Some Thoughts on the Fulfillment Curve

YMOYLOne of the best concepts from Your Money or Your Life is that of the fulfillment curve. Basically, the idea argues that there’s a sweet spot for anything that maximizes the fulfillment you get out of it. If you spend more, your fulfillment starts to actually decrease.

I often reflect on this concept. I see it popping up again and again in my own life and I find that if I put in some effort finding that peak fulfillment, my money just falls into line right behind it. I’ve come to believe that if a person has their basic needs covered, overspending is caused by going over the far end of the fulfillment peak.

I hinted at these ideas a while back, when I discussed the book in detail:

The middle portion of the first chapter focuses on the “fulfillment curve,” which basically refers to the idea that once you reach a certain level of luxury in your life, anything beyond that level is merely diminishing returns.

My conclusion at that time was to tie it to consumerism and clutter:

One of the deep problems of consumerism is that the average American tends toward buying more. They would rather have more stuff that, per item, they have less time to enjoy than less stuff that, per item, they have more time to enjoy.

This is connected directly with the clutter problem, also discussed here. This tendency to buy extra luxury items gradually fills a home with lots of clutter – unnecessary stuff that just sits there taking up space when the money invested could be used to help build a more fulfilling life.

Later reflection has led me to believe that it’s not necessarily these factors. It’s more of a matter of finding balance, akin to riding a bicycle.

Here’s a visual example of the fulfillment curve (I’ll explain the numbers below):

Fulfillment curve

Let me give you two examples of how the curve works, both pulled from my own life.

Example #1: Video Games
1 – I’d like to play some video games, but I don’t own a console or a single game.
2 – I own a console and a single game, which is quite a bit of fun, but it gets boring after a while.
3 – I pick up one game a year from the used game store. After the three month mark, though, I’ve beaten the game and then I feel unfulfilled until I get another game several months later.
4 – I pick up a game every three months from the used game store, right in line with when I’ve mastered and am getting tired of the previous game. I always have something fresh to play and master and don’t have to spend too much keeping up with the hobby.
5 – I get a game every month from the used game store. It isn’t financially pinching me, but I’m building up a pile of games I’ve barely played.
6 – I get a mix of new and old games, two or three a month. I can handle my credit card bills, but it’s a little higher than I like. I also don’t like looking at that pile of unplayed games.
7 – I buy a new game every week. I play it for about five minutes, then I feel guilty and I put it on a giant pile of games that are barely played, making me feel really guilty. I do it so I can play the “latest and greatest,” but I usually just feel really guilty, and I’m having a very difficult time keeping up with the credit card bills.

See the progression there? That middle point – 4 – is where I’m really enjoying a hobby that I have. I can easily afford it, I get to thoroughly enjoy each game I get, I have plenty of new stuff to play to keep me happy, and I have no guilty feelings about it. If I spend less, I’m not enjoying my hobby as much as I’d like – I feel longing. If I spend more, I start to build up games that I don’t play, I build some guilt, and eventually it gets really expensive.

My experience with video game fulfillment A few years ago, I was somewhere around 6 on this fulfillment curve. When I finally went through my big financial panic, I veered wildly in the other direction, selling everything and rushing back over that fulfillment peak to 0. As our financial life became stronger, I slowly climbed the curve and now stand fairly close to that peak – #4.

Here’s another example (with a picture of the curve again, for visual aid).

Fulfillment curve

Example #2: Home Buying
1 – We’re essentially homeless. We live in our car.
2 – We live in an extremely cheap, extremely small old apartment. The rent is extremely cheap, but there’s barely enough room for sleeping space for everyone or room to do anything at all. We’re embarrassed to have guests at all.
3 – We live in a nice apartment or a small house. There’s enough room for everyone to sleep and have meals, but we’re sometimes pinched for space and there’s more clutter than we’d like. We have some of our friends over, but we feel pretty self-conscious about the place and don’t have the dinner parties we’d like.
4 – Our house is just the right size for our family. We feel comfortable having any and all guests over, the housework doesn’t overwhelm us, and the bills are completely manageable.
5 – Our house slightly exceeds what our family needs, but it gives us some room to grow. The bills are slightly painful, but we can manage things. We spend a bit more of our weekends on home cleaning and maintenance than we’d like, but we feel quite proud giving dinner parties and inviting people over.
6 – Our house is a McMansion. We can afford the bills, but just barely, and only if we eat everything at home. The bills make me feel kind of guilty, and there are times where it feels like all we do is upkeep.
7 – We bought a house nine times our annual income on an ARM and it just adjusted. Our house is mind-blowingly awesome, but we’re getting foreclosed tomorrow. We have no equity and we have no idea what we’re going to do. I wish we’d never come here.

