More Than Money
Issue #4

How Much is Enough?

Table of Contents

“Personal Stories”

Do You Have Enough?

We asked dozens of people whether they had enough, and why or why not. While what follows demonstrates the range of responses, we especially included stories from folks who do experience "enough-ness," as that tends to be the less-often heard voice in our society.

Insecurity "Wired-In"

Like many people in my generation (now 50-75 years old), my childhood was filled with stories of bank failures and lost jobs and Life magazine's pictures of the armies of homeless. As money was the symbol of security, I worked hard, started a business, bought a house, saved and accumulated.

Eventually my consulting business made more each year more than my father earned in his lifetime as a civil servant. Yet I never had enough to make me feel truly secure. My recurring bad dream was to become a messenger carrying envelopes to offices like mine, all dressed up in my frayed three-piece suit and probably talking to myself-reduced to the male equivalent of a bag lady.

Fortunately, I'm beginning to pay less attention to the demon who whispers that it might all go away tomorrow. I can't deny that those Depression-era emotions are firmly wired in me, but I've learned to accept them as part of me just as I accept having blue eyes. Living with those fears doesn't mean I have to live by those fears. I have learned even to be amused by their incongruity: can you imagine this man the banks call a "high-net-worth individual" driving two miles on a local road to avoid one highway toll booth? Yet, there is progress. Last time I paid the toll and only winced a little.

- anonymous author

Wealth is Time

I followed the commands of my conscience over 20 years ago and decided to live on what I determined was my "fair share" of the world's resources. I was a university sociology professor at the time, and I was able to research the average global per-capita income.

This year, my budget is about $1960 a year (or $160 a month) and, for me, it's more than enough. I live in a 12-foot camping trailer and pay just for the ground it sits on, electricity, water, and garden space. I set some money aside for medical emergencies, and 20% of my income goes towards what I call "reparations." (That's my word for the debt we owe to people in other countries for living in a society built off the exploitation of others.)

My time has been liberated-my landscaping and carpentry work covers my living expenses in about 10 hours a week. To me that's real wealth-to have time.

- anonymous author

The Freedom of Youth

I experienced having enough as a young adult by limiting my desires, paying very little attention at all to how much I had, earned, or spent. What glorious freedom! When I traveled I could carry everything on my back and stick out my thumb and get a ride.

Now, two decades later, I am extremely conscious of how much I have, earn, and spend. My sense of having enough comes from seeing my budgets balance and knowing that I'm conscientious. This work allows me permission to indulge many material desires, but I sometimes miss the lightness of my earlier way of being.

- S.A.

So Many Children

Oh yes, for me personally I have enough. But my life's work is trying to find support for the orphans in Cambodia. I am now $850,000 in the hole from doing this but I'm not really worried-I have several houses I'm not living in which I could sell to cover the debt. How much would be enough? $200,000 a year more? No, really, there's no limit. I could put the Pentagon's budget to great use, easy!

- anonymous author

A Matter of Perspective

My partner and I both work 40 hours a week and each month we have just enough to pay the mortgage and daycare, save for essentials like retirement, our son's education, replacing our car, and to buy both basic things we need plus a few pleasurable extras. Every once in a while my vision widens, and I think, "Whoa! I might feel like we don't have much surplus, but income-wise, I'm in the richest 5% of the world!" Remembering so much of humanity is struggling for a roof and a pair of shoes keeps me honest about my relative wealth.

- anonymous author

Trapped by a Lifestyle

Frankly, I don't feel I have enough. The value of my home and my other real estate investments dropped 40% after the Los Angeles recession in real estate. I was shocked to realize my wife and I were spending at the level of $250,000 a year. I like to think that I am kind of average-not one of those lavish lifestyle people-but I see how much I am in denial. I feel insecure because I don't know if I can keep earning this much, and besides, I don't want to.

I'd like to leave behind the push to make money and go back to becoming a teacher again, or to do something else really service-oriented. If I did that, I couldn't support our big house with maid and gardener any longer. I feel kind of trapped now. But you know... I'm sure I could become comfortable again with a house half the size. Doing that-selling my house and moving to a more modest home-just might be my first step to greater freedom.

