Updated on 05.09.11

Revisiting the Three Questions That Will Transform Your Life

Trent Hamm

YMOYLThree and a half years ago (has it really been that long?), I wrote a post on the three money questions that will transform your life. It was part of a lengthy discussion of the book Your Money or Your Life, from where those questions derived.

As I look back on the financial lessons I’ve learned over the past half of a decade, I think these three questions strike very close to the core of all of it. I’ve used them time and time again, not only to evaluate the money decisions I’m making, but to evaluate the life decisions I’m making.

Let’s walk through these three questions again so that you’ll have some idea of what I’m talking about.

Did I receive fulfillment, satisfaction, and value in proportion to life energy spent?
One of the big ideas in Your Money or Your Life is that every dollar you earn is a representation of some portion of your life’s energy and time. If you make $8 an hour, you’re swapping a portion of your day’s energy and a portion of your day’s time for that $8 (in truth, you’re swapping that hour for less than $8, because there’s the unpaid time it takes to get there, the cost for your work clothes, taxes, and so on).

If you take that perspective, is spending, say, $5 on a magazine at the grocery store really worth it? Do you get an hour’s worth of time and an hour’s worth of energy out of that issue of Cosmopolitan? Is that hour of time and energy invested equal to drinking a few beers while watching a sports game on television by yourself?

I use this filter all the time in my own life. I constantly talk myself out of purchases by asking myself if I’ll really get enough enjoyment out of this item to be worth the time and energy I had to invest to actually earn enough take-home money to pay for the item. This tends to move me quickly toward focusing on low-cost items. It’s why I’ll start my clothes shopping at a thrift store, because if I can find a shirt that meets my needs for $2 instead of $30, that’s a much better exchange of my time and energy for a shirt. It’s why I’d far rather play a board game that I already have in my closet than go out for some expensive activity (actually, I’d do that even if money weren’t an issue).

“Well, what else would you spend that time and energy on?” you might ask. Well, if you consistently make those types of decisions to conserve the money you earn for your hard work, you’ll find that you can eventually spend your time without having to exchange it for money.

Let’s say you work for 40 years for 50 weeks per year and 50 hours per week. That’s 100,000 hours of work during your life, and hopefully it’ll add up to enough to fund your retirement.

If you can consistently find ways to take the proceeds from those hours of work early on and instead invest them in retiremet – an hour’s worth here, an hour’s worth there – you can trim those hours of work. If you can drop it to 90,000, you’re retiring four years early. Drop it to 70,000 and you’re retiring at age 53 than at age 65.

Is this expenditure of life energy in alignment with my values and life purpose?
What do I want to accomplish with my life? What things are truly important to me? How do I handle daily choices with those things in mind?

It takes some self-analysis and reflection to really piece these things out. What are your goals in life? What are your values? Quite often, people simply parrot the values and goals of others without really reflecting on what they want out of life for themselves.

It took me a long time to realize that if I have my family and friends, some books to read, and a few games to play, I’m pretty happy with my life. Everything else is secondary, really, to those things. I don’t need expensive clothes. I don’t need a brand new car. I don’t need the newest gadgets. I don’t need an expensive adventure every weekend. I don’t need to constantly eat out.

The things that really fulfill me don’t revolve around those things, so why would I sacrifice my time and life energy so that I can have more of things I don’t really value?

This is why it’s incredibly useful to spend time reflecting on your goals and what you value in life. What do you want out of life? What goals do you have for the future? What things are truly important to you – and what things are unimportant in the big scheme of things? The more you reflect on these things, the easier it is to use them as a filter for the choices you make in life.

How might this expenditure change if I didn’t have to work for a living?
Your employment situation isn’t just purely a moneymaking operation. It’s an expense, too. You have to pay for the commute. You have to pay for things like work clothes. You sometimes have to pay for socializing with coworkers and out-of-town clients and guests.

These things each have costs, both in terms of money and in terms of extra time and energy. Very rarely are these things reimbursed to you.

What you’ll often find is that, once you subtract out all of these expenses, the actual income you make from your work is far lower than you thought, particularly on a per-hour basis.

I had a friend, for example, who put herself in better financial shape by leaving an administrative assistant position and working instead as a convenience store clerk down the block from her home. She no longer had commuting costs. She no longer had “professional” clothing costs. She no longer had entertaining costs or socializing costs.

Better yet, she had more time and energy for the other things she wanted to focus on in life – her music. She’s now gradually launching a business providing music lessons to children and adults in her free time, something that she deeply enjoys and something that didn’t work before when she was at her “good” job.

If you couple this idea with the other two questions presented here, you may find yourself starting to come to conclusions that lead to a different path in your life. That path leads to happiness and freedom.

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  1. Leisa says:

    Very interesting and definitely thought provoking for me. I have been wondering whether to continue doing what I do when it seems to take more out of me than I get back.

  2. MM Brown says:

    Just bought a copy of this book for $1.05 at the thrift store around the corner from me! The copy I borrowed from the library was being recalled. I’m really excited to be embarking on step two of the nine steps. Next month I’ll get to sit down and apply each of the three questions to my monthly tabulations.

  3. deRuiter says:

    The ability to prioritize spending decisions wisely is often what separates the comfortable from the poverty stricken. As a landlord I’ve seen so many times when rent was due and the tenant bought a new leather jacket, expensive motorized toy for a child, or a fancy car on payments, and then did not have that money to pay the rent. These people become resentful when eviction is started, and when they are put out on the street. They blame you as an “evil rich person” instead of saying, “If I hadn’t bought the coat, or the toy,I could have paid my rent and be living in my comfortable home.” It’s so strange that the successful are able to prioritize spending and work on long term goals while the poor are all wrapped up in short term gratification.

  4. aj says:

    People get so caught up in labels & status that they take jobs that “sound better” but are more stressful & not as profitable.

    I worked at McDonald’s for a long time in our small little town. The benefits were that I had uniforms provided me, and a free meal every shift (could have been healthier if I always ate the salad :)a very flexible schedule, and I didn’t have to worry/think about anything after I walked out the door. I left there more than 10 years ago after finally completing my BSBA, but I was making THEN what minimum wage is NOW because they gave good raises every 6 months. I could have left to work at one of the 2 banks in town to make less money, have more stress, and have to spend a good bit of money on my wardrobe.

    I hated the thought of working at McD’s at first but I was working my way through college and needed something that would accomodate my various schedules. I have to say I learned a lot about people & working with the public during that time. And I learned to take pride in my work no matter what it may be. That said — I am SOOOO glad I don’t have to wear a uniform & deal with food all day anymore!

  5. Tara C says:

    I really like the example about the admin assistant who left for a less prestigious job and ended up better off. I am contemplating the same thing myself.

  6. Amy Saves says:

    kudos to your friend for leaving her admin job. I did something similar and even tho I took a pay cut, I’m so much happier at my job now. Happiness is worth more than money IMO.

  7. Amy says:

    I think one of the keys of this whole thing is to stop worrying about what other people think. I am amazed at how flawed people’s thinking is, especially when it comes to work and money. People always assume that I am the big breadwinner in our household because I am a CPA and my husband works for McDonald’s. They don’t realize that each restaurant is a multi-million dollar enterprise. As a supervisor he makes much more than I do! Once you come to grips with the fact that most people have no idea what they are talking about, it becomes easier to not worry about what they think. That really frees you up to focus on what is important to YOU which leads to a much happier life.

  8. Georgia says:

    Amy, my daughter had the same experience. She was at Burger King as a regular employee for 12 years. She left there making just under or just over $11 an hour. I was talking to her about it just this year. She has a job she likes and it is not as physically demanding. But she is not making the same amount of money. She probably makes between $9-10 an hour.

    The benefits she has at this job are better, but BK also had the same type, but lesser, benefits. The only better advantage to this job is that they will foot the bill for education if it will benefit them.

    It is so strange, the odd ideas people get about different types of jobs. The big chains have to pay minimum wage and they do regular raises if you stay the course. If you need work, check the benefits and disadvantages of all the jobs you get.

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