Spending less improves your life

June 30, 2012 by Joshua
in Blog, Freedom, Leadership, NorthKorea, Tips

Preface: I started writing this blog about how cutting personal costs (of any resource, including time, money, energy, attention, etc) improves your personal life. Rereading it I realized it overlapped so much with what leaders can do in business, I’ll tag it leadership too. Translating the post into business-speak I’ll leave as an exercise to the reader. You can probably do it on the fly.

People who know me in person know I work very little at a job — like a day a week, sometimes more in crunch times, which happen once a year or so.

When they hear I work so little, they first ask, usually indirectly, where I make enough money to live on. I view going this direction first as a sad commentary on society. I think it implies people see working more hours as the best way to achieve freedom, somehow not recognizing that giving away your time — one of the few things you can never get back — is the opposite of freedom.

I have been able to improve to my life more from lowering costs than increasing revenues. I see another sad commentary on life around me that people have a hard time distinguishing between spending money and enjoying life. Cutting costs forces you to decide what you want to keep or not. You end up ranking your values, keeping things you value and rejecting those you don’t.

Living richly

Keep in mind, I’m not talking about living frugally. I’m writing this post in Shanghai. Well, here, let’s look at some of what would cost people money

  • In the past twelve months I’ve visited North Korea (twice), Shanghai (three or four times), Beijing (two or three times), Hong Kong, Hollywood (twice), Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam, and various places around New York.
  • The twelve months before that brought me to London, India, Thailand, Malaysia, and I forget where else.
  • I live in a decent sized apartment in the West Village, my favorite place to live on the planet.
  • I still got covered in the Wall Street Journal, Village Voice, NY1, and various media
  • I eat out many nights a week. (After I renovate my apartment and open up the now dark and isolated kitchen, I expect I’ll cook at home more, cutting that money cost.)
  • I’m paying off my business school loans.
  • I have health insurance, go to the dentist twice a year, etc.
  • I don’t have the best fashion sense, but I have some custom-tailored suits and jackets, courtesy of a stylist friend who knows how to get amazing stuff. The shoes now on my feet are Alexander McQueens.
  • I only skied once this year (very mild winter in New York this year), but going with my nieces and nephew made it a fantastic outing
  • Finally, I’m a single guy and I go out a lot in New York City — maybe not the hippest places these days, but nice places nonetheless.

I could go on, but I think I conveyed that my life isn’t lacking in material comfort, health, adventure, or whatever people value when they lose sight of joy, reward, and passion.

I choose to do it. Here’s why

By the way, I choose according to my values voluntarily. I could always work more hours, make more money, and start refilling my life with things I value less than the time, activities, and relationships I value most, but once you’ve made your life awesome, it doesn’t make sense to sacrifice time, money, and other resources to make it worse.

When you look at cutting costs that way, anything else seems stupid. Why would anyone sacrifice things they value to make their life worse?

Of course, most people haven’t done the exercise of cutting costs to force themselves to cut things they value less to free resources for what they value. So they don’t know how much they can improve their lives. Plus they may not have learned how to crowd out the overwhelming voices in society driving consumption and spending, implying they’ll get happiness and such from it.

So I understand why people don’t choose to cut costs to improve their lives in the first place. If they did, I bet they’d never go back.

By choosing the changes voluntarily, I find I reduce the risk of circumstances outside my control forcing me to choose involuntarily. That is, I find living within my means increases my resilience to trouble, or reduces my risk. I suppose my tolerance for risk creates a floor for how little I work. I think I could work less, but when you get too close to bare necessities you increase risk. I don’t like risking bouncing checks.

For me, cutting costs resulted in realizing I valued my time highly, so I engineered working little. Anyone can do it. Tomorrow I’ll talk more about how to do it.

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