if i had enough money

my two cents

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By Charlotte Cowles, the Cut’s financial-advice columnist.  In addition lớn “My Two Cents,” she writes about work and parenting for the site. Previously, she was the senior features editor at Harper's Bazaar and a senior editor at the Cut. She was also the editorial director for MM.LaFleur. Her work has also been published in Glamour, Art in America, Politico, and other places.

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Getty Images

Manisha Thakor spent decades building a successful career in finance, managing up lớn $6 billion in assets and jetting around the country every week. She was also a workaholic who was unraveling in private, at several points landing in the hospital with stress-related illnesses. Now she dedicates herself lớn educating people about their finances and how it relates lớn their time and quality of life. Her latest book, MoneyZen: The Secret lớn Finding Your “Enough,” explores the relationship between those limited resources and how lớn get a handle on your own. 

Here, Thakor talks about what “enough” means; how lớn figure out what’s worth your time, energy, and money; and the tools she teaches clients for getting off the hedonic treadmill of thinking that having more will make them happier.

I’m a little skeptical of the trend of telling people — especially women — lớn tự less. It seems lượt thích we’re saying that people should lower their standards or feel that it’s wrong lớn want more. How is your message different?
As a hyperdriven person, when I first came across this concept of “achieve less,” I wanted lớn snort. Like, what kind of smart, ambitious person would have any interest in that? But what I want lớn emphasize is it’s not inconsistent with working toward results that you want in your life. Permission lớn tự less does not mean that you should take your goals off the table. If you want lớn be a CEO or an entrepreneur, you’re not taking those off the table. Instead, I want lớn question society’s reverence of this constant busyness. I want people lớn understand at a visceral level that their self-worth should not be tied lớn being super-busy. When someone says, “How are you?,” it’s not healthy when you answer back, “Crazy-busy.” A lot of people are proud lớn say that, but that is not how you achieve a life that’s full of professional and personal experiences that you’ll feel really proud of when you look back.

We see this in many studies: that putting in more hours does not directly result in better-quality work. The reason people come up with great ideas in the shower is because their minds are quieted and disengaged from thinking about the actual problem at hand. Giving yourself permission lớn achieve less questions society’s reverence of always being busy and the subliminal message that the answer lớn anything that ails us is lớn tự more, earn more, be more. Instead, you want lớn take into consideration the kind of life you want lớn live.

The “do less, achieve more” concept is very appealing, but it’s very difficult lớn put into practice. How tự you identify and weed out the less important stuff?
It’s a constant process. For example, when I got divorced seven years ago, I moved lớn Portland, Oregon, with very little — my books, my clothes, and my small xế hộp. I didn’t have a fork. I didn’t have a plate. I didn’t even know many people. I left all that stuff behind. From that point forward, I was very deliberate about every single thing and relationship that I brought into my life. It worked great for the first three or ví years. Then human nature kicked in. I’d gotten back on my feet postdivorce and I was feeling better about life, ví I started buying more. Pretty soon, my 1,300-square-foot condo had stacks of stuff all over the place. My first thought was, I need more storage. Maybe I should tự a little remodel lớn build in cabinetry lớn hold all this stuff. Then I caught myself and realized that the best solution was lớn go through all of it and get rid of what I didn’t want. I gave it lớn good homes — friends that could use it, shelters, Goodwill. I probably eliminated about 25 percent of what I had. I’d lượt thích lớn eliminate even more.

When I can see what I have, I enjoy it more and I’m not constantly running out lớn buy something new. For instance, I’m doing a ton of podcasts right now, and some of them have đoạn phim. You can get the fancy stands that put your computer at just the right angle. But instead, I just got different-size books and created my own stand out of things I already owned. Sometimes a thing can make your life easier. But more often, you can solve your problem with the resources you already have. And it’s satisfying. It carries over lớn other areas of your life, too. You don’t want lớn clutter up your space or your brain with extraneous things lớn take care of.

