Our consumer society constantly bombards us with the idea that more is always better. If one car is good, then two are surely better. The same must be true for vacations, shoes and, of course, money. Despite having saved and invested for my own retirement for decades, I still occasionally worry that I won’t have enough money. After years of helping others with their financial plans I find that many share this anxiety.
In Your Money or Your Life, Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez present a “Fulfillment Curve” that has helped me to think about enough in a new way. On the graph below, money spent is shown on the horizontal axis, while the vertical axis represents the amount of fulfillment. There are three levels of spending: survival, comforts and luxuries.
Money spent to meet basic needs (food, shelter) results in the most tangible satisfaction. Continuing up the curve, we acquire comforts. These purchases generate a certain degree of fulfillment, but not as much as purchases for basic needs. Take a look around you right now. How many things do you see that you feel are necessities, but are really comforts? The third level of spending is for luxuries (the month-long vacation overseas, the new clothes for the trip or the new car purchased with a bonus from work.)
Notice there is a point at the top of the curve where there is enough. Beyond this point our “consumer model” of behavior (more = better) begins to fail. Additional dollars spent don’t result in additional happiness. I think about the small soda I pull from the mini-bar at a first class hotel. Upon discovering that it is costing me $12.00, it suddenly is no longer as satisfying as a soda pulled from my fridge at home. The amount spent actually detracts from my enjoyment.
Looking at the Fulfillment Curve is useful in helping us to visualize the concept of “enough.” The answer to the question “How much is enough?” will be unique for each person. The graph demonstrates that past enough lies too much; beyond this point, satisfaction decreases relative to the amount we are spending. Too much is where clutter and the unnecessary dwell. The objective is to fund survival, some comforts and then only the luxuries you consider most important.
Exploring this idea of having enough money is very powerful. It promotes making more conscious decisions and helps to create a sense of ease. We can always want something more. But someone wise once said that true happiness lies in being satisfied with what you have. Enough said.