My experience with housing fulfillment When we first got married, we lived in an apartment that was probably about a 2.5 on that curve – we were buckling down and saving. After our first child was born, it slipped down to about a 2 – we were in a serious space pinch and we became sort of ashamed to have guests over because of the massive clutter. We bought our first home and now we’ve happily settled in at about a 4, but we looked at some homes that would have been a 5 or a 6 on the curve, I’m quite sure. I think this house might slip to a 3.5 or a 3 if we have two more kids, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

Some Fulfillment Curve Thoughts and Strategies
What does this curve mean in your own life? How can it help you get ahead? Here are some suggestions.

The fulfillment curve applies to everything you spend money on. The basic principle applies to almost everything in your life, from food to clothing to shelter up to hobby-oriented activities. In almost every aspect of life, the point of maximum enjoyment is not the point of maximum spending – spending too much reduces fulfillment.

Guilt is one of the surest signs of the downside of the curve. If you feel guilt about your spending in any area, you’re likely spending more than your natural fulfillment peak. It’s likely that if you take the time to seriously look at every area in your life where you feel some guilt about money, it’s a result of spending too much to try to chase fulfillment. Pull back on that spending some and you’ll almost always find that things become more enjoyable as a whole.

Your fulfillment curve peak might actually come with spending no money at all. For example, I almost always find that when I spend much money on extra things for my kids, neither one of us gets much extra fulfillment out of it and a good chunk of the time I feel like I shouldn’t have spent the money. Here’s an example: the best time I’ve spent with my kids recently was last Sunday when we went to the library, went to a free art festival, then went home and read books for an hour. The cost was virtually nil, but it was a peak on that curve. Fulfillment curve peaks don’t have to cost you.

Routine frivolous purchases – like a $5 coffee each morning – are beyond the peak, whether you actively notice it or not. If you do it every day, it’s no longer a treat. It’s not something special to really bring you fulfillment. Try drinking cheap coffee at the office all but one day a week. You’ll find that the one good coffee you do drink brings you far more fulfillment than it used to.

Spend some time understanding what things really fulfill you. I feel much more fulfilled by a well-designed item that will last basically forever than just about anything. Reliability is really a strong fulfillment point for me – I tend to like things that I’ve had for a long time that still work like new. That’s why I often do so much research before a purchase – I know I’ll get more fulfillment out of it if the item just does its job reliably and easily.

Good luck applying the fulfillment curve to your own life!

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  1. Andy says:

    I own a $1700 bicycle that I ride about 2000 miles a year. My boss owns a $5 bike that he never rides. Yes, sometimes spending more money is the frugal thing to do. This is a great post, Trent!

  2. Johanna says:

    In both of your examples, you link the diminishing fulfillment to spending more than you can afford. I don’t think that’s quite the point. I think that the point of the fulfillment curve is that beyond a certain point, more consumption makes you less fulfilled, *regardless* of whether you can afford that consumption or not.

    Your video game example is actually perfect even without mentioning the credit card bills: If you buy a large number of video games and play each one for five minutes, you’re going to be less fulfilled than if you buy a small number of games and play each one until you master it. And that’s true whether you can afford the extra games or not.

    With the housing example, I would say that post-peak fulfillment would be something like living in a McMansion in a neighborhood where everyone is trying to keep up with the Joneses, so you are always installing things like a new kitchen, a new patio, a new entertainment room, or new landscaping. And you have so many of these projects, and spend so much time working on each of them, that you never quite get around to sitting down and actually enjoying any of them. And yet, you can’t help but think that your life would be just perfect if only you refinished the basement and installed a new pool in the back yard…

  3. I’ve been reading for a while, and this is one of my favorite posts I think.

    I think it is also similar the book’s budgeting advice, where you track your spending then decide for each category whether you’d like to spend more or less on it. I think they are both great ways to really get your head around managing your spending and increasing your happiness. The normal view is that when you cut back spending, you cut back on fun/happiness, but if you can get yourself to believe that it’s not true, you’ll be in great financial shape.

