X

The Secret To Solving All Your Money Problems

I bought a new juicer recently. Want to know how much it cost?

$285.

I agonised over it for days. My old juicer was working fine, but the new juicer was supposed to give me more juice, which meant more nutrients, and less waste, and hopefully that would make it worth it in the long run.

But $285? For a juicer?

When it arrived, I tested it against my old juicer. I weighed the carrots, and put them in the old juicer. Then I put the same amount in the new juicer. I weighed the juice. A 10% difference. So assuming each glass of juice has $4 worth of ingredients in it, and I save 10% each time using the new juicer, that’s 40 cents on each juice, meaning I need to make 712 juices before the juicer pays for itself, and since I’m only in New Zealand for 3 months per year, it would take me around eight years. Worth it? Probably not.

I still had 28 days on the guarantee. I decided I would return it.

A few days later I met up with a friend I hadn’t seen for a while. She’s a hard working girl, two young kids, has her own business. I pulled up to her house and saw a new car in the driveway. Audi. I grinned, and shook my head. I already knew what we would be talking about.

She came out and got in the car. I hadn’t seen her in about a year. She looked…older.

“Nice car,” I smiled.

She smiled back knowingly.

“Is it brand new?”

“Yeah.”

“How much was it?”

“I’m not telling.”

“C’mon tell me.”

“$75,000.”

I laughed, and then she laughed, and then I laughed some more, and then she punched me.

Seventy five thousand dollars!!!! For a car.

I decided right there and then – I was allowed to keep my $285 juicer.

As we sat there chatting that afternoon, I was suddenly plunged back into the stress of everyday life in Auckland. We talked about her money problems, all the things she wanted, how she was struggling to stay on top of everything. It was a sudden dose of culture shock for me. Doubly so, because the culture I was being shocked into was a culture I was once a part of. One thing I take for granted is, the community on the road is mostly free of this talk. We never talk about mortgages, or car payments, because none of us have houses, or cars. We never talk about retirement funds, or renovations, or office politics. We mostly talk about how to find cheap flights, and good street stalls to eat at, the Airbnbs we’re staying in, which coffee shops have the best internet, the Australian girl in the hostel we try to avoid at breakfast, how the avocados at Ali’s Fruit Shop are fifty cents cheaper than the ones at Lidl. The energy in our conversations is usually calm and peaceful.

This conversation was not calm or peaceful. She was stressed about her car payment. She was stressed about her business. She was stressed about her relationship. She was stressed about everything. She showed me a house she had wanted to buy on her phone. “Look at it, it’s perfect. I’m in love with it.”

“How much is it?” I asked.

“They asked for bids in the low 900’s, so I offered 920k. But then someone offered 960k! Do you think I should counter-offer? Look at the deck, oh my gosh. It’s so perfect.”

As if she wasn’t juggling enough already, she was thinking of adding a million dollar house to her problems.

Later in the car before I dropped her home, she showed me a voucher on Groupon. It was $240, for a fancy lunch buffet somewhere. I lost it.

“There is never a time where it’s okay for anyone to pay $240 for lunch. Put that shit away right now!”

“That’s cheap! It’s for four people. It’s usually $100 per person!”

My friend is not poor. She has a business, works hard, makes a good living. As you can see, she drives a nice car and lives in a nice house. She’s the kind of person I would expect to be living a good, stable life. But she isn’t.

Even though I was surprised at the situation, I shouldn’t have been. When I was an accountant, I saw this sort of thing all the time. It was my job to look through the client’s bank statements and sort through all the things they were buying. I had a front row seat to people’s financial disasters.

One particular client I remember well. He earned over a million dollars a year and couldn’t pay his final $50,000 tax bill. All he (and his wife) had to do was keep their spending to $950,000 that year and they would’ve been okay. But no, they had to spend the full million. Where did it all go? Houses, holidays, expensive cars. The kind of cars that cost $75k. The kind of houses that cost a million dollars.

I see this problem every day. Many of us struggle with money. We don’t have enough, we don’t earn enough, we can’t pay for the things we want. But if people earning a million dollars per year can’t even make ends meet, what does that tell you? It’s this:

Your money problems will not be solved by earning more money.

If you want to solve your money problems, the secret is a lot simpler:

Change your relationship with money.

