Someone told me the other day that I should want to earn more money so that I could afford the “finer things” in life. I responded by saying that yes, more money would be nice (isn’t it always?), but that the tradeoffs (working longer hours, more stress, more time away from my family) wouldn’t be worth it to me. As things stand I’m able to comfortably afford my needs, fund my savings, have most of my wants, and even afford a few of my “pie in the sky” dreams, all while remaining relatively stress free and available to me family.
“Yeah,” this person said, “But with your potential you could earn so much more. Don’t you want the really great things in life like luxury cars, a bigger house, designer clothes, swanky vacations to exotic locales and fine jewelry? Everyone wants those things and if you think you don’t you’re living in denial. You only say that to make yourself feel better because you can’t afford them.”
Of course, I bristled at this because who is this person to tell me what I do and don’t want? Moreover, who are they to tell me that I’m living in denial and lying if I say I don’t want those things? When I was done being angry, I started thinking: What are these “finer things” in life and are they worth it? Should I want them? Am I wrong not to work more in order to afford them? And who decides what’s considered “finer?”
The answer to the last question came easily. For the most part, it’s Madison Avenue that decides what the finer things in life are. They are the ones constantly harping on “affordable luxury” and finding new ways to make us want what we never even knew existed. They latch on to certain items and promote them with glossy ads, product placements in shows and movies, tag lines that imply you’re a loser if you don’t have the item, and celebrity endorsements. But are these items really that much better than other items that bring happiness to their owners, but aren’t promoted as heavily? In most cases, not. But for better or for worse, these are the items that people like my questioner equate to the finer things in life and believe we should all aspire to own.
What this person (and Madison Avenue) doesn’t yet realize or want to admit is that what constitutes “finer” varies from person to person. Or at least it should in people who are able to think for themselves, independent of what the advertisers want them to think. For me the “finer things” in life are not luxury cars, designer clothes, and fancy jewelry. For me the finer things in life would include more travel (not necessarily to exotic locales, but more money and time to travel), a house on more land than we have (not necessarily a bigger house, but on more land), and a bigger camper (if I’m going to travel more, might as well do it in comfort). But beyond those few things, I’m content with what I have. Even without those things my life is still very good. Some people value cars or handbags, and other people would, with unlimited funds, choose to have bigger families or more animals. What constitutes “finer” is personal, not universal.
The problem is, in order to obtain those “finer things,” whether they be finer by my own definition or Madison Avenue’s, someone is going to have to work more hours to earn the money to pay for them. The last time I checked, the money tree hadn’t grown in my yard, so earning more is the only option. Unfortunately, working and earning more wipes out most of my finer things.
If I’m working more, wanting more travel is pointless as I’ll never have the time to go anywhere. The bigger camper also becomes useless in that scenario. I might be able to afford the house on more land, but to get more land, I’ll have to move further away from the centers of employment, thus increasing commute costs and wiping out some of the money for the land. The only “finer” things I’d be able to enjoy would be clothes, handbags, jewelry and cars, i.e., “things” like those my questioner thought I should have. Those can be bought with a high salary, it doesn’t matter where you live, and you don’t need time away from work to enjoy them. But those things aren’t worth working more and losing time with my family, at least not to me. Your wants may differ from mine and that’s okay. But for me, working more and earning more isn’t the answer to having the “finer things” I wish for.
So should I want these finer things in life, as this person said, or is it okay that I choose to earn less but have a higher quality of life? Certainly we should all have dreams and aspirations. Otherwise life will get pretty boring just doing the same things over and over. But if my aspirations don’t jibe with yours or with Madison Avenue’s then that’s okay, too. If this person thinks a luxury car is key to his happiness, then I’m all for him having it. Just don’t tell me that I have to think the same way you do.
Because I think this way, this person accused me of living in denial if I couldn’t admit that I wanted the finer things in life. Am I lying to myself if I say that the finer things don’t matter to me? I would argue it’s the opposite. The knowledge of the tradeoffs required to obtain those things makes me more aware, not less, of what I want and makes me more honest with myself. Lying to myself would be buying things I can’t afford so that I could have the “finer things” in life. Lying to myself would be saying these things don’t matter to me while secretly wanting more of everything. But simply not wanting those things, after having thought of the pros and cons, and having different aspirations from yours does not equate denial.
I’m human, just like everyone else and there are times when I see something in a store and think, “Wow, having that would be great.” But I also know there are costs of ownership that go deeper than the price tag. To have the finer things in life I’d have to sacrifice some other aspects of my life. Money doesn’t come without work, unless you are fortunate enough to have a large trust fund. Even people like Donald Trump who have money out the wazoo and every “thing” imaginable still have to make sacrifices in certain aspects of their lives. I doubt he’s home as often as he might like to be, or that he has very little stress in his life. Yes, he may have an easier life than the guy working two jobs just to keep a roof over his head, but earning money requires work that takes you away from family, hobbies, and other things in life that matter to you. Earning money is a goal and if it’s your main goal, then by all means have at it. But if other things matter to you such as having family time and low stress, then you have to find a balance and that may mean foregoing some of the “finer things.”
For now, I’ve chosen to keep my life as it is. Yes, I could earn more but I don’t need the money. I could buy a bunch of stuff, but at what other costs to me? More stress? More work? Less free time? No, thanks. I’m choosing to forego Madison Avenue’s “finer things” so that I can have my personal finer things later. If I keep saving at my current rate, I’ll be able to afford that land and the camper and be able to travel extensively when I retire (early). I’m choosing to put off having my “finer things” until I’m at a point where I can really enjoy them, while still enjoying the life I have today. If I went out, got another job, and earned more money, I could have more stuff today and maybe speed up the savings for the other things, but I wouldn’t enjoy my life today as much. Since I’m not guaranteed a tomorrow, I’m opting for the balance.