  4. I love this part of the post:

    7 – We bought a house nine times our annual income on an ARM and it just adjusted. Our house is mind-blowingly awesome, but we’re getting foreclosed tomorrow. We have no equity and we have no idea what we’re going to do. I wish we’d never come here.

    I have spent a long time striving to have a great house, so once that comes, do I lose it on the fulfillment curve? I am interested to see.

  5. Jules says:

    I have to wonder whether that’s true for things like binoculars and cameras (two types of optical equipment I use regularly), though, because when it comes to optics, size does matter and bigger is better.

    The caveat: of course this only applies if you’re not a beginner photographer and use your camera for things other than drunken candids of happy hour. And using your binoculars/spotting scope for things other than being a creep and watching your neighbors.

    (http://s38.photobucket.com/albums/e145/small_chicken/Netherlands/)

  6. Ryan says:

    “If you do it every day, it’s no longer a treat.”

    Totally agree with this. I decided to cut way back on soda for health and economic reasons. An unexpected side effect I got was that now when I do have a soda (a couple times a month), it’s an exciting treat. Before it was just the norm and never anything to get excited about or significantly enjoy.

  7. Geoff K says:

    A good concept Trent and one that would hold true in a lot of cases. However a lot of very poor people, especially in poor countries, would get beyond the affordability aspect before they got to the peak enjoyment.

  8. Kevin says:

    That “3” on the housing scale about sums up my fulfillment perfectly.

    Another top-notch post.

  9. Interesting idea. I like the progression of the curve which really makes sense.

    The main this I relate to in this post though is the fact that people need to realise that decluttering really helps when it comes to not spending as much money and hence saving more. And, as you say, those little sacrifices which you don’t really need anyway.

  10. Gabriel says:

    Trent,
    Great post, very interesting stuff. I wonder how the fulfillment curve would apply to time? I often find that time is most precious to me and sometimes finding the balance between what is fulfilling and what’s necessary is a challenge. I sometimes get that guilty feeling if I’m not being productive, or I get that deprived feeling if I’m not having enough fun, so optimizing my time spent is essential to overall happiness.

    It could be a really complex graph that would get too complicated to be useful, but something that juxtaposes time spent and money spent, similar to an economic utility model, might be very enlightening (at least to me!). Perhaps a future post?

    Thanks for the insight!

  11. Lisa says:

    I think you make a great point (as always). I really appreciate the idea of diminishing returns and maximizing the value you get out of your money/spending. As Johanna correctly points out it’s not always about if you can afford it or not, spending more just because you can doesn’t always give you any added benefit.

  12. I never heard of a fulfillment curve prior to reading your post, Trent, but it is an interesting concept. I got out of balance on this about 10 years ago when I had numerous subscriptions to lifestyle magazines like “Outside,” “National Geographic Adventure” and several more. One of them was great to receive each month, but after 6-8 months I was overwhelmed with getting several each month. I ended up not reading any of them and they cluttered up my house by sitting in stacks. Ridiculous. I ended up canceling all of them. Now, reading one at the library is fine for me. I’m back at a 4 on the curve.

  13. Someone says:

    Good post! One quibble: the examples make it sound like the fulfillment curve coincides with the affordability curve. But one person may struggle to afford “2” (for some given measure of fulfillment), someone else could afford “6” with no difficulty at all. Affordability and fulfillment are each on a separate axis.

  14. Suzanne says:

    Trent: A great post that got me thinking :-)

  15. Suzanne says:

    Johanna: Excellent alterations that enhanced the message in the post.

  16. Someone says:

    …And “guilt” would be yet a third axis, since everyone calibrates guilt differently (some are extra-sensitive, some extra-callous, etc)

  17. mkb says:

    Great post! You’ve put this very well (though I agree with some of the other comments that the curve should be de-coupled from affordability).

