Over the past several years, The Simple Dollar has (at least in part) been a chronicle of how I’ve improved my financial situation.
When I started the site, Sarah and I had a negative net worth, were facing a bone-crunching pile of debt, and the most valuable asset to our names was a used truck.
Today, Sarah and I have a nice positive net worth, are completely debt free, and own our home.
Those accomplishments are nice, but by themselves, they really don’t mean too much.
I don’t believe that wealth is measured in dollars and cents. Money is merely a tool that can help you find the things in life that bring you value. Money can open some doors, but it is up to you to walk through them.
I think a little before-and-after illustration will show you what I mean.
Seven years ago, I was extremely stressed out about my job. I knew that if I made a mis-step, I could easily be fired, and if that happened my family and I would be in a very painful financial place.
Because of that, it was rather difficult for me to use my time and energy for other things that mattered to me. I didn’t spend adequate time with my wife and children. I didn’t spend adequate time doing volunteer or community work. I let my dreams of writing largely shrivel up.
Today, my stress level related to my professional work is almost nonexistent. Because of our financial state, if I make a mis-step or decide to choose another path, we can survive that shift quite easily. My children will still have food on the table, a roof over their heads, and everything they need in life to succeed for quite a while.
I’m also able to make career choices that maximize the time I can spend on things that are important to me. Weekend trips with my family is time spent with them, not time glued to my cell phone seeing if anything needs fixing. I’m on community boards, volunteer for political campaigns, and volunteer for youth sports. I can write to my heart’s content, and I feel completely free to do so.
Wealth isn’t money. It’s not material possessions, either. Wealth is being able to choose to do the things you want to do.
At this point, the primary purpose of achieving more financial success is not to accumulate possessions. It’s to simply secure those things in life that bring me value: lower stress, the freedom to spend plenty of time with my children and wife (and perhaps grandchildren, someday), the time and energy to volunteer for the things I want to volunteer for (and sometimes other resources to support them, as well), and the opportunity to write.
These are my goals. They’re the things I want out of life. The list doesn’t include much reference at all to physical possessions because, honestly, they just stand in the way of the things I actually want.
Those goals motivated me to turn my financial ship around. It worked because those were the things I truly wanted in my life. They were not short term desires, nor were they things that I wanted to please others. They were my goals, originating from the life I wanted to live.
The real question is what are your goals? What are your reasons for wanting to achieve a better financial state? It’s quite likely that they’re going to be different than mine.
However, most of the techniques for getting there are going to be fairly similar to my own. Spend very little time and energy and money on the things that don’t lead you to your goals. Look for creative ways to reduce that spending even further. Channel that savings into whatever needs to exist for you to achieve the goals you have.
Being rich isn’t about having a big bank account. It’s about having the life you want, and that’s in reach for most people if they commit to it and focus on it.