You probably just rolled your eyes. You didn’t want to hear that. Because that’s not a convenient answer, is it? You wanted me to tell you some easy ways to get rich so you can go out and buy all those things you want.

But even if I could tell you that, it would lead you nowhere anyway.

You can see this all around you. Pro athletes going bankrupt. Multi-millionaire celebrities suffering from depression and anxiety.

Even more telling, consider this: Every week someone in your city wins the lottery. Apparently if you win that, you’re living the dream. But statistics show that 70% of lottery millionaires will lose the entire fortune within a few years. Even more telling, 30% of big lottery winners will end up filing for bankruptcy. Big lottery winners are also more likely to become estranged from family and friends, and have higher incidences of suicide, depression and divorce than the average citizen. As the saying goes in the finance world – if you really, really hate someone, give them a winning lotto ticket.

Everybody is adamant this will never happen to them.

“Man, those people must be really dumb or something.”

Ask those same people what they would do if they won $5 million tomorrow, and the answers will mostly be the same. They’d quit their job. Strike one. Then they’d buy a new house and a new car. Strike two. Then they’d go on holiday. Strike three. You lost your source of income, you bought expensive assets that create no income (and a lot of expenses), and now you’re spending your time on holiday splurging and doing nothing. You’ll be broke in five years. The perfect example of a toxic relationship with money.

A healthier answer? Don’t quit your job. Don’t buy a new house. Put all the money in the bank. Go back to work tomorrow, and just keep living your life. You’ll never need to worry about money ever again.

Not a sexy answer. That’s why nobody does it. It’s also why they all went bankrupt. What makes you think you will be any different?

Here’s an inconvenient truth. You and I are average people. Your IQ isn’t 200, your dad isn’t a billionaire, and you’re not inventing the next Google. Neither am I. If we were, you wouldn’t be reading this blog and I wouldn’t be writing it. That means if we want to be at financial peace, we need to do it the ordinary way. But earning more money will do nothing. Winning lotto will do nothing.

You will not solve your money problems until you change your relationship with money.

Think back to when you were a kid. Your mother gave you $5 pocket money each week, and you’d buy a couple of chocolate bars, or a pack of basketball cards, maybe you’d save up for a few weeks and then buy a video game. Then one day you got a job at the corner store, and the owner started paying you $50 per week. $50 per week! You didn’t even know how you were going to spend $50 per week.

And now think about today. Maybe you earn $50 per hour. It’s still not enough. When you break six figures, still not enough. Then you get your first million. Still not enough.

Where do you stop? 

This is the culture we live in. If your salary is not growing, you’re failing. If you haven’t upgraded your car in five years, you’re failing. If your company’s profits are not growing, it’s failing. If your country’s GDP isn’t rising, it’s failing. Nobody wants to be failing.

This is the culture of more. We can’t complain, we created it. But the thing about a culture of more is, there is no finish line. You’ll be chasing it forever. Since none of us live forever, it’s a game that can’t be won. So why are we still playing?

About four years ago, I wrote an article called The One Simple Lifestyle Change That Will Transform Your Life. It was an article that explored the idea of living simply, based on my experiences on the road. Silly me thought I was onto something new; showing people the cool mini sub-culture of my backpacking family, at the time completely unaware that “minimalism” was already a thing. After publishing it, I started getting hundreds of readers a day searching for “simple lifestyle” on Google, and soon discovered the already thriving minimalist movement that was tearing through Instagram, plus many others, including the very cool nomadic spinoff, #vanlife

I starting reading the stories of many people around the world who had left high-stress high-income careers to live freer, simpler lives. Small houses. No car. Tee shirts. Jeans. Picking fresh fruits and veges. Travel. Long lunches. Music. Reading. I thought to myself, is it actually happening? Is being rich actually going out of fashion? Sure enough, a movement was growing. The culture was changing. I realised I was actually a part of something – a worldwide community of people trying to live simpler, more purposeful lives. But more importantly this told me this wasn’t just a philosophy for the crazies. This was for everyone.