  18. SteveJ says:

    I’m interested in the guilt angle as well. I dislike spending money on myself, but like shiny electronics. So here’s what I end up doing often..I’ll scrimp and save and finally save up enough to get that gadget I’ve been coveting. Hopefully it’s not already obsolete. Then I let it sit in the box for weeks to months, because I feel guilty about spending the money. Once I do open it and play with it, everything is usually hunky dory and I use it all the time and couldn’t imagine life without it. I feel like I’ve done all the steps in the right order and I still feel bad because I spent hundreds of dollars on something I didn’t need, rather than putting it towards charity or the mortgage.

  19. Steve says:

    Is there any research behind this fulfillment curve or is just a thought experiment? If you take out the clutter, affordability, and opportunity cost variables, all you’re left with is an extreme version of the law of diminishing returns. But you could argue that someone with too many video games could ignore all of them except the one he or she is currently mastering; or that someone with a too-large house and infinite money could hire someone to do the cleaning.

  20. Your Friendly Neighborhood Computer Guy says:

    This fulfillment curve thing is fun. Let me try applying it to something non-financial…

    My Blogging fullfilment curve:

    1. I’ve heard about blogging and would like to start getting involved, but it all seems overwhelming
    2. Start reading a few blogs every now and then, but I don’t keep up with them and feel out of the loop.
    3. Get an RSS reader, subscribe to some blogs, start my own blog, but still feel like I’m not part of the community.
    4. Start commenting on other blogs, build a read base for my own blog, start getting in touch with other bloggers, feel like part of the community.
    5.Really start getting into it, commenting, reading, and subscribing, but it’s hard to keep up sometimes.
    6.I’m subscribed to so many blogs, it takes me all day just to read them all. I have no time to write in my own blog so I start loosing readers.
    7.I’m so obsessed with reader stats on my own blog and keeping up with every little thing going on in the blog-o-shpere that I spend all day in front of the computer and never have time to participate in anything.

    That was fun!

  21. Someone says:

    @Steve “. But you could argue that someone with too many video games could ignore all of them except the one he or she is currently mastering; or that someone with a too-large house and infinite money could hire someone to do the cleaning.”

    Generally, when the law of diminishing returns is put forward, it’s not that what is being measured *decreases*, but that it *increases* by smaller and smaller amounts. Thus, all other things being equal, having more video games that you could ever play might not make you less happy than having exactly the right number, but it won’t make you much more happy, either. Past the peak, each unit (of time, money, whatever is being spent) invested creates less of a return than the same unit of time, money, etc invested on the way UP the curve.

    Thus, past the peak, you are getting less and less value for each dollar invested. The two possible responses to this are 1. Spend like crazy to try to get the boost that you used to be able to get by spending less or 2. recognize the pattern (as Trent has done) and maximize your value by intentionally stopping at the peak of the curve.

  22. cv says:

    I agree that affordability doesn’t always line up the way it does in your examples.

    It’s an interesting way of thinking about finding balance between deprivation and mindless consumption. The examples from my own life that come to mind are more about time spent than money spent. If I spend no time watching television, I feel like I’m missing out on interesting, thought-provoking and entertaining content that I can enjoy discussing with friends (a 1 or 2). However, occasionally I find myself spending too much time, so that I’m watching junk just to kill time, to the detriment of my other interests, my social life, etc. (a 6 or 7). There’s a sweet spot in the middle where I follow a couple of tv shows or make moderate use of a Netflix account, providing enjoyment and enrichment without being mind-numbing.

    Really, this can be summed up as “all things in moderation.”

  23. Loi Tran says:

    Great post. Very original. I recently bought a cross bike for $1,400. I plan to use the bike for 10+ years. I was reluctant to buy all the accessories because of the cost. I spent over $500 on accessories. The accessories such as the lights, cyclometer, cycling shoes, etc make riding much more fun and safe. I see it as a 1 time purchase. I rarely make large purchases, but when I do, I do extensive research and try to purchase high quality stuff that will last a long time.

  24. I was thinking what Johanna was, which is that the satisfaction decrease isn’t necessarily tied to spending beyond your means. I keep trying to teach this to my kids…if one Bionicle makes you happy, 10 more won’t make you ten times as happy. If one shirt makes you happy, having one in all ten colors won’t necessarily make you ten times as happy. It’s hard to fight this “collect them all!” mindset that we have.

