We don’t need as much“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.