There’s an old saying, which I’m certain you’ve never heard of before, it goes, “Money Can’t Buy You Happiness”. The thing about cliches is, they’re usually right. That’s why they become cliches. A bunch of people spend their whole life trying to get rich, they get rich, they’re not happy. They tell their kids, “Money can’t buy you happiness.” The kids don’t believe them. They too spend their whole life getting rich. They’re not happy. They tell their kids, “Your granddaddy told me this, and he was right, money can’t buy you happiness.” Those grandkids don’t believe them, so they spend go and their whole life getting rich too, until it’s a story so well known that 200 years later people are blogging about it on the internet.

But that is totally understandable. Because the thing about the simple life is, like most journeys, this can’t just be forced on you through a blog post. It can’t be preached. It can simply be shared, and either it resonates with you or it doesn’t. That’s because the “declutter” movement, as it is sometimes called, isn’t just about trying to “buy less stuff” or “save more money”. In fact, that’s only a very small part of the puzzle. 

What it is actually about, I’ve learned, is teaching yourself to find joy outside of money.

A Ferrari might bring you joy for a few months, and will cost you $300,000. A short backpacking trip where you meet some new interesting people might also bring you joy for a few months and cost you $800. One requires you to work at McDonald’s for a week, the other requires you to work in a high stress corporate job for 5 years. When you look at it like that, it’s easy to see where the merits are. But how would you ever know this unless you’ve been on the trip and you’ve had the Ferrari?

That might be why many never wrap their heads around it. In fact, a lot of people I’ve talked to on this journey tell me it happened completely by accident. 

I just went on this trip and suddenly everything changed.

That’s how it was for me too.

I suppose, this is why we preach the merits of travel so much. So much of it has nothing to do with counting countries or seeing famous sights or lounging on beaches. The real epiphanies come from detaching from the life you’ve always been living, to see things with different eyes, to meet people who don’t have a fancy job or fancy house and are smiling and laughing every day, far more than you have in the last ten years. To be able to feel completely happy just reading a book or listening to some music or taking a walk. Things like that open your eyes. And of course experiences like this aren’t exclusive to travel, but it does seem to be a common place for them to happen. These experiences have the power to jolt you into change quicker than you thought. But you can’t experience them through a blog post. You need to feel them for yourself.

So what is the secret to changing your relationship with money? Saving an extra $50 a week helps. Learning to cook helps. Downsizing your car and house helps. And you should absolutely start doing those things. But these are all mini moves; they won’t break the unwinnable cycle you’ve been in your whole life, of earning more and spending more and wanting more.

What will do that is pushing yourself into new experiences. Opening your mind to new people and places. Finding joy in things that don’t cost an entire paycheck, and realising they brought you more joy than any new car or pair of shoes ever did. And if you are able to experience joy in the smaller, simple things, you won’t need to buy $75,000 cars or million dollar houses to fill those gaps. Your life will surely be plentiful already.

How you take the first step on that journey, is up to you.

Bren


How did your journey into minimalism and simpler living start? Was it a book you read, a person you met, an experience you had? Share it below, I’d love to hear!

Are you on Facebook?!

Note: The posts on this blog may contain affiliate links. Please check out my Disclosure Policy for more information.

8 thoughts on “The Secret To Solving All Your Money Problems

  1. I caught the tail-end of the hippie generation, for which I was very lucky, and I wish everyone could have done it. But only the tail-end starting in the early 1970s, as i was several years younger than those of the 1960s. When I left school, a friend and I wanted to “adventure”, so bought what was then an incredibly cheap 1-month pass to travel by train around Europe for £32. It was a great experience, but it included Morocco as well as Europe. So alone I trained – on, yes, the famous Marakesh Express of the song – down to that city. Where my month-long card expired. OK, so in those days there were three attempts to rob me in my first 24 hours in Morocco! – but at age 20 that’s just called “adventure”. My rail pass expired, I had to heart-in-throat put my thumb out and hitch for the first time. I could write a book but am keeping this short. Suffice it to say that the travel experience was amazing. And I didn’t know how I could go back to my boring hometown, or indeed to the horrible office job I’d done for a year after school.

