Updated: Nov 28, 2018
How to find financial contentment in life is a philosophy my father taught me decades ago. I recall my upbringing where we lived in a nice home, had nice things, did all the things most families did like vacations, summer camps, owned two cars, bicycles, dinners out, BBQ’s every weekend in the summer etc. To me, life was easy and my father (and mother) made it look easy. They never once told me that “life is not easy” that so many parents have said to their children.
Every once in a while, my parents would talk to my older brother and myself and let us know that the family income has changed (how, where, why — no idea) and we were told that the family would begin to reduce its expenditures. We of course had no real idea what this meant, because as far as we were concerned things went on as usual and we did not notice anything different. What I learned later on was that this was a way for my parents to temper their children's desires for as them to purchase everything in sight when shopping or sifting through the retail flyers that were sent tour homes on a weekly basis — my weekend reading that I looked forward to after a week of school…. ya, weird, but that set the stage for what my career would become.
In my early twenties I recall getting into a discussion with my father that would change how I felt about seeking tangible superficial acquisitions as a part of lifestyle. This happened after I had a dumb experience with a credit card issue and the need for my father to teach me more about personal financial management. My father wisely sat me down and asked me to look at the desk in his office. I looked but could not find what I was supposed to notice. He pointed my attention to all the envelopes he had on the desk and me if I knew what they were for. I had no idea, so ex plained. One for the gardener, one for summer vacation, one for petrol for the week, one for groceries, one for miscellaneous and the list went on. I asked why he did this? He basically said that he likes to plan ahead and save every week, a little here and a little there so when things come up would be prepared. I thought this was both smart and tedious. Being young and full of piss and vinegar, I felt that good idea, but preferred to live life as it would come… wrong… twenties ah, the early twenties…
In my mid twenties my father and I spoke again about a most profound subject: To “Live on what you need, not what you want”. This was oddly profound but also very logical. This all came about after a discussion about asking him why our family is not moving into another town (that is a bit higher on the social ladder) like many of the other families who lived in our community. My father smirked and chuckled a little. I asked him what was so funny. He responded by essentially telling me that many of these people who made these moves enjoyed their new large homes, the status of living in this new community and while being there, they also had to play in the world of the Joneses… meaning, they had to upgrade their cars and change them more frequently. What they and their children wore and the brands they wore as well as where they shopped — were all subject for criticism and judgement (be it stated or unstated).
By the end of this discussion my father explained that a good majority of these individuals were really in debt and living an financial hell — well above their means. What was also noted was that the quality of life diminished for these people as well. So their holding large mortgages, cars that were leased and credit cards being used as a bridge fund. All this stated he said that we could actually move as well, without any financial issues as we could afford it. I was actually surprised by this because we lived so modestly. But my father pointed out the following facts. We are not judged based on how rich we are or by the car we drive or the house we live in. Everything the family has, we own. The house — paid off. The cars — paid in full at the time of purchase. Vacations and summer camps — paid in full, not owed on a credit card. Everything in our house — paid for in full, no monthly payments. The new driveway we are going to have to hire a company to make — no terms and no loans from the bank needed — it will be paid in full. The list went on and I started to realize what he was telling me.
My father explained that when he and my mother would decide on a purchase, it would be done with thought and consideration by one key question: Is this something we need more or is this something we simply want more? Additionally they would consider the longevity of the purchase in terms of how much value they will derive and other associated benefits.
My parents were not impulsive consumers. My father worked hard for his money and my mother tried to do her part by preserving the money he earned. It was and still is a great relationship and at the age of 86 plus, he still works, visits customers, drives his Toyota Matrix (no, not a BMW, though he oddly wants me to get one — go figure) and still has envelopes set aside for various expenses etc. My parents came from a generation where you bought things based on what money you have in the bank and within the means you could afford. This is something that current generations do not appreciate for the most part. Everywhere you see promotions of big discounts, interest free monthly payments and such. Retailers promoting the “Buy now, get it now or you will miss out on this great deal”… boxing day deals, presidents days deals… I mean, there are deals almost every week, month quarter it never ends. So why rush?
There is much research available to understand that delayed gratification actually generates more pleasure to the brain than getting the actual thing (object, purchase etc.). Another words, the journey is actually generating more pleasure than the actual destination. It is interesting to me because when I am travelling (for pleasure), I always find the travel so very enjoyable.. but perhaps this is just me ( I would love to know if other people share this feeling as well so please add your comments).
So what does it come down to at the end of the day, what is my message to you, what lesson am I trying to convey ? Think before you make a purchase. Ask yourself if you really need it, or can you get along without it. Ask yourself if you can get by a little longer without it, and later you will purchase it without owing anyone money. From an economic state, if we were to all live our lives based on what we needed versus what we want, life would be easier, our financial pressures may also be reduced, and this can lead to more contentment in life.
I often thank my father for that special discussion and remind him about his life changing words, “Live on what you need, not on what you want”, for there will never be an end to what you want, how much you will want and as time progresses you will end up wanting more — the latest version, a better version etc.
I encourage you to reflect on your financial past and think about how much money you would have today if you would have applied this philosophy. I can tell you that for myself and my family it is significant, because every week there are things that I want and have to ask myself the same question: “Do I need this, or do I just want this”?
As a parent this is also a great lesson even at a young age. I taught my eldest daughter at the age of eleven years old and now at the age of 24, she is so thankful that she knows how to responsibly spend (or not spend) her money. She can afford many luxuries in her life as a result if this, she is now in a new home with her own car and a great job. She saves and invests and spends on what she needs.. I am very very proud of her. Delayed gratification is a discipline that every person should learn and every parent should teach to their children.
Delaying gratification isn’t a new concept as Aristotle saw (in 300 BC) that people who were unhappy confused pleasure for happiness. True happiness, (as per Aristotle), is about developing good habits and behaviours and being around people who inspire and improve you spiritually, enabling one to advance towards your ones real inner potential. It involves the delaying of pleasure, investing your time, being disciplined/having control, and patience instead of immediate pleasure. If your life has real purpose, you can align it with seeking happiness and then it can create real long term joy. delayed gratification will provide a more even and regular happiness level throughout your life. So, think about taking the path of delayed gratification — studies prove it actually works?
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