- anonymous author

More Wishes than Money

No, I don't have enough. I would like to buy more clothes, more purebred cats and a big white bird... I would like to fly first class around the world staying in the best suites at the best hotels, and open seven-figure bank accounts randomly at banks that intrigue me.

I need at least $75,000 to live on. If I had $5,000,000 I might feel I had enough -or at least I'd feel calmer. But then again, if I had that much maybe I'd start to obsess about something else. I'd like to give a million dollars to animal rights organizations, but I wouldn't feel comfortable giving away that amount until I had ten million.

I don't think anyone should have over $200 million, because it turns into monopoly money and becomes meaningless. When you have a lot of money and you can do A, B, and C, all you want to do is D. You have the same problems, you just develop more expensive solutions.

- anonymous author

Thanks to the IRS

Basically, the IRS tax schedules determine how much is enough for me and my family. Once I learned that 50-60% of federal tax dollars goes towards organized murder (which some call the "defense budget") I couldn't in good conscience pay federal taxes. So I decided to adjust my income so it was just below the taxable amount according to the tax tables. (I preferred this choice to refusing to pay, which risks future collection including penalties and interest.) My wife, three children, and I were able to live very comfortably at this level in rural Maine-in part because tax laws permitted my parents to pass $20,000/year to us as a non-taxable gift.

Even living at this income I enjoy wonderful freedom and opportunities. Yet I long to do more about increasing equality in the world, and am exploring other steps to take: perhaps making an equal donation for the amount I spend on luxuries, or supporting a working class person at the same income as myself... My anger and sadness about the military budget has been a helpful fuel for my life. I am grateful for the motivation to live more simply, and to put the wealth to use rather than holding on to it till I die and pay heaps more taxes.

- anonymous author

Erratic Money

Some of my friends think I have a lot of money, but I earn it all through unpredictable freelance work. When I was younger I enjoyed the excitement of not knowing when my next paycheck would come in, but now I hunger for more stability. It no longer feels like "enough" to be well-off sometimes and other times on the edge.

- F.S.

Developing "Enough-ness"

The best steps I've taken lately to address the internal "enough-ness" scale are a) develop my professional earning power, and; b) begin to accept that I don't need to buy everything I want in those fleeting moments of deep desire in a store. I am developing memories of the happiness and security I have in joyful times with friends.

Conversely I make myself look at negative spending experiences. I try not to judge myself too much, just to sit with the sense of unfulfillment from a given purchase. Right now I'm thinking of a plum-colored elegant suit I bought under the influence of some vision of a mature, capable professional I saw in the store's mirror. The vision was nice, but the suit was not needed in my wardrobe and doesn't fit into my life.

- anonymous author

With Guidance from God

Growing up in Tuscaloosa Alabama everyone seemed to place a high value on material possessions. I envied my friends with their store-bought dresses and nice cars when I had home-made clothes and my father brought me to school in a truck.

So I set out to marry someone who could provide well and succeeded when I found Matthew. By the time we had been married four years I was driving a Lincoln Continental and had so many clothes I couldn't fit them into a double closet.

But Matthew was working 18 hours a day, and eventually I realized I didn't want a marriage like this. I spoke to a minister I knew well, and with his counsel decided I would try again. Millard flew to meet me in New York City, and we had a painfully honest talk with each other while walking around Rockefeller Center. It was like opening up an infected wound for it to cleanse and heal. We stayed up and cried and laughed and talked all night. We strongly felt the presence of God and received guidance to give away our considerable fortune.

We have had some rough times, but we have never doubted our decision. We moved to the Christian community of Koinonia. After five years there we went to Africa. Three years later, with practically no money, we set up a one-room office in an old house and started a housing project. Over the decades the work has flourished and so has our family.

Of course money increases the quality of life when you don't have enough, but even with four children we have always had enough for what we really needed. Now Millard and my combined salary is $55,000-the project board offered us more, but we decided we already had enough.