    Arriving in England by ferry, I didn’t want to go home to my parents and friends at first. I just camped out on the white cliffs of Folkstone, utterly alone apart from many bees among the flowers. And I read books, and thought. Venturing back down, a large boat came in. I stood stunned at the people who got off it. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of young people aged 18 to maybe 26. They were “battle weary”, wore strange clothes, some limped, no one was well-off for sure, but EVERY one of them had this amazing LOOK in their eye. They’d seen things, done things, and BECOME things I’d never even dreamed of. I could tell that for sure. And I discovered that they were coming back from what thousands of youths used to do from Europe from around 1965 to 1979 – the legendary overland trip to India. (Remarkably few books exist on this, and if you know of any let me know.) Thousands grew up and changed their lives this way back then, and of those who set out the dangers were real then – I’d honestly say from experience that maybe two percent disappeared forever along the way. This reality was part of the adventure.

    So I planned to do it and did, setting out aged 21 ( I later met someone who set out aged 16 with NO MONEY and still got to India and back.) I turned 22 in Iran. I even met a future wife along the way. But it was a community, and you belonged. Travelers still are a community, but I’d venture to say not at all as it was then, since we shared a common philosophy, we were what might be called ‘automatic members’. It was amazing, difficult, a bit scary, and wondrous. I left as though still a teen, and arrived in India a man. But not the sort who cold take kindly again to the uselessness of “normal life”. Of all the people I met along the way and shared miles with, 2/3 had Kathmandu – in its natural state with few cars as it was then – as the main goal. When I got to Kathmandu, everyone I’d known on the trip seemed to be there! I was so happy that one night I just couldn’t sleep for happiness. And I’d moved from my own room at 10 pence a night to a building where I shared with three others at 6 pence a night, such a bargain. 🙂

    Since then, 1975, I’ve often put in literal years in boring jobs in England, to be honest. And I got a useless degree. But I return to the road and it’s in my blood. Essentially, so is simple living such as Bren writes of here. So I agree with it all, apart from one thing. It has to be said that you often hear that people who live their lives this way find themselves reaching, say, 50, or 60, or 65, and they may have illness, and they may well not own their home. I’m like that. I didn’t plan for the later years at all. When you’ve burned a bit of youth and adventure away, maybe in your 30s or as late as your 40s, do plan for later years should you need to.

    P.S. I hitched from Coventry, England to Damascus, which is about half-way to India, and then used public transport. Even though the paltry rides in France took me a week to get through, I got to India in 5 1/2 weeks. It was more about what came after.

    1. Hi David,. A book that describes a similar journey from the UK to Asia overland is; Danziger’s Travels: Beyond Forbidden Frontiers, by Nick Danziger. It inspired me in the early 80s to go traveling, something I have done ever since. I also agree wholeheartedly in your statement about planning for the later years, it’s amazing how fast they arrive!

  2. This is a very timely post. It is the reality, but not all of us are open to accepting it, including myself. It’s funny how every single information that you have cited really struck a chord. I will definitely bookmark this post as I try to follow that path to happiness and minimalism. I’m sure this will come in handy especially during the days when I am tempted to just use my credit card for unnecessary online purchases.

  3. I’ve spent the last two years traveling, and I’ve found that the middle road works for me. I want to earn a high income and be able to save lots of money, while living the minimalist lifestyle. This affects me in 3 ways:
    1. Money buys me opportunities, which can give me happiness. The dollar amount to me is meaningless, but what I do with it isn’t. I could learn languages ($20k a year and I could live very well in China and learn Chinese intensively), visit friends all over the world in person, not have to do work I hate, control my own schedule, network by attending conferences in person (some of these cost thousands a pop), pay for self-improvement, etc.
    2. What I do have I can have high quality. Because I’m not going to have a gigantic house, I can spend a bit more on rent. Because I don’t need a computer/TV for each room, I can have one or two really nice computers. Because my tax burden is lower, I can afford to give more away.
    3. By keeping my expenses well below my income, I can save in order to invest for financial Independence. One day I may not be able to teach, may have trouble writing, get really sick, etc. But if I am no longer trading my time for money, than it doesn’t matter if I can charge for it anymore. This gives me peace that I can still do what I want, even if I have to change what I do.

  4. The best move for people who get/make a lot of money isn’t necessarily just continuing their existing lives. Sure, they can do that if it’s what makes them feel truly alive, but otherwise, they could invest the money to create a passive income stream and do whatever *does* make them feel alive. I was able to escape a toxic corporate environment, and now I live in Lisbon, attending cryptocurrency meetups, researching stock investment opportunities, enjoying a great city, and generally doing more and doing different.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *