Updated on 11.14.11

What Makes for a Rich Life?

Trent Hamm

One theme you’ll see pop up time and time again in personal finance and personal growth writing is the idea of a “rich life.” Usually, if that idea is expanded on at all, the “rich life” idea tends to involve a few ideas of what the writer thinks everyone should have in their life, like time with their family or a full social calendar.

The idea of what makes a “rich life” seems to be more of a reflection of the writer than anything else.

For example, my idea of a rich life would involve a lot of activities with my family. It would involve some volunteer groups. It would involve a big vegetable garden. It would involve reading some books when I’m alone and playing some board games when I’m with friends. It would involve a bit of travel. It would involve going to concerts, speeches, and cultural events.

Some of this will probably sound appealing to you. Other pieces won’t. The pieces that sound interesting and the pieces that do not will differ from person to person.

There’s one important thing that I want to point out, though. Every element of what I consider a rich life has to do with how I spend my time, not with the things I own.

A rich life for me involves kicking back in a comfortable spot reading something enjoyable and thought-provoking, not owning a bunch of books.

A rich life for me involves spending a day at the park with my family, not having a garage full of things that we might play with someday.

A rich life for me involves spending time in the garden, not having a huge assortment of gardening supplies.

A rich life for me is time that I can spend on these activities, not time spent working so that I can have the money for tons of items related to these activities.

It’s about the time, not the stuff.

One of the things i’ve really enjoyed about becoming a more frugal person is that, over time, the focus of my life has moved from the stuff I have to how I spend my time. I don’t care what car I have, just that I get from point A to point B reliably. I don’t care what shoes I have, as long as my feet don’t hurt. I don’t care how many books I own, as long as I have one to read. The experience comes first.

So, to put it simply, I believe a rich life is one that’s filled with experiences that you value. It doesn’t really even matter what those experiences are. Some people may love cooking, while others find it dull. Some people may deeply enjoy reading a book, while others might pass on it. Some may enjoy spending hours in their garage tinkering, while others find it dull.

Whatever it is that makes you happy while you’re doing it, do it.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you should spend money buying stuff for that activity beyond the minimum needed to do it.

In fact, the opposite is true – the richness of experience comes from having as little as possible in your life that keeps you from the experience. Having thirty tools to take on a job that only needs one actually keeps you from enjoying that activity because you’ve got to work to earn money for the items and you’ve got to spend time maintaining and caring for those items.

A rich life is about spending time on whatever is valuable to you. Living frugally, minimizing your clutter, and being mindful of your money only serves to maximize the time you get to spend on whatever it is that excites you. Frugality and personal finance aren’t boring. They’re simply tools to the kind of life rich with experiences that you want to have.

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  1. Money Beagle says:

    Time is key. Quite honestly, if I were to have every ‘fund’ (car, house, retirement) comfortably funded, and got a few thousand dollars extra a year, I would outsource a good deal of the stuff around the house. Cleaning, lawn cutting, trimming, etc. Why? Because it would open up more time for my wife and I to spend with each other and with our kids. I would never outsource nanny services or anything like that, things that would take time away between us. You can’t buy more time, but you can buy things or services that can enrich your time, and having the absolute flexibility to do so would be my definition of rich.

  2. Tracy says:

    I agree with the overall sentiment aod appreciate the overall sentiment of this post.

    I think “Having thirty tools to take on a job that only needs one actually keeps you from enjoying that activity because you’ve got to work to earn money for the items and you’ve got to spend time maintaining and caring for those items.” is pretty much nonsense, though. It perfect describes a lot of hobbies and hobbiest get MORE pleasure from having extremely specialized tools that do the job perfectly than one that does it ok.

    Like Money Beagle, I’m huge on time and I very happily outsource all my yardwork and some of my housekeeping so that I can enjoy mine a lot more.

  3. lurker carl says:

    ” the richness of experience comes from having as little as possible in your life that keeps you from the experience.”

    The maximium enjoyment comes when you’re so minimalistic that you CAN’T have the experience. Really? I can’t wrap my head around that.

  4. Riki says:

    I really liked the tone of this post until . . .

    “Of course, that doesn’t mean you should spend money buying stuff for that activity beyond the minimum needed to do it. In fact, the opposite is true – the richness of experience comes from having as little as possible in your life that keeps you from the experience.”

    I disagree. Isn’t the point of frugality to save in the areas that aren’t important so you can spend in the areas that are? I suggest that an activity that brings a lot of joy is the perfect place to spend your money. There is a real difference between spending thoughtlessly on every tool you see and spending thoughtfully the equipment and materials necessary for a quality experience.

  5. threadbndr says:

    Missed the mark on this one, just a bit. I’m a hobbyist (fiber arts – knitting, needlework, weaving, spinning) that has some VERY specialized equipment and raw materials. These are things that 200 years ago were common household items (spinning wheel, hand cards, loom), but now are fairly rare and somewhat expensive. While I try to be conservative in that I don’t collect massive amounts of gear, I do not have just the minimum (ie. I have spinning wheels, not just drop spindles made of a stick and a rock.) On the other hand, I have TWO wheels and just one floor loom – and I know people who have a dozen wheels and multiple (often specialized) looms.

    I think the point is to have just the gear that you need for the usage level you want (or maybe just a bit more to stretch your skill set). While it’s fun to see what you can do with minimal tools (I’ve spun with said stick and stone spindle and prepped wool with a dog comb), it’s not much fun when the tools (or the lack thereof) get in the way of what you want to create.

    After all, gardeners today have more tools than just a digging stick and a rawhide bucket. Do we really need to go back to the neolithic to have an authentic life – I sure hope not. I rather like my computer LOL.

  6. Availle says:

    How much is the minimum?

    I own four full Martial Arts outfits, including undies (sportsbra). I realize that one would be perfectly fine. But, you see, I do not wish to subject other people on an out-of-town seminar to a smelly outfit worn yet again. Or myself to crawling into a half-wet gi in the afternoon. I don’t want to try to find a laundromat in a city I don’t know anything about just so I can clean my stuff over night.

    And trust me, I don’t lose a moment of sleep worrying about the money I spent on those outfits or how I maintain the three I’m not able to wear at a given training.

    Minimalistic does not mean “nothing at all”. It means (and here I’m with Riki #4) to spend money and time on things that bring you joy.

    Stuff as such is NOT evil. Neither is money. You may relax, Trent.

  7. Katie says:

    Yeah, I think viewing material items as fundamentally negative is just as unhealthy as viewing them as necessary for your personal fulfillment. It’s just stuff; it doesn’t have inherent moral value and we shouldn’t decry materialism by letting the pendulum swing the other way.

    All of which is to say, I’m very pleased with the entirely unnecessary pair of shoes I bought last week.

  8. Riki says:

    I have a lot of photography gear. Like . . . a lot.

    And every single piece gets used. I am actually a pretty skilled photographer but I never would have improved it I didn’t allow my equipment grow with me.

    I actually took some time to think about what it would mean if I followed Trent’s advice — honestly, I probably wouldn’t be as interested in photography. It wasn’t until I got the equipment that matched what I wanted to produce that I really started learning. And believe me, I am NOT a gear-head. There are lots of people who collect cameras and lenses as though they will eliminate the hard work and practice that it takes to become a good photographer. I really believe in getting the gear you need but then putting in the effort to learn how to use it well. My rule is to upgrade only when my current gear is limiting me in some way.

    Here’s a shameless plug — click on my name to see my flickr page.

  9. marta says:

    Riki, your work is awesome.

    As for the post, I agree with everyone else. I need to buy high quality supplies to do my job properly (and enjoyably!), and it’s not wasteful to do so! Trent, you really need to get over that uber-minimalist mentality.

  10. Johanna says:

    Money doesn’t buy happiness, but neither does poverty.

    The passage Tracy quoted only really makes sense if you have a real choice between working more hours for more money and working fewer hours for less money. For those of us with salaried, full-time jobs, we’re making a fixed amount of money, so we might as well spend some of it on things we enjoy.

