In 1969, as I was spending my first
small inheritance of $20,000, I had the good fortune of
meeting Joe Dominguez (now deceased), who would later become
my friend, mentor, and co-author of Your Money or Your Life.
Not only did he help me invest, rather than spend, that
boon, he taught me everything he knew about thrift from
having grown up on welfare. I took to the frugality challenge
with gusto; I have loved meeting my needs amply on very
little throughput of money or stuff. It has increased my
creativity, my sociability and generosity (living and sharing
with others), my honesty about my real needs, and my contact
with the marrow of life. And, as I've learned about the
link between overconsumption and ecological collapse, this
care with money has eased my soul as well. Through work,
thrift, and another small inheritance, I now have an income
of $1,000 a month from conservative investments-and rarely
spend that much. Okay, I admit it. I am a bit of a frugality
show-off. I love telling people how little it takes me to
look good, feel good, and even be good.
One key to this "high joy to stuff
ratio" is what Joe and I came to call The Fulfillment
Curve. The Fulfillment Curve (see illustration) shows the
relationship between the experience of fulfillment (vertical
axis) and the amount of money we spend-usually for more
stuff (horizontal axis). When we were babies, more stuff
did indeed mean more fulfillment. We were fed, warmed, and
sheltered. When we were uncomfortable, when we cried, something
came from the outside to take care of us. Our needs were
filled. At the same time, we learned a powerful lesson:
Look outside yourself and you will be fulfilled.
We then went from bare necessities (food,
clothing, shelter) to some amenities (toys, a wardrobe,
a bicycle) and the positive relationship between money and
fulfillment got even more embedded. Remember your excitement
when you got your baseball mitt or Barbie doll? We got an
allowance to learn the value of money. We could select and
purchase happiness ourselves! And so it went, year after
year. Eventually, we slipped beyond amenities to outright
luxuries-and hardly registered the change. Our first car
may have been a Wow! for months, but the fourth (probably
newer and more expensive) quickly became transportation
and another bill to pay. And so it went, with each new acquisition
being a thrill, but a more expensive thrill-and the "high"
wore off quicker.
Eventually, one day we find ourselves with
the best that money can buy, but with less happiness than
when we got our first bicycle at age seven. A process-buying
stuff-that worked for survival, comforts, and some luxuries,
now seems to lead directly to more responsibilities, more
worries, more commitments, more to lose if robbed, more
taxes and accountants and financial managers and therapists
and . . .
Whether our money comes from employment or
inheritance, we all hit fulfillment ceilings in terms of
cars, houses, vacations, clothes, conferences, workshops,
et cetera, and never recognize when the formula of money
= fulfillment not only stopped working, but started to work
The point, it seems, is the peak of that Fulfillment
Curve: Enough. Enough for our survival. Enough comforts.
And even enough for true "luxuries." Enough is
appreciating and fully enjoying what money brings into our
lives. It's not buying what doesn't add to quality of life.
Enough is dynamic-a daily mindfulness of our deep purposes
and what we need materially to achieve them. For me, enough
has proven to be under $10,000 a year, but that's not a
target for anyone else. Each of us must weigh purchase against
purpose, again and again.
The irony, of course, is that a new gusher
of money opened up in my life once The New Road Map Foundation
started doing public education about the nine-step program
in Your Money or Your Life. It was a pop quiz from the Universe:
Is $1,000 a month really enough? Here are thousands more
dollars. Indeed, hundreds of thousands. We found that we
truly wanted for nothing, and our greatest pleasure was
to dedicate this money to bringing forth the most beautiful
world we could imagine. I'd done what I call Shift, Shed,
and Share the Surplus. I had shifted my thinking about the
relationship between money and happiness. I had shed so
much excess baggage and accumulation (mentally and materially)
and, through knowing how much was enough, I had created
a vast domain called surplus that I could spend on making
life better for everyone.
After more than 30 years of living simply
and giving away a million dollars to more than 800 organizations,
here's my short statement of what simplicity means: It refers
to a quality of relationship with self, money, things, people
and the Earth. It's a quality of attentiveness, responsiveness,
directness, honesty, and respect. It is unmediated living
that includes both pleasure and service. It is the confluence
where sustainability (enough for all) and spirituality (wholeness
and oneness) meet. And it is a gift!
by Vicki Robin
Vicki Robin is a writer, activist, and
networker. Her book, Your Money or Your Life, has sold 750,000
copies in seven languages and will soon be released in Chinese.
She is president of the New Road Map Foundation.