  25. Fantastic post. I agree with one commenter that the latter half of the curve is really more about fulfillment and not necessarily about spending (e.g., the two are not always linked hand in hand), but nevertheless this was really an outstanding read. Thanks.

  26. Jess says:

    I’m going to chime in with everyone, this is a great thought provoking post!

    I think that I’m officially about a 2.5-3 on the housing curve, but I’ve just moved up from a 1.5 so it’s a THRILLING difference for me.

    The again I think I’m about a 6 on the Tim Hortons coffee front. I’ve been meaning to cut down on the amount of coffee I drink. I’m also blessed to have GREAT (fresh ground) coffee at work. I think that this is the kick in the butt that I need to cut back the amount I spend there.

  27. Jillian says:

    This concept’s definitely worth pondering. I agree with what Johanna and Someone have said, too. Maybe affordability goes along the z-axis and the key to happiness is to align the graph in 3 dimensions? :-)

  28. MissGruntled says:

    I’ve been a YMOYL fan for 14 years now and the fulfillment curve has always been a concept that resonated with me, but I do think it’s missing a dimension. In some instances, it’s not that fulfillment starts diminishing, but rather like the beginning of post-peak oil, yes, more can still be had, but the price to obtain it (measured in time, money or effort) becomes increasingly ureasonable. My “housing fulfillment value” might still go up noticeably if I went from my current small and ordinary 2 bedroom house to a 3 bedroom with a garage, but would the life energy I’d have to expend be worth it? For me, “less than utterly fulfilled” is a state of being that leaves me feeling both safe and option-rich.

  29. Chad says:

    I’ve been reading for months now but this is my first comment. This post is great, I really like the concept of a fulfillment curve and it is something I will try to consider when looking over my spending in the future.

  30. Terese says:

    This is probably my favorite post on your site so far, and I’ve been reading it for over a year. I liked how you gave multiple personal examples, and that you used graphics.

    As far as my own habits go, after having a baby two months ago, going to our favorite restaurant is now a big treat for us, not really because we can’t afford to go more often, but because we rarely want to be away from our baby. We enjoy the food and atmosphere more, and make a point of dressing up and having the best time possible since we’re only going to go out once in a given month, instead of 2-4 times a week, as we were a year ago. (I took your advice and adjusted our “norm” from eating out whenever we didn’t feel like cooking, to cooking at home for almost every meal each month regardless of how we felt. Now eating at home is our norm, and we get so much more out of our meals because we’ve decided that if we’re eating at home, we might as well have a good time and use well-loved (albeit frugal) recipes, and when we do out, like I said, we get much more enjoyment out of it.

    I am trying to see how to apply this fulfillment curve principal to other areas of my life. I think that I may follow your example and figure out what Levels 1-7 would look like for me in a given area, and then evaluate where I am.

  31. John says:

    This curve idea is actually quite closely related to an important concept if (micro)economics called “diminishing marginal utility” (wiki has info on it). In short it means that there comes a point where the extra satisfaction (utility in economist speak) of buying one extra unit (of anything) decreases. For example, bedsheets may provide some comfort but after you have a few you don’t nearly get as much satisfaction from owning another one (or ten for that matter). Extra units might give you extra satisfaction but less and less, so it’s not linear. Just like the aforementioned 10 Bionicles (Kristen)

    So in case anyone was wondering, it’s not merely a thought experiment but also an adaptation of this concept, which is widely used in economics.

  32. Lisa says:

    I have used this concept for years but didn’t really know it had a name. It’s also glad to see my boys have reached #4 without my intervention. This is seriously a skill.

  33. Kate says:

    Steve:

    The “fulfillment curve” actually relates to what economists call the concept of “marginal utility”. So it’s not a “thought experiment”, it’s just a way of simplifying an economic concept for a general audience.

    Suppose you had a plate with 12 donuts on it. You might be happy after eating the first two or three, but after that, the enjoyment of eating successive donuts begins to gradually decrease until you decide you are better served by saving the rest for later.

    In my economics class, we actually had to calculate the point of maximum (marginal) utility of consuming X donuts with Y cups of coffee, but I’ll spare you the details.

  34. Kim says:

    Excellent post, Trent! This one belongs on the favorites list.

  35. Betsy says:

    I’m curious how people get to the sweet spot.

    For those of us who have been at 6 or 7 on the curve (say with daily Starbucks lattes, something that’s easy to change), what strategies work for scaling back without feeling deprived? And, for a different example, what about working on that scale? For example:

    1. I am un- or underemployed, with no money or measure of professional success.

    2. I am just punching a clock every day, and only one or two things about my job are really tolerable.

    3. I’m making just enough money and I like what I’m doing pretty well, but weekends can’t come soon enough.

    4. I make enough money to pay my expenses and meet my savings goals, and I like what I do and feel fulfilled and excited at work.

    5. I make really good money, or I really feel fulfilled in my job, but one of the two elements is out of balance. Plus, I have to break personal commitments to fulfill work commitments.

    6. Things in my personal life are slipping. My job has great rewards, but it feels like they’re used to compensate me for missing so much of my family life and free time.

    7. I am a complete workaholic. I tell myself it’s justified by the pay or satisfaction, but the truth is that work is pretty much all I do.

    I find myself doing a lot of wobbling on a sort of balance board over the curve — whoa, that’s too much, whoa, that’s not enough. I wonder how other people either ramp up or dial back to get to a four.

  36. Linda says:

    I can relate this to my coffee drinking habits.
    Right now I drink one large mug of fantastic coffee every morning (that I make at home). This gives me the ultimate satisfaction.

  37. kristine says:

    Had to laugh at the bike posts! I have a 10 dollar 1970’s Scwhinn from the Salvation army that I have put at least 4000 miles on in 5 years. I am a 43-year-old serious biker who can go 50 miles in a day without soreness, though I usually only ride about 60 miles/week.

    My bike is rusty, ugly, and I have some repairs done with twist ties. I never have to worry about anyone stelaiing my bike, though I lock it as it is so darned precious to me. It’s solid work-horse, and rides like a dream.

    And you know what? I get smiles and waves from the other serious bikers out on our hilly terrain in the morning. There is a respect for the act, not the equipment. Maybe the equipment thing is a guy thing.

    Anyway- it is my all-time peak fulfilment purchase! I knew immediately when I bought it, rode it home, then realized I had to go back and get the car!

  38. Brandon says:

    I too was around a 6 on the video game curve but have tapered it back to the 3-4 range. I love picking up used copies of games for 1/2 the price and playing them. Of course nothing is better than playing the same game time and time again for over a year.

    I really enjoyed this post because it is definitely true, the amount of money spend doesn’t always equal happiness. I think if you had Bill Gates kind of money then maybe it would but for “Joe 6pack” and the “hockey moms”, I think this curve makes a lot of sense.

  39. almost there says:

    I retire at 50 on Halloween. This was my goal after reading YMOYL. I have a desire to downsize and get rid of clutter though a spouse doesn’t see it that way. Individuals can get out of debt, but if lots do it our country will vanish as we know it. Watch the goggle video just released: zeitgeist addendum to see what I mean about how our country needs debt to stay afloat.

  40. Pieces says:

    This really hits home for me. I need to spend some time thinking about it. A couple of the commenters mentioned applications for me already–like magazines and blogging. I just need to find out where the sweet spot is.

  41. sylrayj says:

    I would be interested in seeing a comparison of fulfillment discrepancies among couples. My husband wants a house – it’s what his parents have always done. I want something rented, because I don’t know the first thing about home repair – and that’s what my mom had to do when I was growing up. I would be fulfilled with the rental company taking care of the building’s more skill-required upkeep, and it’s not enough for my husband, whereas I dread the learning curve and physical difficulty of tending a house.

  42. CanadianKate says:

    I agree with the posts that say that the drop in fulfillment at the higher up numbers aren’t linked to financial concerns.

    It is a case of familiarity breeds contempt.

    Here’s a high end example:

    We cruise with SilverSeas. Excellent service, great food, 5 star accommodations and really interesting passengers (average cost per day per person is $750 so everyone is in the high income range.)

