack, I’m torn between the SoV and the MoE, but Jeff is definitely in the SoV camp, and I think my very truncated MoE tendencies are mostly a reaction to him. But you have hit the nail on the head as usual; we can fall off the horse on either side, and a good friend of mine (Hi, Amy Dye!) pointed out to me many years ago that frugality can easily cross the line into greed. Manning is right, but sadly, too many believers don’t seem to feel that love as deeply as he does; maybe that’s why we often share our neighbor’s enthusiasm for wealth, despite what Jesus taught about it. If we are lucky enough to live several decades, I think it becomes more clear with advancing age. Or so I hope.

  6. Your post speaks volumes to me right now. I just discovered this week that I’m being forced to move, yet again, across our great country. 3100 miles to Massachusetts I will travel with all my worldly possessions. I’ve done this before just 10 years ago when I moved everything in a truck I drove myself. I’m not taking any furniture, or motorcycle or appliances. I just bringing that stuff that I can squash into my SmartCar that will be picked up fully loaded at my doorstep in Portland, OR and deliver to the doorstep in my new home in Uxbridge, MA. I’ll arrive October 3rd, just in time to soak in the New England Autumn before facing the most extreme weather in decades.

    I’m excited about the new beginnings with less stuff and more hope. I will not abandon my 4 blogs and my west coast friends.

    • WOW, Bob — I had no idea you were leaving your much-loved Oregon home! I am so woefully behind on everything that my WordPress reader gets almost none of my time lately, so I had to hop back over to your blog to see if I could find any major announcements. Then I had to quit reading because all those beautiful animal faces are so addictive and I had such short time. I did see the link to your National Geographic photos — I think I had known about them, but had forgotten — and I’m so relieved that you will be continuing your blogs. I will look forward to some New England foliage photos, and I just know you will find many new human and animal friends to keep your cameras clicking away. Good luck and keep us posted! I think it would be hard to leave Oregon, but New England is also beautiful, and the east coast has many practical advantages in terms of geographic proximity to so many other places.

      • Oregon’s price of living outpaced my fixed income. The offer I took in the Boston area is less than half my cheapest rental here in Portland. I can actually have spending money is MA. I look forward to the transition.

        • You will have so much fun exploring and taking photos! I think of MA as being expensive — but that just shows how out of reach the cost of living on the west coast is becoming. Jeff and I once planned to retire in CA, but had to change our plans for the very same reason. Now we just feel thankful for the years we had there.

          • It’s really a shame that only 10 % of Oregon’s land is developed. Everything is on the coast such as Portland, or the Interstate 5 corridor where Eugene and Salem are located. If someone just started developing the wide open spaces the housing stranglehold would be broken. Now all I have to do is win enough money be be that developer. 🙂

            • I remember being surprised when I looked at the Oregon map and saw how sparse and dry much of the state appears to be. It seems like there was some sort of camp for kids with disabilities that I was thinking of taking Matt to, that was located in northeastern Oregon. The drive there from our CA home was too intimidating for me to consider. I tend to think only of the forested west coast when I imagine the state, but as you say, that’s only part of the picture. I wonder how hard it would be to develop some of that desert area? LA seems to have spread out almost to Palm Springs now, which amazes me. I guess it can be done, but YES it will take a lot of money.

              • Oregon has 4-5 microclimates in its borders. There’s the coastal area, the coastal mountain range, the Valley that is Portland along with the Interstate 5 corridor and then the middle plains and finally high desert. Weather patters are totally unpredictable. There are way too many wildfires in the drier regions each year so it’s tough to build or develop that area. We actually have plenty of water and wind power with the dams along the Columbia and Willamette Rivers.

                • I can imagine the diverse climates after driving into snow piled high in the middle of June, then 30 minutes later, being back in the sunny warm weather (Crater Lake). What an experience. I’d love to go back sometime.

                  • I just spent the afternoon with my best friend here discussing my move. He was on a motorcycle trip with his dad when this all came about. We’ll miss each other but he certainly understands my decision. He will sell my scooter after I’ve left and send me the money he gets. We’ll be getting together at his parent’s home in Salem for a farewell party.