- anonymous author

Money as a Mirror for Life

I have more money than I've ever had in my adult life. It's enough for all my current needs and desires, but not enough for my future needs-for a house, a child, and for retirement. But you know, even if I were putting away enough each month for those needs, I know it would never feel like enough. "Enough" could only be if I owned a house outright-no mortgage, and if I had right now all the retirement money I will need when I'm old.

I had a recent insight about this attitude of mine. I recalled that growing up I was never "done" with my homework until I had completed all the work for the semester. I used to be done months early. When my mother died, I finally realized what that was all about: my mom was in such crisis all my life, I was always scrambling to get things under control, so that if she suddenly died I'd be OK. That's what happened-when she died, my homework for the year was done, and I could just deal with my grief.

But this attitude still shapes me. I'm a book publicist, and I never feel "done" with my work until I've done as much for a client as I'm going to do for the whole contract. Being on schedule isn't enough. I think most people's craziness about money is similar to their patterns in other parts of their life. I'm just lucky that mine are so transparent.

- anonymous author

Older means Poorer?

My father, the president of a senior center in New York City, shared with me some of his observations of the attitudes of people in his generation. "Because things that used to cost a few cents cost so much more now, many of us have a sense that there is no such thing as having enough. We cling to what we have out of a sense that what's gone is gone, and there is no more coming in. No matter how much we have, as we age and have greater challenges with our health, we feel in danger of not being able to afford to meet our basic needs. Even when our children are middle-aged, we still want to give to them and not feel like they have to take care of us."

- anonymous author

Changes of Fortune

After the great depression my family started a small business. Although I always wore hand-me-downs I never felt poor. When I was twelve my father inherited a little money, which grew over a ten year period in real estate investments, sufficient to support us even though he was forced to retire for health reasons.

In my 20's I got involved with a radical young Jewish man (and, furthermore, didn't get married). In protest my parents disinherited me. That was okay while my lover was supporting me, but when we broke up I was on the street for awhile. It was a very frightening period. Having young children and grappling with multiple sclerosis, I had to learn to accept help. While on welfare I discovered what it was like to get shit from the government in order to feed my kids. I wasn't willing to keep groveling so I gave up welfare. Fortunately, another feminist helped me pay my rent.

Four months after the break up, I made a gesture of reconciliation and my parents stopped waiting for me to clean up my life. They saw I couldn't make it with a disability without their help and reinherited me.

During the '70s and early '80s, I seemed to acquire the proverbial Midas touch-what I touched turned into money. I started a women's publishing house and it paid for itself. I bought a couple of houses and the real-estate values quadrupled.

But the very day that I realized I was rich the plumbing backed up in the elegant four-plex I had just bought. While I waited for the plumber, I was horrified to see murky water seeping into the hall toward the next apartment. By the time the plumber arrived, I was on my hands and knees with a plastic cup, scooping up someone else's shit. It occurred to me that wealth was overrated as a solution to life's problems.

Since 1965 I have taken one day every week to fast and meditate. This helps me keep perspective on what is necessary in life-bread, water and air-and to be happy I would add a bed and a desk. I thought many times about Jesus' message: if everyone shared there would be neither wealth nor poverty.

I decided to sell all my investments in order to de-rich myself. When I had been on the street the only organization that had helped me was the Salvation Army, so I started giving to them. I also sold two of the properties to current tenants who would never have been able to qualify to buy a home. I continued to shelter street children.

Last year I started a video company making empowering videos for the disabled. Later I heavily mortgaged a house I received from my family in order to create wheelchair-accessible housing. I consistently charge less than the amount recommended by the rent control board.

Friends and family thought I was crazy to give away so much, especially because of my multiple sclerosis. But I don't intend to impoverish myself. I've kept my home and I keep my net income at the level of the median American household income, currently about $22,500. As an American writer once said, "I've been rich and I've been poor and rich is better!" I appreciate having enough to take care of myself and also to help out others who know the suffering of poverty.

Have I done the right thing by curtailing acquisition? Who knows? I could easily imagine myself getting addicted to accumulation, which probably wouldn't add to my happiness. Work is exciting; I have a beautiful apartment and loving friends. Do I have enough happiness? What's enough?

- anonymous author


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