    And who knows – maybe maintaining and caring for their thirty tools is part of the enjoyment someone gets out of their hobby.

  11. Rick Francis says:

    > the richness of experience comes from having as little as possible in your life that keeps you from the experience

    I have to disagree- Extra stuff doesn’t always keep you from the experience. There are a lot of hobbies where better equipment will make for a better experience- at least to a point.
    If you have to give up significant leisure time to get the better equipment then your overall happiness would be lower. However, in many cases giving up a small amount of leisure time to get a better experience for the remaining leisure time makes sense. Especially if the equipment can last for a long period of time thus improving your enjoyment over a long time.
    For example, I like photography: I initially got a cheap point & shoot digital camera. I enjoyed using it but found that its limitations were frustrating: It was too slow to get shots of the kids, it didn’t have the controls I wanted, it only got good pictures in bright light.
    Upgrading to an intro level DSLR with a good lens was really worthwhile for me. I enjoy photography much more with the more capable equipment. I wouldn’t trade my current camera for a point and shoot and a week of vacation to do photography. Extra time with extra frustration isn’t a good trade.
    I’m satisfied enough that I don’t feel the need to upgrade further, but I might have been a bit happier overall if I had spent a bit more for a mid level camera. When this camera wears out I might go for the upgrade. However, I’m sure I won’t be getting a top of the line professional model: The cost would be a burden and the improvement over a mid-level camera wouldn’t be worth it for me. However, if I was trying to make a living from photography, then that would be a good buy.
    -Rick Francis

  12. valleycat1 says:

    Ditto everyone’s comments, particularly #5 re deciding what’s appropriate for your usage level. My spouse has high-end photography equipment & photo processing software, which he uses frequently, as that’s his major, time-consuming hobby. I’m content with my cell phone camera and a very small digital for the occasional random photo.

  13. David says:

    Well it was said by the Master:

    People who have what they want are very fond of telling people who haven’t what they want that they really don’t want it,
    And I wish I could afford to gather all such people into a gloomy castle on the Danube and hire half a dozen capable Draculas to haunt it.
    I dont’ mind their having a lot of money, and I don’t care how they employ it,
    But I do think that they damn well ought to admit they enjoy it.
    But no, they insist on being stealthy
    About the pleasures of being wealthy,
    And the possession of a handsome annuity
    Makes them think that to say how hard it is to make both ends meet is their bounden duity.
    You cannot conceive of an occasion
    Which will find them without some suitable evasion.
    Yes indeed, with arguments they are very fecund:
    Their first point is that money isn’t everything, and that they have no money anyhow is their second.
    Some people’s money is merited,
    And other people’s is inherited,
    But wherever it comes from,
    They talk about it as if it were something you got pink gums from.
    Perhaps indeed the possession of wealth is constantly distressing,
    But I should be quite willing to assume every curse of wealth if I could at the same time assume every blessing.
    The only incurable troubles of the rich are the troubles that money can’t cure,
    Which is a kind of trouble that is even more troublesome if you are poor.
    Certainly there are lots of things in life that money won’t buy, but it’s very funny –
    Have you ever tried to buy them without money?

  14. Jackowick says:

    Wow I really love articles like this when people gang up on Trent and take things personally.

    This site is a guide and inspiration. It’s not judging you. And when you have something you’re passionate about, yes, you’ll probably enjoy buying all the tools to get the most out of it.

    But (and totally not picking on the writer above, but using an example)

    If you love photography, and you buy a new camera, that’s great. Buy an SLR. Buy some lenses, if you love it. But the thrift lesson is not worrying that you have the 2010 model vs the 2012 that just came out.

    I love video gaming. I have an Xbox that I love, but they came out with the new one that’s slim, comes often bundled with a bigger harddrive, and costs “less”, but it’s still money out of pocket for me to upgrade. So I’ll keep using mine until the next generation comes out, because I love gaming. I bought a wireless headset to talk with my friends while playing, but certainly not the most expensive one.

    I used to love having the latest and greatest parts on my mountain and road bikes. Then I realized I enjoyed the tinkering part of each purchase. So I maintain instead of upgrading.

    It’s not about judging you, it’s about offering ways to reflect on what makes you happy with the background of a financial theme.

  15. Tracy says:

    I don’t think it’s personal – I know that I think Trent is just wrong and I think it’s pretty silly for him to claim that spending money on things and hobbies you love takes away from the joy of the hobby.

    It would have been a decent article without that, but with it, it’s just thoughtless ideology.

  16. todo es bien says:

    Did any of you guys actually READ the article before you lit your torches? He explicitly, many times, says “for me” and he speaks against buying things that are unnecessary. UNNECESSARY!!! If you need 30 lenses, 4 karate gi’s, 9 weaving looms, etc please buy them and s.u.

    Kesey had it right: “All I know is this: nobody’s very big in the first place, and it looks to me like everybody spends their whole life tearing everybody else down.”

  17. Riki says:

    Actually, he starts out with “for me” and I was really impressed.

    Then he falls back into his anti-possession ideology again.

  18. Tracy says:

    Todo es bien, did you actually READ our comments before you lit your torch?

    Nobody’s criticizing Trent’s ‘for me’ parts.

    A lot of people are criticizing the last few paragraphs, none of which has the ‘me’ you are referring to and all of which have the ‘you’ combined with statements we disagree with.

  19. todo es bien says:

    I don’t think you have to have a degree in English to understand that he is talking about his own experience here. When he is using “you” in the last few paragraphs… Ummm how should I say… he is not talking about YOU. He doesnt even know you. It is a figure of speech. Clearly the whole piece is an opinion piece based on his experience. Buy all the stuff you want. I am sure he doesnt give a whit, nor do I.

  20. Steven says:

    No one here thinks Trent is talking about them personally. That’s completely asinine. The comments are discussing the content of the article, and that’s legitimate conversation to be having. This belief that people who disagree should just shut up is ridiculous. How are we ever to grow as individuals if we don’t challenge (and have challenged) our beliefs?

  21. Tracy says:

    Of course he’s not talking about a ‘personal to me’ you – he’s using the universal you. But the universal you, contrary to your belief, is not the same thing as a ‘me’ or an ‘I’.

    And I’m disagreeing with his universal you and, more importantly, the statements he’s applying to it.

    “In fact, the opposite is true – the richness of experience comes from having as little as possible in your life that keeps you from the experience. Having thirty tools to take on a job that only needs one actually keeps you from enjoying that activity because you’ve got to work to earn money for the items and you’ve got to spend time maintaining and caring for those items.”

    does NOT mean the same thing as

    “In fact, the opposite is true – the richness of experience comes from having as little as possible in my life that keeps me from the experience. Having thirty tools to take on a job that only needs one actually keeps me from enjoying that activity because I’ve got to work to earn money for the items and I’ve got to spend time maintaining and caring for those items.”

    Had Trent done that, not a single person would have criticized him. But he didn’t. He used the universal you – on statements that many people to whom that you applies disagree with.

  22. Riki says:

    Nope, there’s a clear line in this article where Trent shifts from discussing his own experiences to drawing broad conclusions that he thinks should apply to everybody. I don’t agree with his conclusions.

    I don’t understand why some people seem to think disagreeing is the same as attacking.

  23. Gretchen says:

    Unless those things are board games. Board games are okay.

    I use time dollars from the time bank to mow my lawn, ironically earned by gardening for others.

  24. Louise says:

    I think this is a great article! My brother worked in a business that was very high pressure and required lots of hours, far more than normal. It also paid very well. But several of the older men who had been there a while told him to “watch out.” They said, “Yeah, you’ll have a boat, but no time to use it; a house on the lake, but no time to enjoy it. And you’ll have to pay alimony to your wife and therapy bills for your kids ’cause you never had time for them.” I keep that in mind when I make my decisions.

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