                    • I’m glad you have him there to help you with the bike. Maybe he can come out to see you in New England! I hope you have a great farewell party.

  7. Amy

    They say that, “Money can’t buy happiness but it can protect from sadness”. How very true and I do appreciate what you are saying here. Stephen and I are blessed with so much earthly gain we really don’t need another thing but somehow there always seems to creep up that unexpected cost that catches us off guard. New tires on a car, a leaky pipe and on and on. I could cut out a lot of things though and still afford those unexpected bits. Please don’t send me anything. I have enough and I know you love me so that carries me all the time. I do wish we could get together. I am off every Friday so lets plan to make a date in September. Most of August is pretty crazy for me. My love to Jeff and Matt.

    • Hi Amy, we will definitely get together even if we have to schedule it way in advance and block the time off. I sent you an email with one possibility for me. Yes, money makes things much easier, and that’s why I think it’s so important to be able to stash some away for a rainy day. When I hear of folks who are struggling with financial woes, I often think of It’s a Wonderful Life and what Jimmy Stewart says to the angel who tells him they don’t have money in heaven: “Well, it comes in handy down here, let me tell you.” 😀 Still, most of us who would be reading this blog don’t know what being in need really means, in the same sense that some of the world’s citizens do. It’s hard for us to imagine a mother seeing her baby starve due to famine, or losing family members to epidemic disease with inadequate medical care. It really puts many of our worries into perspective.

  8. Whether we bring a needful thing home or have it delivered, they all end up at home. If a thing we want is determined to be truly that important to own, one must ask the question: Would I be willing to exchange home for it.
    As Dorothy said at the end of The Wizard of Oz: “All I ever needed was right here-there’s no place like home.”
    Great post, Julia.
    -Alan

    • Thanks Alan! I just love the ending of The Wizard of Oz, which is tied with A Man for All Seasons as my all-time favorite movie.

  9. Julia, good morning. Great post…interesting ideas. ❤

    • Thanks Merry, I’m happy you liked it!

  10. Michael

    Just kidding about the Tesla, although several docs at the hospital have them and I am a little envious, but not too much, although at some point I do intend to try out one of the Electrics in the not too distant future. My daughter in law’s folks live in Nelson Beach, Florida where electric golf carts are the transport de reriguer.

    • Michael, I would dearly love to live in a place such as Peachtree City GA (near where my parents live) where golf carts rule the road. They have quite a network of roads and even bridges for the carts. If I could live someplace like that I probably would never drive a car except in really cold weather.

  11. Julia, having just spent a week with many family members from afar, I feel very blessed and my needs are few. I often think of “wants and needs” and you can imagine the longer list! This must be the first month in years that I didn’t get to our Club Verandah on the FIRST! 😳 No matter how busy I am, on any given day, you’re with me in such a special way. I’m rich beyond words, thanks to our friendship! 💞👭

    • Sheila, for once I got there first! I was waiting for you. This month’s quote is from a book Jeff and Matt read recently; I think that’s the dog “speaking” in the quote. I am so honored to be with you in your world, and in mine! Here’s to a lovely August! It has been wonderfully cool here today and yesterday.

      • Julia, I read “Art Of Racing In The Rain” a few months after Salty died, I believe. I was delighted to see Enzo’s excerpt used with the August verandah in “Out On The Porch”. I’ve listened to the audio version and enjoyed it. A story told by a dog is touching, but emotional, if you know what I mean! 😢 You might want to listen to the sample first. Our weather has been wonderful, 428 and WIllow Tree. Well,until next time…. 🐥 I must go pick up Walter before they sell him for the boarding fees! 💛

        • Sheila, I do plan to read that book, and we have a copy of it. I expect it will be emotional for me, so I’ll try to choose my time wisely. I find that I really do need to read certain types of books that suit my moods at the time, and some times I can’t do “emotional” or “sad” as well as others! But I think it’s wise to read all sorts of books, so I like light ones and heavy ones and everything in between, as long as I don’t read too much of one type in a row. I hope Walter had fun at boarding. I’m sure he heard a lot, but probably isn’t telling. 🙂

