Notes on Your Money or Your Life
02 May 2023
I've seen people in online personal finance spaces mention the book "Your Money or Your Life" quite positively, but didn't really know what to expect when I came across it on my library's e-book lending app the other night and started reading it. I hadn't really given much thought to the title, even - it was like a random string of characters that simply lit up with recognition without meaning. I kinda figured it was like any other wealth-building book, full of advice on investing and the joys of compound interest.
While it does contain a little bit of that, investing and collecting a huge sum of money to enable a life of lavish spending is really far from the point of the book.
"Financial Independence has nothing to do with rich. It is the experience of having enough-- and then some."
The book walks you through a nine step process of re-orienting yourself towards money, first by taking stock of how much money you've earned over the years and what you have to show for it, going through looking closely at how you spend your income each month and whether you're getting true fulfillment and satisfaction in proportion to the amount of "life energy" you've spent to earn that money. Through this process, the authors claim that your spending is likely to decrease as you become more conscious of what you truly value, but they also admit that your spending might increase - it might be that you find you really value convenience or time with friends and family, and paying extra to have a house cleaner come so you can prioritize your free time would be the right move for you. Only at the very end do we come to any info on what to do with your extra cash (invest it).
"The affluence that surrounds us has been called the American Dream, and with good reason: We've been asleep. We wake up by questioning the dream."
A throughline in the book is being truly honest with yourself about the personal in personal finance. This shows up in assessing your spending against your values and life purpose, but also in prior steps when you categorize your monthly spending. You're encouraged to create categories that make sense for you, getting more specific and more unique than you usually see in a standard budget template. With self-acceptance and self-awareness as paramount, where would you (for example, and calling out myself here) categorize alcohol? Is it food, entertainment, or simply a drug? What are your "gazingus pins", the book's term for those things you just can't resist buying no matter how many you have at home?
# The Three Questions
The core of the nine-step process is step 4, humbly referred to as "three questions that will transform your life." Each month, you're encouraged to analyze your spending totals in each category you've defined and assess that spending against each of the three questions. The questions are:
- Did I receive fulfillment, satisfaction, and value in proportion to life energy spent?
- Is this expenditure of life energy in alignment with my values and life purpose?
- How might this expenditure change if I didn't have to work for money?
Life energy here refers to your true hourly wage-- made up of not just your income but also what it takes to earn that income. Your hours spent commuting, shopping for work clothes, spending money on clothes you only wear for work, and lunches near the office when if you weren't working, you'd be eating more cheaply at home all count.
Your values and life purpose are up to you to define, though the book suggests several reflection prompts and methods of identifying your purpose that may help.
# Frugality and Anti-Consumerism
As I mentioned above, it's possible that assessing your spending carefully against the three questions will lead you to decide to spend more in certain categories. But, the authors have found through their years of workshops on this method that most people following the method decrease their spending overall, sometimes quite drastically. Indeed, frugality is encouraged by their approach, and by the overall (and often quite explicit) anti-consumerist and pro-environmental stance of the book.
"To be frugal means to have a high joy-to-stuff ratio."
"Waste lies not in the number of possessions but in the failure to enjoy them."
"Frugality is being efficient in harvesting happiness from the world you live in."
"Saving those minutes and hours of life energy through careful consuming is the ultimate in self-respect."
"This desire to do whatever you want wheneer you want and damn the consequences seems to be an underlying current in the 'free world.' But as we've seen, such freedom is often quite costly, whereas consciousness often saves you far more money and thus liberates far more time."
# The ABCs of Natural Wealth
As your approach to the money coming in and out of your household grows more in line with your values and life purpose, the authors maintain you'll build these "ABCs of natural wealth" naturally as you go along. But, they also have many hints on how to move towards each of the three.
- Abilities - skills and knowledge; things you can do
- Belonging - those who accompany you in life
- Community - society, both online and in real life, and your environment/nature.