In your book, you reference the work of Leidy Klotz and his book Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less. Klotz points out that a lot of us think we need lớn add more — or tự more — to solve our problems when really, the solution might be lớn take something away. How tự you know the difference?
The idea is we all have two limited resources: money and time. I want everyone lớn think about how lớn remove the things that are currently costing you money or time that are not contributing lớn your happiness. Let má be very clear: I don’t think that spending money is bad. A lot of what you read about money tells you lớn spend less — period. But I think that spending money can be great and important. We can spend it lớn get out of bad situations, lượt thích jobs we hate or relationships that aren’t working. We can spend it on things that make us feel strong or pretty or healthy. The point is that it’s our choice. It’s not about deprivation. You just need lớn learn the skill of spending in a way that balances your financial health with your emotional health.

What are the ways lớn build that skill?
I have three tools that I use. There are tactics that have worked for má, personally, and that I’ve used with clients for years. Every single person comes back and says, “Wow, that made a huge difference.”

The first step is taking a close look at where you’re spending your money right now. Most people hate doing this, ví I try lớn reframe it — I đường dây nóng it a “joy audit.” You write down everything you spend, ideally for a month. Or start with just a few days or a week. I encourage people lớn tự this exercise on paper. I know it’s easier lớn keep track digitally, but it’s more visceral lớn tự it the old-fashioned way. It’s lượt thích why spending cash feels different from using a credit thẻ. I keep the list inside my wallet. You want lớn include everything — even automated stuff lượt thích your rent.

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Then, after you’ve done this for the allotted period of time, you take a highlighter and you highlight anything on that page that did NOT bring you joy. Of course, the most common ones will be stuff you can’t really tự anything about, lượt thích utility bills. But you will also identify things that are seemingly benign — lượt thích drinks out with friends that are expensive and then you got trang chính and you realize you didn’t even have fun. Or you’re taking your kids lớn soccer lessons, and they hate the coach; you hate driving there. It’s liberating lớn realize you can cut that stuff out. There might even be big ones. Like, maybe you look at your mortgage or rent and think, You know, this place was great when we first moved in, but now I’m in a different stage in my life. It’s time lớn think about downsizing. So it might result in you making some pretty major life changes. It may also involve spending more. My joy audit resulted in purchasing something. I bought a tiny cabin in rural Maine, and now I live here half a year. I realize that’s not something most people are able lớn tự, but it’s an example of how this exercise can be illuminating.

The second step is lớn tự the hourly-wage test, which is a Vicki Robin concept from her book Your Money or Your Life. Basically, you want lớn look at the dollars you spend through the lens of how many hours it took you lớn earn them. I use this one a lot. You take your income and divide it by 2,000 hours, which is roughly how many hours most of us spend on work-related activities. So if you’re bringing in $60,000 and you divide that by 2,000, now you’ve got $30 an hour before taxes. Then when you see something that costs $300, you’ve now got a useful ruler. You can say, Is this worth more kêu ca ten hours of my life’s energy or not? The beauty of this is no one gets lớn tell you what’s the right or wrong answer there. You get lớn decide.

The final tool is useful for online purchases or even tangible things you want lớn buy. Before you purchase anything, I encourage people lớn take a photograph of it and let it sit for a week. Then, after that, come back, and if you still want it, you can buy it. It’s a size of protection against the fact that our society is constantly telling us that more is good. The messaging around any shopping experience, online or in real life, is urgency. There’s targeted ads, countdown clocks, or music and smells in stores that make you want lớn get more and get it now. That urgency is almost always manufactured.

I even make different folders on my phone for things I might lượt thích lớn buy — one for artwork, one for outdoor things, one for kitchen items, one for furniture. I ví enjoy looking through those photos. It’s lượt thích curating my own coffee-table book of things I want in my life. But also, it helps má realize that you don’t always need lớn buy them.

In some ways, you can think about shopping as going lớn a museum: You can look at things and enjoy them without actually owning them. Also, if you walk into a museum and there’s crap everywhere, you can’t see it. Instead, there is white space around each of the artifacts on display. That’s what we’re missing when we’re constantly seeking more. Whether it’s with our activities or with our purchasing habits, we need that white space lớn appreciate the things we love.

In your book, you talk about how certain status objects, titles, or accomplishments can give you a false sense of self-worth. But how tự you know the difference between one of those things — you đường dây nóng them “flawed self-worth anchors” — and something that’s actually very gratifying?
The difference is whether the thing brings you intrinsic pleasure — it’s not that you feel it adds lớn who you are or lớn your value as a human.

