How much money would you need to feel wealthy?
A recent survey sponsored by Charles Schwab asked 1,000 Americans ages 21 to 75 what level of personal net worth would make them feel “financially comfortable.” The average figure was about $1.4 million. It would take another $1 million -- a total of $2.4 million on average -- for them to consider themselves wealthy.
Although many respondents said there are things you can’t measure with money, such as spending time with family, the truth is that our idea of the American Dream is often tied to being rich, or at least having the appearance of affluence.
We all need money to live. But what if your pursuit of the almighty dollar is creating an unhealthy relationship with money?
For this month’s Color of Money Book Club, I have a recommendation that just may change your perspective about financial stability. It offers a way of thinking that examines the abundance you may already have and not even realize.
I want you to read “Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence” (Penguin, $17). First published in 1992, this is the second revision of a book that stands the test of time.
Financial blogger Peter Adeney, whose online persona is Mr. Money Mustache, captures in his foreword why this is a bookshelf classic: “It is a personal development guide to help you figure out what you really want out of life, while also training away the money-wasting habits that you have probably developed that are getting in the way of it."
Authors Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez had a mission. They wanted to help people understand that financial independence starts with getting rid of the costly race for more. Since Dominguez’s death in 1997, Robin has kept their vision alive with updates to their work.
“What does it mean to ‘transform’ your relationship with money?” Robin writes in the updated introduction. “It doesn’t mean getting more money or less money; it means knowing how much is enough money for you to have a life you love, now and in the future.”
Dominguez, who died of cancer at 58, came up with the nine steps to free himself from what he called “the shackles of wage slavery.” And he did. He retired at 31 after achieving success as a financial analyst on Wall Street. He spent the rest of his life volunteering to teach others how to find financial freedom.
Achieving financial independence requires a plan. Here’s how you liberate yourself from the “work-and-spend treadmill,” according to Robin and Dominguez.
(1) Figure out your total lifetime earnings so far and then ask yourself: What have I got to show for it?
(2) Compute your real hourly wage. Consider the cost of working, including commuting, maintaining a work wardrobe and how often you eat out because you’re too tired to cook. How much are you spending on escape entertainment to recover from a stressful job? What’s the cost of ambition -- the right car, home, clothes or school for your children?
(3) Do a real deep dive into what you’re spending every month and why.
(4) Evaluate your spending to determine what’s sucking the life out of you. “This program is designed to liberate your mind and life from the thrall of the consumer culture,” the book says.
(5) Chart your monthly income and total monthly spending. The goal is to make yourself accountable.
(6) Lower your expenses. “Learn to choose quality of life over standard of living.”
(7) Redefine the pursuit of a paycheck. “Our fulfillment as human beings lies not in our jobs but in the whole picture of our lives.”
(8) Let your money start working for you.
(9) Invest for financial independence. Learn about income-producing investments to create a surplus sufficient for your long-term needs.
Robin suggests that you first read the whole book from start to finish and then go back through to implement the step-by-step strategies. There’s a real hourly wage calculator at yourmoneyoryourlife.com.
The book's central message remains relevant no matter the economic times. Really look at your financial life to determine whether your pursuit of more money to buy more stuff is keeping you from a happier existence.
I’m hosting an online chat about “Your Money or Your Life” at noon Eastern time on July 26 at washingtonpost.com/discussions. Robin will join me for a discussion on getting to the point where you don’t have to work for money. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to be unshackled.