    We’ve gone twice – once for 17 days trans-atlantic, once for 27 days, Fort Lauderdale to Vancouver via Panama Canal and Alaska. It is my husband’s dream to go on an around the world (80 – 90 day) cruise with them.

    The 17 day cruise was too short, I nearly cried when it was time to leave the ship. The 27 day cruise was perfect.

    At day 25 I was ready to go home. I had read the books I had brought plus some from their library, watched the movies I wanted to see, visited enough with people, was tired of lying around all the time, found the entertainment getting boring (although they bring on new entertainers in each port) and found that I was no longer enjoying afternoon tea and was tired of the same flower arrangements in the diningroom and dressing for dinner each night (casual night on this ship is the equivalent of a cocktail party at your golf club.)

    Day 26 was spent packing and saying goodbye and I had to leave the ship by 10 on Day 27. It was the perfect length of trip. Even had I been offered the chance to stay on for another 2 weeks for free, I would have found it boring, stifling and even irritating – after all do I really need someone to replace my towels every time I use them?

    We won’t be sailing with SilverSea next spring (due to the economy – we are self employed and work has completely dried up in the last month) but we will be watching the sales and hope to get aboard again as soon as we can. We just now know that length of cruise that is the peak of the fulfillment curve for me (and therefore my dh because he’d have to listen to me complain if we were on board any longer!)

    In all things, it is important to identify the peak of the curve and shoot only for that experience. Anything more is a waste of money.

    We love Trans Siberian Orchestra but will not be seeing them in concert this Christmas season because I suspect we’ll be on the downside of the curve if we spend the money for the third year in a row. Instead, we’ve chosen a different performer to see, in order to stay at the top of the fulfillment curve.

  43. brief says:

    Great post, Trent. I agree with Johanna, Lisa and Someone (comment #9) that fulfillment and affordability are two separate things. If you can’t afford your “4” in an area, you should cut back on other things where you’re at “5”-“7″ so that you can. That’s what frugality is all about.

  44. Kevin says:

    I wonder how outside influences (like caffeine in Starbucks coffee) affects what level you are at. I sometimes find myself regretting getting 2-3 coffees a week, after the fact. But when I’m drinking them I remember how good it is and how it really does wake me up sometimes (I have a 14 month old at home) and does help me be more focused at work.

  45. Georgia says:

    I’ve found that my fulfillment needs have dropped drastically since there is now only me at home, and I am retired and living in a small town.

    I love it that I can go to yard sales, department stores, car dealers, book stores, etc. and not spend a cent. I already have enough stuff at home to last me for the rest of my natural life, even if I live to 123. (Wish me luck on that.)

    What I’m spending now is on visiting my family all around the U.S However, there is where I have found my level. I went to visit my son and daughter for about 11-12 days. Way too much. I have found that several much shorter visits are in order. Family works and you are on your own a lot of the time and it is away from home, where you are the most comfortable. I realized this immediately when I read CanadianKate’s reply.

  46. Sally says:

    This is a great post. There is a book that is companion to this idea that you may have mentioned on this blog – it has to do with having too many choices – which in a sense diminishes all the choices. When I have vanilla, choc or strawberry – not to difficult. When I have those flavors + 32 others – difficult choices!

    What about the way we have of wanting Brand A for $200 – but that is too much – so instead buy Brand B for $75 – but Brand B wasn’t really what you wanted – so you buy another – that’s $50 – you’ve spent $125 so far and you still don’t have what you want. I would like a blog about that.

    I have been working on that kind of stuff too – I buy less – but what I buy now is really what I want. I’m done buying 3 things that I didn’t want for $175 instead of the one thing that I want that costs $250

  47. Shannon says:

    Trent, Just read this post from a year ago. Excellent illustration of the fulfillment curve with personal examples. I also like #28’s comment: “‘less than utterly fulfilled’ is a state of being that leaves me feeling both safe and option-rich.” One example from my own life. I started on the Engine 2 Diet a few months ago, eliminating animal protein among other things from my diet. Now when I make something for my husband and occasionally eat a bit of shrimp or chicken, it tastes heavenly!! (At the same time, I don’t crave for more as I’m already filled up with other good things.) I think I will aim for maximum fulfillment with relationships but less than “utterly fulfilled” in activities and acquiring things.

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