Earlier in my life, when I was buying purses that cost four digits, I felt that they increased my value as a human, which was obviously not true. I’ve gotten rid of most of them now, but I kept four that have meaning and significance lớn má. The reason I keep them, even though I use them very rarely, is that I think they’re beautiful. I’ve had them for over đôi mươi years now, and they’re ví well made they still look new. They’re almost lượt thích art in a way. They bring má such joy lớn look at. If I had đôi mươi of them, lượt thích I used lớn, it would be ví cluttered I wouldn’t even notice or see. But, also, those bags no longer make má feel lượt thích I’m more of a person. Of course, people tự respond lớn you in a certain way when you’re carrying a Chanel bag. I’m not unrealistic — when I carry it in Thành Phố New York, people treat má differently. But when I carry that bag in rural Maine, people roll their eyes at má lượt thích, What an idiot. But that doesn’t mean that you have lớn feel differently about yourself. That’s the key. Another litmus test lớn identify your relationship with that object that you’re thinking about buying or that accolade you want lớn get is lớn ask yourself if you would see another person who has it, if it would raise them in your eyes. If ví, you might want lớn reexamine your relationship lớn that thing.

Accolades and awards and titles are hard lớn detach from! Especially when everyone else finds them important, too. How tự you question that?
Busyness with work, busyness collecting things, busyness getting accolades — it’s transformational lớn ask yourself, For what? Obviously, I know that it’s important lớn make money, because the absence of money will make you miserable. But the point is that you need lớn consider the equation, which is both financial and emotional. Before you tự something or buy something, you want lớn ask yourself, How does this factor into my relationship with life satisfaction and the way I’m using my money? It’s not rocket science that many of us are overwhelmed. But the piece that’s missing from a lot of people’s lives is understanding why we feel lượt thích we have lớn be ví busy. It’s about finding a balance between your money and your emotional health and what works for the resources that you have available lớn you.

It can be hard, but one way lớn really focus on what’s important is lớn think about what you will remember in the future. I have a long list of poignant, important things I missed, lượt thích weddings and funerals for family and friends, because I was working. Now I look back and I cannot remember a single thing or project that I was working on that seemed ví important at the time. But the handful of family events and weddings that I did make time for I will remember always. That’s one way lớn weigh importance.

I also want lớn address the idea of having “enough” money. Most people objectively would be better off with more — they could pay down debt, feel more secure in their lives, and afford lớn work less. But I also understand that the hedonic treadmill is powerful. How tự you know when you have “enough”? How can you get lớn the point where what you have feels closer lớn “enough”?
Because of the lack of safety nets, and certain professions not paying people close lớn the value that they provide lớn society, about 30 percent of Americans tự not have enough money, objectively. They are not making a living wage. These are systemic problems. You can’t just think your way out of it — it’s not a mind-set issue. I want lớn be clear in acknowledging that. We can calculate a living wage. We can also calculate, for people who are making a living wage, how much money they need lớn make each year in order lớn spend the way they want lớn spend and still save enough lớn retire at a certain age. So there are numerical answers lớn “What is enough?” that are fairly straightforward. “Enough” is a function of how much you want lớn spend relative lớn your income and your net worth. But that’s only part of the equation.

The underlying question is does your spending actually maximize your fulfillment and happiness? And if not, what would? Maybe you need lớn spend more or less, but what’s more likely is that you need lớn spend differently. Maybe if your job wasn’t ví stressful and exhausting, then you wouldn’t need lớn pay for all those massages and all that therapy. Or maybe you should spend more on those things. I say this all with zero judgment. These are very personal decisions.

There are people who tự not have enough money lớn be financially healthy. Mathematically, they may not have the income lớn pay off their student debt or their credit-card debt; they can’t save up for emergencies or for their future. But there are also a lot of people who are struggling and tự not need lớn be. No matter which camp you fall into, sometimes we overemphasize the mathematical part of the equation and we don’t look at the emotional part of it. Emotionally and logistically, we can all tự better with our limited resources: time and money. It benefits everyone lớn question and be more mindful about what “enough” would feel and look lượt thích. And there’s no right or wrong answer. It will constantly shift.

The Cut’s financial-advice columnist, Charlotte Cowles, answers readers’ personal questions about personal finance. E-Mail your money conundrums to [email protected].

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