This was a small section in the book, but still a good one.
# The Point of Work is to Get Paid
One section in the book encouraged readers to reflect on the meaning of their paid employment. There are many ways that paid work can be satisfying and fulfilling- but at the end of the day, the most important reason most of us work is to get paid. There are many other ways to get fulfillment and satisfaction through unpaid work. There's a note here that this line of thinking may not make a lot of sense to people who are not being paid enough to support themselves and their families.
The book encouraged us to separate the idea of work from paid employment/wage-earning activities. We all work in many different ways: caring for our family and friends, tidying up and cooking, writing that novel or quilting or volunteering. If you recognize paid employment as just one component of a full life, there's not so much pressure on work to provide meaning to our lives.
Our fulfillment as human beings lies not in our jobs but in the whole picture of our lives-- in our inner sense of what life is about, our connectedness with others, and our yearning for meaning and purpose.
Recognizing that the point of paid work is to get paid, you may not feel as tied to finding the perfect career, your calling. Because even in that dream job, something will inevitably come along that jeapordizes your sense that the work you're doing for pay (even in a business or nonprofit you founded yourself!) is truly aligned with your values. (unstated addendum: because capitalism.) When you know that ultimately, you're there to get paid, you can assess your situation more clearly. Perhaps there's no perfect, ethically-unassailable and purpose-driven job out there. Perhaps that's okay, and there doesn't have to be one.
That leads us right into step seven - maximizing income as a way to value the life energy you invest in your job. The book talks about seeking out the highest pay you can, "consistent with your health and integrity."
# Ethical Icks
Step 7 contains perhaps my least favorite anecdote from the book - Nina was a volunteer at a conference and the staff walked out in protest; Nina stepped up as a scab and this was great for her personal career advancement. HMMMM.
# Invest Conservatively?
In the places where the book does go into investing strategies, they advocate for taking a very conservative approach. The original version of the book was published in 1992, and has since been heavily revised (in 1998, 2008, and 2018). Today's version talks about how one of the original authors (Joe Dominguez, who died in 1997) achieved financial independence through investing in government bonds, and speaks highly of that approach while recognizing it doesn't actually work any more. However, the book still says investors should be more conservative than conventional wisdom has it, since they may want to retire or reduce their hours early once they reach the "crossover point" where monthly investment income is more than monthly expenses. While there may be some merit in this idea, I think it's more complicated than that - you can't get the returns that will get you to that point without being aggressive (choosing index funds heavily weighted towards stocks rather than safer investments). There are strategies for shifting your investments to safer options as you get ready to start living off of them and deciding how much to withdraw each year, but the book doesn't really touch on that.
# Overall Impressions
Overall this was a great read, and well worth the 6 or so hours I put into reading. I'm not sure if I'll follow the steps precisely now that I've finished the book, but I have already had some insights about my own spending habits and how they relate to my values and purpose. I'd recommend this book to anyone looking to improve their relationship to money and bring it more in line with the life they want to live.
Want more? Check out the book from your local library or read the official/author's own summary.
Webmentions: 6 Likes 1 Retweet
@cassey @christianp I really appreciate you sending that. I want to read the book now. Great article! source
@mhanson101 oh it's much more sinister than that, I'm going to try to sell you on buying less crap source
@cassey @christianp well now I have to read it and improve my life I guess. Your talent and generosity has taught me a valuable lesson about smart ass comments. If you don't try to sell me a crypto coin I'm going to be very disappointed... source
@cassey Noooo, but buying crap is what is supposed to make me happy and it hasn't worked yet so I have to keep trying source
@cassey Hi Cassey! You might enjoy this profile of Vicki Robin; we ran it back when I was still at MONEY and thought she was just fascinating. https://money.com/vicki-robin-financial-independence-retire-early/ A Growing Cult of Millennials Is Obsessed... source
@mhanson101 @christianp hey thanks! source
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