  12. Michael

    My younger son Kris loves living in NYC sans car. That was one of the reasons he wanted to live there when he moved some 12 years ago. He just got his masters in administration and is looking forward to getting out of the classroom for a bit. Seattle has one of the worst public transport systems known to mankind. Several years ago they turned down a master plan designed by the same people who did Bart. Maybe that was a good thing.
    It seems like you would not need a car living in down town Atlanta? Curious I have only taken MARTA one time and that was to the airport. Oh now that I have reached the golden age I can now ride the bus for a dollar which is great.
    As far as easy – living goes??? Walks are great. And the Seattle Art museum has free concerts on Thursday nights. And now on Tuesdays we have the free farmers market downtown with lots of music and occasionally free food. But really, two of us in a five bedroom house now does not make a whole lot of sense.

    • I’m surprised Seattle doesn’t have good public transportation. I tend to think of it as a very progressive city. I laughed when I read your comment about “maybe that was a good thing.” I never saw the public transportation system yet that people didn’t love to hate. But when one is without any sort of public transportation (as we are in York) any version of it starts to look good in comparison. All I have heard since we moved to the DC metro area is continual ranting about how bad the Metro system is, but I think it’s actually pretty good, considering the challenges involved.

      Drew and Megan shared only one car between the two of them for the first several years they were married, and the live in Decatur (suburb of Atlanta). Drew would walk or ride the Emory shuttle or MARTA most everywhere he went. Megan works in Sandy Springs so she had to have the car most days. When they found out about Grady being on the way, they decided it would be good to have a second (VERY USED) car by the time he arrived. But I think they did fine with only one car up to that point. It would depend on where a person lived and worked, and whether there was adequate transportation in the area. In some (maybe most) situations, a car would be a necessity in Atlanta, unless one lived downtown or near work, shopping, etc. Like LA, the Atlanta metro area is spread out into a geographically large region.

      Where home space is concerned, I’ve noticed that my stuff (especially books) seems to expand to take up the available space. Jeff isn’t nearly as bad about this as I am. Five bedrooms sounds great to me, as they wouldn’t have to be used as bedrooms. One could be the craft room, one could be the office, one could be the guest room, one could be the TV/exercise room…you get the idea. But really, all that is a luxury. I’m trying to train myself to see the trade-offs involved in having and maintaining lots of square footage. Downsizing might help my hopelessly cluttered brain.

  13. Time and again, I work with people drowning in stuff. People who remodel homes because they “don’t have enough storage” when really they have an excess of material goods. Conversely, we lived for several years in poverty after our dad died and things were tough. We didn’t have a car or a TV and we sometimes got buy on scarce food till payday. Notes were written to the sewing teacher to explain the delay in purchasing materials for class. There wasn’t enough to go around. We did have each other and we pulled together and improved our lot over time. I think it’s about finding the balance.

    Some of my favorite home bloggers are people the find broke furniture at the curb and craft it into one of a kind gems for their home. They turn trash to treasure and they do it for a song.

    Lots to think about here, dear Julia.

    • Alys, I just love some of the creative ideas on Pinterest for upcycling and repurposing and turning trash into treasure. It really is an amazing gift for some people. We had some friends who were quite affluent, whose living room sofa was a reclaimed antique which the woman picked up literally out of a trash pile in an Atlanta neighborhood. She knew her antiques and saw that it was valuable. When she asked the residents if they would mind if she kept it, she said they looked at her like she was crazy. I think she even paid them something for it. Nobody who saw it when she finished with it would ever have guessed. That’s the sort of talent I really admire.

      Jeff grew up living with poverty for much of his childhood, and he says that it’s something that never really leaves you. As in your case, he had the love and support of family, which is more important (easy to say, I know, but I think it’s true). So many people who grow up without material advantages go on to do amazing things. It seems that in most if not all cases they had at least some stability at home to facilitate their growth. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was my favorite book when I was young. I didn’t live through the kind of hardship that book describes, but I could identify with Francie’s feeling different, as well as her deep sense of who she was despite her external circumstances.

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